What Keeps You Up at Night?

- A Single Mother’s Thoughts on Financial Planning

Since divorcing two years ago I have sat down with several financial planners, trying to find a team to help me navigate the predominantly foreign waters after a fairly traditional marriage where I tended children and he paid the bills.

Each financial planner has asked me the same question and I wonder if they’re taught this as part of Finance 101. The question leaves me a bit perplexed, maybe dumbfounded and then amused when I, at 43, working mother of 3, toy with some possible answers —

“What keeps you up at night?”

(Where shall I begin!?!!)

When asked, typically in a Spartan board room over a first meeting, I initially respond like a deer in the headlights with a blank stare and stall to answer with a thoughtful nod to imply ‘I’m thinking about it and I’ll get back to you.’

The truth is I don’t know how to answer that question ‘correctly’. I have accounting in my genes thanks to a long line of number crunchers or ‘eraser heads’ as a friend of mine still calls them, and I can read P/L statements with the best of them; but sitting in a board room discussing budgets, my own account balances, the merits of mutual funds over CD’s, and tax benefits among other concepts about making your money work for you — Just grow! Instead of shrivel! — I am out of my league.

I’m increasingly familiar with my ‘portfolio’ and beyond grateful to even have one at this unforeseen time in my life — family was always my priority, still is; I’m just more conscious of how much money it requires to support one.

Okay, so enough stalling. To address the original issue- Answer The Question!?

What keeps me up at night?

Like most assignments, I take this seriously and as I lay in bed that night or the next after working at the hospital all day, making and feeding 3 children dinner, tucking them in their beds in rounds of tooth brushing, pajamas (or fresh clothes for tomorrow- planners!), stories, foot rubs, toe soaks and bandages, laying with them and trying not to fall sleep so I can still go back downstairs and clean up the kitchen and get puppy settled for the night, I lay down in my own bed feeling pretty thrilled to get to put my head down and go to sleep.

But if something were keeping me up (besides children and dogs right? The financial planner isn’t going to help with those things right? Just clarifying the question…)

what worries keep me up?…hmmm…

The first one is — who and what is going to interrupt my sleep first- a child, the dog, the heating, night sweats?, my alarm in the morning?

The next worry is sadly, from years of worrying about this far too much but quite honestly- did I eat too much today? Did I eat the right things? Am I gaining weight or am I ok? Did I work out today? What workout can I squeeze into tomorrow?

While men worry perhaps about their finances measuring up, I’m worried more about numbers on my bathroom scale. It sounds so petty to write, but there it is- my worry/coping skill to deal probably with worrying about other things I have less control over- like the market for example, or how many moms and babies I’ll be expected to see on the floor next shift, or if the 7th graders were nice to my newly teenaged son today, or if he was nice, or if combatting the polar vortex is burning through my oil…. oh, I see bubbling of worries…

Then quickly on some nights, not so quickly on others, I move to worrying about who needs to be where when and how I am going to get myself and everyone there- school, work, appointments, check ups, puppy classes, walks and lunch and yoga. I live a blessed life. I’m very aware.

I force myself to stop thinking about everywhere everyone needs to be cause I’ll never fall asleep with that tape playing. But I’m careful not the think about the open space in the bed beside me (provided I don’t have 1 of 3 children occupying it as they do from time to time).

As much as I love having a bed to myself, and as much as I thrive on getting it all done, I do not like running the show alone day in and day out. I do NOT like not sharing the hardship sometimes but importantly the spoils, the loot, the booty with another person I can fall asleep next to or in various other healthy positions at night.

But it really wasn’t until I sat down to gather my financial information in preparation for a follow up meeting with this new financial planner (he might be the ONE!) that I understood how to answer his question.

After I poured over my bank statements, the budget sheet he provided, the 401k’s and 403b’s and credit cards and mortgage and the basic P/L statement of my current existence, I found myself thinking.

That night when I couldn’t fall asleep I thought- how long will I be able to continue to live this life as I do? Can I, will I be able to afford my life as circumstances change? What can I do to ensure it’s my choice to make changes and not a new reality thrust upon me as I see many others forced into when the loss becomes greater than the gain.

Allegra Gatti Zemel


Perinatal Nurse/In-home Lactation Consultant

Creative Writer