Mar 11, 2016

How Divorce Changed My Spending Habits

As far as separation and impeding divorce goes, I have had an easier time than most. My divorce is amicable; Mars is still one of my closest friends. I also have a fantastic career making a good living and a flexible employer. Mars makes a great living, too. Financially, we should be sitting pretty.

But we live in San Francisco.

San Francisco has the most expensive housing in the United States. I rent a 1,200 SF 2-bedroom home that costs a whopping 70% of my take-home income... and even that's a fabulous deal because I snagged it when everyone else was out of town for the holidays. I was out hitting the pavement hard looking at rentals and networking with landlords when everyone else was sitting by the fire and laughing it up with friends & family while drinking eggnog.

I have lived on my own for a year now (with spousal support and child custody, of course). It has been extremely difficult financially. Living here comfortably as a single parent with children requires a large amount of money.

I have had to track every outgoing penny. I use an awesome free mobile app called Expense Manager. I record every single purchase I make, down to the coins I add to a parking meter. My budget is extremely tight. There is no room for error.

Financial distress causes huge behavioral shifts.

In addition to carefully tracking my expenditures, these are a few other things I have had to do differently:
  • I no longer get salon pedicures. Even $25 every other month was too much for my budget to handle. I now do my own pedicures. It took a little practice (my first couple pedicures were hideous!) but now they look almost professional. I cut, file, apply cuticle remover, soak my feet, push back the cuticles, and buff before applying a base coat and 2 coats of colored polish.
  • I canceled my wine club memberships. I know what you're thinking: "Well, no duh!" And you're right. No more $40 bottles of wine for me; Mama now splurges on the occasional $6 bottle.
  • I switched hair salons. My hair grows super fast, which is detrimental for those of us who color our hair. My hair is about 30-40% gray now. Roots show fast. I had to find a less expensive salon and had to extend the amount of time between appointments. My current stylist is not as talented as my last but that's okay, I'll live and adjust. I used to get a cut & color every 7 weeks; now I go every 9 or 10. I also have to touch up my own roots with a home coloring kit twice between visits. I have been considering just letting myself go gray to prevent all this fuss and expense. If you have done this and love it, please tell me so in the comments. Convince me!
  • I now use public transit on the days I don't have custody of the kids. Parking near my office costs $15/day and bridge toll is $6/day. That adds up fast! I do have to drive to work on the days I have kid custody (I have 2 kids at 2 different schools) but when I don't, I rock the public transit. It's a pain in the neck (I have to walk 1 mile each way and transfer trains twice; commute time is naturally a lot longer) but my employer partly subsides my transit fees. It's worth it.
  • I don't buy coffee on the go anymore. My beverage of choice is a plain cup of decaf coffee, which costs $1.50 to $2.25 a pop in a counter-service coffee stand like Starbucks. Now I make my own coffee every morning at home.
  • I grocery shop at the bargain markets. I can no longer afford the luxury of the organic grocery delivery service I used to enjoy when I was married. I have to carefully watch what I buy even at the discount stores.
  • I dramatically reduced my contribution to the kids' mutual funds. I used to allocate $250/month to each child's account. Now it's $150 total... and that's only because a $75 minimum contribution per account is the required minimum. (I originally planned to allocate just $50/month per account.)
  • I dramatically reduced the frequency of restaurant meals. When married, we ate out often. It was a sad and hard habit to break but it had to be done... especially so because I strongly dislike cooking. It sucks but there is no alternative. I have to prepare a meal or we don't eat.
  • I dramatically reduced my entertainment allowance. This was another thing we didn't really think about when married. If we wanted to spend a day at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, we did. Now that's out of the question. I have budgeted enough for the 3 of us to go to a movie theater once a month, maybe out for frozen yogurt a couple times as well.
  • I changed my health insurance. I used to be on Mars' sucky PPO policy, which was ludicrously expensive. It made sense for everyone else in the family because they don't have chronic health issues like I do (I have severe allergies and asthma). And every time I went to the doctor or went for a check-up, it would cost me anywhere from $200-700 out-of-pocket. Last fall during my company's open enrollment, I switched myself only over to an HMO plan. It has made a huge difference. I can now get medical care when I need it without worrying how I'm going to pay the bill.
  • I increased my hours at work. With my 2+ hours commuting and the kids' schools' after-care hours, I am not able to work 40 hours/week. I increased my hours as much as I could and now work 6 hours more per week than I used to, which made a big difference in my income. I also take on freelance writing work when possible.

Vacations are a thing of the past, at least for now.

Most recently, my car needed extensive repairs (new transmission). It was a huge unexpected expense. I cried.

My laptop is on its last legs (i.e. buttons are missing) and I am terrified it's going to self-destruct soon.

I feel like I am on the verge of financial ruin. I know this is temporary and my finances will only improve over time. They already have. Last summer was my lowest financial point and I lived in a constant state of panic. My budget is still super tight but, fortunately, it's not nearly as bleak as it used to be.

What financial changes have you had to make after separating from and/or divorcing your spouse?

discussion by