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The emotional and financial consequences of a divorce are difficult to get your mind around. People tend to go numb in the middle of that chaos, because facing all those realities at once would be too much to bear.
But as gut-wrenching as a divorce can be, all we have to do is look around us to see people who’ve survived and are in the process of recovering from their divorce emotionally and financially. They are proof that while a divorce changes your marital status, it doesn't change who you are or what you’re capable of.
That can be tough to remember when you’re deep in the valleys of the divorce process, so we asked some folks who’ve been down that path to share their experiences. In particular, we wanted to hear from people who know what it takes to get back on your feet financially after a divorce. Our hope is that hearing from people who’ve been in your shoes and found a way to take control of their financial future will inspire you and reassure us all.
Bad Decisions Make a Tough Situation Worse
In the early days of a divorce, all you can do sometimes is just keep things together. That’s why Charles A. from Lehi, Utah, says this is not the time for making big decisions that will affect your finances. “The worst thing you could do is make life-changing decisions in an emotional state,” he says. “It’s common knowledge that you don’t invest based on emotions. You don’t buy based on emotions, and this is no different.”
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It’s tempting to start throwing money at the new problems you’re facing. Buying a new car or a new home, taking an expensive vacation, or even moving to a different city may sound like just the thing to make you feel better about what you’re going through. But your retail therapy high will be short-lived, and you’ll have to face the consequences of any unwise choices.
Financial recovery is hard work, but it’s worth it.
Encouragement from others who’ve been there—paired with help from an investing pro—can empower you to make the best decisions for your future. Charles’ advice, which came from a friend who’d been through his own divorce, is to take your time and make responsible decisions. A divorce is almost always costly, but by thinking through your options and resisting the urge to make impulsive choices, you can minimize the impact to your financial situation.
Focus on the Essentials
For people who’ve relied on their spouse to handle all the bill-paying and money decisions, a divorce is even more overwhelming. In addition to their new financial responsibilities, they are also likely dealing with decreased income, debt problems they didn’t know existed and the expense of setting up a new household.
In fact, a new study by the Government Accountability Office reports that divorce results in a 41% reduction in household income for women and a 23% reduction for men. So be financially diligent in this transition time.
To protect yourself from crisis-mode spending, focus on maintaining your Four Walls: food, shelter/utilities, clothing and transportation. With these essentials covered, you can breathe. You know your family will have a place to live and food to eat, and you’ll have a way to get to and from work.
Rhonda P. from Thermopolis, Wyoming, was working two jobs to pay the bills and joint marital debt during her divorce process. “The Four Walls concept saved me from making stupid choices,” she recalls.
With the four walls covered, you can make plans to tackle your larger financial challenges.
Divorce Is Not Your Defining Moment
For Olivia N. from Flowood, Mississippi, the first few months of her divorce could not have gone worse. She was pregnant, had a five-month-old baby and was homeless during the bitter Michigan winter. “I started out with literally only my babies; my nine-year-old, paid-for, two-door Honda; a handful of clothes; and $15,000 of lawyer bills and school debt,” Olivia says.
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Once she had a job, she focused on her family’s Four Walls and found a small apartment. She and her two daughters made a home with hand-me-down furniture and zero luxuries. Her income barely covered these essentials, but Olivia was determined to give her family a fresh start. She made a plan to pay off her debt. “For six months I worked 70 hours a week, seven days a week. I worked anywhere from eight to 14 hours a day until the debt was paid in full.”
Since then, she suffered some financial setbacks—a car loan, medical expenses, some overspending—but she went back to the basics and paid it all off again. Today, only four years after surviving in homeless shelters, Olivia is debt-free and has two months of expenses in her emergency fund.
“After I’ve completed my emergency savings, I will be excited to continue saving for the next steps,” she tells us.
Olivia had to make a choice that anyone facing a divorce must make: whether to allow your divorce to define the rest of your life or to choose to make it a new beginning. Olivia realized that the end of her marriage was just a snapshot of her life, and life is not a snapshot—it’s a filmstrip. It’s ever-changing, and those changes depend on you.
Divorce changes your marital status—not who you are or what you’re capable of.
No matter what your situation is now that you’re single again—whether you’re a single parent, you're figuring out how to pay new and unexpected bills, or you're entering the job market for the first time in years—you can do something to improve where you are today.
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Of course, doing something and doing anything to make your family’s life better are two different things. You need a plan, one that starts with a realistic evaluation of your current situation and provides doable steps that will allow you to reach your goal. That’s tough for anyone to do on their own.
Find an investing professional who will take the time to ask you important questions about where you want to go and help you answer your questions about how to get there.