3 women who never built wealth until after divorce share the mistakes that held them back

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  • Married women in two-income households face a risk of financial instability if their marriages end.
  • They tend to have higher monthly expenses, which can create financial hardship after a divorce.
  • Three women share their biggest mistakes and what they did to build wealth after divorce. 
  • Visit Personal Finance Insider for more stories.

Married women in two-income households face the highest risk of financial instability in retirement, according to a report from the National Retirement Risk Index by Prudential

This is because two-income households tend to spend more on monthly expenses, such as a mortgage and vehicles, because they can afford to when sharing bills. However, in the event of a divorce or the death of one spouse, the other would be left with expenses above their income. 

Below, three women who faced economic hardship after divorce share the biggest financial mistakes they made while married and what they did to rebuild their wealth. 

Mari Adam and her husband didn’t share the same values, even though they shared an account

Mari Adam is now a certified financial planner. But when she got married at 26, she didn’t know as much about money as she does today. She learned too late in her marriage how important it is to have shared values about money, parenting, and lifestyle before tying the knot.

Adam and her husband both had funds in their own names, but also had a significant amount of money in a shared investment account that was often spent by one partner without notifying the other. Their different spending values eventually ended the marriage after 18 years. After her divorce, Adam was able to get back on track and build a stable financial future by being responsible for her spending habits. 

“My advice to younger women: Make sure you share values and are on the same page before you get married or make a commitment,” Adam told Insider. “Oh, and make sure you separate money into ‘yours, mine, and ours’ so you always have your own resources to fall back on.”

Josephine Lee didn’t trust her own financial instincts 

“My biggest financially unsmart move was falling into the traditional thought, thinking my husband knew best on how to handle finances,” Josephine Lee told Insider. “I, as his wife, would just follow his lead. I doubted my financial instincts and capabilities. I thought he would know best how to take care of the family financially.”

Lee didn’t just ignore her instincts but neglected her own needs. She brought home a paycheck but didn’t consider the things she wanted as part of the monthly budget. When she got divorced, she walked away with $145,000 of debt from student loans, a car loan, and a mortgage. She also became a single mother.

It was only through trusting herself and making smart financial decisions that she was she able to pay off the debt within five years of her divorce. She then started focusing on building wealth by maxing out her 401(k) and contributing to other tax-advantaged employer-sponsored accounts. The process wasn’t easy; in the beginning, Lee had to move back in with her parents and use budgeting apps to pay attention to every dollar she spent

However, the experience taught her to trust herself. Her advice to other women is if partners share an account for household expenses, they should also have their own accounts so that they can be free to spend on things for themselves without feeling guilty. 

Lakisha Simmons was spending too much of her income

Lakisha Simmons was overspending between cars, extravagant vacations, and a mortgage when she and her then-husband were both bringing in an income. 

“I was making a good salary as a professor; we were just spending all of our money. So we bought a really big house that was five bedrooms. And we had nice cars, and we just bought whatever we wanted because we had paychecks coming in,” Simmons said. 

The spending eventually caught up after Simmons went through divorce and had to take on some of the expenses, such as the mortgage, on a single income. When she looked back at what she had been tucking away for retirement, she realized it wasn’t enough to fulfill her needs.

She began cutting down on unnecessary spending and even sold her house. Four years later, between saving and investing, she accumulated $750,000 in assets, according to financial records viewed by Insider. Today, she helps others reach financial freedom through her blog.

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