Around this time of year the papers run a story about ‘Blue Monday’: how the combination of winter weather, Christmas forgotten and the credit card bill means it’s the most depressing day of the year. Of course, it’s complete nonsense, there’s no mathematical formula for how everyone will feel in January! But, this year, it is true to say that many of us are feeling the pinch. And money is already one of the major stresses in divorce. So this week on the blog I’m sharing your essential guide to divorce when money is tight.
Step 1: Know your numbers
When you’re divorcing it can feel like you’re negotiating in a tub of strawberry jelly. Everything is wobbly, you can’t nail down what will happen and it’s all out of control. When you’re divorcing in a cost of living crisis, with escalating bills and fluctuating housing markets, it feels even more volatile. But you can’t wait for the economy to settle to get your divorce settlement in order. It’s up to you to create order out of chaos. Here’s how to do it:
1. Get to grips with your assets
Your assets are anything that you own that is of value. Assets include your home, and other property, cars, jewellery, furniture and antiques, electronics, savings accounts and life insurance policies. When it comes to calculating your assets, it pays to be scrupulous. Don’t guess the value of your home, car, or wedding ring. Get it valued. Dig out any forgotten savings accounts or investment portfolios and see what the numbers are.
2. What are your liabilities?
A liability is anything that costs you money. Loans, mortgages, credit card bills all come into this category. If you subtract the cost of your liabilities from the total of your assets, you’ll end up with a net worth snapshot.
3. What’s your pension situation?
Pensions are technically assets, but I want to mention them separately, as they are so often overlooked! When negotiating financial settlements women often consider their current situation and ignore any marital pension entitlement. This is a mistake, especially if you’ve been the main caregiver and your spouse the main breadwinner. It will leave you with a very lean future. So pay attention to any pensions you may have contributed to in the past, and those of your spouse. Make sure those figures feature in any negotiations.
4. What do you spend money on?
Next, think about where your money goes each week. What are your regular costs? Include both essentials and the nice-to-haves you’ve been accustomed to buying when you think about your spending. If the money is available, there’s no reason why your lifestyle should change dramatically when you get divorced. Take a look at your current account, and wherever else you spend money from, and categorise your transactions by food, household, hobbies and fun, clothing, holidays – or choose categories that make sense to you. If money is in short supply, this exercise can really help you see where money can drip away without you realising.
5. What are your future needs?
Financial settlements in divorce aren’t just about now, they’re about ensuring both parties have financial security into the future, if possible. So think honestly about your future financial needs. It may be that your costs will reduce in the future, for example, if your children leave home to get jobs. It may be that your earning potential will increase after retraining. Or you may need to budget for increased costs, for example if you have young children or if any of you have health needs that will require support.
Step 2: Work on your self worth
Once you’ve done all that you’ll have some black and white financial figures. But, actually, personal finance isn’t just about the numbers. It’s also about your own sense of worth. If you’re telling yourself you’re not worth anything, and you’ll just get by with whatever happens, you’re not going to be able to give future-you the best shot at a fulfilling life.
It’s time to consider the big picture. What’s important to you going forward? What would you like your future to look like? Remember, divorce doesn’t have to just be something to get through. It’s also an opportunity. A time to get back to who you are and who you want to be. Set aside 15 minutes with a journal and ask yourself:
- Who are my role models? Why? What can I learn from them?
- When did I last feel fulfilled? What was I doing?
- What would I like my life to be like in five years’ time?
Don’t worry if you don’t have a clear idea about your future. The point of this exercise isn’t to develop a cast-iron five year plan – though if you have clarity, great! It’s more to step into what could be possible, and to remind yourself of what it feels like to be excited by life.
What’s all this got to do with your divorce settlement? Everything. You see, I’ve seen so many women get ground down by divorce, especially if their soon-to-be-ex isn’t playing ball. So they end up settling for less, just to get it over and done with. Their fire has gone out. But when you have a sense of excitement about your future, what you might do, that’s worth fighting for. Future you is worth fighting for. I’m not saying you need to play dirty or take your ex-spouse to the cleaners. That’s not what this is about. It’s about making sure you hold your head high and do yourself justice.
Want more clarity and guidance?
It’s hard to make sense of the numbers when you’re in the thick of it. And these are big decisions: a mistake in the divorce settlement can affect your entire future. So it’s important to get this right, to ask the right questions and make sure you have all the information to make an informed decision. That’s where I come in.
I am on hand to answer questions and guide you through the divorce process every week in The Absolute Academy, a community for women who want to take charge of their divorce. And, as well as my expertise, you’ll have a support team of women who are going through it too: who will cheerlead for you and call out your spouse’s BS when things get tricky.
Absolute Academy membership has been held at 2021 prices, but it will be going up on 1 February 2023. So, if you’ve been looking for a sign it’s time to join, this is it! Find out more about this amazing community and join here.
Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is the author of the Amazon best-selling book How to be a Lady Who Leaves, the Ultimate Guide to Getting Divorce Ready. A former lawyer, Emma is a family mediator and founder of Get Divorce Ready the online self-study and group programmes. Emma has been featured on BBC Radio, The Telegraph, the iPaper and in Marie Claire Magazine. Emma is also the host of The Six Minute Divorce Podcast. To find out more visit www.emmaheptonstall.com