In the early days after losing a spouse, financial decisions can seem pretty far down on your list of concerns. Your days can be consumed by planning a funeral, attending to piles of paperwork, and – let’s be honest – holding yourself together while receiving the stream of well-intentioned friends and family members who come to call.
Then, just as the hubbub starts to ebb, the hospital and/or funeral bills come rolling in alongside your regular ones. That’s when yet another visitor may come calling. It’s the voice of reality, and when it shows up on your doorstep, it’s likely to ask you some hard-hitting questions:
- Do I have enough money?
- Can I pay for all this now?
- Am I going to be okay down the road?
Understanding your financials, which consist of your cash flow and balance sheet (or your statement of assets and liabilities), is a crucial first step to upping your chances of answering all three of those difficult questions with a resounding “Yes!”
Understanding your cash flow means knowing your sources of income and how much money regularly flows in and out of your household. Understanding your balance sheet includes knowing how much money you have in readily accessible liquid reserves (like checking, savings, and money market accounts) and where the rest of your money is. It also includes understanding the specifics of any long-term investments or retirement accounts that you (and your late spouse) have and how much those accounts might add to your cash flow if necessary. Last, you’ll have to understand your debt to know if it still serves you and what affects it has on your cash flow and your overall financial health.
A good rule of thumb for cash flow planning is the 50/30/20 rule, which suggests that you have no more than 50% of your total income going towards your required expenses, another 30% going towards desired expenses, and the last 20% going towards retiring debt and saving for the future.
Although this is a good plan to aspire to, you may find that as a new widow living on half the income you had in the past, this may take a while to achieve. If you’re already retired, you’ll want to have a portion of your cash flow coming from guaranteed income that you can’t outlive – like social security, pensions or guaranteed annuities. These streams of income help offset the risk of being forced to pull money from your investments to pay your bills when markets are down.
As soon as you know what you have, what you need, and what you want, you and your advisor can craft a plan to increase your chances of having an adequate income. I generally guide my clients toward a cash flow plan that includes both guaranteed lifetime income sources to cover at least 50% of their required expenses, and at least 36 months of liquid reserves to cover the other 50%.
I encourage you to seek the help of a financial advisor who listens and understands your unique needs and wants, and who empowers you to make your best saving and investment decisions.
The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.
Meet the founder of our Widows Division, Joy Kirsch.
At age 30, is when Joy became a widow, she lost her husband, best friend and business partner. She quickly discovered that she had no real education or training about how grief affects our brains and bodies. Her natural curiosity and desire to “get it right” led to years of study around life-changing events and how they affect financial decision-making. She now devotes her time to helping other women prepare for life’s transitions with the goal of improving financial well-being. “Life Happens and sometimes it’s difficult, but we get to influence the outcome. I want women to have the resilience, courage, and wisdom to make good financial decisions while moving forward through difficult times with confidence and a sense of purpose.”
Joy believes that true wealth is not just a measure of one’s financial assets, but the sum of a person’s health, wealth and personal relationships. She has devoted her professional career to helping others define their values, dream new dreams and align their wealth accordingly. She is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ Practitioner, a Certified Financial Transitionist® through the Sudden Money® Institute and the founder of The Widows Journey, a non-profit entity dedicated to educating and empowering widows to allow them to lean into life and make a difference in the world. She is a member of the Dallas Financial Planning Association and former chairman of the Fort Worth Business and Estate Section of the Tarrant County Bar Association. She is securities and insurance licensed and graduated cum laude from the University of Dallas with a bachelor’s degree in Economics.
Although Joy has won several industry awards, she is most proud of her twenty-five talented, beautiful and exceptional nieces and nephews. When she’s not hanging out with those little family members, she enjoys golf and tennis, weight training, yoga, meditation and trying every new restaurant in Dallas with her beau, Ron.