There are few things in life that can throw a wrench in people’s finances like a divorce. The loss in income is likely greater than the drop in expenses. There may be joint debt that you have to figure out how to repay and wills, life insurance policies, and other documents that are now outdated. If you and your ex-spouse divided up financial responsibilities – for example, you did the budgeting and he or she took care of retirement planning – you may be worried about handling tasks you did not have to deal with before. However, by arming yourself with knowledge and taking the time to create a new plan, you can have a financially successful future.
Budgeting is the foundation of wise money management. The first step is to list your current income and expenses. If you recently separated, you may not know exactly what your new expenses are. (You may not know even if you have been on your own for a while.) That is okay. Just use your best guess for now. You can create a more accurate budget in the future by tracking your expenses.
Keep in mind that while many of your expenses may be lower than when you were married, they won’t necessarily be cut in half – after all, it takes the same energy to run a television whether one person is watching it or two. Once you list your current expenses, add anything you are not doing now but want to do in the future, such as save or pay extra on debt.
Now, total up all of your expenses. If they are less than your income, great! If they are more, go back to your budget and think about what changes you can make. Can you bring your lunch to work instead of buying it there? Can you get rid of your landline and just use your mobile phone? Do you have to take tap dancing lessons? Be honest about what is truly a necessity and what can be reduced, postponed, or cut out completely. Also consider if there are ways you can increase your income, such as rent out a room in your house (if you are a homeowner) or get a part-time job.
Creating a budget on paper is only the first step. In order for it to be useful, you need to follow it. Put your budget on your refrigerator door or other visible spot in the house, and make an effort to track your spending on a regular basis. This way, you will know when you have reached your spending limit for the month in a particular category. If you have a hard time sticking to your budget, some of your categories may be unrealistic. For example, perhaps you thought you could keep your supermarket spending at $50 a month but now realize you cannot live with eating Ramen noodles seven nights a week. Or perhaps new expenses came up that you did not have before. Go back to the drawing board, and figure out what adjustments you can make.
Going through a divorce is usually an incredibly stressful event, and the last thing you may feel like doing is spending time and energy on your money issues. However, by doing so, you can reduce the stress that is put on your finances.