Suddenly Single? Set Yourself Up for Success!
And when you create a realistic budget, be sure to set aside some money and time to treat yourself. You’ve been through a lot.
I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a numbers person, something that used to annoy my former husband. I deflected his frustration, joking that it would be preferable if everyone used the barter system — but, unfortunately, things like property taxes and utilities don’t work that way.
I’ve wasted, thrown away, and burned in a barrel — thousands of dollars in the past four years, by not knowing what I needed to know. So, this piece is my effort to educate those in similar situations. Suddenly single? Responsible for literally EVERYTHING? Be as proactive as possible to save your hard-earned cash. And, don’t quit your day job.
By far the biggest expense I encountered was 100% my fault. I asked for disbursed payments of my spousal support, rather than a lump sum. A lump sum awarded at the time of the divorce is not considered taxable income, but monthly or yearly payments are — at least, under the regulatory conditions that existed at the time of our divorce. My reasons at the time were at least somewhat clear: Since I was embarking on a freelance career and wouldn’t have a regular paycheck to show the bank, I thought it would make it easier to get a loan, should I need one. In hindsight, I’d have been much better off taking the lump sum. Of course, many couples don’t have this option, but we’d just sold our family home and could have made it work.
My second error concerns my property taxes. Since I’d recently moved to a new location (a common practice in midlife divorce), I was unfamiliar with my new state’s and county’s laws specific to property taxes. For the three years I owned my home in a Pacific Northwest state, I paid the full assessed amount. Then I moved to New Mexico, where I again paid the full assessed amount for the first year. Then, when I went in to pay my taxes for the second year, a helpful clerk asked me if I’d applied for the Head of Household Exemption. I asked what this meant. “It will take a flat amount — $2,000 — off your tax bill,” she informed me. It was already too late to apply for this discount for the current year. But she coached me through applying for the 2021 property tax year, thus saving me $2,000, annually, from here on out. So, here’s my advice, wherever you live: Call your county assessor’s office to find out if you qualify for any tax relief, including for seniors, usually over the age of 62. It never hurts to ask, and it just might save you a boatload of money, whether your property taxes are for residential property, or land, or both. Check it out.
If you own your own home, consider how much space, and privacy, you need? My son suggested that I give Air BnB a try, and for the three years I hosted in Montana, it was a terrific source of additional income. (I was halfway between Glacier National Park and Yellowstone — conditions may vary in your area.) You can also use other home-hosting apps, like:
- One Fine Stay
Read more about my experience as an Air BnB hostess here:
Don’t quit your day job. I wanted desperately to be a writer, and I was experiencing the emotional trauma of ending a thirty-year marriage while working as a hospice nurse in the dead of winter, in Montana. You know — one of those places in the continental US where they joke about the cold weather keeping the tourists away. I couldn’t keep going down the same path — I was all tapped out. But if I could have, I’d be much better off, now. If you can keep the same job, and the same health and retirement benefits, you’ll be very glad you did. Sure, it’s great to pursue your creative gifts and have the freedom to travel, but the bottom line is clear: you are solely responsible for keeping a roof over your head — and, for keeping your credit healthy — and no one is going to do it for you.
Immerse yourself in the “Free Economy.” Join a ‘Time-Bank,’ where people donate time in exchange for services. Having trouble with your computer? Were you born with a green thumb? Then, hire Mary, a contrary IT expert who can’t seem to get her garden to grow. Teach guitar lessons for home-cooked meals, or, write and edit someone’s ‘Great American Novel’ in exchange for regular massages. Join a Facebook gardening group and ask if anyone has starts or cuttings you could have, or, host a seed-exchange of your own. Most gardeners I know love to spread the bounty. Check out more resources, here:
Learn How to Find Seed and Plant Exchanges
Some people have a wealth of plant seeds left over at the end of the gardening season. Some folks can never find seed…
Thrifting and garage sales are great ways to reduce your expenditures for household goods. And, if you want to upgrade your wardrobe for a job change, or a different climate, check out the wealth of consignment shops in your area. I found one in Montana during my first week of residency. The owner, Laurie, became a friend. She constantly wracked her brain for single-and-available guys, she gave me terrific style tips, and she served as a reliably ‘friendly face’ in my new home-town. (Also, check out websites like “ThredUp.com,” which bills itself as the nation’s largest thrift store.)
Keep it rollin’. By which I mean, keep your car in good condition, or, if it’s not likely to serve you well over the next 5–7 years, make the cost of a replacement vehicle part of the divorce settlement. My timing belt broke and the engine seized in my 22-year-old Subaru, on the way to a Match.com date in rural Montana, in November — so I know of what I speak. I had to sleep over at his house, and then he had to take me car shopping, all on our first date. I didn’t like him or his growly basset-hound all that much, and I fell asleep that night with fond memories of the swanky, newish Prius my ex was driving.
Save money where you can, and never be afraid to ask to customize your service or obtain discounts. Internet companies and other services often upcharge you, unnecessarily and, without your awareness. Why pay for 80 megabytes of service when 45 will do? Here’s a handy guide to getting, and paying for, the service you need, and not a penny more. Remember, it’s just you, now. If not, then choose accordingly. Why pay for 80 + Mbps when you don’t need it?
10 Mbps is considered ‘basic’ Internet and will allow one or two users to browse search engines and check email regularly. It’s not quite enough for today’s online world.
25–30 Mbps Broadband Internet allows for some gaming live streaming, and HD streaming for two-three users.
30–40Mbps allows for Heavy HD streaming and gaming, with multiple devices and users. It’s plenty of speed for most purposes, especially if you live alone, with only occasional guests.
40+Mbps accommodates serious streaming, gaming, and downloads, with multiple devices, and is more than adequate for most needs.
Keep an eye for hidden charges on your PayPal account, and on your main checking account. It’s easy to get sucked into ‘monthly’ fees and charges that can quickly add up. That said, it’s easy and efficient to automate all your bills to online payments. As long as you maintain a healthy balance in your bank account, this can help to reduce stress from having to write out checks monthly, for multiple utilities. Just watch those hidden charges.
Set a monthly budget, and stick to it. This is something I wish I’d done much sooner. I tried hard not to worry about money at a time when I was feeling overwhelmed by everything else — but, it cost me. When you think about a budget, be sure to set aside some money and time to treat yourself. You’ve been through a lot. A monthly massage or yoga class, or dinner at your favorite restaurant shouldn’t be out of the question. One particular summer, my weekly gelato and glass of Tempranillo on the garden patio of a fancy restaurant was a very worth every penny. You won’t miss that ten bucks in the scheme of things — drink up and don’t forget to lick the spoon.
My advice is to skip the online match-making time sucks. For most older women I know, they’re demoralizing. You’re better than that. Instead, work on your conversational skills, join local clubs, and jump into Meetup.com groups with like-minded people. And, don’t forget to smile. But, believe me when I tell you — it’s a lot easier to smile when there’s money in the bank!