Money

The surprising truth about divorce and money - why women find they're financially better off on their own

Women sometimes stay in unhappy relationships because they're fearful of not making ends meet, but the grass is often greener than you think on the other side.

By Karyn Henger
Image: Getty Images
One of the downsides of separation is that your finances can take a big hit, and the fear of financial destitution is unfortunately one of the reasons some women choose to stay in unhappy relationships.
The thought of losing half or more of your household income, having to split your assets and sell the family home can be too much for some to bear, and it's a major psychological hurdle to overcome.
The promise of feeling "freer and happier" is of little consequence when you're worried about how you're going to feed your children. When you don't even know how you're going to make ends meet, the devil you know is a safer option.
Yet those who make the leap tell a different story. It's not as bleak as you think. In fact, I can tell you from personal experience that the grass is even greener.
As you go through the process of separating your finances and assets from your ex partner's you sharpen your money management skills. You develop ways to safeguard your financial future and open yourself up to new ways of bringing in an income.
Some women even find themselves in a better financial position than before.
It can be like the awakening of a butterfly. You never knew you were so damned gorgeous.
Image: Getty Images
Money mentor Lynda Moore from Money Mentalist works with clients, mostly women, who are going through separation, to help them find their financial wings. She observes, "It can often take a separation for women to realise they are 'good with money'.
"I have seen it a number of times with my clients. Once they take control of their lives and their money they make very different choices and decisions than before. Priorities change, spending habits change... We still have wants, but I find that women are very creative in how they fulfil those wants."
So, if we go with my butterfly analogy, how does one go from being in a cocoon to having wings?
Pay as much attention to your finances as you do your emotional care from day one, Lynda says.
"Managing your money is part of your self-care in exactly the same way as getting out and exercising or going to the hairdresser for that pick-me-up cut and colour," she says.
"I understand, your self esteem is through the floor. You've got to work on you and your emotions, and then if you've got children as well... But, typically, the money side of things is the one that gets avoided the most, yet it's the one you need to deal with upfront because that's really hard to recover from."
Protect what you have, and get to know your numbers, she advises.
If you share joint accounts, let your bank know immediately of your separation so they can freeze accounts or make both of you signatories. Lynda admits learning this lesson the hard way when, post-separation, her former partner cleared out their account. There was nothing she could do.
It can be prudent to get in lawyers to draw up a relationship property settlement. This puts legal boundaries around who is taking what, and also protects you from having to pay any of your ex's debts going forward. Lynda warns: sort out as much of this as you can together before you go to a lawyer, as your bill can quickly mount up if there is a lot of to-ing and fro-ing.
At the same time, get to know your numbers. Familiarise yourself with exactly how much money is coming in and going out of your accounts. If you think you need help with this, ask a money-savvy friend to go through your finances with you, or get in touch with a budgeting service through the Citizens Advice Bureau.
Go through bank statements, pull out hard copies of paid bills (which you hopefully have on file). Make a note of every regular payment you have and write everything down. The process of putting pen to paper helps embed the information.
Review insurances, phone plans and other payment plans that you could make savings on. But if there's still a shortfall don't be fearful, because there will be other ways you can address this. We will get to that further in this article.
Image: Getty Images
It can be helpful to start a finance diary, so you can track your spending and start to see patterns. Lynda noticed she always spent more on petrol if she filled up on her way home from work and realised it was because that was right before dinner and she'd buy an energy drink and chocolate. She switched to buying petrol on the way to work and her petrol bill went down.
While you're in 'review' mode, now is also the time to reorganise your bank accounts so they make sense to you.
What you name each account is important, as when you put a label on your account you tend to associate it with that purpose.
Lynda suggests having a 'stuff happens' account to cover things like the car breaking down or an unexpected dental bill. Have a 'bills' account for regular bills and household expenses, and try to put 10 per cent of your income in savings. If you have Kiwisaver and contribute, say four per cent, you only need to save six per cent of your income. (If you don't have Kiwisaver, get it.)
While dropping from two incomes to one is not easy to adjust to, the income loss may not be as big as you anticipated.
I stayed married far longer than was healthy for me and my family because I was terrified about coping financially on my own.
But one day I had this epiphany… I realised that even though we were a double income household, my husband and I were both only putting 50 per cent of what we earned into our joint account to run the household. So that meant I wasn't 'losing' his entire income, only half.
When my husband moved out I got in a tenant, and that covered some of what he'd been putting into our joint account. I also discovered I qualified for Working For Families Tax Credits, which covered the rest of what he'd been contributing.
This is a perfect example of how women start getting creative about how they're going to fill the gaps, Lynda says.
"Once you start taking control, doors open that you hadn't seen before."
One of Lynda's friends found she was actually better off when her marriage broke up because her husband had been the one that was "hopeless with money" and ran up all the credit card debt.
"She earned less [than him] but she looked after money better. So there is that perception that you're going to be worse off when you split but quite often you can be better off."
One important thing to remember, Lynda warns, is that while money is a tool, we often use it emotionally.
"It's because it's the easiest thing to use when we need an emotional outlet," she explains. "You feel guilty for seeing less of the kids so you buy them treats on the way home from work. You put a pair of shoes on the credit card because it's been a tough week and 'I deserve this'.
"Don't get me wrong, you do deserve it," Lynda says, "so be kind to yourself when you have those splurges. But be mindful of emotional spending and look for other ways to lift yourself, like going for a run or having a friend over for a cup of tea," she says.
Some women find they engage less in retail therapy after a separation, which may seem surprising, but Lynda wagers that perhaps it's because the shopping was fulfilling an un-met emotional need in their former relationship.
What is certain is that once you've developed your financial wings and are feeling on top of your finances, you feel a huge sense of empowerment.
"It is how you move forward," Lynda surmises.
"When you've been living in a cocoon you can forget what independence and managing your own life was like pre-relationship," she says.
"The sad thing is it takes the relationship ending to feel like that again."

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