How do you explain to your daughter that the dogs can’t come live with you because you can’t afford to buy their food? How do you avoid the topic of a vacation with your child because paying the mortgage is more important than taking a trip?
Meanwhile, my ex can take her to swim with the dolphins at Sea World, rent a beach house for a week and buy a fancy new tablet—all in the same year.
It happened like this. After our divorce, my ex took on a new job that doubled his salary. I had been the primary breadwinner during our marriage, although we still lived paycheck to paycheck. Now, my income pales in comparison to his; and he can—and does—buy extravagant gifts for our child, while I am left scraping together a few dollars to pay for the basics.
Insecure much? Absolutely.
I’ve learned things about myself in recent years that will be valuable for my daughter and myself for a long time to come. Was it painful? Yes. Did I shed a lot of tears? I did. But the strength I’ve gained will help me mitigate the financial insecurity that I continue to struggle with.
- There is more to life than stuff. My ex regularly works extra hours to pay for the things he buys our daughter, which means he gives up precious time with her. I’m lucky to work from home, and I rarely take extra time away from her to do things for myself. I think life is about time together and experiences—two things that the income from extra work cannot buy.
- Budgets are a necessity. I didn’t figure this out until the last few years, but it’s a lesson my daughter has learned quickly. When I first discovered “the budget,” she and I sat down together to look at how all the things we needed (and wanted) fit into my self-employed income. There was little to nothing left after rent, food and utilities each month. I showed her how I had to get creative and rearrange budget categories because the car needed repairs. The result? A very budget-conscious kid who knows how to price-match for groceries. Score!
- There is a huge gap between “need” and “want.” It took me a divorce and about six years to figure this out. I was the spender in my marriage, much to my ex’s chagrin. But after being on the brink of financial disaster more than once, I finally learned that I don’t “need” to buy the (shoes, dinner, toys, jeans, books, gym membership, whatever the hell I spent money on)… What I need to pay for are groceries, electricity, transportation and rent. Now, after the necessities are handled, if there’s anything left, it goes to pay off debt and contributes to a very regimented savings plan. Slowly, the insecurity is waning.
- Yard-sale-finds and thrift shops build character. My friends laugh that my television needs about 10 minutes to warm up before the picture is visible. It was a $40 Goodwill steal, and I love it. Granted, it’s a 50-inch beast of a unit, but for as much as I watch television, it works for me. My favorite shirt came from Goodwill and that’s where we shop for Halloween costumes each year. I can usually get my daughter to browse for clothes at resale shops, and she’s pretty adept at finding something she likes. She knows that new designer clothes are not an option and is willing to humor my need to stick to a budget when she outgrows her clothes mid-season. She will be a bargain-hunting black belt by the time she gets to college.
- The simple things in life are the best. Cooking dinner as a family. A game of cards on a rainy day. Reading a book together. A trip to the dog park. These are the times that you and your child learn about one another and have valuable conversations that neither of you will ever forget. It’s the simple moments that build our relationships with our children, and they will carry that forever. A good parent-child relationship breeds the feeling of security—for parent and child.
- My ex can spend his money as he wishes. While I may not agree with lavish gifts and expensive vacations, I’d be a liar if I said that I wouldn’t do the same from time to time if I had the financial means. But I don’t, and he does. And honestly, I’m happy that my daughter is reaping the benefits of her father’s long work hours. Sure, I get bitter sometimes. But I benefit from extra time with our daughter when he works overtime, so who am I to complain? I win!
While it makes me queasy to think of all the things I can’t provide for my daughter—even now, years after the divorce—I know I’ve instilled in her financial values she may otherwise never have learned. And that, more than anything, helps me to overcome my own insecurities about money. My daughter has seen me struggle to make ends meet and work to turn our finances around. That’s a life lesson that’s worth its weight in gold.