I meet with and talk to a lot of women in my job. As Director of Women’s Markets at Westpac, where I deal with the business and financial needs of many women, one of the topics I often ask about is whether people have ever suffered from an STD – Sexually Transmitted Debt.
There’s always an audible intake of breath when I ask the question. It’s followed by much shuffling, and furtive, embarrassed looks. Then I tell the story of my own Sexually Transmitted Debt, and the flood gates open.
I married young. Then, at 32, I made the decision to leave my husband after more than 15 years together. The decision was prompted by any number of reasons, but the straw that broke the camel’s back was a pair of shoes.
We had a joint cheque account. I was going into town to shop for, among other items, shoes, and needed the cheque book. My husband couldn’t understand why I needed to buy shoes. He thought I had enough and told me so.
I realised I wasn’t interested in a partnership in which I was not an equal and not treated with respect and where a new pair of shoes was a bone of contention.
We split but it was not acrimonious in the end. In fact, we remained good friends.
About eight years later, my ex approached me with a proposal to buy and manage our own hotel. I’d been working in the finance and banking industry, which I loved, but to own and manage our own hotel had always been a dream.
At a particular time in my career and life, looking for something new and different, wearing a pair of rose coloured glasses and believing we could get back together to work, I didn’t hesitate and in I jumped.
Many of my friends and colleagues advised me against the move but I couldn’t be told.
I sold my house, cashed in my long service, and sunk my potential super in the venture. Within three months I realised what a monumental mistake I’d made.
I was embarrassed. I hadn’t done my research. The hospitality industry in the early 1990s - and owning a hotel in particular - was not in the best health. My ex-husband had had very little to bring to the deal and there was even less to try and claw back when it began to fail. Forcing a sale wasn’t a sensible option and involving lawyers was only going to line their pockets and end in a Pyrrhic victory.
In the end I walked away with very little left to my name. I had contracted a doozey of an STD and it left me with a bitter taste.
In the intervening years I’ve put together, with the advice of financial experts, a strict plan to rebuild my savings and super and I’ve stayed on track. I’ve also stayed clear of STDs and my ex. I can safely say, when money is involved, fallouts are bitter and you learn quickly.
I’ve also come to the realisation, as the many other courageous women who talk about this topic have, that the best preventative for STD is honest communication from the beginning with your partner around your finances on the need for personal independence as well as how each of you ‘deal’ with money, credit, budgeting.
Here are some more tips I’ve learned from others for avoiding STDs.
Don’t go guarantor or open a joint account or allow secondary use of your credit card if you don’t understand your obligations.
I’ve met many women who have signed up for loans for their partners – from large business deals to mobile phone accounts - and found themselves holding the bag when their partners have stopped paying or are unable to pay.
Try and get utilities on jointly when you set up house. If you split up and move out make sure the gas, water, electricity, etc, are terminated because if your name is on the bills you’ll have to pay them.
If you split up and have a joint account and/or mortgage, advise the bank, and get advice on what you can do to stop infection.
If he leaves for someone else and kindly leaves you with the family home and all the associated costs while he takes the cash assets, it’s time to get advice from a lawyer.
Romance is wonderful, but the rose coloured glasses can be deceptive. Keep an eye on joint accounts.
Get advice before signing any documents, especially if you’re not sure what the implications are for you financially.
Larke Riemer is the Director of Westpac Women’s Markets who are supporting the 2013 100 Women of Influence Awards, which are calling for nominations until the 18th August.
Nominate now at www.afr.com/100women