How to Survive On One Income After Divorce

I’ve never been good with living on a budget. I like to shop; I find it cathartic (yes, yes I know a therapist would have lots to say about that), I like buying things. So finding myself on a one income budget post-divorce was a little bit of a wake-up call…and freeing at the same time.

Instead of asking for child or supposal support (you can read the reason I opted out here), I decided to make a go of it on my own. My ex-husband and I split our debts (we had no savings) and interestingly enough I found myself in a better position financially then when I was married on two incomes. (It also helped that for most of the marriage I was the primary breadwinner). Besides having a solid job, there were a few things that I did to help me survive on only one income after the divorce. Of course, your personal situation will be quite different, so I’ll try to keep these as general as possible.

Thankful for friends who signed us in at Disneyland so we could celebrate someone's 8th birthday!

Thankful for friends who signed us in at Disneyland so we could celebrate someone’s 8th birthday – this was about a year post-divorce.

1. Get a Roommate

This is the number one thing that saved me post-divorce. I’ve heard people flat out refuse to get a roommate, but for me, one great benefit was that I wouldn’t have to be alone. But the financial benefit of getting a roommate was that immediately, my expenses were cut in half (I was paying the full rent while my ex worked mostly on commission while we were married). Suddenly, I found that I only was responsible for half the expenses and half the rent. Having a roommate the first two years post divorce helped me get back on my feet and saved me a good amount of money as well as some nights of sanity when being alone in my thoughts wasn’t a good thing.

Some of you with kids may not be able to do something like this, but all three of my roommates were okay with having a Kidlet underfoot.

2. Make Eliminating Debt a Priority

Eliminating the debt you have between you and your ex should be a priority. First, it allows you to ties from him much faster when you are not financially committed to each other. Secondly, when you eliminate debt, you also alleviate a lot of stress. I have one last debt tie to my ex-husband, the car payment, and I can’t wait to be completely free from him financially.

If you need help with debt management and paying off debt, I recommend any book from Dave Ramsey, and especially, The Total Money Makeover: Classic Edition: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness. He’s helped millions of people get out of debt.

3. Find a Job You Can Do From Home 

(This tip is for parents with kids that aren’t school aged, or are homeschooled like mine).

I’ve been very, very lucky to never have had to pay for child care. I’ve either been home with my daughter, my ex was home with her, my friends would watch her, or I was able to take her to work. But childcare is expensive, and you may suddenly find out that your custody arrangement interferes with your work schedule.

Finding a job you can do from home is becoming more and more common as offices are allowing more remote opportunities. I had been working in education for about seven years when I left my ex-husband. I was fortunate enough to be at a job where I worked remotely three weeks of the month. The job was perfect on paper – one week a month, I worked outside the home, I could work remotely the rest of the time, I had retirement, benefits, bonuses, all holidays and six weeks off in the summer (wait, why did I leave?!) All joking aside, I wanted to pursue a writing career and a fresh start, far away from my ex (who was on the school board). Now, I have none of those perks and the added burden of paying taxes as an independent contractor, but I am doing what I love and still can do it from home while homeschooling my daughter. It’s a struggle for sure, but worth it (most days – just not on tax day).

Another option is figuring out a schedule where you work in the office when you don’t have your child with you. I used to shoot weddings and do portrait sessions on the weekends (I still do – just not as often) and my ex works a regular 9-5 job. Our custody situation is a 50/50 split where I get my daughter on Sunday night and keep her through Thursday. She goes to one day of classes on Thursday, and he picks her up from school and has her every weekend. This frees me up to book any jobs on the weeks and him not to worry about childcare while he works.

I know there are plenty of MLM type opportunities as well. Do what works for you and your kids.

Mac and I 2012

4. Learn to Sacrifice

Sacrificing sucks. When times were tough, I stopped getting pedicures; I stopped shopping at Nordstrom; I stopped buying the newest this or that. We stopped eating out, and when we did, I’d order something less expensive so my daughter could get what she wanted. I worked a number of side jobs for extra money. I did what was necessary.

I now buy clothes and shoes at Marshalls and Target. Instead of the priciest makeup, I buy the less expensive off brand at the drugstore. Now that money isn’t as tight, we are able to buy nicer things, splurge on non-essentials, but the bargain-hunting mindset has stayed. I now look at the clearance racks first on the rare occasion I go shopping, I still paint my own toenails, and may get a pedicure once a year for a special occasion. For my birthday last year, I splurged and bought a TV (I gave both to my ex in the divorce) even though I rarely watch TV. It was an open-box buy that was heavily clearanced. I felt like an adult after that purchase.

Some of the first Christmases meant less tangible gifts and more creative ones. Same for birthdays. What I’ve learned is that no matter what, you always get by. There was always food on our table; we never went hungry; we are fortunate.

[RELATED POST: How To Survive The Holidays As a Single Mom]

5. Don’t Stress

Stressing about finances does not solve any problems. It just makes your hair gray and you not a fun person to be around. It always works out – somehow, someway. As I mentioned, I was better off financially when I was divorced than I was when I was married. But there were some really hard times when I was married where we had no money at all. I wasn’t working, and he was rarely working. At one point, we had the car repossessed and the house foreclosed on. Yet, I’m still here today.

I cannot tell you the number of times money just randomly showed up when I was down to pennies in my bank account and a stack of bills needed to be paid. I can remember being called for a photography job completely out of the blue, when hours before I was lamenting about not being able to afford something (like a car payment). There were times where we ate quesadillas or boxed macaroni and cheese, and a friend would unknowingly invite us over for a homecooked meal and send us home with lots of extras.

We were never poor; sure it was a struggle, but we were always taken care of. No amount of stressing made it happen any differently or any faster.

Conclusion

Every situation is different. If you find yourself facing divorce with no idea how you are going to survive on only one income, trust me, there is a way, and you will find it. It may require some discomfort and some inconvenience, but it will always work out. Always. Money problems suck, but find things that you can be grateful for. Gratitude will change your mindset and will remind you that life really is good.

The above tips applied to my personal situation. Your circumstances are most likely different, but find hope in the fact that many, many, many women (too many) have been in the same situation and have come out on the other side FREE – free from not only a bad relationship but financially free as well. It can and will happen!

If you have any tips on what helped you, please comment below!

3 thoughts on “How to Survive On One Income After Divorce

  1. These are practical tips and life lessons that are relevant to many life situations. But first and foremost, thank you for sharing with such candor, humor and strength. For lack of better words, this was so inspiring and life-affirming. Sending you good vibes!

    1. Aw, thank you, Katherine! It’s partly cathartic for me to “get it all out there,” but I feel like if I can help one person through the journey, it’s worth it 🙂

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