“Once you learn to detach happiness from acquiring and owning things you can focus on what truly makes you happy—and actually achieve that.” –Peter Walsh
Divorce can be expensive regardless of whether you make $400,000 or $40,000. Money simply will not go as far from one home to two homes on the same income. Carefully budgeting for post-divorce matters takes effort because it requires getting into a new routine while simultaneously dealing with a reduced standard of living – all without sacrificing what makes you happy.
Divorce is an opportunity to be free and rebuild your life. You don’t have to start out on the top – focus on simplicity, getting back into what matters most in life, then make a plan for yourself that you can afford. It doesn’t need to be permanent! Come up with your immediate plan and build from there.
I divorced at a time when I did not make much money but somehow found ways to live big. Some of the following ideas may be workable for you, and some you’ll never want or feel comfortable with – it depends on your priorities. My hope is to give you initial ideas to help you get started with your own financial plan.
What if you feel so angry or scared that it seems impossible to create a new budget? I encourage you to list 20 things that are inexpensive yet give you joy. This could help get your mind moving in the right direction and maybe even spark some inspiration for what life will be like with smaller, more manageable expenses.
Here is how I maximized my budget after divorce, with the first two freeing up the most funds.
I often see clients fall into the trap of keeping a house that’s too big for them because of their emotional attachment and then struggling to maintain or afford the home. Think through all the upkeep and expenses and be honest about if you will have the time and money to maintain the home after divorce.
I already lived in a small and modest house while married, but after divorcing, I did eventually get tired of the maintenance and considered buying a condo or townhome. I continued to live in our modest 1,500 square foot home while single, which was cozy, in a great location and met all our needs while being very affordable. My son and I were very happy there, and we made many great memories in that home.
Even with a small 1,500 square foot home, my son and I didn’t need all four bedrooms and three bathrooms for the two of us. Shortly after separating, I decided to find a single mom roommate, and during the four years after separating, I had four different roommates. It was fantastic! My housing cost was reduced by half, I had a built-in babysitter (and was always happy to return the favor), and my son thought it was fun to have another kid in the house to play with.
Not interested in having a roommate as an adult? Consider buying a home with a basement apartment or even adding one to your home. My current house has a small but nice basement apartment with a separate entrance, and the rent pays a significant portion of our mortgage.
Until very recently, when our kids started having strong opinions about where we shop for clothes, I would buy almost all their clothing second hand from consignment stores and sales. My favorite was the All 4 Kids Consignment Sales that are HUGE. Check out their schedule at all4kids.com. I would go twice a year and buy almost all the clothes the kids needed for the next six months for a fraction of the price of new, and many items were unworn and still had tags. I found it fun to hunt for high quality brands that looked new or almost new and get a lot of great stuff for a small amount of money.
I also love the children’s consignment store Kid to Kid with several locations in Atlanta. For a couple years we would take all three kids there for a “shopping spree” and tell them a certain number of each item type to pick out. Who cares if Autumn picks out four skirts covered in glitter, and Logan wants eight shirts with superheroes when each item is only a few dollars? It was fun for the kids because anything they picked was fine so long as it fit. One year, Autumn found a pink faux fur coat that she was obsessed with.
For myself, I will always love luxury consignment like The Real Real. I also occasionally find something nice on Poshmark, TheadUp, or even Ebay.
My social life and hobbies looked different for the few years after my divorce than they do now. And honestly, even though I now travel more, have taken up scuba diving, and eat at nicer restaurants, I had just as much fun and got just as much enjoyment out of life before. In fact, I was in much better shape because I spent a lot more time outdoors doing free things like hiking, gardening, and going on walks and picnics at local parks.
Finding a group of other singles in similar situations can be very valuable. That said, this can be easier said than done. I remember trying a singles group at a church and a few other singles meetups and feeling very out of place. Eventually, I did make a few friends through a Facebook group who were also single moms. It was great to socialize together, get kids together, and have a group of friends with common life challenges to support each other. If you are in Atlanta, consider joining my Facebook group to meet others!
If you feel overwhelmed trying to figure out a post-divorce budget, enlist the help of a financial professional. If you are struggling with a negative attitude and are avoiding it due to fear or anger, seek therapy if you are unable to pull yourself out of the negativity on your own. Failing to plan hurts only you and your children. Facing reality and coming up with a plan is what will help you transition easily into your new life post-divorce.