We all know single moms who have become displaced homemakers when a divorce occurred, and they were forced to enter the workforce for the first time in many years or perhaps the first time ever. Even if these women have college degrees, if they have gone a decade or two without putting anything new on their resume, getting a professional level job may be tougher than they expect. If they have never had a professional level job, the prospect of trying to get one can be daunting. I have known many middle-aged women who went back to waiting tables or working as a cashier in an effort to put food on the table.
I have known many men who first lost a job, and the stress of that led to losing a marriage. I have also known that to work the other way around. The stress and depression of losing a marriage has led to poor job performance and the loss of a job or a business. Sometimes the pressure of trying to support two households can be intense. I have seen a number of men feeling pretty shortchanged as their former wives jetted off to places like Cancun for vacations with their new boyfriends or husbands, while they were stuck sleeping on a futon in a shabby apartment trying to pay thousands of dollars per month in child support and alimony. While this is not true in every circumstance, it happens often.
Let me provide a few suggestions for navigating this part of widowhood or divorce.
1. Take care of your mental health. If you have recently been through something as traumatic as a divorce, there is a good chance you really need to work this out in therapy, or do thought work with a life coach, and come to a more peaceful place before you can recover financially. I know what I'm asking. For some of you who are barely making ends meet and not yet saving for retirement, the idea of paying hundreds of dollars for counseling or coaching seems like utter frivolity. I promise you, it is pennies on the dollar when you consider how your depression may be affecting your productivity. If you are stuck in the mud financially, chances are good that you are (or were) stuck in the mud emotionally. And you've got to get out of the emotional mud before you're going to have the energy to manifest a better situation in the outer world. So cut back wherever you can and simply find a way to afford it. Some clinics will offer you a sliding scale based on your income. Look for that. Whatever it takes, it's the best money you'll ever spend.
2. Pay your taxes first. I know if you are a business owner and are having trouble, this is something you just don't want to deal with. If you don't pay your timing for a while, the Lord and the church will forgive you. Don't misunderstand, I'm not suggesting that you stop paying tithing. But I am making the point that the IRS is not nearly so forgiving as the church. The penalties and interest for not filing tax returns are severe. If you think you have financial problems now, it is nothing compared to what you're going to be facing when you owe $75,000 to the IRS. So render unto Caesar first and always file a return, even if you can't afford to pay the tax yet.
3. Consider your opportunities. You may not have wanted or asked for a divorce. But if you are in that situation, one of the silver linings is that you are able to reinvent yourself without anyone else's permission. Is there a business you wanted to start but never did because your former spouse didn't support it? Had you always wanted to go back for your masters degree? What are some of the career dreams you gave up on? Many of you will respond that you don't have the money to go back to school or start a business. I want to tell you, where there's a will there's a way. Go into your local college and talk to a financial counselor about the availability of financial aid and look at your options. I don't want you to incur student loan debt that you could never pay back. But if you are stuck making $10 an hour waiting tables, you can pay off that student loan a lot faster with a career making $50 an hour or more if you had the proper education. That might mean working, going to school, and being a single parent all at the same time. I know that's difficult. It is made easier if there are grandparents or other relatives who are able to help a little with child care and other needs while you get back on your feet.
With regard to starting a business, if you can be really enthusiastic about it then definitely give it a try. The one caution I would give you is to be very honest with yourself about the state of your mental health. I was trying to start a business in the wake of my divorce and it never got any traction for 3 years because I simply didn't have the life energy to devote to it. It was 3 years of poverty and misery and feeling like I was on the sidelines of life watching everyone else develop relationships and take vacations while I was slogging through the quicksand. I took a different career opportunity out of state and had a chance to heal emotionally with a little more financial breathing room. However, about 3 years hence, I was laid off. I returned to Utah and started the exact same business again. This time, I had the life energy and enthusiasm. I was broke for a while, but the business grew. It grew into making me six figures within 5 years. The only real difference was my level of emotional energy. Starting a new business can be all consuming. I did it out of pure necessity.
If starting a business is what you really want and you are in a good place to do it emotionally, there are ways to start on a shoestring. I now consider myself an expert in starting a business from nothing--almost zero invested capital. I can provide extremely valuable coaching on that if that is something you are interested in.
4. Eat the elephant in small bites. If you find yourself in a situation where you have a massive amount of debt that you can't pay, it can feel overwhelming. It can feel like things are coming at you so fast that you can't keep up with them, let alone get ahead. I have been so filled with anxiety at times that I couldn't even open my mail. If you have been in that kind of fix, you know exactly the feeling I am talking about.
As hard as it is, you need to start opening your mail. Each time you get something from a collection agency or other creditor, write it down. Keep a simple notebook or other tool where you can keep it all in one place. Scan or take pictures of all of this for your records. Even if you don't have the money to do anything about it right now, at least get your brain around it. Then you can more easily start to make a plan to conquer it. That can include a combination of increasing income, budgeting carefully, and negotiating with creditors to get manageable payments and sometimes reductions in debt. Again, I can provide valuable coaching on these issues. Cathy Butler Teichert can provide great coaching on the specifics of organizing your finances to clean up a mess.
5. Don't get stuck in blaming. If you are swimming in financial quicksand, it can feel pretty overwhelming and miserable. It is tempting to start blaming your former spouse for the fix you are in. However justified this may be, it is not productive. In reality, we will all face a lot of situations in this life that create hardships for us that are not of our own making. It may not be my fault but it is my problem. So spending energy blaming someone else will only sap me of the strength I need to deal with the problem. Radical acceptance about the reality and scale of the problem is necessary. Forgiving those who may have wronged us is also necessary.
6. Cultivate positive energy and optimism. Trust in the Lord to give you your "daily bread" daily. Do the best you can about the larger picture; and trust that He will provide a path for your deliverance. It may be quick and miraculous. More often it is one step at a time. There is something you are meant to learn from this journey. It may not be easy or obvious. Maybe you are learning to trust in the Lord for your daily bread. Maybe you are learning to make wiser financial decisions. Maybe you are being forced to go beyond your comfort zone to reach your potential in your career. Maybe the Lord is closing doors, because He has a different door he wants you to take, that will be better than you can conceive of now. There are thousands of possibilities. Whatever it is you are meant to learn from the experience, make up your mind to seek for answers and learn it as soon as you can. The faster you learn it, the sooner you can put the problem behind you. Throughout all of it, take a deep breath and realize that God is in charge. If you stay hopeful and optimistic, that will fuel your success.
7. Keep perspective. Your life is not your financial problem and your financial problem is not your life. It is a problem to be dealt with for sure. And it may seem massive and all consuming. But it only seems that way. When I was dealing with the financial mess post divorce, I took my kids on lots of road trips to relatively inexpensive destinations like national parks. We couldn't afford to fly or stay in expensive places. More often than not we just camped. We did those trips on the cheap. I am glad we did them. Yes, it didn't help me to get out of the morass any sooner. But it didn't slow me down all that much either. If I had waited to take my kids on a trip until I could actually afford it, they would have been grown and gone and my chance to make those memories with them would have been gone too. So, be realistic and responsible. But also, figure out how to make some memories with your kids even in the middle of overwhelming circumstances.