Budgeting Tips for Life After Divorce

By Alice Garbarini Hurley · July 03, 2024 · 8 minute read

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Budgeting Tips for Life After Divorce

You may be getting divorced, but you’re not alone. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 34% of women and 33% of men in the United States are right there with you, having ended their unions.

Certainly, though, this life event can cause emotional turmoil, and it may trigger worries about money too. Take heart: The end of a marriage does not have to mean an end to financial security. If you keep calm and make a careful post-divorce budget, you are more likely to stay fiscally fit.

Why Is a Post-divorce Budget Critical?

A realistic budget after divorce is a must. It can often cost a lot more to run two households than one. Still, doing what’s right for your personal life path and well-being comes first; there’s no point staying unhappily wed simply to save money. It can be possible to find steady footing during this transition with the right basic living expenses budget.

Truth is, after the sometimes hefty expense of a divorce lawyer (if you hired one), you will possibly be solely responsible for housing, utilities, groceries, car maintenance, and more.

There are various ways to budget for this, including the 50/30/20 rule and the envelope system, among others. You’ll also likely encounter a variety of tools, including spreadsheets and apps. Take the time to review your options and find an approach that feels right for you.

Recommended: Am I Responsible for My Spouse’s Debt?

Lifestyle Pre-divorce and Post-divorce Will Be Different

Get ready for changes in your lifestyle and your cash management. Transitioning from couplehood to single status can take time, patience, and being kind to yourself.

You will likely need to set up your own bank account, for example, if you previously had a joint account with your ex. And you’ll need to put your place of residence, you car, and utility bills, among other things, in your name.

You may be responsible for more household chores now, as you may not be able to afford, say, the cleaning person or landscaper you used to employ. Trimming the leisure budget (dinners out, vacations, entertainment, fitness classes) might be necessary, but all is not lost. Prioritize what is most important to your self-care now. This can be a bump in the road, not the end of the line.

Newly Single Life Can Be Taxing Emotionally and Financially

Divorce can affect your spirit as well as your finances. If you’re struggling and don’t have a therapist, consider finding one and/or joining a support group in your community. We can’t always “adult” our way through rough times.

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Finances for Children May Be Difficult

Children are a hot-button topic for almost all parents, both married and divorced. Meeting their emotional and financial needs can lead to a tug-of-war, especially if you and your ex don’t communicate calmly and effectively.

As your divorce unfolds, pay close attention to what counts as child support. For instance, you may want to continue your child’s soccer league, guitar lessons, or art classes, but these activities may or may not be covered. Also, if you have a teen who is begging for a used car, that large expenditure may not be covered by child support either.

Knowing just what counts as a child support expense, along with careful record keeping, will be important as you develop with your divorce budget. After all, knowledge is power. It will help you negotiate and budget better as a single parent, as well as keep the peace as you co-parent.

Recognize You Can No Longer Rely on Two Incomes

It can be a huge learning curve: Relying on a single salary instead of two. This post-divorce situation can be especially complicated if your ex had the employee benefits, including family health and dental insurance, 401(k) contributions, and a flexible spending account (FSA), where payroll deductions cover everything from child care to eyeglasses.

Now is the time to investigate what options you have to gain self-sufficiency and stay on budget. For example, if you work, does your employer offer an affordable health insurance plan? If you are self-employed, what networking groups could advise you on good options? Do you perhaps qualify for a lower-cost health insurance plan on the marketplace? Explore ways to save money, too. For instance, perhaps a high-yield savings account might be right for you. Even if you contribute just $20 a week, the money can add up and earn interest over time. Invest some time in seeing what’s available that suits your needs and budget.

Potential Questions to Ask Yourself

As you move through your divorce process and onto your newly single life, ask and answer the big questions. These can help you both trouble-shoot and thrive.

•   How much is my income going to change? First, look at past bank statements. See how much your spouse and you have each contributed to the family income. In many cases, of course, alimony will come into play, but you need a realistic income-based expectation for that, too.

•   What do I need to let go of? This may take soul-searching. As you go from two incomes to one income, it’s likely that something’s got to give in terms of expenditures. Think creatively about where and how to economize. You might decide to plan and cook ahead for the week to minimize the temptation and expense of eating out. Or perhaps you decide to split an apartment with a friend for a while to save on rent while you get your bearings. It’s your call.

•   How should I supplement my income? If you need to get cash flowing your way, contemplate what’s in your toolbox of strengths and skills. One of the key benefits of a side hustle is that it can boost your income and fit your schedule. Maybe you’re a super-organized person who offers decluttering skills, a tech-savvy type who can build websites for others, or an animal lover who pet-sits or walks dogs. Other ideas: Fill free hours as an Instacart shopper, Amazon delivery person, or Uber driver.

•   How will we fairly work out financial support for the kids? Are the children dividing their time 50/50 between you and your ex? What will your child support agreement entail? What additional expenses may come up in the future (tutoring, college prep classes)? Think and work it through, possibly with professional guidance.

Post-Divorce Budgeting Tips

Once you have mulled over the issues relating to post-divorce life, keep these strategies in mind to help you optimize your finances.

Focusing On Current Income

Base your budget on your income now, after taxes. Do not base it on the projected income you hope to have. Don’t get caught up thinking about your former two-person income. Being pragmatic right now will likely pay off and help you stay out of debt.

Focusing On Most Important Monthly Expenses

For now, prioritize what it will take to get through daily life. Calculate costs of a roof over your head, a way to get to work, food, child care, healthcare, and other essentials. Take care of people first, starting with yourself; then deal with material things later.

Letting Go of Unnecessary Items

Go ahead and slash some items out of your budget. There are some easy ways to save money. Perhaps you can jettison a couple of streaming services, cut back on clothes shopping, and mow your own lawn instead of hiring someone else to do it. That feeling of opening up some room in your budget can be priceless.

Giving Yourself Safe and Budget-Friendly Fun

Find the right mood lifters. Avoid expensive, impulsive purchases when you are feeling emotionally hurt and raw. They can wreak havoc with your finances.

Instead, treat yourself to free or low-cost adventures and experiences. Fresh air can be healing and motivating; local parks and wildlife sanctuaries may offer free guided walks and birdwatching outings.

Considering Working With a Financial Advisor

As you sort out your finances as you approach a divorce, you may want to enlist a professional versed in the issues that can crop up. Child support, shared credit-card debt, and division of jointly owned real estate can require this kind of guidance. A certified divorce financial analyst (CDFA) is trained to assist with this and help you get the fairest possible deal. Explore the possibility and find out the CDFA fees to see if it’s a good option for you.

Post-divorce, you might also seek out an advisor who can help you set up a financial plan so that your spending and saving habits suit your new situation.

The Takeaway

Transitioning from pre-divorce to post-divorce life can stir up fears and insecurities, but you can take concrete steps to manage the unknown. Face facts about income, set a realistic budget, and find the right bank account. Prioritize your needs, and be willing to put unnecessary expenses on hold for now. Like so many others, you will find your footing and peace of mind, thanks to patience, flexibility, and wise budgeting.

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How do you budget after a divorce?

To budget for post-divorce life, assess and prioritize non-negotiable needs (such as housing, food, utilities, and child care), and phase out or reduce unnecessary extras. Pay attention to the details of your divorce agreement, as alimony and/or child support may impact your finances significantly.

How long does it take to financially recover from divorce?

The timeline for recovering financially from divorce varies tremendously, depending on the particulars of a person’s income, divorce agreement, and other factors. It may take around five years to fully regain your sense of control over your money, though that could happen much sooner (or take even longer) for some.

Will I be poor after divorce?

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that after a divorce, household income for women can drop considerably. This is all the more reason to budget carefully after divorce and seek professional advice. These steps could help you avoid costly mistakes that impact your financial wellness.

Photo credit: iStock/PeopleImages

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