All of a sudden, you're in charge of everything: kids, house, money. You've barely absorbed the decision to divorce and already everything has changed.
It can all feel overwhelming, even paralyzing. Simple financial tasks like paying bills can suddenly feel impossible to manage. When you're faced with so many unanswered questions (Can I afford to stay in the house? Will the child support be enough? Will I lose my health insurance?), the stress and fear can take over. And that can knock your finances even further off track.
There are some steps you can take now to set your post-marriage finances on the right track, starting with the way you deal with them.
New financial facts
Along with everything else that's changing, your financial situation is changing, too.
During your marriage you may have handled all of the finances…split financial duties…or focused on everything but money issues. All of that responsibility is yours now, and even if you did manage the money before, you'll have more to figure out - and that starts with facing some unpleasant new financial facts:
Facing these financial realities head on will help you navigate them more smoothly. If you can put the financial issues in a “business box” (treat them like other business transactions), you’ll have better control over their outcome. [I know it’s really hard to switch your mindset like that, but it can really make a positive difference in your post-marriage finances.]
Break it down
Looking at your finances as a whole can be paralyzing – so don’t do that. Start small, and focus on just one thing at a time.
Accomplishing a few small tasks every day – like paying one bill and verifying your checking account balance – sets your brain on a different path. That can help stop the swirling panicky thoughts and keep you out of crisis mode, making it easier to do some more small tasks tomorrow.
If you 're not sure where to get started, check out this financial task list that will help you gather, organize, and use information to create a more secure financial foundation for you and your family.
Know what you want
Before you head into any negotiations, make a wish list of everything you want your agreement to cover. On the financial front, include what you'll need to start off and maintain financial fitness (like whether you'll need alimony, and how the kids' medical bills will be paid).
With a clear and complete list, you can be sure nothing you need covered will fall through the cracks. Being prepared like this can also help take some of the emotion out of negotiations. And when you feel like you might agree to anything just to get out of there, go back to the list - your financial future is on the line.
The financial side of keeping the house
When everything's falling apart, you and your kids need stability and security. Staying in the house may seem like a good way to provide that, but that emotional comfort could come at the expense of your financial security.
Before you decide to keep the house, take a step back, and consider these important factors:
These are just a few of the financial things to consider before you decide to keep the house. (You can find a more detailed discussion about this here.)
Don’t guilt-spend on your kids
Like many single moms, I’ve guilt-bought my son extra holiday or birthday gifts…special Amazon movies to make the long car-ride between houses easier…books or toys to help distract him when he was crying about his dad.
It’s hard to say no when your children are suffering the effects of your divorce – but that kind of spending will bust your budget and it won't make anything better for you or your kids. In fact, guilt-spending can quickly make your situation worse, as credit card bills pile up and stress you out. Then you’ll either need to cut back spending in more critical areas or work more hours to pay the bills, both of which add strain to the household.
Talk to your kids, in an age-appropriate way, about how money works and why you have to make difficult choices (like cutting back on after-school activities) to avoid financial trouble (like not being able to pay the mortgage or rent). When the budget is tight, focus on free activities and rely on your library for everything from books to movies to video games.
Take charge of your finances
During and right after my divorce, I felt vulnerable in a lot of ways, but especially financially. Even though I’m a financial professional, I was overwhelmed by the sudden changes in my life and finances. Trying to earn enough money while caring for a toddler felt impossible (and so did almost everything else).
What got me back on track was making a plan and sticking to it. Getting my finances under control – even though they were far from perfect at first – felt like a win. And staying on top of them was an ongoing victory.
If your financial situation is hard to handle alone, get help. A CPA (or other trusted financial professional) can help you create a livable budget, map out your finances, set up retirement and college funds, and so much more. And while these services probably won’t be free, they’ll end up putting you in a better financial position moving forward.