Today I’m pleased to be interviewing Doris Belland, author of the new book Protect Your Purse which includes lessons for women about how to avoid financial messes, stop emotional bankruptcies and take charge of their money.
Belland has been digging into women’s financial literacy ever since she ended up nearly $400,000 in debt after her first husband’s death, when she was 32. Persistence, determination, and a singular focus on results led her to climb out of debt in two years and develop a substantial real estate portfolio over the following ten years.
Since then she been president of a local real estate investors’ organization, developed a successful Rent to Own company, and published her first book. Belland also has a blog on her website Your Financial Launchpad and she is using her hard-won financial literacy to help other women rock their finances.
Thanks for talking to me today Doris. It’s my pleasure Sheryl.
Q: Your first husband, Malcolm died after a prolonged illness and you were left with a $400,000 debt. How did that debt accumulate and when did you become aware of the full extent of how much you owed?
A: I’m happy to say that it was not credit card debt. It was acquired as a result of growing our business. Also, a year and a half before Malcolm died, we bought a house. I was aware of the individual amounts owing but I’d never sat down to actually do the math until after Malcolm died. One day I had a moment of clarity and that’s when I tried to figure out the big number and it was a bit of a shock for me.
Q: You were able to climb out of debt in two years. Tell me how you managed to do this so quickly?
A: What we sold at the time were designs that my husband created. I realized after he died he was the engine of the business. I had, at best, a two year runway in order to make sales. That’s how long the existing designs would last.
The only way that I could conceive of paying off $400,000 was by maximizing the sales of the product. I approached our suppliers who I owed a lot of money and I said to them, “Listen, I’m going to pay off every dime that I owe you, but in order for me to do that I need to actually borrow even more. I’m going to take a very aggressive approach and sell everywhere I possibly can.” I called their stores. I offered them preferential pricing. I gave them incentives for higher sales.
I also sold off as many of our other assets as I could. I went through my entire house and said, “If I haven’t used it in two years I’m going to sell it.” The big things along with all of the small things helped me pay that off that debt just over two years.
Q: With the benefit of hindsight, what would you have done differently during your marriage to Malcolm to protect yourself and the family finances?
A: Oh boy! The very first thing, for me, I think is that I would have participated actively in all of the finances, so talk openly about where we were at, what our financial situation was. I walked away from a fully funded PhD to help Malcolm in his business when he became ill. What I should have done is stop and actually analyze the consequences for me, if I walked away from my doctoral program because that was my golden future.
What I say to people now is that they should build thinking time into their lives to look at all of the financial components that come into play and ask themselves, “What if something happens to me, what if something happens to my spouse? What would the consequences be?”
Q: Why did you decide to write a book about your experience?
A: Well, I didn’t. It didn’t come from me. I’m happily remarried and I was sharing some of my stories with my husband Mark and he said, “You have got to write this down. You’ve got to share this with people.” I started with a blog and then realized I wanted to help women avoid what I went through. That became the basis for the book.
Q: One of your first pieces of advice is about the importance of having a will. Why is having a will important even if there are few assets and no children?
A: It makes everything so much easier to transfer assets after death. I really strongly recommend a will for, frankly, absolutely everybody. Even if you don’t have any dependants and if you’re not married, you still have things in your life that you care deeply about. Whatever it is, the will allows you to say, “Here is what I want done with the things that are most valuable to me.” If you are married or you do have a partner it will help protect them and make it so much easier should something happen to you.
Q: Now, you alluded to a joint and survivor ownership of assets. What does that mean and why is that an important thing for women to do?
A: Basically, if your husband dies and you are on title for a property, for example, or your name is on an asset or you’re listed as a beneficiary for an investment, it just means that you immediately still have access to these things. It avoids the costly and sometimes lengthy process of court applications. It just means that now you have far greater control, and again, I go back to the ease of transition. You’re dealing with enough and legal issues are the last thing you need.
Q: I would suggest to you though that retaining bank accounts in one person’s name, particularly the woman’s name could be something that throughout a marriage might be a form of protection, as opposed to having everything in joint ownership.
A: Right. We’re talking about two different things, so the question you posed is, what’s the advantage of having assets in both names? The challenge, of course, is in the event of divorce. In my book, I talk about two different scenarios, one is a scenario where there’s death and one scenario where there is divorce and the woman absolutely needs protection. So having most of the assets in joint ownership for estate purposes doesn’t preclude each partner having their own assets and their own money.
Q: You interviewed over 300 women and told many of their stories in the book which makes it very readable. How did you find your interview subjects and why did you decide to incorporate their stories into your book?
A: Very simply, for me, my story is one data point, I’m one person. But as I thought about it and I started talking to other people I realized a lot of people are going through deaths and divorces and I got curious.
I put out the word through social media and through my own networks. I said, “I’m interested in talking to any widows or divorcees who would be willing to confidentially speak with me.” Then the floodgates opened up. Friends told friends and next thing I knew I had perfect strangers from other countries reaching out to me.
Q: That’s fascinating. Briefly, what are the top five insights you would like readers to gain from reading your book?
A: Here are the top 5 takeaways I hope my readers come away with:
- Don’t assume it can never happen to you.
- Build time for thinking in your life.
- Ask yourself, what if something happens to me or my spouse?
- Sit down regularly to talk to your spouse about money.
- Put the key documents in place, i.e. insurance policies, wills etc.
Q: You’ve remarried, you now have two daughters. How difficult was it to reinvest yourself and create a whole new life?
A: I guess the easiest way is if you imagine that you’re traveling at 120 miles per hour and hit a brick wall. That’s pretty much what it felt like. It was very difficult because I had envisioned myself as an academic from the time I was a teenager and then my life changed 180 degrees. It was exceedingly difficult. It took the better part of a decade to reinvest myself; to start over, to get a point where I felt, “Okay, I’m good.”
Q: What’s next for you? What other irons do you have in the fire?
A: Well, I have been a real estate investor for a decade and I thought that really was going to be my future. But this whole process over the last five years, of digging into women’s financial literacy has made me realize that is where my passion is.
Thank you very much, Doris. It was really a pleasure to chat with you today. Thank you so much, Sheryl. I appreciate it.
You can purchase Protect Your Purse, Shared Lessons for Women: Avoid Financial Messes, Stop Emotional Bankruptcies and Take Charge of Your Money on Amazon for CDN $19.95
|Written by Sheryl Smolkin|
|Sheryl Smolkin LLB., LLM is a retired pension lawyer and President of Sheryl Smolkin & Associates Ltd. For over a decade, she has enjoyed a successful encore career as a freelance writer specializing in retirement, employee benefits and workplace issues. Sheryl and her husband Joel are empty-nesters, residing in Toronto with their cockapoo Rufus.|