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Confessions of a Gatsby Wife: Lessons Learned From Losing It All

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"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," 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 (not her real name), 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 homes 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 jetsetting 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 totally innocent bystander."

Today, Daisy is financially, though not legally, divorced from her husband. She pays 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

1. Pay yourself first always. Deposit 10 percent of your income into a tax-protection retirement account, and learn how to compound your gains.
2. Always have money of your own -- even if he's the mega-bread winner.
3. Have your own credit card.
4. 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.)
5. Know what and where your assets are, including how much is owed and whether your money or estate is being leveraged to pay Paul.
6. Establish a Thrive Budget.
7. Have your own retirement fund, and never allow anyone to touch it. This is your lifeboat!
8. Read the fine print of all legal documents, particularly big asset purchases.
9. Demand transparency from your partner in all things financial -- even if you have separate bank accounts.
10. Take ownership of your investments (even if you have a "financial planner").

The where's, why's and how's of this plan are outlined in greater detail in my book, The ABCs of Money. Get it now, for free, while this limited time offer is still available.

It's not more time. It's not more money. It doesn't require a Ph.D. in economics. It's simply understanding that lavish spending can evanesce like champagne bubbles, leaving you with a hangover, while financial freedom and money while you sleep is a great foundation upon which to build and live the life of your dreams.