When I was going through the whole devastating separation/divorce process, I felt like I was drowning in emotional pain and fear about my future – specifically my money future.
I was the typical stay-at-home wife and mother, so when divorce hit at the ripe old age of 64, I hadn’t worked “outside” in any serious capacity for almost 35 years. That meant no recent job experience, no “proof” that I could take on work, and I was well beyond the best by date for anything that paid better than minimum wage. (And I’d be lucky to even get that!) Or did I have to get a job – could I get by without it? How much money did I even need?
Money was and still is a problem for me, but I think I could have handled some things better and perhaps spared myself a few sleepless nights. So here are a few things I learned that can maybe help you.
Get Financial Help
In the early stages, before anything is settled, find a financial professional who can help discover and organize marital assets, make negotiating plans and strategies, and then later help you plan within your changed financial situation.
This, I think, is vital and something that I didn’t do. Yes, your lawyer (if you’re using one) can offer some advice but that’s not her expertise. I tried to figure things out myself, learning about retirement plans, pension plans, insurances, taxes in the middle of an emotional storm. As a result, I didn’t always make good decisions.
Make and Understand Your Budget
Another thing I didn’t do – at least not at first. I really had no clear idea about how much money went where. How much did I spend a month on groceries? On gifts? On clothing? You need to do this, no matter how scary it might be. Because once you know what you’ve been spending, you have a starting place for what you want from the settlement.
There are several free online budget programs that aren’t difficult to use, such as mint.com – one that I’m working with.
Banks, lawyers usually offer budget worksheets for their customers, or make up your own in a notebook.
Money is scary. Not understanding money is terrifying. If you can, get someone close to help you. Face the fear.
Get Your Bank
If you haven’t done so already, you need to open your own bank account, preferably a different bank from the one used in marriage. Make an appointment with the bank’s financial advisor and introduce yourself, explain what you’re going through. If you don’t feel comfortable with this person, be brave and try someone else. It’s important that you have someone you can talk to and feel confident about. Even if you know you aren’t going to have much money, it’s still YOUR money. That was one of the most difficult things for me to truly grasp: I was responsible (and in charge).
Know Your Benefits
As I mentioned, I didn’t work outside the home for many years, so had no pension of my own and no money of my own, but I did qualify for many seniors’ benefits even before I was eligible for Social Security/Old Age Pension. Banks, restaurants, pharmacies, grocery stores, hotels – many offer discounts and specials. Once I started looking, it was quite surprising what is out there. I had to cut back on many expenses, yes, but I found I could also save quite a bit of money if I became aware.
Furthermore, if money is really tight, there are many government and social agencies that are there to help those with low incomes. Take advantage of everything you can, especially as you are finding your way through. Grab hold of every life raft that comes by and keep yourself afloat until you reach shore. There is no shame in surviving.
Don’t make hasty decisions. Try to understand your finances, prospects–what will your new “single” life look like? Maybe staying in your marital home is no longer an option or if it is, is it the right option?
If at all possible, try to look at your situation as you might look at a business, keeping emotional issues out of the picture as much as possible. Easier said than done, believe me, I know this. Just remember: you are not powerless. One step at a time, forward into your new life.