Going through a divorce is stressful and typically fraught with emotion. The last thing you may want to think about is sticking to a budget. It’s one more thing to stress about during an already stressful time. People often assume living on a budget translates to all these negative things: You have to restrict yourself, you don’t get to buy anything you want, you have to pinch every penny, and the list goes on and on.
But a budget, when done right, actually provides stability during this time of transition, emotional stress, and upheaval.
Why A Budget is Crucial During a Divorce
Having a budget helps you to keep your priorities and values in check.
During a divorce, it’s sometimes easy to get confused about who you are and what’s important to you. Your ex buys your son a new video game, so you suddenly feel you have to as well. Your ex moves into a bigger home, and you may feel like suddenly your lovely home is no longer adequate.
Make a list of the things you value most in life — your family, your health, or perhaps your relationship with others — and make sure your budget is upholding those values. Does your spending support your values?
Taking care of what you cherish most in life is what brings you true happiness, regardless of what those around you are doing with their money. In this way, living on a budget actually brings you peace of mind that while you may not have it all, you have what’s most important.
Having a budget forces you to be intentional.
You may be feeling an array of emotions during this transition. Some people spend money when they’re having a good day to reward themselves for something positive that happened. Others spend money when they’re having a bad day as a way of covering up the fact that they’re stressed or depressed. Your life is likely an emotional rollercoaster right now. You may be moving out of your long-time home. You may get daily calls from your attorney and face mounting legal bills. You are likely answering questions from family members and friends who want to know “why” this is happening. Even harder, you may be having a discussion with your child who is confused and sad. The list is endless.
Being on a budget forces you to decide, at a time when you’re logical and rational, “What do I want to spend my money on this month?”
Grab a sheet of paper and answer that question. List all your bills, which are likely your necessities. Look at a calendar and write down the things you know you’ll need money for. Put a plan in place, and don’t forget to add some extras if you can, such as, “Treat me to a new pair of shoes” or “Take my daughter to the zoo.” You still need to live your life.
Having a budget gives you control.
I am a control freak. I don’t always like to admit it, but I know there are a number of things in life we have no control over. And this is never truer than during a divorce. Sometimes during a big transition, when nothing seems to be going your way, it’s easy to want to throw your hands up and yell, “I’m done trying!”
Being on a budget gives you control over the things you actually can control, and it and puts you back in the driver’s seat. It helps you to avoid situations where you suddenly have to adjust due to a lack of money. It helps you make better decisions: “Do I want to sacrifice this short-term item (say a coffee) for the long-term goal (saying taking a vacation, getting out of debt or buying a house)?”
Write down the #1 goal you have right now. You may have a number of goals, but just write down the one that you’d love to accomplish first. As you’re doing the other tasks, compare what you’re spending to the feeling of accomplishing this goal.
Most importantly, keep in mind, budgeting and money are not about being perfect. That’s simply way too unrealistic of an expectation to place on yourself. Instead, focus today on making progress with your money. One step forward at a time.
If you’re working through a separation and need help making crucial financial decisions during this time, please refer to the Fiscal Fitness How to Budget guide for a little more step-by-step budgeting help. Or if you think you could benefit from speaking to a financial coach, learn more about our Eureka sessions here.