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How I Rebuilt My Financial Life While Healing from Divorce

  • Who: Dawn Malone-Stevens
  • Where: Sacramento, California
  • What: After a divorce, this mother of two was running out of money halfway through the month and decided to change her situation. Soon, she had money left over at the end of the month and could cover unexpected expenses without stress. Oh, and for icing on the cake: after just one year she paid off all of her credit card debt. 

Here’s her story:

Dawn’s Story

I’ve never wanted to be rich, but I’ve always wanted to be financially comfortable. A year ago, I was a wife and also a mom of two amazing daughters (ages 17 and 22). I worked full time, took care of our household, and I was the one responsible for the family budget and making ends meet with my salary and my husband’s paychecks. After 28 years of being together (married for 18), my husband moved out and I filed for divorce. 

Life doesn’t slow down just because you’re getting a divorce.

Divorce Was Rattling

I didn’t see it coming—it was heartbreaking. The whole process of divorce is an emotional roller coaster through a funhouse of mirrors. It’s chaotic, unsettling, and there is so much out of your control. It’s absolutely maddening. 

When he moved out, I only had my salary to keep the household running and make ends meet. Life doesn’t slow down just because you’re getting a divorce. There are still bills to be paid, appliances that need fixing, tires that need replacing—the list goes on. 

I was frustrated living paycheck-to-paycheck and not seeing my debts decrease quickly enough. My divorce took a toll on my emotions, and there were big changes at work. It was an incredibly stressful time.

Something Had to Change

Normally, I’m an organized, down-to-earth optimist, and I needed to get back to that place. I started by taking control of my finances because that was an area causing me a huge amount of stress, and it was within my control.

I had tried budgeting several times and tried several methods (ledger, spreadsheets, calendar, etc.), but I had never found anything that really worked for me. 

When my daughter would come home to visit from college, we had quite a few driveway chats discussing finances—among other things. She told me about this website and app called You Need a Budget (or YNAB for short) that worked differently from other budgeting methods. I decided to sign up for a free trial. 

I Started Using YNAB to Manage Money

My first month of using YNAB, I was out of money by the second week. I only get paid once a month, so I was terrified of YNAB that first month! 

But, as each month passed, I made it further through the month. I set up goals for each category so I know exactly how much I need each month to pay my bills and I earmark that money when I get paid (well before the bill comes). I update it daily so I know exactly where I stand. 

My daughter was a tremendous help in answering my questions, along with the You Need a Budget Fans! Facebook page. The users are encouraging and not judgmental.  

I’m Now In Control of My Finances

It’s been a year since I started, and I have a long list of wins. 

  • I still have money left at the end of the month. 
  • My credit card debt is gone!! On April 4, 2020, I paid off my last credit card (it’s also ironic because April 1 would’ve been my 19th anniversary - but I’ve never felt so financially secure).
  • I paid my car registration ($400), bought new tires ($900), and got new brakes ($500) using cash I had.
  • Even after those expenses, I still had money left in my savings. This was a euphoric feeling—to be able to pay for something like my car registration with no stress—I even paid it early!—versus the feeling from the previous year when I had not planned for the expense.

The biggest change that took place during that year is that I now check my budget, not my bank account. This is HUGE! I no longer dread budgeting. I no longer worry about how I’m going to afford big ticket items because I create a goal, fund it, and then when the time comes to make the purchase I have the money. YNAB taught me that it’s easier to save a little each month than all at once.

For Those Going Through a Life Change

When a life event happens—whether marriage or divorce, birth or death, job change or job loss—you can feel overwhelmed and powerless, or you can consider the things that you do have control over. 

If you’ve ever ridden a plane, the attendants tell parents to put on their oxygen mask first in case of emergency because you can’t help anyone if you’re passed out. I felt so guilty practicing self-care while going through my divorce, but I did it anyway and took life one day at time until I got a little stronger. 

I took stock of the things I did and did not have control over, and what caused me the most stress. I chose to focus on my finances, and joined YNAB. Sure, some days are tougher than others—that’s life. But being in control of my finances has lifted my spirits more than I expected it would. For those who doubt if YNAB really works, the answer is YES!!!

If you're in the process of rebuilding your financial life after a separation or divorce, we'll come alongside you to help you manage the often confusing tangle of money so you can feel firmly in control.

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How I Rebuilt My Financial Life While Healing from Divorce