The following blog post is part of The Road to Financial Wellness blog tour. The Road to Financial Wellness is a three-month, grassroots campaign promoting financial empowerment on a national level and encourages people to pursue their dream lifestyle. Find out more about local events near you.
This coming September will mark for me the 20 year anniversary of starting my journey to my financial empowerment. Sometimes, the best things that you will ever do are born out of times that are fundamentally the worst times, such as when you are hurting emotionally and financially and are desperate for control when tough roadblocks occur in your life. That’s what happened to me in September 1996.
Back then, my 25-year marriage had just ended, my divorce became final and I was at my low point in every part of my life from job to family and of course, my financial condition. After a divorce, the division of assets doesn’t leave two halves but rather a pretty big financial hole which means a lot less for everyone involved. You can do one of two things it seems. Either you can wallow in self-pity and think you’re destined to be in that mess forever or you can decide that you can do something about your problems and start to find ways that you can take control again of your financial well-being. It may not be simple and easy, but it can be done.
The first thing to do when looking to heal your financial wounds is to understand that solving your problems is best done in basic steps. These have little to do with divorce and more to do with standards that you should have practiced all of your life, but now you just don’t have any choice. That is if you want to recover and survive. In my case, I went from seeming financial prosperity to being financially crushed and I didn’t like the taste of it. So I did what made sense and what I should have learned and done when I was a young adult.
I had to immediately learn to live on a drastically reduced income due to things like spousal support, child support and other obligations which were directed by the divorce decree. How do you adjust to something like that when you have been privileged enough to go through years of just taking your income and spending for granted and never thinking about limits? That brings us to the first rule on that road: make a budget and stick to it!!!
As simple as that sounds, the making of a budget is something that many have difficulty with even though it may be the single most important first step to financial empowerment. Making a list of all your expenses and monthly obligations is an absolute requirement and is something so many people just ignore. Too many people think the budget will control them, which is ironic because a budget is how I control my money instead of my money controlling me.
To make my budget, I listed every need I had and separated them from all the wants which were haunting me and lined them up against my income. I knew that I’d have to give up things, but I was determined to give up only what I didn’t absolutely need to get myself through this tough time and still take care of my children and myself. By doing that one simple thing, I could see that I could cut through the BS and could heal and grow back into a positive force fairly quickly. I had never looked at finances that way before, and I always have since.
I also made sure that my credit rating was still intact because that can play a huge role. I checked it and kept on checking it all along as I began to pay off my credit card debt. Eventually I was able to pay them all off in just 2 years and 4 months. My credit rating now stays in the 800’s, and I generally pay off my credit card balances every month.
There are at least ten steps to financial empowerment, but the very first thing is just to know that there are ways to improve your situation and reach your goals. However, you are the one that must start that process. No matter what you think you know about money issues, you should understand what a budget means and will do to control your situation—allow you to spend in priority mode, reduce your debt, and earn you peace of mind. We all make mistakes, but the sooner you learn these skills the less likely you will be to face these woes later on.
These days, I still use a budget to control my money, I don’t take my income and spending for granted, and I’m about to celebrate my 10th wedding anniversary with my “new” wife. We communicate about finances often and I’m thankful to be in a position where we are financially empowered to work towards our goals.