Now seems a good time to once again change the name of this blog. Little did I know, when I started it five or six years ago, the kind of trouble that it might get me into. C'est la vie. Je ne regrette rien.
I've thought about closing it down and/or melding it into Tribal Writer, but no. If a blog can be a kind of quest -- for knowledge, identity, meaning -- then this blog and I are at the start of something new. The re-invention of a life, the world post-divorce, the next, new act. The claiming (or reclaiming) of personal power. The desire to be fearless, bold, and balls-out -- even if, afterward, I must curl up in the fetal position.
We don't really talk about money in this culture. We don't really talk about class.
I believe that the stuff we keep in the dark is the stuff that grows a dark power over us.
There's a difference between a high-consumption lifestyle and a wealth-creating lifestyle. Many people choose the first at the expense of the second: big house, fancy cars, little saved and/or invested. I spent a few years in the world of what Thomas J Stanley calls "the glittering rich": people who can actually afford to consume outrageously while still creating wealth (sometimes without even trying). Due to a document I signed at the beginning of my marriage, I had no say in family finances, no access to capital, no ability to make major purchases. I had a monthly allowance. Since finance bored me, and I don't have a talent for numbers*, I was willing to co-create this situation and live in it and focus on other things (babies, books, blogging and a social life). Can we say stupid, boys and girls? After the separation I got depressed and stressed and careless with my credit rating. Can we say even stupider?
But it is what it is.
Since my separation I've discovered a small body of literature about women and their troubled, ambivalent attitude toward personal finance (in particular I recommend Liz Perle's MONEY, A MEMOIR: Women, Emotions and Cash and anything by Barbara Stanny). The first thing that's necessary for anyone to do to get a financial clue is assume responsibility for their own situation. You must eject any and all fantasies of something that's going to save you, whether it's Prince Charming or a winning lottery ticket or (*awkward cough*) a generous settlement.
"Don't think of it as downsizing," Billy told me. "Think of it as right-sizing."
Billy is my financial advisor and investments guy. He wears baseball caps, goes to rock concerts, and has large, very blue, sympathetic eyes. (It can be distracting. In conversation with him I will lose my train of thought and think, Wow. He has these large, very blue, sympathetic eyes.) He connected me to the elegant, grandfatherly Keaton, who is now my business manager.** After the divorce settled and the transfer of property took place (including the property tax bill my ex immediately sent me), they plunked me down in a conference room and said, "You have to fire half your domestic staff and sell your house."
"Oh," I said.
Your house is the biggest predictor of your future spending, according to the neighborhood you live in and the Jonses you try to keep up with. The prudent situation is to find an area where you can afford the most expensive house on the block. Suffice to say, that area, for me, is not Bel Air, where my one neighbor has an empire of around $300 million (if he can manage to stay out of jail) and my other neighbor has been world-famous since the age of 20 and has a bedroom in his house meant for Oprah when she visits (he calls it "Oprah's room"). The property tax alone is more than double what the average American makes in a year.
I need to get my ass out of glittering Bel Air and into a nice, upper-class neighborhood where it belongs.
So I said, "Okay. Let's sell this mofo."
Enter Janice, who sells real estate with a partner who is also named Janice.
This means you can refer to them as "The Janices". This is convenient.
The biggest mistake people make, the Janices told me, is to fail to be realistic and overprice their home**.
"When a house is properly priced," they said, "it should sell within the first two weeks."
If it's overpriced, it sits on the market and sits on the market and continues to lose perceived-value until you end up with an offer that's often lower than the offer you would have gotten if you'd priced it properly in the first place.
We slapped a number on the house that was in line with a recent appraisal.
It sold to a nice young man from the east coast who plans to use it as a second home.
So my to-do list now includes: Work on novel. Organize rotating menu of kids' meals. Get new freaking house.
* two excuses women often make when choosing to live in a kind of financial smog
**Turns out he also works for my actress friend I used to blog about who was dating an international pop star. She has since married the pop star, gone to live in his home country, and become a figure of mystery (ie: she's more or less disappeared). I suppose that happens. I miss her.
*** Probably for the same reason people hold on to losing stocks too long. Unless you're selling right at that moment when the house is at peak value, it's tough to accept the fact that you're taking a loss, even if that 'loss' is just in your head. My house sold for more than what we paid for it, and several million dollars less than the peak value claimed in certain articles and divorce documents.