My Divorce Turned My Finances Upside Down

woman credit card

Back when I was first contemplating divorce, I did the math. I created a spreadsheet to map out a budget: My salary minus our essential monthly expenses. I wanted to find out if I really could make it on my own, paying my mortgage, buying groceries, supporting myself and my son. According to the math, I could! Juuuuust barely. So I moved forward with the divorce and struck out on my own. And I completely blew my budget. KA-BLEWEY.


Turns out one of those "fascinating" things I've learned about myself post-divorce is that I'm kind of a disaster, financially. Wow, neat! So fun.

It's not for lack of trying. I was raised by very frugal parents (hello, five kids in my family), and I married a very frugal young man. He was an artist who did all right, actually. But since his income was so unpredictable, we made it a point to live below our means. Want an example? We were married about 15 years before we bought a sofa. When we had our son, we stayed in the same tiny, one-bedroom apartment rather than upgrading to a two-bedroom because OMG, MONEY.

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I learned a lot of good habits during those years. And I still think I spend carefully, for the most part. Well, there was that time a good friend of mine opened a boutique selling precious wonderful things like silk scarves -- at the opening I went berserk with my credit card, though mostly on Christmas presents.

But what's really wrecked my budget hasn't been splurges. It's been those millions of little expenses you incur just trying to make your life as a divorced mom work: the takeout sandwiches, the cab rides when I'm criss-crossing this metropolis trying to meet impossible work and family obligations in one day, the cellphone for my kid that makes me feel less paranoid about losing him in the shuffle between me and me ex. And that bottle of wine every couple of weeks to help take the edge off the whole insane high-wire act.

I know I'm fortunate, compared to so many single moms. I have a college degree and a full-time job with benefits. My son and I both enjoy robust health. I pay way below market rate to live in a sweet neighborhood because we were lucky enough to buy an apartment years ago when it was cheap. I've finally started receiving child support on the regular.

But wow, I have had some scary moments. I maxed out a credit card -- I can't even write down the amount on that card because I'll throw up. You don't want to know. I've gone into overdraft more times than I want to say. At this very moment I have about $9 in my checking account. And honestly, I'm just grateful that that's not a negative number.

It's just going to be like this for a while as I adjust to life on my own. I'm getting better at tracking my spending ... I think. It takes a while to get used to living on one income.

In the meantime, I wasted a lot of time on shame spirals. Having this much financial difficulty made me feel like a total failure. It was like I became my money. You could measure my self confidence by my checking account. Never mind that I was trying to raise a child in one of the most expensive cities in the country as a freakin' writer (why oh why didn't I go into law???).

And then it stopped.

Not the financial crisis -- that is ongoing. I mean the shame spirals. I don't know if it was something I read one day, or just a bolt of inspiration, but I finally realized: I am not my money.

Money isn't a measure of my self worth. It's just a tool. A tool I use with other tools to build my life. That's become my new mantra. I'm going through a second divorce, and this one is between my finances and my emotions. Does it suck when I miscalculate (again!) and come up short? Hell, yeah. But I don't have to let it get me down. Hopefully I learn something, I recover, and I keep moving forward.

I'm not the first person to stumble financially after divorce, and I won't be the last. It helps to remember that, too.

And I have to give myself some credit for managing. Even though I hope to do better, I'm still proud of myself for supporting myself and my son. I've learned how to survive as a single mom in New York City. I may have a few bruises, but I'm strong, and I'm making it work. I will make it!

Do you have a hard time separating your money from your emotions?


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