The following is a guest post by Jennifer Beckman of Beckman, Steen & Lungstrom.
For many newly separated individuals, learning to develop a budget on a single income is one of the biggest challenges of moving forward with a new life. Your standard of living may need to decrease in order to meet your new financial position. In some cases, you may need to make significant changes to your lifestyle as you move forward. A basic understanding of the do’s and don’ts of budgeting for newly separated individuals, however, will help make that process easier.
As you develop a new budget for yourself, the first thing you should do is take a look at where you are. What are your fixed expenses: car payments, rent, utilities and other payments that you know that you’ll have to make each month? What does your income look like? Understanding how your expenses match up to your income will help you make smarter choices about your variable income.
Following your separation, you should make a serious effort to pay down debt. Divorce can create a hit to your credit score, especially as you close lines of credit that you and your spouse had opened together and have a change in major expenses. Make sure that you make payments on time every month.
Make sure that you update any important financial documents following your divorce. Close joint accounts that you had together. Write out a new will that explains how your assets will be distributed in the event of your death. These simple actions could save you or your dependents a lot of heartache down the road.
Try not to dive straight in with major expenses. What you think you can afford now may turn out to be very different from what you can live with for the next several years. Avoid a pricey new car, an expensive new residence or anything else that could cause you to sink into heavy debt immediately following your separation.
During this difficult period of your life, you should also be careful not to lose track of the distinction between wants and needs. Things that you have been accustomed to having may no longer be necessities. You may have to make some serious cuts to expenses in order to meet your new budget requirements. Dropping your phone plan to the minimum level, getting rid of cable and eating at home more often–even if you hate cooking for one–can all help reduce your expenses and make your budget easier to live with.
Going through a divorce or separation is a challenge. By avoiding new debt and learning to manage your new financial situation appropriately, you can help reduce your stress levels and make your situation more bearable.