Our money habits come from childhood. We absorb our parents’ attitudes toward it, picking up on the subtle vibes and tension that surface when paying the bills.

We see each of the roles our parents take on — and though it might be unconscious, we adhere to them. This looks different for each one of us.

I grew up with a family business, and we were all financially literate. Unfortunately, many women find themselves in a position where they may not be aware of their true financial situation.

How can women go from status quo to financial empowerment? 

During much of my life I was irresponsible about money, even though I was the breadwinner. I didn't have a plan. Instead of paying attention, I played the part of an innocent victim. Eventually, life made it clear that being a victim wasn’t going to cut it anymore. The only way to protect myself financially against unexpected events like divorce, death, and someone else’s tax fraud was to become financially literate — with an eye toward financial independence.

Financial independence can’t be achieved if your only bank account is the one you share with your spouse. It’s time to go out there and open your own checking and savings accounts. Banks are bound by strict privacy laws and will never disclose the existence of your account to a third party. I highly recommend opening your account, in person, at a brick-and-mortar bank. This is so that you can also rent out a safe deposit box at the same time — for your most important documents. 

People emerge from marriage and divorce with all sorts of credit scores — but, as I found out the hard way, living as a divorcee is infinitely better when you have good credit. You’ll need it to get a nice place of your own or good financing on a new car. Insurance rates are based, in part, on your credit score, just like mortgage interest rates.

Improving your credit is possible, and in some cases it’s as easy as installing the agency’s app on your phone to get 15 points added to your FICO score. Gimmicks aside, building up your credit score with on-time payments and paid-back loans remains the way to ensure that you will always have access to a line of credit. 

Most of the steps can and should be done by you personally. Other things require a professional touch, like your will. You’re going to need an attorney, and if you have divorce in your future, try to kill two birds with one stone and find a matrimonial attorney who is also strong with estate planning. Attorneys are fiduciaries, which means they have to look out for your best interests, and it’s all confidential.

Your attorney can help you figure out what is yours and what belongs to your spouse so that you know what you have — or are likely to have in the event of a divorce.

As your credit is puffing up like a croissant, there are other things you can be doing to empower yourself further. If you don’t already, start going over your monthly statements. Maybe your spouse will have some explaining to do. Or maybe you will.

Financial empowerment isn’t glamorous, even though it should be. It’s often born out of necessity because of divorce or another negative event. That’s why the best thing is to teach it at a young age. Not only will it prepare young people for the world, they’ll have a positive association.

Judy Heft is the CEO/founder of Judith Heft & Associates, a financial and lifestyle concierge celebrating 26 years in business helping people stay financially organized. She is a certified money coach and the author of “How to Be Smart, Successful and Organized with Your Money” and the co-author of “Mastering Your Financial  LifeCycles.” She is the host of the podcast “Mastering your Financial Life.”  For more information visit  www.judithheft.com.