How often have you said to your kid(s), “That’s a lot of money for a pair of sneakers?” Or, “That’s way too expensive.” Or “We don’t have the budget for that right now?” My question is, do you know for sure? Do you discuss budgets with your kids? Do you even have one?
My ex-wife was all about budgets. She wanted to know exactly where we stood financially and what we could afford at any given moment. My father was the same way. I … was not. As a freelance editor, director I knew my earning potential was in many ways based on how much I wanted to work, and I’d always done fairly well so I didn’t worry. Drove my ex crazy. When we first got married, I didn’t look at price tags. I got the one I wanted. I felt, what’s the point of getting one you don’t really like? After the divorce that changed. I was forced to take a harder look at finances and that reality continues to evolve.
I initially flushed out a basic spending spreadsheet that outlined the house monthly expenses. Basically what we had to have to stay afloat. That worked for a while, but then my kids started wanting to go to Target and Justice on a regular basis. They started demanding Nike sneakers, and Abercrombie clothing. I quickly learned that just saying, “That’s really not in the budget,” didn’t register because they had no point of reference. And frankly they didn’t care. They wanted what their friends had, and honestly I wanted them to have it too.
And so, I expanded my budget spreadsheet and went back through the bank statements and added tables that showed how much we spent on clothing each month and how much we ate out. I started to look at how much we spent beyond the necessities and how it fluctuated month to month. These were variables that we could control and I thought it may help the kids have a better grasp of how balancing a budget works.
You can say a million times, “twenty bucks here and thirty dollars here really adds up.” But when you actually “add it up” it raises an eyebrow or two; even when you’re eight. To recognize that the more we spend in one place the less we have to spend somewhere else is a lesson I think every kid should have put in front of them. I will say, my kids are pretty good bargain hunters. And I think their mom and I have done a relatively good job of helping them grow to appreciate the value of a dollar. But this post is more than just about teaching the kids. It’s about having a grasp of your world. Again, as I often write, it’s about awareness.
As a divorced dad, you’re likely going to freak out about money a lot; especially early on. There’s no more chance of dual incomes or working together. It’s all on your shoulders and you likely pay child support and / or alimony along with everything else. To not have a clear vision of what that looks like on paper is to me a great way to fuel your high blood pressure and anxiety. And let’s face it, you have enough variables providing those opportunities. Here’s one you can control simply by forcing yourself to write it down. It leads to figuring out ways to pay $30 for medications you otherwise would have spent $300 on if you didn’t care. It’s about getting better deals on high speed internet because you suddenly realize you really don’t have a choice. It’s about eating at home more so you can afford a weekend trip with the kids or new sneakers when they need them.
They say there’s power in knowledge. So, educate yourself and if applicable, educate your children as well. It can lead to less stress and a stronger financial foundation for you and your family. So how do you do it? Well, there are a lot of simple programs that can help you do this. Like excel, numbers, quickbooks etc. Or start by writing it all down on paper the old fashioned way. Just listing it out is a start as you can begin to see where your money is going.
The point is, you need to be gaining ground for the future. Like most people, you’re going to have ups and downs. So, do your best to at least know where you stand so you can plan or act accordingly. You’ll make choices based on this knowledge. The divorce in and of itself likely set you back and can make it difficult to make ends meet. Having a good overview of where you stand financially every day may create some initial stress when you see where you really are, but it can be the first step toward plugging up holes and establishing a healthier world for you and the kids. I may even be a great motivator for taking steps to improve the situation. One thing I can assure you, it will likely cause you to feel more in control and less like life is moving forward without you. And I promise, it can also lead to much more enjoyable trips to the mall when everyone is on the same page!