This story comes from reader Julia Lawrence. Julia thoroughly enjoys writing about finances, pop culture and selling diamonds! When she isn’t hard at work writing, she spends her time wither with an absolutely adorable Mini Golden Retriever, Jake, and her [new] husband, Mr. Julia Lawrence. Follow Jules at Google+ & @DiamondLining.
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Going through a divorce was one of the most stressful times in my life. Instead of growing old as a couple, I was forced to start over, alone, and I was confused as to what direction to take. After the emotional dust had settled, the most frustrating aspect was trying to rebounding financially.
Fortunately, I had some divorced friends and relatives, and I was the recipient of some incredibly useful advice. It took some research on my end as well, but most people can not only recover financially from a divorce, but end up better off than when they were married. Here are some of the hard-earned financial lessons that I learned when going through my divorce.
Planning for retirement
The first thing I did was educate myself on the insurance, investment and retirement planning that my soon-to-be ex and I did. Even though we largely collaborated on these decisions when we were married, I didn’t pay the premiums on the life insurance, nor did I know how to access his company-sponsored 401(k). In fact, I didn’t even know where to access an old 401(k) from one of my previous employers, so I had to do a little digging on both his assets, and my own. Once I located all of the assets, I had a financial planner friend help me calculate the long-term financial benefits of the insurance and retirement plans. Calculating compounding growth and tax consequences isn’t an easy task, and there is a little art mixed with the science when it comes to determining what you think stock and bond growth rates will be in the years and decades to come. But with some help I was able to arrive at a reasonable approximation of the value of these assets.
The next thing that I did was to check my credit report. It turns out that my credit was very good, largely because I was listed on all of the accounts with my husband, so I received credit for paying our bills in a timely manner for years. However, I have heard horror stories from women whose names weren’t on their accounts, and therefore had virtually no credit history for the years that they were married. Even worse, many times, an ex suffers consequences that are the result of the other partner’s poor financial habits. Knowing what my score was gave me a lot of peace of mind, something that is in short supply when you are going through a divorce.
After I understood the value of the assets we had, and accounted for the money in the bank, I decided to create a realistic budget for myself as a single person. Some friends had made it clear that as a divorcee, I probably wouldn’t be able to maintain the same standard of living I had while married, but I needed to find out for myself. Knowing what I could and could not afford helped me make a couple of major decisions, like where to live, or that perhaps I didn’t need a new laptop.
I made a couple of changes, including kicking caffeine once I realized just how much money I was spending at Starbucks, but things weren’t as bad as I had anticipated. For example, I was used to having a cleaning woman come to the house once a month, but in a smaller apartment I didn’t need one. Since I wasn’t constantly fighting with my husband, I had more free time after work, so I was able to cook more meals and eat out less — another money saver! I also had to cut back on my retirement savings a little in order to make my budget work, which taught me the most valuable financial lesson I learned during my divorce: Don’t ignore the future.
Building up a savings account gave me more peace of mind than anything else that I was able to do during my divorce. I received more psychological benefit from seeing that nest egg growing than anything else. It was a cathartic experience, and I used the opportunity to shed some of the assets from the marriage that I didn’t need any more. I sold a lot of our furniture that neither of us would need while living alone, like a formal dining table. I got a newer but less expensive car, and I managed to sell my diamond ring online in order to fund my savings account.
Finally, I completely separated myself financially from my ex. I closed joint accounts, transferred the car title and registration to my name. I even updated my will and insurance beneficiary information just to ensure a complete break and a fresh start.
It wasn’t easy, or fun, and it took a lot of work, but I was able to make good decisions thanks to some great advice, and come out of the divorce with my financial life intact!