Fancy pants and financial discipline

Dorie Fain
Dorie Fain is the founder and CEO of &Wealth, a boutique financial advisory firm dedicated to helping women who are recreating their lives, with offices in New York City and Baltimore.

Published 1/6/2017 in The Maryland Daily Record 

I sat across from a new client recently and declared, “You’re a fancy pants … I know this because it takes one to know one.” To her credit, this client took my comment in stride, and we had a good laugh about the telltale signs of a true fancy pants. This started as a conversation about divorce and the financial reality that impacts everyone who goes through the process. Seeing countless couples manage their way through the division of assets and income – my own personal experience included – neither party ends up better off financially on the other side of divorce. At least not at first. Everyone makes compromises, pulls back, prioritizes spending decisions, and makes adjustments to their general lifestyle.

After we had talked through the specifics of the financial situation of this particular couple, we started to focus on the future. This conversation could have occurred at several other points in the past for this client — at the outset of her lucrative career, at the start of her marriage, when her children were born, and, ultimately, when she knew her marriage might not make it. There are inflection points throughout our adult lives where having a clear budget framework would serve us well. Especially when you’re faced with separating finances post-divorce, having a future budget that includes scaling back expenses creates a sense of control and calm for those facing this scary new terrain.

So we talked about financial discipline and broke things down in a way that could live in the real world. The reason I felt so comfortable to suggest this client was a fancy pants is because I saw so many of the telltale signs that I recognize even within myself. When I was newly divorced, the weight of the financial responsibility I faced was crushing. Despite have earning potential and the financial security of having my own company, emotions ran high and often got the best of me.

Initially, the idea of having to cut back was terrifying. I had so much of my identity wrapped up in materialist things that ultimately proved to have so little worth. But it took me time to realize this and to understand how these material items that once represented an identity no longer fit into my new picture. This took time for me to see, time for me accept and ultimately time for me to fully embrace. Having come from a position of have-not left me feeling empty and without. Rather than focusing on the reality of all that I actually had, I continued to harp on all that I had given up.

A clear focus

Thankfully, in time, I started to really get clear about the things that mattered most to me. I started to shed the wasteful spending and started to focus more on savings. This was so empowering. Having financial control and discipline brought more calm and joy to me than any spending had up to this point. This feeling became a bit addictive, and I started to really get energized by seeing my savings balance grow alongside the college fund for my son and my personal retirement account. I started to feel stronger and more confident about my finances again. Over time, I have ended up better off than I had ever imagined.

All of this translates into what makes my perspective when advising clients very personal and authentic. I have lived this experience fairly recently and have seen the same impact for clients through the years. Sharing this from one fancy pants to another, I could see our client soaking in the concepts. Most of all, I could feel her acceptance and readiness to embrace the process. This excites me when I see a client who is ready to take hold of her own financial future and face whatever lies ahead.

As mothers, it isn’t uncommon to place such a heavy focus on the needs of our children. I was certainly worried about making sure my son would have all that he needed. This conversation is a meaningful part of the future budget because not only did I change my habits for myself, I also looked at the way I was spending for my son in a different way. The types of experiences he would have, the travel, the afterschool activities, the clothes and the shoes, the needs versus the wants. We talk about imparting our values to our children and modeling healthy financial behavior for our kids as an important part of this process.

So as we embrace 2017 and set out with our intentions for the year, from one fancy pants to all the others out there, I wish all of us the healthiest of financial well-being today and beyond.

Dorie Fain, founder and CEO of &Wealth