Managing the Shortfall in Preparing for Divorce

No matter where a person is in the divorce process, budgets almost always confirm the worst: money is tighter than it was before. During a separation, many people fall into a trap: Even though they know money is tight, they continue to spend. People headed for divorce can be particularly vulnerable to recreational spending because pleasure spending makes them feel better. The piper must be paid, however.

Obviously, when expenses exceed income decisions must be made. Budgets reflect necessities and priorities. When expenses must be cut, the place to begin is recurring expenses. For example, many people buy an expensive television cable package that includes dozens of channel they never use. While one month’s cable charges may not amount to that much, month-to-month, the charges add up. The same goes of all the features people buy for home telephone service - call forwarding, call waiting, multiple lines.

Economists talk about "goods and services" meeting "needs and wants." Budgets reflect that all wants and not needs, some goods are bads and some services are disservices. In other words, budgets are about making choices. To this end, a budget separates life needs and necessities, such as food, shelter, transportation, insurances, from lifestyle wants, the discretionary spending that feels good.

Money does not make people happy, but its absence increases sadness. One of the cruel ironies of divorce is that just when a few dollars more would goes miles toward lightening a heavy heart with discretionary - yes, frivolous - spending, the money is not there.

Budgeting and money management does not come easily, particularly to a person who had paid his or her way in the cash-in, cash-out routine of a checking account.

Budgets can help divorcing spouses protect themselves from impulse spending they may be tempted to do because of the guilt many feel when the marriage involves children. Even when the divorce is inescapable, many spouses feel guilty, and want to "make up for it" by indulging the children. A divorcing parent finds it very hard to tell a child who had his heart set on a long-promised trip to Disneyworld that Dad cannot afford it right now because he and mom are getting a divorce.

A budget may not make it easier to say no, but it does make it easier to know when to say no.

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