Last Thursday I sent a painfully vulnerable email to my subscribers announcing my separation from my husband. We broke down in a spectacular fashion after less than a year of marriage, leaving us both reeling with hurt. I think it will take a long time to sort out the emotions, so I’m being cautious with how much I share right now.
Ending my marriage has been excruciating, embarrassing, and of course, financially distressing.
It’s hard to think of any major life event that isn’t accompanied by financial consequences, and the breakdown of a marriage is no different.
To say the transition has been expensive is an understatement — and my husband and I didn’t even own a swath of joint assets.
Transitions are a bank balance killer
In the time between moving out of the apartment I shared with my husband and the new one where I live by myself, I ended up crashing in a guest room that was gloriously rent-free and also well out of walking distance of my workplace. I spent approximately $20 per day commuting to and from work on the days I decided to go into the office, and then another $15 each day on lunch.
Over the course of 3 months, I burned through my emergency fund with a zest and zeal that would terrify frugal hearts everywhere. After the damage deposit and first month’s rent, plus dishes, small appliances, and cleaning supplies for my new home, there was no money left. By the time I started buying furniture for my new place, I was funding it by skipping contributions to my retirement accounts. I bought my first, second, and third round of groceries with a credit card.
Want to go broke twice as fast? Mix business and personal
I spent November in Toronto for Financial Literacy Month and it was so expensive. I couldn’t manage everything on my business credit card which has a limit of only $1,000, so I started charging things to my personal accounts. I photographed my receipts and stored them on my phone to attach to the expenses later, only to smash my phone while getting out of a cab midway through the trip. The replacement cost me $200 and, much to my accountant’s dismay, I lost all my receipts because I hadn’t backed my phone up since June.
As an entrepreneur, I can always elect to pay myself more out of my business. For weeks, I would log into my business bank account daily and stare at the balance, trying to decide if I should personally suffer more on rice and ramen and keep cash in my accounts, or bleed the business so I didn’t feel like I was drowning. It was like a doctor asking you which leg you would prefer to amputate: the right or the left. There was no right answer, there was no choice that wouldn’t hurt.
On the upside, being self-employed meant I could do as little or as much work as I felt capable of. It meant I could sleep until 11am and watch Netflix on a Wednesday if the world felt too big and heavy for me to deal with. It also meant I was free to pack, to coordinate movers, to wait for the internet company to hookup my free TV. It meant I could go to IKEA at 10am on a weekday and roam the uncrowded aisles for the items I needed. It meant if I needed to cry hysterically 19 times per day, I could do so in the privacy of my own bedroom instead of an office bathroom.
It also meant I could lose myself in my work without anyone telling me to clock-out or go home. I can (and frequently do) spend 16 hours a day writing, strategizing, planning, calculating. I could wake up with the sun and go to bed long after it set, losing myself as much in the dreams of my business in 2017 as I do in the mundane tasks.
It’s Ok to fall off the wagon
My point is that you’re allowed to have the shit kicked out of you and respond with a night out you can’t afford and a few sweaters from the mall that you really don’t need. You will be able to pay it off. There are moments in your life where your mental capacity will be so compromised by stress or grief, that the kindest thing you can do is forgive yourself a hundred (or thousand) dollars of overspending. It’s temporary. All of it. The financial and emotional chaos.
Don’t apologize for the things you need to do (or buy) to survive.
But be aware of the tipping point. I was eyeing a $2,200 couch thinking about how much better I would feel if I only had such a gorgeous new sectional in my home. I thought that couch would make me love my new apartment, which would make me love my new life, which would instantaneously rescue me from all the heartbreak I’m currently experiencing. That’s what every potential purchase looks like from a distance: it will fix everything, you will never have a bad feeling again, you just have to buy it.
After the spending spree I had just to get me into my apartment and put food in my cupboards, I couldn’t stomach adding another four-figure balance to the total. A friend sold me a small couch for $200 instead. In other words, you need to draw your line, and draw it in big black uncrossable ink so you know where to stop spending.
The last thing you want to do is pile financial catastrophe on top of your personal turmoil.
What you can recover from and what you can’t
You can recover from a $500 mistake, but a $5,000 one will leave a scar. Likewise, one bad day or night or week can be buried with time, but if you keep doing it, it’s not an accident anymore — it’s a habit.
Repeated behavior saves or buries you, one-offs don’t.
This is why a $50/week contribution to your retirement account that you increase every year is better than hoping for a big income tax refund to put in your accounts instead. It’s also why consistently putting an extra $100 on your student loan balance pulls you out of debt years ahead of schedule instead of languishing paying off a loan for a decade.
I had an emergency fund because I saved one. My credit cards were empty because I don’t live in debt. Because I was financially responsible most of the time, I could handle a month or two when I wouldn’t be. I’m not in the mood to lament the money I spent carelessly — or otherwise — in the last little while.
Instead, I’m just glad to right myself and my checkbook now that I’m on the other side.
Get back on track
Your financial success will likely not be defined by unexpected expensive events that knock you temporarily off track. It will be defined by your steady day-in, day-out behaviors and habits, and it will be defined by how you pick yourself off after you’ve fallen.
I get a lot of emails from people beating themselves up for racking up too much student loan debt or blowing through a financial gift and having nothing to show for it. It can be agonizing to go back through old bank statements and see money wasted that you so desperately need now. Your only choice is to stop and change course.
Once money is spent, it’s gone. There’s no use crying over it. It might take you a little bit of time to rebuild in the aftermath, but the sooner your stop agonizing over it and start taking action, the better off you’ll be. You have a limited cognitive capacity to worry about your finances, so I would encourage you to spend it trying to find ways to earn more instead of mourning what’s already spent.
I put away my credit cards, reinstated my retirement contributions, paid off my business expenses, and maybe if there’s room in my new single-girl budget, I’ll start putting a little bit in a savings account for that couch.