When I got divorced, I never considered the amount of money it would take to give my family a fresh start. I quickly discovered that living with one income was going to take some severe financial manipulation and cutbacks to keep my family afloat.
I found myself drowning in debt from lawyer fees, bills and trying to keep everything status quo. While the same amount of money was going out every month, only half of what we were used to was coming back in. I had to make some tough decisions on what we would cut out of our lives to exist. But when it came to certain aspects of our lives, I just couldn't compromise.
These are things I will never sacrifice to pay off my debt:
1. My friendships.
I found myself (sadly) having to turn down so many invites from friends after my divorce. When I was scraping pennies to pay my overwhelming credit card balance, I simply couldn't afford to "do lunch" anymore. But just because I can't afford a nice meal out doesn't mean I can't meet my friends elsewhere where I can still save money AND spend time with them. We meet up with our kids at the park or find low cost ways to spend time together.
2. Family outings.
This is something I struggled with in the beginning. I used to have a membership to every museum and zoo in my area, and my family would always have the opportunity to jump in the car and go somewhere fun on a whim. Not having those memberships meant that I would have to spend a pretty penny to get my family of 4 in the door — and that didn't include parking, gas, food, and whatever other added expenses. Now, I watch for free days at the museums. I look for events my local park district might be holding, or special activities the school might offer. I might not be able to hop up in the morning and whisk my kids off on a fun day without a second thought like I used to, but I am still able to do it with a little planning.
I used to get a massage twice a month, a pedicure every other week, my hair done as needed... the list goes on and on. I just can't afford that anymore, especially if I want to make a dent in my debt. But I refuse to cut self-care out of my life completely. Without something small to look forward to for myself, I will become a bitter, resentful, and crabby mom. I know, because I've tried. Now, I do one small thing for myself every month, and I make sure to thank myself personally for taking the time to do it. It might be a pedicure or a LONG overdue haircut. It might also just a be a bath with a good book after the kids go to bed. If I don't, I'll burn out. And that's no good for anyone.
4. My kids' activities.
My kids are social, athletic, and also very wild if they don't get out and DO something. Being part of a team or a sport has paved the way for them socially and emotionally. As much as our lives changed after removing one income in our house, I could not make my kids lose the things they love to do most. I just won't do it.
5. Insurance, bills and tuition.
I would never be able to live with myself if I had to move my kids out of their school or cut back on the necessities to pay off my spending during a rough divorce. We need the obvious like water, heat, food, wifi and insurance. I did find myself cutting back on things like cable, data, and other monthly subscriptions we weren't using.
Being in debt is no fun. It's stressful, and creates a lot of anxiety and guilt as a mom. You wonder if you will ever get out of this mess — and how. And you shame yourself for allowing it to get to this point in the first place. But, by making sure you don't skip out on the essential parts of life, you can still ease your way out. You only live once. Don't let your debt hold you back from actually living your life. Otherwise, when you do finally get out of it, you'll regret missing out on so many opportunities and experiences along the way. Because, as we all know, nothing good happens overnight. And getting out of debt is one of those things that is going to take a long time. You still have to be happy in your own shoes until you get there.
Nicole is a realtor, divorced mom of three, and ally to the transgender community. As a mom who achieved her graduate degree alongside growing her family, she understands the importance of finding a work/life balance. Follow her on her blog where she focuses on family, parenting, divorce, and experiences of raising a young transgender child.