Two years ago I made a big life change. I decided to divorce my husband and start a new life on my own without him. Among all the complications that were part of divorce, the thing that concerned me the most about this new chapter of life was finances. How could I possibly manage financially separately, when together we were struggling, especially since two households are more expensive to run than one?
I was really afraid, and this, honestly, was what kept me in an unhealthy marriage longer than I should have been. However, I spoke to lots of single moms whose finances improved tremendously after divorce, and they reassured me that it is not only possible but likely that once I'm out of an unhealthy situation, I'll be able to grow in so many ways and improve my finances in ways that I couldn't while married. And that, combined with lots of therapy, helped me decide to make the decision to leave.
The very first step I did to kickstart my budget was open my own bank account. Since this was before I told my ex that I was going through with the divorce, I asked a trusted friend if I could make the address for the account be at her house, so any necessary paperwork would go there. Once I had the account, I transfered any money of mine that was regularly coming into our joint account into that account instead. And I transfered all bills to that account as well. Know what when you do this, you aren't doing this to hide your marital assets, as the legal rights during separation are more complicated. The reason you'd be doing this is to prevent him from emptying out your bank account and running off, leaving you destitute.
The next step was signing up for a budgeting app. I knew all about YNAB, aka You Need a Budget, because of a post I'd written on the subject in the past, and I knew it was the most user friendly app out there. It did cost money, but there was a free trial, and I decided that if I saw it paid off after the free trial, I'd sign up for the it and pay full cost. I read up on all the instructional things and joined YNAB Facebook groups to ask questions. That was really helpful.
Then I needed to actually implement and make my budget.
When making my budget, I first put in all the required things, the non negotiables. My mortgage. Groceries. Insurance. Cell phones. Internet. Medical. Transportation. Schools. Therapy. And there wasn't enough to cover those. So even though budgeting apps tell you to budget every dollar that you get as it comes in, I wasn't able to do that, so I kept it all in the "to be budgeted" category until I needed to pay each thing, and then moved it into that category. And no, I didn't have any extra categories at that point other than maybe $10 in my "blow money" budget. I should add that at this point I made the decision to not use a credit card, to only spend the money that I had, and to not take any loans out to cover my expenses. If I couldn't pay for something, I wouldn't buy it. Period.
Then, I did what people in Dave Ramsey groups call "Dave jobs" or as Dave says "becoming gazelle intense". In other words, any possible thing I could to increase my income. That meant advertising lots of foraging classes in lots of different places, and being willing to do them even if not that many people signed up, because money is money, no money is too little. It means that I looked for every little thing that I was skilled at or simply was able to do and offered to do that for people. I put myself out there. I cleaned houses, often multiple times in one week. I organized peoples kitchens. I put together Ikea furniture for people. I taught people how to make fermented foods. I taught soap making classes. I worked in people's homes cooking for them. Basically, if I could do it, I offered it for sale.
It exhausted me. It wore me out. It made my body hurt. It wasn't easy. But it gradually made things improve.
I will admit, at first even that wasn't enough, and I reached out and asked for charity more than once. I reached out to a religious figure in my community and he helped me get funding for my kids' therapy, which I knew was imperative when going through divorce, and friends told me I needed to do that even if it meant asking for charity. And then sometimes also for other things. Because I wasn't making it every month, especially when a sudden expense came through.
But gradually, over time, I was able to prioritize, and figure out the best way to make money that also kept my sanity and didn't hurt my body. And fortunately, at the same time, I started making more money from my blog. Call it the Secret, call it the universe watching me, call it thought manifestation, call it God, but when I was working my butt off to try to improve things financially, the business that I had already started taking off more.
Once I had enough to cover the basic basic expenses, I started putting money each month in my category on my budget, as soon as I got the money, and not just the basic expenses. I started categories for things like gifts and hobbies, kids clothing, my clothing, etc.
But even more important than that, I started sinking funds. Sinking funds are categories in your budget that you don't always need, but come up periodically, so you fund them in advance so that when you do need to, for example, replace your refrigerator, you use the money that you already had in your "Appliance repair and replacement" category of the budget so that you don't need to figure out how to suddenly fund this large expense, that you don't need to use your emergency fund for this, and don't need to take out a loan to pay it.
Oh, and yes, an emergency fund. Even if you have debt to pay off, get yourself an emergency fund. Dave says to start with an $1000 emergency fund if you have debt, but if you're extremely poor and can't manage to save that much, he says going with a $500 emergency fund is fine as well. If even that is too much for you to manage, try using these tips from my post on how to overcome an unexpected financial crisis to help you get to that point.
Fortunately, things for me improved more once my daughter's autism got approved for disability payments, which eased up our finances. But even had that not happened, just following steps 1-5 helped me go from absolute panic drowning mode to being able to survive, even without child support.
If you are a single parent, in the process of divorce, or even if you are happily married but still struggling, consider following these steps to kickstart your budget and get your finances back on track.