Getting a divorce is not an ideal transition, but something you may be going through. Unfortunately, it is something that I have experience with, as well as several of my friends (and much of our society). Through this, I have learned several do’s and don’ts to alleviate some emotional mistakes, especially at the beginning of the process.
Although every circumstance is different, there are general tips that hopefully will be able to help anyone going through this transition. It can be a scary time, especially for those who haven’t been the one to manage the finances in the marriage. The following tips can help to alleviate some of that stress.
Take a step back from retail therapy
Make sure that your purchases and choices are not emotionally driven. Think about what you are doing and if it is really necessary to make your purchases. During this time, emotions are running very high. You may be tempted to resort to retail therapy to make yourself feel better. You may suddenly want to buy a new car, a new house, or go on a big vacation. Life-changing decisions may look enticing, however, these decisions could really add up and financially hurt you long-term.
Start building your own credit
Start making sure things are in your own name. This is something that I would encourage even married couples to do. Have at least one thing in your own name. Open a savings account and start saving. You might think you can’t possibly do this if all your finances are going towards attorney fees or cost of living, but having a basic savings account will ease your mind and help you in the long run (even if you start with only $10-$15 dollars). Having this cushion of accounts in your name will start good habits of saving. Creating a checking account and a credit card in your name is crucial. Establishing these things, allows you to manage your day to day expenses out of your own account.
Take note of your income, your expenditures, and start keeping accounts in balance
Budgeting can feel overwhelming, especially if you were not the one in the marriage who was involved in tracking your expenses. Here is my advice, it doesn’t have to be a detailed spreadsheet, but just start by logging in to your accounts. We all want to be in control of our spending and avoid making financial mistakes. That may mean not making those purchases that we can’t afford and are not necessary right now. Maintain what you need for your cost of living and start focusing and following that in your new life.
Start reviewing all your beneficiaries and titles to your accounts
If you have retirement plans, 401 K’s, or trusts, start reviewing them. If you want to make changes to these plans, you may have wait until the divorce is final. However, it doesn’t hurt to start looking and getting familiar with what things are joint ownership and what things will need to be changed to individual ownership. I have talked to several people who, years after their divorce, have still not changed their beneficiaries. What this means is that if anything should happen to them (heaven forbid), then their retirement, 401K’s, or trust documents will go to their former spouse. Be sure to look at those and make any necessary changes.
Give yourself a break
You are under so much pressure during a divorce. It is a time of high emotion and survival is your number one priority. You need to take a breather and give yourself a break. Don’t make any major financial decisions while you are in the middle of an emotional time. Try to avoid buying anything major. Don’t sign any paperwork when you are in the middle of something that is emotional. Always talk to professionals and not just family and friends. You are most likely going to get a lot of advice. People love you and want to support you, but it is not always the best advice because they may not know your entire situation. Take things with a grain of salt and then go and talk to a professional who can actually look at your entire financial picture. A professional is someone who can help you with the basic financial plans, a CPA who can organize your taxes, or your attorney who can help you with the overall legal documents. Have those discussions about what is an emotional decision and what is really helping you with long-term plans.
To review: take a breather, don’t make any major decisions, build your personal credit, get familiar with your financial plans, and talk with professionals. You can do this. I’m here for you if you need someone to talk to. I’ve been through this transition and would be happy to assist in any way that you need. Feel free to reach out.