Do you have a sexually transmitted debt?

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At about 40 years of age I contracted my first STD. It was a long and painful process to get over it and, thank you for asking, I’m much better now. What I learned from my experience is prevention is better than cure.

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

 

 

 

62 comments

  • When hard times come through the front door. Love walks out the back door.

    Commenter
    bobbyboy
    Date and time
    August 12, 2013, 7:42AM
    • You probably did have too many shoes. And since men on average earn more than women, he probably WAS paying for your shoes. Of course he should have a say as to how that money is spent.

      Besides, on divorce, the courts-not the law- but the courts align the value of the contribution of the home-maker to that of the bread winner. That means if you marry well, have a couple of kids, you will end up with the bulk of the assets for putting a bowl of cereal in front of your kids in the morning, driving them 15 minutes to school, having a morning coffee with the girls, then a manicure and cooking a crappy dinner.

      Tough life.

      Commenter
      Agent Smith
      Date and time
      August 12, 2013, 8:14AM
      • Burned much Agent Smith??

        STDs SUCK... my ex-husband screwed around while I worked night shifts and left me in debt but I don't hate all men.

        I'm just never sharing the financial side of my life with anyone again. I like knowing where my money is going and I like my partner to know that we can both look after ourselves.

        Commenter
        TK
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        August 12, 2013, 9:17AM
      • +1

        Brilliantly said.

        This wasn't an STD. It was a poor investment decision. Even basic research would have told you the hospitality industry is one of the first things to tank in poor financial times (as it was in the early 90s).

        Funny how in one article women will decry the so-called gender pay gap (which should be re-named the "gender earning gap" to be more accurate) then complain that they are equals (even though they spend more - I have 4 pairs of shoes and I am including a pair of thongs in that count) and should be treated as such even though they don't behave equally and then complain that they are lumbered with debt from a partner.

        Commenter
        Bender
        Date and time
        August 12, 2013, 9:23AM
      • Agent Smith's completely unsubstantiated assumptions aside (mmm, love the smell of stereotypes in the morning), it sounds like it wasn't about how many shoes she did or did not have, but rather the question 'do I want to be in a relationship with someone who doesn't trust me to make a judgement over whether I need/can afford to want something as inconsequential as a pair of shoes? What does that say about his opinion of me, and am I okay with that?'

        I'm cheap as all hell, and yet I've nearly had a relationship destroyed over a partner putting excessive pressure on my spending habits. It's a horrible feeling to not be trusted with household income.

        Commenter
        Slothy
        Date and time
        August 12, 2013, 10:21AM
      • I chuckled at your comment Agent Smith. I feel sad having done so.

        Commenter
        JC
        Location
        Brisbane
        Date and time
        August 12, 2013, 10:26AM
      • "...putting a bowl of cereal in front of your kids in the morning, driving them 15 minutes to school, having a morning coffee with the girls, then a manicure and cooking a crappy dinner."

        If you think that's the extent of work involved in child-rearing, I'm not surprised she ended up with the kids.

        Commenter
        Red Pony
        Date and time
        August 12, 2013, 11:56AM
      • Ha Agent Smith, you got me nailed!!

        But don't tell my husband I'm having manicures all day.

        I tell him I'm wiping crap off bums, cleaning up spew, cooking his dinner, washing his clothes, cleaning his house, sorting out our finances, buying his food and rocking a selfish screaming ball of flesh to sleep ... need I go on?

        Commenter
        Lady of leisure
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        August 12, 2013, 12:56PM
      • Goodness me - you do make lots of assumptions. And you know what they say about people who make assumptions

        Commenter
        Straightshooter
        Date and time
        August 12, 2013, 1:10PM
      • There is a ridiculous lack of context in the shoes anecdote. The author's husband does not get the chance to put his side of that story. The shoe incident may have been the final straw of a spending spree by the author. The author might have just told her husband he could not buy some new jeans 10 minutes earlier because they could not afford them. The husband may have simply reminded the author that she was not contributing anything to their holiday in Fiji whereas he had been doing all the saving. Etc.

        That's the problem. We don't know all the facts, but somehow the author asks the reader to accept without question the inference that her husband was a controlling ogre.

        Commenter
        Tom
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        August 12, 2013, 4:07PM

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