The Most Important Financial Document: The Balance Sheet, Part 1
Thank you for listening! Find a transcript of this episode below.
We’re almost 200 episodes into the Divorce and Your Money show. There’s a lot that I’ve covered, but there’s still a handful of topics that I haven’t gotten a lot of depth on. Sometimes you might notice that there’s a little bit of a gap between recordings, and that’s actually just simply because I’m working with you. So sometimes, particularly on busy weeks or sometimes busy months, I don’t always get to record a ton of helpful episodes. But in this one, we’re covering one of the most important topics that I can’t believe I waited so long to cover.
This is something that … This topic is something that we do with 100% of the clients that I work with on the ongoing coaching packages. Now, in a coaching call we can’t do this topic, but anyone I work with longer term throughout their divorce process, we start by what we’re going to cover in this episode. And, I realized I haven’t really explained it in depth to you and why it is so important. Actually, what we’re going to talk about is a financial document that is so important that I do it myself and check mine every month. For you, we’ll do it every time something happen in the divorce process. For some of my clients who I work with after divorce is over, we do it for the foreseeable future every quarter or every half a year to make sure that everything is on track.
This is to me perhaps the most important financial document that exists, particularly when you’re thinking about the divorce process or even the rest of your life. And what is that? It is a document that we call the balance sheet. A balance sheet, if you work in the corporate world, has to do with …. Every one of your companies, if you work for a company or if your spouse works for a company, prepares a balance sheet or at least they should be. Basically what’s on that balance sheet is all of that company’s assets and their debts at a certain period of time.
What we do is we take that same concept. So if a company owns a building, for example, an office building, well, that office building gets recorded as an asset on their balance sheet. Well, let’s say that company has a loan from a bank. Well, that gets reported as a debt on that balance sheet. Basically, what a balance sheet does is it tracks the value of a business over time over specific periods.
Well, one of the things that we do in the divorce context is take the explanation or the utility of a balance sheet in the corporate world and apply that to your personal finances. So, we do a personal balance sheet. That personal balance sheet summarizes all of your, either individually or as a married couple, all of your assets and your debts and puts it into one handy page. Basically we take all of the stuff that you own, could be houses, could be cars, could be furniture, it could be jewelry, could be other valuables, and we put … It could be retirement accounts. We put all of that on a page, and then we take a list of all the things that you owe. It could be a mortgage, could be credit card debt, could be a personal loan, could be a student loan, could be some other … could be tax payments that you have that are outstanding. We put those on the other side of the page.
Basically, what we’re trying to figure out is two things. One is what does your total financial picture look like? Just very simply is if we put everything on one page, what does it look like? Then, second is as we’re going through the divorce process, how do we make that as people are negotiating different settlement options and different settlement proposals, well, how does that adjust your personal summary and does that leave you in a position in the future where your personal assets and debts are in a good spot? And I’m going to get into those questions a little bit more later, but I want to talk a little bit more broadly about the balance sheet.
As I said, basically it’s just all the stuff that you own and all the stuff you owe. Some people I work with don’t owe much. So actually, you might have nothing on your owe side of the balance sheet. But what you do know is if you have everything you own and you add it up and every … minus, everything that you owe, you have your total net worth. It is basically like … Now, be very … I’m gonna have to clarify my language with my next sentence. A balance sheet is basically like your statement of net worth with a big but. The statement of net worth or the financial affidavit that you complete is usually directed in the form of a court document or a particular format that your attorney uses.
Unfortunately, while that document is useful to start gathering the information, if you ever look at a financial affidavit or statement of net worth, they’re not very usable on an ongoing basis. They are a legal document. So what we do with a balance sheet, and why it takes a lot of time to custom create these for each one of you when we work together, is we take all of that information and put it onto one or two pages so that you can easily see a quick and clean snapshots of your assets and your debts on one page. That way we can see your net worth in an immediate snapshot.
That’s very important because when you look at a … I’m going to take the New York form because I have a lot of clients in New York and one of the … If you ever look at the New York financial affidavit, the New York statement of net worth form … I did a calculation one day. I went and added it up because I was curious myself. There’s something like, if I remember the number correctly, somewhere around 170 different individual line items that you have to go through on your New York financial affidavit.
Well, most people, even those with a super complex financial lives do not have 170 different line items that they need to keep track of. Really, the most that most people have is about 20 to 30 things in terms of accounts, and assets, and debts that we need to keep track of. If I had to just guess on average, somewhere between 20 to 30 things. Some people have a few more, some people have a few less.
But what we do is we take the 20 to 30 most important things. Sometimes if they’re smaller items on there, we just lumped them into another category. But we just take those key items, put them on one sheet of paper that’s easy to read, group them by asset type. What do I mean? So if you have five bank accounts, we put them into the cash grouping. If you have three retirement accounts, we put them into the retirement account category. If you have a house we might put it on its own, particularly if you have a mortgage or two. We might put just a house or a real estate category.
Ultimately, you’re going to have one sheet of printer paper that says here is all of your assets and your debts. It’s very clean, very easy to understand. 100% of people find it useful. And as I said, it’s something that is so important that I do my own balance sheet myself every month just to make sure that I am on track and to see how things are changing. And in the divorce process, it’s exceptionally important because you get to see on one clear page where all of your assets and your debts are, how much they’re worth.
And what ultimately happens is, as I was alluding to earlier, as you get to start to evaluate different settlement proposals, you get to see. So what we’ll do is we’ll do, you know, assuming you’re a heterosexual couple, which is most people that listen to this, but not all, you will have a husband side and a wife side. On the husband side, there’ll be a settlement proposal on the table. I don’t know if you’re the husband or the wife, depends on who’s listening at the moment. But we’ll put here’s what’s proposed for the husband on one side, here’s what’s proposed for the wife on the other side and we’ll look.
I’m going to use some simple numbers for the sake of discussion of the balance sheet, but let’s just say there’s a total pot of $100 on assets. Well, if the husband is getting $80 in assets and the wife is getting $20 in assets, we might say, “That doesn’t look so fair.” But, actually, maybe it does. Because what if, you know, the … But or maybe we’d say, “Actually, that is fair,” and there could be a reason for that because the wife in this situation, even though she’s getting $20 an asset, or an in assets, and the husband’s getting 80, maybe the husband’s unable to work and so he needs extra assets to live on, whereas the wife is going to have a bunch of income down the line. Or maybe this is the way that they structured a lump sum payment instead of paying ongoing support.
But, you can see that immediately when you have a balance sheet. It gives you an instant ability to understand, “All right. Here’s my financial picture and here’s what it’s going to look like after the divorce, assuming we go through this proposal. Looking at this proposal, I think it’s fair or I think it’s not fair, and we need to make some adjustments or whatever.” Then, after the divorce is over, you can keep updating your balance sheet every few months and you can say, “Hey, am I adding to my savings or subtracting from my savings? Are my investment accounts going up or are they going down? Is my house worth approximately what I thought it was?” You can keep refining these things to know how you’re doing financially. That is the short, short introduction to the balance sheet.
So what I want to talk about in the next episode is some of the mechanics of the balance sheet, and really how do you make your own balance sheet. It’s something that I do with all of you all of the time, but one of the questions is also always, you know, how do you do it yourself. I do have a handful of clients who’ve actually already prepared their balance sheet before I work with them, and I want to teach you the important stuff and the important elements of the balance sheet because it’s going to be very useful for you going forward.
And you know, even if you don’t do it yourself, you say, “Hey, Shawn. I want you to do my balance sheet,” or, “Hey, other local certified divorce financial analyst. I want you to do my balance sheet,” or if you find a financial advisor you like just in general that you want to work with after the divorce process over, say, “Hey, can you prepare a balance sheet for me?” even if you don’t ultimately do it, you need to understand what’s going on behind the scenes, or at least I would like you to understand what’s going on behind the scenes so you understand why this is so important to me and why it’s something that can be useful for you for literally the rest of your life. So, make sure you listen to the next episode coming out in a couple of weeks and stay tuned.