In 2008, Mónica Taher and her partner of 13 years bought a house in Los Angeles.
Two years later, Taher’s partner moved out and stopped paying her share of the mortgage.
“It was of the utmost importance to me to keep the house because of my daughter,” Taher explains of her now 16-year-old.
“I was doing anything in my power to keep normalcy for her both emotionally and physically — just being here in place where she was used to.”
To do that, she had to buy her partner out of the house.
“She was threatening to sell, and because we were both on the title, I had to comply,” Taher says.
“There was a lot of back and forth in regards to how much money I had to pay for her initial investment, as well as the appliances and everything inside the house that we bought together,” she remembers.
“I literally made a list of all the things still in the house she was claiming I still needed to pay her for and put a value to it. I considered depreciation and the price we paid when we got them.”
Ultimately, after consulting with a lawyer and negotiating via email for about a year, they settled on a sum — one that didn’t include the $US5,000 that Taher noticed her partner had quietly taken from their joint account before leaving.
While Taher didn’t want to share the exact number they decided on, she says it was less than six figures.
Still, it gave her pause. “I really didn’t think I’d be able to save the house,” she says. “The amount wasn’t huge — it was the going back and forth, the negotiating.
“I was figuring out how to lower that amount as much as I could because I was using my life savings to pay her back.”
Laying out a lump sum and being solely responsible for the mortgage going forward gave Taher an urgency about her money that she had never had before. She managed not to dip into her retirement accounts and was able to retain some emergency savings, and she says that was in part due to a well-timed stroke of luck: A promotion to partner at Getty Images Latin America — a position she still holds — that gave her a 50% raise.
The other part was her newfound conscientiousness about money.
“I was counting every single penny — and when I say penny, I mean every penny, not dollar!” Taher remembers. “I had a budget that I would refer to every week, and I was really thorough about staying within it.
“If I didn’t have the money to go to the movies, I didn’t go to the movies. It was more important to pay for gas.”
Taher started reading about personal finance online, a habit she retains today, and trimming her expenses where possible. She traded her BMW for a Toyota Corolla, then started doing some of her commuting by bike, and eventually most of it by scooter.
“The money I was spending to put gas in my Beemer in two days alone, I used to pay for gas in my scooter for two and a half weeks,” she says.
She cancelled her gym membership, and became conscious about expenses such as watering her lawn and leaving the lights on when she didn’t need them.
Taher estimates that it took her about two and a half years to get back on her feet.
She says that four years after her partner moved out, she still keeps a close eye on her budget, especially now that she’s starting a company called ClipYap, which will allow people to converse through TV and movie GIFs on the app.
“The reality is, at the end of the day, my story is not about me being a victim,” she reflects. “It’s about me being resilient and learning about becoming financially literate and turning that around in order to tell my story in the hopes that I can help other women, gay or straight, who might be in the same boat, or who are stable in a marriage but haven’t thought, ‘What’s going to happen to me if my partner leaves?’ It can happen to anybody.”
“I do not regret the experience because it led me to the life I’m leading now, which is more fulfilling,” she continues. “And being aware of my money made me realise I needed this shakeup to be in control of my finances.”