Confessions of a Gatsby Wife:Lessons Learned From Losing It All
Do you remember the first time you read The Great Gatsby?
Probably in high school before you could ever truly appreciate an American classic, but like many other readers you were probably enamoured by the luxurious lifestyles, intrigued by the social bonds that were made and broken throughout out the novel, and if nothing else, you were wishing you could find a Gatsby party of your own to attend.
Some people are actually living the Gatsby lifestyle, for better or worse.
“I just wanted to have the dinner parties and to have the life! And I didn’t want to know about the details or how he was funding this. I didn’t want to hear about his problems, if he didn’t have enough money. That maybe pushed him to have riskier behavior. I wasn’t a total innocent bystander,” Daisy (not her real name).
In The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby’s mansion effervesces with fair-weather friends as long as the free champagne flows. When scandal erupts, however, no one is to be found. Gatsby, who was once the toast and talk of the town — the mysterious millionaire — died alone, with no one in attendance at his funeral.
Almost a century after Fitzgerald penned his iconic American novel, the scene still plays itself out. Sometimes the tragedy ends in death, like the many suicides that occurred in the wake of the Bernie Madoff scandal. Sometimes you are simply exiled from the Gatsby lifestyle, as happened in the case of “Daisy”, who sat down with me last week to tell her story.
Ten years ago, Daisy was living the high life. Her husband was a jetsetter with a fancy lifestyle and a flashy career in commodities. Daisy — her jewelry, her parties, her circle of friends, her figure! — was the envy of the Hamptons crowd. Socialites flowed like a cool breeze in and out of beach and country homes. Just like The Great Gatsby, Daisy’s toddler tumbled about, adding frolic and comic relief.
Daisy worried for nothing. She can’t even remember how she spent her money — the good income she earned on her own, working as an executive assistant for a venture capital group. She didn’t save a dime, and her husband handled all of the bills.
Weekdays were worker bee busy, but on weekends Daisy became the social butterfly, fluttering about among friends. That is until one fateful day, when her husband called with a horrible confession. He had collateralized their home against a hard money loan, and they were in danger of losing everything.
The years that followed were a flurry of anger, arguments and attorneys — none of which saved the home, or the Gatsby friends. As Daisy describes it, “We lost a lot of friends. People don’t hang around when you’re not having the big dinner parties that we used to have.”
And yet, Daisy looks better than I’ve ever seen her. She and her husband have reinvented themselves — something that took serious self-examination and brutal honesty over who was really to blame for losing almost all of their worldly possessions. Her husband went from dealing in bling and jet setting around the world, to dealing with high school students and commuting by train. His teaching job pays pennies on the dollar from his prior career, but he burned too many bridges to stay in his former business. Daisy went from lavish living to modest budgeting — where she controls the money and pays the bills.
In order to stay married to the father of her children, Daisy had to ask and answer the question, “Is my husband evil, or did he just make a terrible mistake?” She admits that he gambled their future on a bad business deal — one that he genuinely thought would pay off and save the day. But she also had to acknowledge her own role in the mess.
As she describes it, “I just wanted to have the dinner parties and to have the life! And I didn’t want to know about the details or how he was funding this. I didn’t want to hear about his problems, if he didn’t have enough money. That maybe pushed him to have riskier behavior. I wasn’t a total innocent bystander.”
Today, Daisy is financially, though not legally, divorced from her husband. Shepays the bills. She owns the home, and a 401K and life insurance. Her child has a trust fund and a college fund. And her next goal is to get back to earning passive income, through smart investing.
The champagne life may be gone forever (or not), but Daisy is happy and optimistic about what lies ahead, mainly because she’s driving the car now, sober and with a good plan. And she encourages you to consider the 10 Tips below, so that you never have to lose it all, like she did.
Smart Girl’s Guide to the Rich Life
Pay yourself first always.
Deposit 10% of your income into a tax-protection retirement account, and learn how to compound your gains.
Always have money of your own — even if he’s the mega-bread winner.
Have your own credit card.
Verify that you are on the deed of the home (not just the mortgage).
This is how Daisy lost her home — by not having her name on the deed.
Know what and where your assets are
Including how much is owed and whether your money or estate is being leveraged to pay Paul.
Establish a Thrive Budget
You can either survive or you can thrive. A Thrive Budget is a way to budget your money in order to help you thrive in your life. You may have a retirement fund but maybe it should be called your Private Island Fund. What do you want from your money? Save for the things you want, let it build up and never worry about surviving, just focus on thriving.
Have your own retirement fund
And never allow anyone to touch it. This is your lifeboat!
Read the fine print of all legal documents
Particularly big asset purchases.
Demand transparency from your partner in all things financial
Even if you have separate bank accounts.
Take ownership of your investments
Even if you have a “financial planner”.
Learn The ABCs of Money
These are things that we all should have received in high school. It’s far more important than knowing how fast a train can get between Omaha and Chicago.
Sure the Gatsby lifestyle is seductive and alluring, but it’s also an uncertain lifestyle that is built on unsteady ground. Instead of being drawn to the glamour of dinner parties and fancy material possessions that could all be lost tomorrow, let yourself be drawn to the security to smart financial decisions. These are decisions that you should be making with your partner, because they’re your teammate and they’ll be the one down in the dirt with you if it all falls apart.
**Edited for repurpose by Taylor Brown, Associate Editor of Goddess Connections’ publicationWomen Who Run It.
Natalie Pace is the author of the Amazon bestsellers, The ABCs of Money and You Vs. Wall Street. Natalie has been saving homes and nest eggs for 14 years, while at the same time earning the ranking of No. 1 stock picker. Natalie Pace is a blogger on HuffingtonPost.com and a repeat guest on national television and radio shows such as Good Morning America, Fox News, CNBC, ABC-TV, Forbes.com, NPR and more. As a strong believer in giving back, she has been instrumental in raising tens of millions for public schools, financial literacy, the arts and underserved women and girls worldwide. For more information please visit NataliePace.com.