Like most people who are divorced, I’m constantly negotiating my budget between celebratory autonomy and common sense, something that is reflected in how I spend money. The purchases I’ve made since leaving my ex include everything from a restorative trip to Tulum to renting a decent apartment where I live alone. But I’m also working on paying off debt I accrued through lawyer fees and from random retail therapy I did when I first moved to Washington, D.C. Sometimes it’s tough for me to be able to identify where I want to indulge in my happiness and where I need to cut back so I can continue making headway on my finances.
In 2019, I’m dreaming of aggressively paying off my credit card, saving a lot for vacations I want to take and putting aside more for my retirement. In studying financial literacy and accountability, I appreciate many of the good ideas I’ve found and used, like opening credit cards with 0% APRs to transfer and pay down debt without the additional burden of interest charges and automating payments to my savings account so I don’t think about them. But I’ve also read a lot of tips that honestly don’t work for me, and I’m okay with that.
No more white picket fences for me, ever again
A lot of financial advisors recommend buying a house to build equity. Confession: I don’t ever want to own a house again. I think the burden of my first house — finding it, buying it, fixing it up, selling it without much help from my ex once we didn’t want it anymore — made me realize home ownership is not for me.
Some of my disinterest in buying versus renting stems from the fact that I feel supported by the terrific community of people in my apartment building and love the resources we provide each other. It’s wonderful to have a network of neighbors who will look after my cat when I’m out of town and lend me an air mattress when a friend is staying the weekend. I love having a building maintenance person I can call whenever I can’t fix something on my own.
The other reason I’m obsessed with my apartment? It reminds me I’m rewriting my story, every single day. I lucked out and found a place on the top floor and wake up and watch the sun rise from my bed, a daily meditation in gratitude that has helped me become a much more humble, patient and peaceful person. At night when I look outside my window and see the glittering skyline, I want to pinch myself thinking how far I’ve come in escaping a bad marriage and finding a much bigger life in a city I love.
I just can’t get behind the idea of living in my own property, at least right now. Maybe I’ll stay in my beautiful D.C. apartment and eventually purchase a rental for other tenants to live in, using that property to build equity. Hey, it could happen, if I keep saving, spending and investing wisely and pay everything off sooner rather than later.
Quality over quantity, always
I no longer subscribe to this idea that buying things massively on sale or in bulk is the most cost-efficient way to go. Driving all the way outside of D.C. to buy a bunch of toilet paper at Costco is not as appealing as ordering it online via Amazon Prime and having it delivered to me. My time is as valuable to me as money, every day. And though stocking my freezer with cheap wild salmon fillets sounds appealing, I honestly enjoy going to my neighborhood grocery store and my local farmer’s market to buy food on a regular, even daily, basis. These purchases ensure I’m cooking at home to save money and enjoying a creative life where I can be spontaneous in the kitchen with fresh ingredients, an activity that is a part of my overall happiness and wellness. I’m disciplined enough to purchase just what I need, not walk out with a bunch of random items. I do take advantage of online marketplaces where I can find and purchase organic bulk items I love and I use coupons religiously, but that’s about it. Being out and about in my neighborhood, saying hi to my local grocer while picking up some broccoli after work, these are the little things that I love and don’t want to exchange for big-box, cost-saving retail madness.
Hustle and flow
If you read anything about getting out of debt, you already know how much everyone loves a good side hustle. And it’s a solid suggestion … having multiple streams of income means you’re not dependent on just one thing, you’re building skills that may not be as supported in your full-time job. But I’ve come to realize that side hustles are only great if they feed some passion you don’t meet in your day-to-day life. If they create more stress and make you really miserable, they might just suck more life out of you than your debt already does.
Sometimes I’ve considered waiting tables on the weekends to pay off my debt faster, or trying to sell more of my clothes and other items I don’t use. But what I really need to do is focus on becoming a better writer, a side hustle that makes me feel wonderful every time I publish something and it affects someone somewhere who reads it. While getting paid to write may not yield an immediate return like going home with tips every night, I’m determined to keep working on it in 2019, not just here on Medium but also by increasing my freelance opportunities.
For some people, the idea of a side hustle undermines the equally valuable pursuit of practicing mindfulness. I’m my best, least-likely-to-indulge-in-impulse-buying self when I have some spare time to read for a while, attend a yoga class, or do nothing at all. I think in 2019, while most of us aren’t ready to give up the idea of the side hustle, many of us might cut out some of the noise so we can hear ourselves think and create room for our souls to grow by doing NOTHING.
There’s a huge difference in cutting corners and investing in yourself. If you’re resurfacing from a bad relationship, you already know how much you lose financially as much as emotionally. Your economic livelihood and the choices you make about what you buy and own can operate on these same principles. What works for you may not be what applies to most people. You just have to make sure your decisions reflect the true life you’re building for yourself.
I want to be out of debt and in better financial standing. I want to be successful and independent, so much so that I never have to depend on anyone again to take care of me. But to get there, I have to discover what works for me, what uniquely makes up the Big Picture of my life that I desperately fought for, post-divorce. It’s not easy, but it’s so rewarding, when I’m on the right track and make progress.