Divorce can open your eyes to many realities. Beyond considering future romantic relationships, you may realize a need to re-evaluate your feelings about financial matters. And it’s probably about time.
“One of the first things I had to do (after my divorce) was come to terms with what caused my problems with money in the first place,” writes divorcee Crystal Sands in an article for the Banger Daily News. “I had grown up poor, and I think a fear of ‘being without’ was driving me emotionally. I made a lot of poor purchasing decisions, including the money pit house from my first marriage. I didn’t understand that my efforts to surround myself with more were actually leading me down a path to less.”
Most adults develop their attitudes from the examples set by their parents. According to Brad Klontz, PsyD, a financial psychologist and director of research at H&R Block Dollars & Sense, the way we think about finances stems from the beliefs about money we develop as children. “These ‘money scripts’ (what we say to ourselves about money) are shaped by direct experience, family stories, and parental attitudes,” Klontz says. “Money avoidance scripts (e.g. ‘Money is unimportant,’ ‘Rich people are greedy’), money worship scripts (‘More money will make me happier’), and money status scripts (‘Your self-worth equals your net worth’) are all associated with poor financial outcomes,” he says.
The way to overcome deep-seated fears, shame and anxiety about money are to embrace healthy financial habits. Financial wellness includes: spending money based on your values; having low or reasonable debt; saving money to meet your goals; and having a safety net, such as an emergency fund or insurance. The first step is to listen to your money script —and then rewrite it to fit your true values.
Whether you’ve been married to a miser or spending time with a spendthrift, chances are those attitudes have influenced you. Now that you’re in charge of the purse strings, it’s time to determine exactly how you feel about the green stuff. To get started, Klontz suggests asking yourself the following questions: “What is your most joyful memory around money? What is your most painful money memory? What lessons about money did you learn?”
Become mindful of your spending and how your moods shift when money is involved. Do you become angry or fearful when unexpected expenses arise? Does retail therapy calm your nerves? Do you hide purchases because you’re ashamed of how much you spent? Do you check every receipt to make sure it’s correct, or never balance your checking account?
Observe how you use money and when it — or the lack thereof — makes you feel stressed. Challenge those scripted thoughts. Do they truly represent how you feel? Or are these ideas you’ve borrowed from your ex or family members? No matter the script that plays in your head, taking charge of your finances by creating a budget, limiting debt and increasing savings can create a more positive story.
For Sands, debunking her childhood ideas about money was a big step towards financial maturity. “I grew up with so little, and I didn’t want my children to have to do without things,” she says. “I had to stop believing that being a good parent means buying things for your children.”
Sands realized her habit of impulsively running up credit card debt had to stop. She took her cards from her wallet and hid them away to use only for emergencies. She also sought the help of a credit counselling service and began aggressively paying down her credit card debt.
For many, divorce means adjusting your household budget from two incomes to one. Others may find themselves making financial decisions for the first time. Regardless of your circumstances, divorce can provide you with a chance to reestablish your relationship with money and create a new “script” of contentment with what you have.