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Terry Savage: A widow’s guide to financial recovery

Terry Savage, Tribune Content Agency on

On average, women live longer than men. It’s an actuarial fact known by every insurance company and financial planner. At age 65, the life expectancy of a woman is 20 years, while men at the same age have a life expectancy of 17 years.

So, it stands to reason that the 2020 Census Bureau reports that there were 11,271,000 widows in the United States at the time of the survey and only 3,487,000 widowers.

Grieving widows outnumber widowers by a ratio of 3:1.

And that’s the starting point for the new sixth edition of “On Your Own: A Widow’s Guide to Emotional and Financial Well-Being” by Alexandra Armstrong, CFP, and Mary R.Donahue, PhD. I praised this book when the first edition came out in 1993, saying on the cover: “If a woman you know is widowed, don’t send flowers — send this book!” And that recommendation is still on the cover of this latest updated version.

Alexandra Armstrong has been a legendary Washington, D.C.-based financial planner since we first met years ago through the International Women’s Forum. Her firm currently manages more than $1 billion in assets, much though certainly not all of it, owned by women. Her co-author, Mary Donahue, is an expert in grief and the emotional aspects of widowhood.

Both women experienced the impact of widowhood at an early age. At the age of 8, Alex watched her mother struggle after her father’s death. Mary was quite unexpectedly widowed at age 47, leaving her with two young daughters. Their personal experiences informed their career choices and their desire to help others.

As they write in the preface: “Our book reflects our strong belief that there is a connection between your financial recovery and your psychological recovery.” So the book is a skillfully interwoven story of both the grieving process and financial decision-making issues that confront widows of every age and situation, whether the death was from a long illness or a sudden shock.

There’s a lot that’s new in this edition, the first in many years. There’s new technology in financial planning, as well as updates in the tax laws. You’ll even find advice and warnings about online dating! But perhaps the most personal update is the fact that Alex herself became a widow in 2023, after 28 years of marriage.

The personal stories of the authors are as compelling as the four “widows” they profile — Diane, Susan, Audrey and Elizabeth. These are composite profiles illustrating some of the most painful decisions widows must make on their path to a new and different life, financially and emotionally

 

This is not a book about “happy endings,” although these women each find new purpose in life. It is really a book that acknowledges that no two widows follow the same path. And it’s not just intended for widows, I think. It could serve well for their adult children, to help them understand the process of moving into a new life situation, or divorcing women as they react financially and emotionally to the end of a “happily ever after” dream.

And I highly recommend this book on a personal note. In recent years I have seen too many of my dear friends become widows. Several of these were high-achieving and powerful women, running huge organizations and often honored for their accomplishments. Some were married to equally powerful men, and others had spouses who supported their careers behind the scenes.

If anyone could get through the shock of widowhood, I thought, these women could power through it. They have multiple friends and few financial problems, and were respected by all. Yet I saw each of them retreat into grief, stumble into financial dependence on their spouse’s advisers and seemingly abandon their life momentum, melting into a puddle of insecurity.

Despite my best efforts to get them “financially organized” and into control of their considerable assets, their lack of energy was shocking to me. But then I haven’t gone through that. Only on reading this latest edition of “On Your Own” did the pieces suddenly fall into place. Each widow grieves in her own way, and emerges from the grief on her own timetable. This book is designed to help in ways that well-meaning friends cannot.

So I renew my endorsement: If someone you know is widowed, don’t send flowers — send this book. And that’s The Savage Truth.

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(Terry Savage is a registered investment adviser and the author of four best-selling books, including “The Savage Truth on Money.” Terry responds to questions on her blog at TerrySavage.com.)

©2024 Terry Savage. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


 

 

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