Reader Case Study: Stay Married on Paper or Finalize the Divorce?

Adrianna is a 40-year-old mom to two teenage boys who lives in Richmond, VA. She and her husband recently separated and she’s in the process of figuring out if it’ll make more sense to stay married on paper or finalize their divorce. Along with this question, she’s wondering about beefing up her retirement investments and transitioning to earning a full-time income on her own. She enjoys her part-time, work-from-home position as an administrative assistant, but it doesn’t pay enough to cover her expenses, nor does it include health care or retirement benefits. Let’s dig in to help Adrianna figure out a sustainable path forward as a newly single mom!

What’s a Reader Case Study?

Case Studies address financial and life dilemmas that readers of Frugalwoods send to me requesting advice. Then, we (that’d be me and YOU, dear reader) read through their situation and provide advice, encouragement, insight and feedback in the comments section.

For an example, check out the last case study. Case Studies are updated by participants (at the end of the post) several months after the Case is featured. Visit this page for links to all updated Case Studies.

The Goal Of Reader Case Studies

Reader Case Studies are intended to highlight a diverse range of financial situations, ages, ethnicities, geography, goals, careers, incomes, family composition and more!

The Case Study series began in 2016 and, to date, there’ve been 61 Case Studies. I’ve featured folks with annual incomes ranging from $17,160 to $200k+ and net worths ranging from -$317,596 to $2.9M+.

I’ve featured single, married, partnered, divorced, child-filled and child-free households. I’ve featured gay, straight and trans people. I’ve featured men, women and non-binary folks. I’ve had cat people and dog people. I’ve featured folks from the US, Australia, Canada, England, South Africa, Spain and France.

I’ve featured people with PhDs and people with high school diplomas. I’ve featured people in their early 20’s and people in their late 60’s. I’ve featured folks who live on farms and folks who live in New York City.

The goal is diversity and only YOU can help me achieve that by emailing me your story! If you haven’t seen your circumstances reflected in a Case Study, I encourage you to apply to be a Case Study participant by emailing mrs@frugalwoods.com.

Reader Case Study Guidelines

I probably don’t need to say the following because you folks are the kindest, most polite commenters on the internet, but please note that Frugalwoods is a judgement-free zone where we endeavor to help one another, not condemn. There’s no room for rudeness here–the goal is to create a supportive environment where we all acknowledge that we’re human, we’re flawed, but we choose to be here together, workshopping our money and our lives with positive, proactive suggestions and ideas.

A disclaimer that I am not a trained financial professional and I encourage people not to make serious financial decisions based solely on what one person on the internet advises. I encourage everyone to do their own research to determine the best course of action for their finances. I am not a financial advisor and I am not your financial advisor.

With that I’ll let Katie, today’s Case Study subject, take it from here!

Adrianna’s Story

Adrianna’s hydrangeas

Hi Frugalwoods! I’m Adrianna. I’ve reached the delightfully confusing age of 40 while somehow acquiring two kids and a cat. We live in a suburb of Richmond, VA, in a wonderful neighborhood where the boys (aged 12 and 10, even more delightfully confusing!) are walking distance from school. Their dad and I separated verbally in September 2019, financially in August 2020 (mostly), and finally using legal paperwork in January 2021. He was able to find a house in the same neighborhood so the kids are able to go back and forth with ease, and the relationship all around is cordial.

Hobbies and Family Fun

We’re a pretty boring bunch, actually…we’re all into video games so we stay home a lot, but we do like going to the pool in the summer. Historically we do a beach trip every summer, but obviously didn’t do one in 2020 and I’m not sure if that tradition gets to evolve with the new family format or not. The boys are on the swim team at the neighborhood pool, and I plan ahead for several weeks of camp in the summer, but so far their extracurriculars budget has been pretty low. Pete is showing some interest in soccer and starting middle school next year might open up new options for Alex as well, so I should probably be prepared!

I myself have quite a few more interests, but those have been harder to navigate lately. At home I like video games, gardening, and occasionally puttering around with crafty stuff (watercolor painting being the latest trend). When life returns to some semblance of normalcy I hope to get back into my team sports.

My boys are disgustingly healthy and don’t even have seasonal allergies. Still not sure how they won that lottery! They did, however, lose the straight teeth contest. So two rounds of braces are in the near/intermediate future. Pete also has glasses, and they both take medication for ADHD. As for myself, I have a host of small annoying health conditions, but the only major-ish ones are some recurring musculoskeletal problems. Not only might that keep me from being able to get back into my more physical hobbies, I need to plan for the possibility of a surgery or two down the road (in addition to current therapies aimed at preventing surgery!).

Adrianna’s Upbringing

Delicious shrimp dish with zucchini noodles made by Adrianna

I grew up in a frugal household and remember my mom clipping coupons, comparing prices at the grocery store and packing our own lunches to take to major league baseball games so we didn’t have to buy stadium food. All my clothes were hand-me-downs and most of my stuff came from yard sales… but I don’t remember minding all that much (except the stadium food. I reallllly wanted stadium food!). My parents would match my savings for big purchases like my class ring, letter jacket, my instrument in high school, etc, which encouraged me to be a saver.

Adrianna’s Ex

Then I married a man who was not a saver, had a “buy bigger” philosophy, and came from a family that didn’t provide much financial literacy. So we ended up with a lot of pendulum swings between spending and penny-pinching. Example: we’d be doing pretty well with money for awhile, and then he’d suggest we do some fun things. We’d spend more on the fun things than I was comfortable with and I would pull back on all spending (probably excessively, to be honest) for awhile to compensate. He’d cooperate for awhile then start to get antsy about being so restricted, so we’d spend some money on fun things, and the whole cycle would repeat.

This was complicated by the fact that I didn’t have a head for budgeting.  I could MAKE a budget, but I didn’t truly UNDERSTAND budgeting. I kept being blindsided by bills that I really should have seen coming, and I didn’t know how to plan ahead budget-wise. Looking at the bank account balance can be so deceiving! So even though the family income was enough that we should have been able to put something away, between our spending cycles and my money (mis?) management we were actually slowly eating away at our savings.

We used Quicken for awhile, then Mint, but it wasn’t until I discovered YNAB in 2018 that things started taking a turn for the better. Somehow the envelope system and the “give every dollar a job” worked with my brain in a way that the other programs didn’t. Now, three years into using that system, I know where every penny of my spending goes, what every penny of my savings is intended for, and my net worth is finally headed in the right direction!

Adrianna’s Job

Adrianna’s Japanese Maple

My job is a super-flexible, work-from-home-in-pajamas Administrative Assistant gig. Everything is over the internet and I don’t even have to talk to people on the phone! It’s a great part-time job that I started in 2017 to: a) be less bored while the kids were in school and b) give ourselves a little more money for fun stuff. My employer has been great about giving me more hours and pay increases over time, and I’m hearing rumors that even more hours are going to be available in the coming months, so I feel good about remaining in this job for at least the short term.

The major downside to this job is that there are zero benefits.  In fact, until last September, I was a contract worker, not an employee. So there’s no retirement plan, no health insurance, no paid time off. That didn’t matter until my spouse and I separated. Now, it’s a bit more of a concern. I’ve toyed with the idea of starting my own proof-reading service, even going so far as to create a website etc, but the pandemic hit right as I was getting started and the kids being home all the time put that idea on the back burner.

Lately I’ve been contemplating whether to get back to it in the fall once both kids are back AT school full-time. So depending on how well that goes, it could either be an additional revenue stream or a full-time income. My biggest concern is whether I have the self-confidence to actually see it through.

What feels most pressing right now? What brings you to submit a Case Study?

Obviously I’m in a transition period right now, from being a SAHM with a side hustle to having to think about getting more hours/pay, retirement, and all the things that I took for granted during married life. I haven’t even filed taxes in over 15 years! So making good decisions now, when it’s easiest to make a change because everything is changing, is very important to me.

The biggest question I have right now is whether to file for divorce or stay married on paper.

1) Married on paper gives me health/dental insurance that I don’t have to pay extra for, and access to a Flexible Spending Account for some medical expenses (although I have to give priority to kids’ needs, since it is shared among all four of us). I have to pay more in income taxes if married filing jointly than if I filed as single (I’m not sure how it works if we tried married filing separately, but there are downsides to that too I think).

2) Divorced gets me a better tax situation, the peace of not having financial ties to him anymore, but the burden of finding healthcare. This sounds like a no-brainer, but the limbo I’m in is unpleasant. I’m a rip the band-aid off kind of person, but if it truly is the best financial thing to stay married on paper, I will suck it up. In Virginia I have to wait 1 year from separation to file for divorce, so I can’t file until January 2022 regardless.

The other big thing is the fact that I have almost NO retirement savings.

Adrianna’s family on the beach

My spouse had two accounts that were roughly equal at the time we separated, so he’ll be signing the inactive one over to me once divorce is filed, but beyond that I only have a Roth IRA I opened in April. So it’s still teeny tiny. I don’t know what options are available beyond the Roth, and frankly even opening that was nerve-wracking because I wasn’t 100% sure that I understood what I was doing.

I mean, why can I not contribute to a Roth IRA if I’m married filing separately, but I can if I’m married filing jointly? So weird. I’ve gotten some advice about getting my spouse to do a Rollover IRA with his inactive account before we file for divorce, because apparently it’s easier to transfer without an expensive and time-consuming QDRO, but I haven’t been able to find corroborating info online and it’s not something my lawyer is familiar with.

Frankly, everything retirement has me overwhelmed. I’ve read some good books and blogs about investing in general, and I think I understand that decently well, but somehow I’m struggling with how it all works in IRAs etc (possibly because I have no direct experience, never having had one before).

What’s the best part of your current lifestyle/routine?

A hollow tree we found while in Vermont

I really like being a part-time worker so I can be available for my kids after school and take trips with them without having to worry about work scheduling. And I absolutely LOVE where I live. I definitely don’t see myself living here after the boys move out (waaaay too much house for one person) but for now this is perfect. My finances feel under control, even if I don’t have long-term plans in place yet, because of YNAB. While I try not to spend more on things than I have to, I also don’t feel like I have to say no every time the boys want to get ice cream or order pizza, and that’s important to me.

What’s the worst part of your current lifestyle/routine?

Relying on my spouse for 90% of my income is not awesome. I need to get myself to a place where I can support myself once the child support portion goes away (in about 8 years). I’m sure lots of people will tell me to sell the house so I have more savings and (possibly) a smaller rent/mortgage payment, but if I did then the support payment would be reduced as well so it wouldn’t really be any different in the end.

It’s a similar situation with my work income, once I hit a certain threshold of income he’s going to start decreasing the support payments. And before anyone shouts that that’s unreasonable, he’s currently giving me more than half of his income so that we can stay in this house. I don’t know the threshold because that’s part of the final divorce decree that we haven’t hashed out yet, but I wouldn’t allow it to be less than $40,000 a year.

And not knowing whether I’ll have any retirement is pretty stressful.

Where Adrianna Wants to be in Ten Years:

  • Finances:
    • No debt: Ideally in 10 years I will have sold this house and bought a smaller place, preferably somewhere with more land for gardening and no HOA dues. And maybe chickens.
    • College: My kids have 529s from their grandmother, but I would like to be able to help them a little too. The 529s probably won’t be enough at a 4 year college (though they might be sufficient for trade school), and I honestly don’t know what their dad is planning to do in this regard.
    • Retirement: if I am on track to retire at 60 that would be great. Earlier is even better.
  • Lifestyle: 
    • I like food, I like playing sports and being active, I like going places. As long as I can keep doing those things, I’m happy!
    • My only non-nebulous goals are visits to other continents at some point in life.
  • Career: 
    • I work to live, not live to work! If I’m still working the same job I have now, that will be fine with me because it’s flexible and interesting enough without sucking the joy out of life.
    • Even better if the proof-reading gig takes off, because that’s FUN! 🙂

Adrianna’s Finances

Income

Item Amount Notes
Support from ex $4,550 $2,100 every other week. This is mostly child support, as I pay for just about everything (camps, school expenses, extracurriculars, etc).
Adrianna’s income $900 Net after federal and state taxes. My hours fluctuate so this is an average.
Dividends $7 From Navy Federal CU accounts
Monthly subtotal: $5,457
Annual total: $65,484

Mortgage Details

Item Outstanding loan balance Interest Rate Loan Period and Terms Equity Purchase price and year
Mortgage on house $381,301 2.63% 30-year fixed-rate mortgage $1,400 $382k; refi into my name in March 2021

Debts: $0

Assets

Item Amount Notes Interest/type of securities held Name of bank/brokerage
Navy Federal Accounts $32,500 This is pretty much all of my money. I keep it all in savings until the end of the month when 90% of my bills are due and then I move enough to checking. 0.25% interest Navy Federal
Employer-sponsored retirement account belonging to ex-spouse $12,000 This amount will be mine when divorce is final, but as far as I know, he can’t give it to me until then without penalties. No contributions have been made to it in at least five years, probably more like ten, because it was from a prior job. I can’t find the paperwork, but I’ll keep looking! Fidelity
Roth IRA $8,000 I just opened this in April, maxed out the contributions for 2020 and set up transfers to max out 2021. Because of start up amounts it’s pretty evenly split between bonds and stocks at the moment, but each new addition is these percentages. VTSAX (75%) & VBTLX (25%) Vanguard
Trust account with Divorce Lawyer $3,300 This is sitting there until the divorce is final. Lawyer doesn’t think we’ll use it all since things have been civil so far. ? Lawyer
Total: $55,800

Vehicles

Vehicle make, model, year Valued at Mileage Paid off?
Mazda Mazda5 2015 $11,000 66,000 Yes

Credit Card Strategy

Card Name Rewards Type? Bank/card company
Citi 2% Cash Back Card 2% back on all purchases Citi
Amazon Store Card 5% back on Amazon purchases Synchrony

Expenses

Item Amount Notes
Mortgage $1,980 Refi’d in March and lowered my previous payment by $200, even with buying out the spouse’s portion!
Groceries $600 Budgeted amount. It’s been weird trying to figure out what a good amount is since we haven’t had very long as just the three of us, but we came in under budget from regular spending the last couple months and I used what was left to stock up the pantry/freezer. With two tweens I expect the hollow leg syndrome to kick in soon!
Electricity $118
Car Insurance $118 With Nationwide. I need to call and see if they can do better, or maybe switch. But they do my home insurance too.
Gym $99 I can’t get out of the contract but it ends Sept. ’22.
HOA dues $87 Actually extremely reasonable for our area!
Internet $81 I work from home so this is non-negotiable. There’s only one provider that services our neighborhood.
Auto Care $80 Two oil changes and a state inspection every year, plus license renewal and car registration costs.
Water $75 Includes summertime lawn irrigation and garden watering, with rain sensors to keep from watering when not needed. We also take most of our summer showers at the pool so it kinda balances out?
Christmas non-food $67 Presents, yearly family photo (taken by my friend, so the shoot itself is free), cards for family, and one new string of lights a year.
Life Insurance on spouse $52 Non-negotiable because if he dies we’re in deep doo-doo without it.
Family Adventures $50 Budgeted amount. This hasn’t gotten much use in the pandemic but it’s where we’ll get money for amusement park tickets, day trips to the beach, etc. Also known as the “make sure my penny-pinching doesn’t mean no fun” fund.
Family Dining Out $50 Average. The three of us eat out about twice a month and the rest of the time we cook.
Boys Allowance $50 Budgeted amount. They get their grade level x2 per month right now. I also put extra in here for if they do bonus chores for pay.
Vacation $50 Budgeted amount, but also pretty much what I’ve been spending every month during the pandemic to give myself little mini-breaks.
Summer Camps $50 I try to budget enough for each kid to have 2-3 weeks of camp every summer.
Medical $50 Currently most expenses are able to be paid for on the FSA but I know that won’t work for everything, so this is slowly building.
Natural Gas $40 Heat & water heater
Gasoline $40 This is the average of the last 5 months, but I was making a lot of trips to my mom’s house so this will probably go down.
Lawn Care $40 I will probably cancel this after this year. We signed up three years ago because the yard was unpleasant to be in. It’s pretty much recovered now and I think I can keep it that way without help.
Mom Dining Out $40 I get solo lunch/dinner 3-4 times a month.
Pet Expenses $30 Budgeted amount. Cat food and litter.
Boys Shopping $30 Budgeted amount. This has almost exclusively been for shoes and Halloween costume supplies, so far. I almost never have to buy clothes for them because grandmothers.
Mom Fun Money $30 Anything I buy for just me that isn’t clothes or food. Includes haircuts, pedicures (maybe twice a year, I can paint my nails anytime but the foot scrub etc is delightful), books, new video games for me, etc.
Mom Clothes $30 Budgeted amount. Because of health and weird sizing, I have to purchase special bras and shoes, both of which I can only get new. On the rare occasions that I need something else I generally hit up thrift stores. This is pretty much enough for me to buy two pairs of shoes and two new bras a year.
Home Maintenance $30 Budgeted amount. This is intended for things that are “attached” to the house, like lightbulbs, new flapper for the toilet, wall patch stuff, etc.
Birthday parties $30 Birthday parties for the kids are pretty much just cookouts for family, so this is just food costs.
Household tangibles $25 Budgeted amount. Things for the house that don’t get used up, like dishes, new vacuum, etc. Thrifted where possible!
Subscriptions $24 Includes: Lightroom/Photoshop subscription, Nintendo online, YNAB, and half of Amazon Prime (I split with my mom). These are not negotiable, although if my mom wasn’t helping with Prime I would probably drop it.
School Expenses $20 Budgeted amount. They didn’t need much during school-from-home, but they’re going back in the fall so I’m saving up. I will sometimes use this category for parenting workshops as well.
Car Taxes $17 Personal property tax
Alex Activities $15 This is how much I’ve been putting in during the pandemic. It might not be enough for post-pandemic!
Pete Activities $15 This is how much I’ve been putting in during the pandemic. It might not be enough for post-pandemic!
Holiday parties $15 My brother and I take turns hosting Thanksgiving/Christmas for our two families and our mom.
Gifts $10 This is for two biological nephews and four best-friends’-kids’ birthdays.
TOTAL: $4,138

Adrianna’s Questions for You:

  1. Does it make more financial sense to stay married on paper? Or finalize the divorce?
  2. What’s the best way to ramp up my retirement savings (or investing in general, I guess) under each scenario?
  3. Should I set anything aside for the kids’ post-secondary schooling?
  4. Should I keep my cash easily accessible?
  5. What do I do about that retirement account?

Liz Frugalwoods’ Recommendations

I want to start off by congratulating Adrianna on finding a system of budgeting and financial management that works for her! It’s difficult to cycle through different approaches to budgeting and I commend her for sticking with it until she found a viable long-term solution. Well done! Let’s hop right to her questions:

Adrianna’s Question #1: Does it make more financial sense to stay married on paper? Or finalize the divorce?

Short answer: finalize the divorce.

Adrianna’s kids playing in the waves

I commend Adrianna for charting this new life as a single mom. It takes a lot of courage to leave a marriage–or a job or a friendship or a city or a house or anything–that’s no longer serving you and providing fulfillment. I want to highlight and recognize how hard that is to do and that Adrianna is rocking it and doing it with intention.

Aside from the emotional and psychological balm of finalizing the divorce, I also think it makes good financial and tax sense. While I’ve never gone through a divorce, and I don’t live in Virginia, I’ll try to paint in broad strokes here.

I think it’s risky to stay married on paper because, while the separation has been civil thus far, this money is not actually Adrianna’s until the divorce is finalized. It’s risky to rely on someone else for financial security without a legal framework. The divorce will provide this framework and make it impossible/more difficult for her ex to manipulate the money or wheedle out of paying child support.

Additionally, finalizing the divorce should reduce Adrianna’s taxes.

Child Support v. Mom’s Income

A major question I have is on Adrianna’s note that increasing her income will decrease her ex’s child support payments. In many cases, child support does not correlate to the mom’s income. Further, if it does, it should be a gradual decrease, not a cliff. If it is a cliff–or a steep decrease in payments–that’s a point Adrianna’s lawyer should negotiate.

I encourage Adrianna to talk with her lawyer about this and ask them to clearly explain the rules governing child support v. mom’s income. Is it possible Adrianna is thinking of alimony in relation to her income? Either way, I don’t know the answer, but I also don’t think this is quite right. Bottom line: a good question for the lawyer!

Additionally, is alimony included in the child support payment? Or is that a separate point that should be negotiated? Another question for her lawyer.

Divorce laws are state-based, so I strongly encourage Adrianna to find local support groups of other divorced parents who can help her understand the process in Virginia and the things they wished they’d known before the divorce. I imagine there are online forums, Facebook groups, etc that can shed a lot of light on this!

What About Health Insurance?

Since Adrianna’s income is so low, she should qualify for a heavily subsidized healthcare plan through the ACA (Affordable Care Act). She should check out Virginia’s ACA options and calculate what she’ll pay each month.

Adrianna’s Question #2: What’s the best way to ramp up my retirement savings (or investing in general, I guess) under each scenario?

My answers from here on out are all the same: earn more money.

I love that Adrianna’s part-time gig has served her so well during this time of incredible tumult and I congratulate her for making it work during a divorce, unexpected homeschooling and a global pandemic! Once her kiddos are back in school in the fall, I think it’ll be time for her to find a full-time job.

If her current employer can ramp her up to full-time, that’d be awesome. If she can ramp up the proof-reading side hustle to provide income, that’d be awesome. Or, she may need to scrap both of those part-time gigs in favor of a full-time position with benefits. There are endless options here, but the end result needs to be more money coming in every month. I personally am a HUGE fan of working full-time WHILE building up a side hustle. If Adrianna can secure more hours and ramp up the proof-reading on the side, the proof-reading may eventually be able to supplant the full-time job. But for the moment, she’s in too precarious a financial position to work only part-time.

Adrianna’s Question #3: Should I set anything aside for the kids’ post-secondary schooling?

Nope, not at this time. This is a “put your own oxygen mask on first” scenario. Adrianna needs to secure her own retirement BEFORE considering any financial assistance for her kids. The kids can get student loans for college; Adrianna cannot get loans for retirement. Think of it this way: Adrianna’s kids would probably prefer to take out student loans than have their mom move in with them because she can’t afford her rent.

Adrianna’s Question #4: Should I keep my cash easily accessible?

Yes indeed! Adrianna has done a FABULOUS job of building up a $32,500 savings account and she should absolutely keep that money liquid for the time being. At her current rate of spending–$4,138 per month–her emergency fund alone should be in the neighborhood of $12,414 (three months worth of her spending) to $24,828 (six months worth of her spending).

While Adrianna has $7,627 more than that in her savings account, she’s also in a period of upheaval. Anytime upheaval is happening in your life–be it a divorce, a move, the birth of a child, etc–you want to have extra cash on hand. You never know what you might need it for and it’s a lot easier to have it than not have it.

Adrianna’s Question #5: What do I do about that retirement account?

Short answer: put more into it :)! This goes back to earning more and I love that Adrianna opened an account and is thinking strategically and proactively about her retirement. She mentioned she’s a tad confused on the different types of retirement accounts available to her, so let’s do a quick rundown:

Roth IRA (Individual Retirement Account):

  • A Roth IRA is a retirement account that’s post taxes.
  • This means you pay taxes on the money you put into a Roth IRA, but you don’t pay taxes when you withdraw the money in retirement.
  • A Roth IRA grows tax free.
  • You need to be age 59.5 before you can withdraw money penalty-free (although there are exceptions).
  • Your eligibility to contribute to a Roth IRA depends on your income and your particular tax situation.
  • I like this Nerd Wallet article on Roth IRAs if you want to read more.

Traditional IRA  (Individual Retirement Account):

  • A traditional IRA is a retirement account that’s pre-tax.
  • This means you don’t pay taxes on money you put into an IRA, but you do pay taxes when you withdraw the money in retirement.
  • There are no income limits. Anyone can contribute to a traditional IRA.
  • You need to be age 59.5 before you can withdraw money penalty-free (although there are exceptions).
  • More about traditional IRAs here.

I congratulate Adrianna for opening her Roth IRA with a brokerage (Vanguard) offering low-fee total market index fund investing options. Way to go!!!! She mentioned her asset allocation between stocks and bonds, which sounds great. If you want to read more about asset allocation, check out this case study, where I did a deep dive.

In terms of how much Adrianna should have in her retirement investments, let’s refer to Fidelity’s simple retirement rule of thumb:

Aim to save at least 1x your salary by 30, 3x by 40, 6x by 50, 8x by 60, and 10x by 67.

Trip to the Grand Canyon

This is complicated a bit by the fact that Adrianna can’t actually live on her salary alone. So let’s take her total annual income, which includes child support, and multiply that by three since she’s 40. That’s $65,484 x 3 = $196,452. Adrianna has $8,000 in her Roth IRA and stands to receive $12k in retirement from her ex once the divorce is finalized. That’ll give her a total of $20k, which is a great start! Like I said, the name of the game for Adrianna is to increase her income. In terms of “what to do” with her Roth IRA? Let it grow, add to it and leave it invested.

Expenses

While I think there are some areas Adrianna could save on, the primary focus for her should be increasing her income.

A few options for reducing her spending:

  • Gym at $99: once the contract ends, that’s a cool $1,188 per year.
  • Christmas at $67 seems high? That’s $804 per year.
  • Family Adventures, Dining Out, Allowances, Vacations all at $50 each ($200 monthly/$2,400 yearly): Wondering if there are efficiencies to be had here?
  • Lawn care at $40: can the kids mow the lawn?

But I’ll reiterate that this trimming around the edges isn’t going to get Adrianna to a fully funded retirement. She’s got to increase her income.

Summary:

  1. Move forward with finalizing the divorce. Ensure that her lawyer is working fiercely on her behalf. I think the most important thing for Adrianna to do in the next year is to finalize the divorce in the most advantageous way possible for her future. That’s going to be an enormous part of her assets over the next few years so it’s important to get it right.
  2. Ask her lawyer about child support, alimony and the relationship to her income level.
  3. Investigate and sign-up for the ACA (assuming she doesn’t get a full-time job with benefits).
  4. Increase income by either/and:
    • Securing more hours with her current job
    • Adding proof-reading clients
    • Finding a new full-time job
  5. Augment her retirement investments in order to catch up with where she needs to be.
  6. Continue her awesome–and effective–use of YNAB (You Need A Budget) to stay on track with her spending and saving every month.

Ok Frugalwoods nation, what advice would you give to Adrianna? We’ll both reply to comments, so please feel free to ask any clarifying questions!

Would you like your own case study to appear here on Frugalwoods? Email me (mrs@frugalwoods.com) your brief story and we’ll talk.

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144 Responses

  1. Adrianna says:

    Thanks Mrs. Frugalwoods! A couple notes to clarify some things…

    The income reduction thing to the support isn’t due to law, it’s us trying to be fair to each other. He’s paying me WAY more than the law requires, both in child support and in alimony, and that’s in recognition of the fact that a) I’m taking on way more of the childcare even though we’re splitting custody, especially since I’m the child-watcher after school and during summer until they’re old enough to be alone (and trust me, we’re not there yet!), b) he doesn’t want the kids to have to move out of our neighborhood, which I can’t afford on just what the law requires, and c) I’ve been a SAHM for 13 years and my prior work experience is so out of date that I might have to start from scratch (Access databases, anyone?).

    The retirement is confusing me because I don’t understand the laws regarding yearly contribution limits, and why I can’t contribute to my Roth if I’m married filing separately. Do I open a traditional IRA as well as my Roth? Do I open some other type of account that is not tax-advantaged to grow some money for retirement that isn’t actually called retirement?

    Those areas for reducing spending are all valid. I don’t actually spend $50 a month most months on those categories, but I like to sock some away there so that we can splurge occasionally. The lawn care is actually about making the yard GRASS, not about getting it mowed…I mow the lawn myself. That’s why we’ll be dropping it after this year, because the lawn is back to nice soft stuff again and I think I can keep it that way. And Christmas is buying presents for 11 people plus my kids, and it’s the only time I ever give gifts to my kids or my family (we don’t do family birthday presents, aside from the nephews).

    Does anyone have any experience with QDROs, or avoiding the use of QDROs? That was probably a question I should have asked, because they are apparently time-consuming and expensive!

    I look forward to hearing people’s thoughts!

    • Amanda says:

      You are allowed to have a Roth IRA and a Traditional IRA but are limited to contributing $6,000 total between the two each year. Since your income is so low right now it would be best to continue to contribute all $6k to the Roth IRA since you will pay less taxes upfront than you will when you withdraw the funds at retirement age (assuming your income will be higher at that point so you will owe more in taxes).

      I would also not bother with any non tax-advantaged accounts right now until you have fully taken advantage of any tax-advantaged accounts. If you do end up with access to a retirement account, either with your current employer or a new employer you will want to max out any employer requirement account (401k, etc.) before you put money into a traditional brokerage. Take advantage of tax advantages (pre-tax or Roth) as much as possible!

      • Faith says:

        Consider getting a qualified tax accountant. Don’t wait until January when they start the busy season. They will be able to explain why you can’t get that tax deduction or credit when filing MFS. Almost ALL credits go away because the IRS does not want married couples filing separately. Once you are divorced you’ll be able to file Head of household which has a lot of tax advantages. Since you’ll still be married on Dec 31 of this year, you’ll file as married. With alimony and child support and QDRO, I don’t recommend Turbo Tax. Get a professional who can answer your questions. Good luck! ~ From a CPA.

        • Karyn says:

          I think the reason they don’t want people filing separately is that people could game the system. One person claiming all of the credits, despite the other person earning a ton.

    • Suzanne says:

      Database management (including access databases) is still very much a needed and well paid skill! Don’t sell yourself short.

      And you have skills from being a SAHM that translate I to work skills (heck, even google is making ads using this concept). So I suggest you go on a YouTube/Facebook/forum hunt for how to reframe those home management skills into company speak 🙂

    • Andria says:

      I’m married, but file taxes separately, and I’m able to contribute to my Roth. I suspect that maybe with your husband’s income included, that puts you over the income limit? Not an expert on this at all, but my husband makes too much to contribute to a Roth, and I do not, so that’s what makes me think you might be in the same boat!

  2. I don’t have any specific suggestions but I did want to say good luck. It sound like you’ll be fine and I applaud you for taking action in a situation that wasn’t working for you. You are very brave.

  3. Marie says:

    Finalizing divorce sounds like a good idea (I’m a lawyer who has done some family law, which guides my response). Also … is the lawyer representing YOU or both of you? The description was unclear to me. I have concerns if it’s the latter. Most states offer free mediation through the courts and that’s a great way to hash out all the details.

    For medical insurance, when I left my last job I went to the Marketplace: https://www.healthcare.gov/get-coverage/

    • Adrianna says:

      The lawyer is representing me. I don’t think he even has a lawyer.

      We had to be on the marketplace back in the first few years of its existence…I’m nervous about what I’m going to find when I get on there. The options weren’t great even then.

      • Marie says:

        OK, good news about lawyer. You might want to ask the lawyer about court-provided mediation. I’m assuming you’re doing a dissolution and not a contested divorce, which makes everything so much better. (I don’t have the stomach for people fighting over every little thing because of perceived wrongs, especially when children get screwed in the process)

        I’m assuming that your children will be on his health insurance and so you are only looking for your own insurance? That’s my situation and I found appropriate options. They’re not as great as 100% employer provided health insurance, and I don’t expect them to be … for that, I”ll need to get another job (I recently quit and want to take some time off). It’s worth looking at it to know.

        • Adrianna says:

          We’ve got a separation agreement which spells out the current situation, and most of it will slide right into the divorce decree. There are a couple of things he wants to change regarding the support, and those are the things that we have to hash out for the divorce filing, but we’ve been doing all the hashing without lawyers and then I take the end product to my lawyer to make sure it works.

          • Anne says:

            Frankly, you are the more vulnerable party here and you need to make sure the terms work for you. So a better way to go about it would be to ask your lawyer what you could ask for/should be asking for to get the best deal. And then go into hashing it out with your ex with that information informing you. Frankly he may be doing this already but presenting it to you as he is just representing himself so that he looks more responsive.

    • Kristin says:

      Another lawyer here, who has done dozens and dozens of divorces. You cannot avoid a QDRO for splitting/transferring a retirement account, and they are generally a PITA to draft. Ask your attorney if you should get a specialist.

    • Katherine says:

      I’m getting caught up on email & am late to the party. This might have been suggested below but I know several women who were burned when expenses for the children after age 18 was not negotiated. My sister had to cover dentist, eyeglasses etc for my nieces b/c her ex would not help. My nieces worked part-time while they were in full-time college & had scholarships but it was a tough time financially & permanently damaged their relationship with their father. Hopefully your lawyer is taking care of you in this regard. Best of luck to you.

      • Kelley says:

        The same thing happened to my sister and her kids. Her ex refused to help pay for their college even though he was financially able to do so. Of course there is no law that says that you have to pay for college, but they had verbally agreed to do so. She had to practically beg for him to have them on his medical insurance when they turned 18 (he wanted to take them off) as she is self employed and his medical is excellent. If you have children, definitely hammer things like this out.

  4. Lynn says:

    Unless your total income increases, your current house and its associated costs are not sustainable if you hope to make any headway on savings. Of your listed expenses, $2381 go into the house & utilities. Now that you own the house, you alone are on the hook for a new roof, tree removal or whatever other calamity will happen at a bad time and wipe out any progress you’ve made on the savings front. If you start shoveling money into retirement accounts, remember, that money will be somewhat walled off from being able to use for things like huge repair bills (unless you pay a rather substantial tax penalty). As much as you like your house, it’s more than you can afford unless your financial situation changes fairly soon.

    • Reece says:

      +1. Way too much house, you need to sell and by something much smaller and cheaper, which should be manageable in Richmond. Have to get a new job that actually provides for you. What happens when the boys go to college and the child support stops? Delaying this inevitability will only make it harder when it arrives. And the current situation is risky… as soon as one of you get in another relationship it will no longer work. Hate to be blunt but sugar coating isn’t going to do you any favors. Good luck.

  5. Liz says:

    Good for you to take the next steps and assess your future plans. I have a now former friend who is living with a spouse that has been cheating on her for 6 years now as she is too afraid to move forward.

    The only thing I would question is trying to help children with college vs focusing on you and retirement. Kids have lots of options to pay for college through scholarships, grants, ect. It will be easier for them to qualify if you are divorced.

    Good luck!

  6. Amsta says:

    You can easily get insurance through Healthcare.gov and enrollment is still open, so I’d move quickly with your decision. Costs are very affordable (<$40/month) until you start to get above $50K/year and I doubt you'll be there this year or maybe even next. Sign up asap – you can always cancel. Also ask your employer what they offer and the min # hours you need to qualify AND what your monthly cost will be. Small business employer plans aren't always cheap and it's because the plans themselves aren't cheap for the employer, either. BUT, there is a point (I think around $75K for a single filer) where you will pay more through Healthcare.gov than on a different plan, say if you set up a business or get it through your employer). It's a pain, but from 1 single mom with 2 kids to another, you'll need to educate yourself. Good luck!

  7. Grace says:

    You might consider applying for Medicaid until you get a job that has insurance. Virginia finally expanded medicaid eligibility to 138% of the poverty line ($17,237 for a single adult or $29,436 for a family of three), and child support might not count as income for this (though I’d confirm that). Also with your income minus the child support you would also likely qualify for subsidies on the exchange (though if those plans come with a high deductible, medicaid might actually be a surer way to avoid owing a lot of money in the event of a major crisis). It’s something to look into.

    • Adrianna says:

      Is that a recent change? I did look into this, and at the time it looked like the limit was $24k for a family of three. I will have to look into it again, thanks!

      • J says:

        I’m pretty sure your husband’s payments would be taken into consideration, so Medicaid may not be a option, but you might still qualify for an aca subsidy. I really think a full time job with benefits would be the best option. This is a big transition and change, and a few focused sessions with a career/family counselor may help clarify things!

  8. Laura says:

    Good luck to you on your new phase of life! Related to your Roth IRA question, my understanding is the marriage limitation is only if you don’t have any income, but since you have some income, its a regular Roth IRA and not a spousal IRA. I am in no way an IRA expert so I may be wrong about your specific situation. I recommend looking up if Ed Slott (actual IRA expert) has information related to this. His website is irahelp.com.

    • Liz says:

      Oh my Adrianna, what a difficult time you have had, I’m so sorry to hear it. Have you come across the focus on the family intensives? They offer free counselling which you may wish to consider. As I’m in the UK I can’t offer any actual help with all of these acronyms! The community here seem to have great advice R.E the money. But look after your long term mental and spiritual health through this time too!

    • Adrianna says:

      Ohhhh….that makes sense! I will definitely look at that website, thank you!

  9. Dominic says:

    Definitely finalize the divorce. It’s awesome that you have a cordial relationship and that certainly makes things easier, but eventually at least one of you will find another partner. Better to keep finances separate before another partner comes into the picture and complicates things.

    I also noticed you have about 32,000 dollars in cash with a 0.25% interest rate. If your monthly budget is about 4,000 per month, then your emergency fund should have a maximum of 6 months or 24,000 dollars, unless you have a major purchase coming up or a unique circumstance like a health condition. If neither of those things apply, consider moving about 8,000 into your retirement fund or a brokerage fund.

    Finally, be sure to update beneficiaries, trusted contacts for all of your accounts, and update your will.

    • Laura says:

      Oh good point on checking beneficiaries. I have heard multiple stories about the ex-spouse inheriting when the deceased person’s Will stated otherwise because the beneficiaries were never updated.

    • Yesterdaysprincess says:

      Interest rates are low, but you still need to earn as much as you can. You could double your interest rate by moving your savings to an online savings account. As of today, Goldman Sachs (Marcus) is paying .50% with no fees and no minimum balance. You can stay abreast of information like this by periodically checking rates across the board through http://www.bankrate.com. Best of luck to you and your boys as you navigate these life changes.

  10. Quincy says:

    This was a really nice case study. You seem like an awesome mom and I really admire you putting yourself out there and sharing your story! I think you are going to come out of this in a really good position, I wish you the best of luck!

  11. Richard says:

    I’m a 78 year old curmudgeon so take my perspective with a grain of salt. I think you can do better with some of those expenses. Budgeting is fine, but so is saving. Put more in savings first and then adjust some of that spending as necessary. About those allowances for the kids, what’s an allowance? Cut them back and base them in doing chores that will help cut expenses. Because of your need for income now, I would not use a Roth. While there are long term benefits if you are in a higher tax bracket at retirement, it seems to me you could use the cash more now, especially if you will be filing taxes as a single person. Pretax savings will get you more net income now. You can always change as your situation develops

    • Lynne says:

      On the other hand, Roth contributions can be taken out tax-free after 5 years and with alimony for the next 8 years, this could be a flexible emergency-type fund.

  12. Pauline says:

    You have a low mileage paid for car!! You have a good amount of cash in the bank!! You have some skills to get a full time job!! You can sell you house right now while the market is hot and get a cheaper place. I think divorce is the right thing to do, especially when you and your ex have totally different feelings on saving and spending. You can probably qualify for Medicaid and the boys will be on their dad’s insurance. It’s great the boys have both parents who care about them in their lives. It’s going to be hard for a little while, but just enjoy the time with the boys now because in the blink of an eye they will be gone to college – hopefully on scholarships!!!

    • Adrianna says:

      Thank you so much!

    • Karl says:

      Would it make sense in your area to do house hacking? The housing expense seems too large for your current situation and, if you do not wish to move since kids can walk to school, you may be able to generate some income from any portions of the house that are rarely used.

  13. Krista says:

    If you ever are looking to get a full time job you should check in with a local hospital! Most have administrative assistants and have amazing benefits and very affordable Healthcare. Seems like a good fit for you if you are willing to sacrifice flexibility.

    • Isa says:

      I second that! I’m in Canada, so maybe it’s different here, but the difference between our medical clerks/admin. Staff salaries (I work in a hospital) and the salaries offered elsewhere is huge! I myself am thinking of re-training eventually to switch from my physical job to a desk job there.

  14. Glenna says:

    Hi, Adrianna, I am divorced and from Virginia, although I don’t have children. I strongly recommend getting divorced and putting it behind you. In time, urgency and generosity can fade and conflicts can grow, and particularly if your soon-to-be ex meets/dates/marries someone else, there may be more pressure on him to use that money for himself and his new situation. That’s human nature. You are relying on his goodwill now, but once there’s a court resolution and everything is spelled out, he has to abide by the agreements. I would also look into full-time work with benefits which you might be able to do from home or in a hybrid office/home setting. Since Covid, there are a lot more jobs like that. And if you were married 10 years, you can claim his social security (which doesn’t diminish his) if his is higher than yours when it’s time to retire. You might also want to talk to a tax professional about the questions you have about contributions to various plans; and bear in mind that the ACA subsidy is taxable if you make over a certain threshold and how best to structure the money you receive from your ex. My best growth and greatest happiness occurred after my divorce, and I highly recommend it, even though it was stressful at the time. Best of luck to you–and you sound well-grounded and thoughtful, so you’ll do great.

    • Adrianna says:

      Thank you for the kind words! I can already say, just being separated, that I haven’t felt this free in forever.

    • Jenny says:

      I think Glenna brings up a good point about his good will and how things could change if he meets/dates someone before the divorce is final. Having been through a divorce as well (in which my ex was with someone who influenced his perspective about the money aspect of the divorce), I think doing it sooner can be a big benefit. Thankfully our details were finalized before his new girlfriend convinced him he was too generous. (He wasn’t; our divorce was 50/50 according to the law here.) Anyhow, his goodwill diminished with time.

      Also, I felt a HUGE relief to no longer being legally and financially tied to my ex. If your husband suddenly decides to make a huge purchase, does Virginia law mean you are responsible for half of that debt? Especially if he is a spender, that would be a top concern for me

      Good luck navigating this! It sounds like you are doing well so far!

    • Teri says:

      I recommend getting a divorce too. My ex and I were separated for too many years (living together and apart) until he finally filed. Getting that piece of paper back and refi’ing the house into my own name was the most freeing moment. I’m 99% sure I was too scared to move past that because finances but I’m in a much better position now that I ever have been.

      Best of luck and enjoy your new found freedom.

      Ps.. what games do you play?

  15. Arrah Massimini says:

    Why would the husband you are separated from want to continue to be married on paper and provide all the financial benefits of marriage, without actually being married. 40 is very young. You or your husband may want to date/re marry again and it seems really odd to not put the marriage behind you.

    • Adrianna says:

      There’s a financial benefit for him, namely lower taxes.

      • Rose says:

        Until he has a tax bill and you’re responsible for it. See my story below.

      • Leslie says:

        If you are worried about the tax financial benefit for him, can’t you give him one or two of the kids as deductions?
        I was divorced when my children were about the same age as yours (Missouri). My husband was generous in giving me the house, and paid a bit over what the court required for child support. I did have a job so my support was only about a fourth of what yours is. I would get yours locked in re. divorce because he’s paying a huge percentage of your household expenses. Make sure your divorce decree also says who is going to contribute what percentage for college (if he has the money, I’d put it in writing). My husband was initially very good about handing over child support checks, but eventually wanted to sometimes ‘wait’ a day or two. I finally had his support garnished. No matter how amenable the divorce is, the less you have to argue about the better.
        Once you are divorced, he’d probably have to take you back to court to change the support (i.e. if you were making a lot more money). We used a mediator and it went pretty well, but then I paid a lawyer to look over the final agreement.
        Good luck!

        • Leslie says:

          p.s. by saying ‘give’ him one of the kids for deduction, I of course just mean spell out in the divorce decree whether he takes a child deduction or not.
          Meanwhile, when your eldest turns 18, and depending on what the decree says about college, etc., your child support may go down.

          • Rachel says:

            Yes my parents did that in VA- took a kid each for the deduction and paid for their college.

    • Suzette says:

      Silver – so true. I could have stayed married on paper to my former (now deceased) husband; I would have gotten his Veterans Benefits as he was 100% disable due to PTSD (VietNam vet). However, I never knew what was going to happen with him, what would come out of his mouth, and had to finalize that divorce. I’d be better now financially but emotionally, it would have been awful.

  16. KnoxPatch says:

    Adrianna,
    Let’s file these last 15 months under ‘who’d a thunk it’ and give ourselves a collective pat on the back for getting through it!

    I agree with Mrs Frugalwoods, as always, but I do have some cold water observations for your consideration:

    First: houses are money pits and therefore $30/month for maintenance is low from my POV. This is colored by our having to replace a heat pump ($4K), remove three threes ($3.2K), another tree broke a major branch that’s leaning against our porch roof ($1.9K), and we’ve been painting the interior while making other improvements. I would consider a zero lot townhouse. Way too many women attempt to keep the house. Risk/benefit: it’s going to cost you dearly.

    Second: The attorney’s retainer seems low. This is a critical time in your life when you need the best answers to the questions you didn’t know to ask. I don’t think $3K is buying you much based on the scenarios posed regarding the results of going with one approach versus an another. Your husband has or will have an agenda separate that is different from yours. You need to be prepared for curveballs and I don’t sense your attorney is working that hard for you.

    Third: Here’s the cold hard truth (sorry, I’ve seen too many trusting women get financially ruined after divorce). You have got to be the breadwinner. Reading between the lines, I sense there is a lot of reliance on services and other people for dealing with the day-to-day grunt and grunge work of life. That’s going to change so get ahead of the tsunami and financially educate yourself. Hire a fee-based certified financial planner and start asking him or her questions.

    Last: Get a full-time job with benefits. Assess your skills and go for something that will make you the most money in the shortest period of time as long as it’s legal 😊. Get all the training the company offers, network, and start adding certifications to your resume.

    You can do this for you and the boys! 👏🏼

  17. Karla says:

    I believe you can contribute to an Roth IRA if you filed single, head of household or married file separately if you did not live with your spouse the filing year. Best wishes on your new beginning! You got this!

  18. Matt says:

    Thank you Adrianna for sharing your story. It can be quite challenging to put yourself out there in a case study so I commend you on that! I would agree with Mrs. FW and move forward with the divorce. I believe the “peace of not having financial ties to him anymore” outweighs the burden to find health insurance. It should be quite affordable at your current income.

    I also agree with Mrs. FW that you need to earn more income. With Covid, many well paying FT jobs are now work from home so it’s a good time to brush up on your database skills, update your resume, and see what’s out there. Check out http://www.udemy.com for low cost educational videos to get up to speed on the latest/greatest tools for database mgmt. Look at what certifications employers are looking for and get certified.

    And maybe it was a typo, but I can’t imagine a gym contract that your are bound to until September 2022? That’s more than a year away so if that is the case, there should be an option to get out of the contract. Talk to the owner of the club – you should be able to get out of this pretty easily.

    • Matt says:

      Also, $12K sounds really low for the retirement account that you’re entitled to. I’m no expert, but in most cases I’ve heard that you would be entitled to 50% of his 401K. I’m sure this is far more than $12K?

    • Adrianna says:

      The gym contract was for two years, was placed on hold during a large chunk of 2020 because of the pandemic, which added those months to the end of the term. The contract is very clear on reasons for cancellation, and I can’t cancel it.

      The 12K account is half of his total 401k. He had the old account, which I get, and the current account that he’s actively contributing to. Since at the time of separation they were roughly equal (mine was slightly higher, in fact), we decided I would just get the whole account rather than spend extra time/energy/money trying to split both.

      • Matt says:

        Are you using the gym? If so, then it could be money well spent to focus on yourself during this transition. If not, it can’t hurt to go to the gym, explain your situation and ask to get out of the contract? I used to own a gym (part of a large franchise) and we had all sorts of industry-standard cancellation clauses. None of them held up in court. It wasn’t worth it for us to go to court so we negotiated each contract on a case by case basis.

  19. Iris says:

    I am blissfully unaware of most of the issues Adrianna is facing. The one thing I will caution about is to make sure any monies transferred from a retirement account under a QDRO are NEVER actually withdrawn in the process. Those funds should go bang from one retirement account into an account in Adrianna’s name. That way there is no risk of any immediate tax consequences. Also, I don’t think you can make this happen without a QDRO or another similar legal document. The IRA custodian isn’t going to allow it without one. A QDRO applies to certain retirement plans. There is also a “transfer incident to divorce” for IRAs – but still a legal order. Make sure this is done correctly.

    • Adrianna says:

      I think the advice I was being given was about having him transfer an inactive 401(k)-type account to an active IRA that could be signed over without the QDRO, because the rules for IRAs are different? Like I said, I haven’t been able to find corroborating information online. Definitely going to get financial person for this but need to know what questions to ask!

      • Iris says:

        My reading says that for an IRA you need the ‘transfer incident to divorce’. IRAs are attached to an individual, no institution is going to just change the name on an account. 401k accounts need the QDRO.

  20. C says:

    I just wanted to say that I have successfully cancelled my 1-year gym contract at the beginning of the pandemic because of the pandemic itself. Yes they will try to keep you on but given the LONG time they were closed during 2020 the contract itself is actually invalid.

  21. No advice, but the Atlantic had an article on the finances of divorce today that you might be interested in.

  22. Richard says:

    You say you have $1400 equity in your home and you refinanced last March . Did you take equity out of the house at the same time by increasing your mortgage?

    • Bea says:

      Please make sure you are using the best divorce lawyer you can find. My divorce lawyer considered every anticipated expense for my daughter, including camps, vacations, extra-curricular activities, braces, college tuition and expenses, etc. The divorce decree included a provisions for these expenses and for a $1 million life insurance policy to protect my house and my daughter and me in case he died unexpectedly. We share ownership of the house in our respective trusts but I live in it and our daughter will inherit our shares of the house when we each pass. You need to look ahead and try to protect your children against the unexpected. Get it on paper. Good will can evaporate when a new wife and children become the priority. Good luck!

  23. Liz says:

    No real advice. But wanted to say I love YNAB too. It’s the first budgeting tool that actually helped me budget for the future rather than just tracking my expenses. Good job & good luck with everything.

    • Adrianna says:

      It’s truly life-changing. I would not be where I am now without YNAB. We wouldn’t have had the faintest idea how to structure support, split assets, know if either of us could afford the house, etc. Best money I’ve ever spent.

  24. terre tulsiak says:

    You are doing amazing getting everything down on paper! I am going through something similar in Florida where the laws give the nonworking spouse half of everything, including all the retirement money. I still haven’t pushed to finalize, as I feel anxious about cutting ties completely, and don’t recommend it until you both are ready, and even then maybe it won’t benefit you, financially. If your spouse earns a lot more than you, it may affect any financial help you get for college, unless you cut ties financially, so keep that in mind. I would start paying down the PRINCIPLE on your house every chance you get. As you see, not much goes toward it in the beginning. Have you looked into Solar for electric? Some states have no money down, rebates and other incentives if your house is suitable.
    As for health insurance it is the main reason people don’t go to the doctor- not having it, not understanding it, or being afraid to use it. When my husband went on Medicare recently, I got health insurance for me and 2 kids and its $800 month with a high deductible. Definitely shop around .

  25. cavin Cunningham says:

    I also want to point out that keeping up life insurance payments on both of you are a good idea. If you died he would have to PAY someone to do everything you currently do, another reason to ask for alimony rather than just child support. It acknowledges all you did and do.
    I heard of a couple who shared child custody by keeping the kids in the house and the adults switching. It won’t work for everyone, but wouldn’t it be nice if it did?

    • Allison in Ky. says:

      Life insurance is an absolute must. The boys have many expensive years ahead of them, and if they lose a parent the bills still keep coming….

  26. James W Day says:

    No advice except retiring at 60 will be a long shot if they keep pushing Medicare back- right now its at 65.

    • Carolyn says:

      The age for Medicare eligibility has always been 65. What is changing is the age at which you reach “full retirement age” for Social Security benefits.

  27. Annie says:

    You mentioned a savings bucket for house repairs (and I assume car repairs) but nothing in your monthly budget to refill the bucket.
    Are property taxes and homeowner’s insurance included in the mortgage payment you listed?
    I’m impressed that you can send 2 kids to camp for 2-3 weeks for $600. That’s a bargain!

  28. Jane says:

    Honestly, if you’re worried about retirement, I’d lean toward finding a place that will offer matching contributions to your retirement. Are there local colleges? They usually have good benefits and your history during administrative work would be helpful. You can always ramp up to running your own business and if things go really well, you can contribute to a Roth in addition to the 401k, or even to quitting altogether and opening a SEP401k.

  29. Nabes says:

    It seems like you are trying to work out a separation plan that works for both parties, which is great! I’m not aware of the laws in your state, but I do wonder what the value of your ex’s other retirement account is, and whether it’s actually fair to you to receive the account worth $12k. Any retirement savings that he was able to make when you two were married should be on the table for splitting, since you likely presumed at the time that that retirement savings was for your family’s future, and you staying at home to raise the kids and keep your family running allowed your ex more flexibility in earning and saving.

    Some states have different laws, but it’s definitely worth checking in with your attorney about, particularly if the ex’s other retirement account is worth a lot more.

  30. Jane Smith says:

    Apologies in advance for another cold water set of observations.

    Adrianna is to be congratulated for maintaining an optimistic posture so far. I read in her comments that she would prefer this, or prefer that.

    Once her financial outlook is finalized in the divorce contract, there is no room for preference. Adrianna must look life square in the face, and become ruthless in pursuing financial self-reliance. She may need to give up her avocations to focus on Job One – getting and keeping a full time job with benefits. Maintaining a roof over the family head. Putting food on the table. Negotiating yet one more absence from the office while being compelled to appear at court, take children to doctor or dentist, etc. I have witnessed women being fired for attempting to wheedle “leaving early” one too many times.

    It’s a trade-off. Adrianna can pursue a standard pink-collar job at $35K, and have more leniency (what she terms “flexibility”). Or she can grit her teeth and do whatever it takes to earn a $70K living wage. The bar is higher, and the terms of engagement are harsher. Make no mistake about it.

    Adrianna has had a relatively easy time of it so far. She would be wise to prepare her expectations logistics-wise – and time-wise – for what comes next.

    I agree with the previous poster on selling the house and buying a zero-lot attached dwelling. Fewer things to maintain with a smaller footprint. The rule of thumb on house maintenance: count on 2% of price as a maintenance set-aside. In my experience, this is a good estimate.

    Adrianna may want to consider offloading that risk onto somebody else before it’s time to pay the piper. It sounds as if she bought a new house. The major systems (foundation, electrical, pipes, hvac, ) begin noticeably deteriorating within a year after the builder’s warranty expires. Count on it.

  31. Julie says:

    Best of luck, Adrianna! You’ve got this!
    One thing I didn’t see specifically mentioned in your budget was home/car repairs or a specific emergency fund. You have a great savings account, and with your excellent budgeting you’ll get a better idea of these expenses over time so many “emergencies” will become foreseeable expenses. For now, though, keep in mind that there will be costs for HVAC repair, washer/dryer/fridge repair or replacement, a broken window, new brakes and tires, etc. These aren’t your fault or any type of failure, just part of life, and it’s important to have a plan.

  32. Rose says:

    Do NOT assume that an amicable divorce is going to stay amicable. (Ask me how I know.) And do NOT file jointly with your ex any more. I did that one year as a favor to my ex to hugely reduce his tax bill–guess what, he then decided he wasn’t going to abide by our signed agreement that he would fund my daughter’s college education. I had to take him to court to enforce that–which is great, but ever since then my tax refunds have been paying off his 2015 tax bill.

    FINALIZE EVERYTHING NOW. Get the very very best divorce attorney you can afford–borrow money from your parents if you have to. It’s the best money you will ever spend. DO NOT ASSUME your ex, who is a nice guy and a good dad, is going to stay that way. PROTECT YOURSELF AND YOUR KIDS.

    DO NOT TRUST YOUR EX IN ANY WAY. Do not do mediation with him. Do not be the nice girl and let him take all the assets.

    Proofreading is a joke as a job. (Also ask me how I know.) You need a real job with real benefits, not some poorly paid side hustle. I don’t wanna hear about how you like freedom and don’t wanna live to work–that kind of attitude is a ticket to poverty and an impoverished old age.

    • Adrianna says:

      Wow.

      • Rose says:

        Sorry. I was where you are–although I’ve always had a job–and it bit me hard. I do not want to see that happen to you.

        I loved my ex so much–it was shocking and terrible when he had an affair and walked out. Still, I thought we could still be friends etc. He gradually came to see us–his wife and two children–as people holding him back in his new Twoo Luv. My daughter, who was 16 when he left, has never spoken a word to him since then.

        I’m sorry if I seem harsh but it also seems like so many other commenters are being way too easy and you’re going to wind up broke because of it. You need to put yourself first for the first time, maybe, in your life.

    • Nat says:

      This is the best advice so far.

    • Maria says:

      Rose offers good advice. Tough love. I was thinking the same thing too. She can’t just keep working side hustles that offer no real insurance or other benefits like 401K. Most people don’t want to work full time in an office, but you just have to. That’s what he was doing, that’s what most people do to make money. Her side hustle was good and she can probably easy land a job as a full time executive assistant that pays well with benefits somewhere. I don’t think she should view her husband as an enemy or take more than she needs, however other commentors are correct in that the moment he meets someone else, they will want to be put first. I know a few women who are with a divorced man and they are resentful of the man’s allimony payments. They encourage the man to try to renegotiate their agreement, etc.

      • Heidi Louise says:

        And more children might enter the picture with remarriage, whether coming with the new spouse (for either Adrianna or the husband) or more births.
        Or he could lose his job or change careers, something not specific to divorce situations, but always a back burner possibility.

    • Laura says:

      I have to admit I had the same thought….. Regardless, you don’t want to be so dependent on him for most of your living expenses anyway. Like many have said, things can change quickly. Alimony for life is also rare now, if you can work a judge will expect you too and will set a time limit on how long you can collect it. Start looking for a full time job with benefits immediately

  33. Alexa Kvande says:

    Good work so far! I had an amicable divorce too, when my kids were elementary age (they’re both in their 20s now). I was separated for many years before getting a divorce, because I knew the financial discussions would be a huge headache (emotionally). However, from the very beginning of the separation we were able to settle all kinds of issues that have financial implications (although may not be about money). These included: who has custody of the children, how much time they spend at each house, where they spend holidays and vacations, who pays for schooling, who claims the children on their taxes, who’s covering children’s health insurance, and how to share expenses for the children’s activities. Basically we agreed to track our spending for the children and do a yearly reconciliation to share the expenses equally. (Your percentage of the split could be different, of course.)

    The amicability paid off in other ways: we both attended parent-teacher conferences and school events (concerts, college information sessions, sporting events, graduations). By a few months after the separation, the kids’ teachers reported that the kids were behaving in their usual ways, rather than acting out (as they had as our marriage fell apart). That was a great relief to hear.

    Finally, even when our negotiations got sticky, I tried very hard to never speak ill of my children’s father either in front of my children or to anyone who interacted with my children. One way to do this was to avoid using “ex.” I referred to him as “the children’s father” or “my former husband.” I knew that he would be part of my life for many years, so treating him with respect (and expecting him to the do the same) made a huge difference.

    Best wishes to you and your family!

  34. Mandy Lambert says:

    Hi Adrianna, great job with so many life changes! This is not really financially related but the host of one of my favorite podcasts (The Mom Hour) just started a new podcast called Mother of Reinvention that is about professional and life reinventions, parenting older children, etc. She just went through a divorce and has 5 kids. Reading your story made me think of it and you might enjoy it!

    Here is the link to her site: http://meaganfrancis.com/

  35. Aaron says:

    Since you like your job I would suggest keeping it while slowly building the proof-reading business on the side. Liking your job is not something very many people have and you can’t put a dollar amount on how valueable that is.

    • Rose says:

      Yes, you certainly can if it’s not enough to pay your bills.

      • I agree with Rose. (Single mother of 4 boys here.)
        Your top priority is to build a secure base for your boys. You had a nice, easy gig for years while they were little. Now that the situation has changed, the job needs to change as well. You desperately need more income that doesn’t rely on your ex.

      • Sandra says:

        Again, I agree and this is not just about you but also about giving your boys a serene home situation, something that will be difficult if Mom is stressed about family finances.

      • Allison in Ky. says:

        Agree 100%.

  36. Life is not fair however you have your health and you got a good head on your shoulders. I agree that having a budget is a necessity. I saw that others commented on ACA and Medicaid expansion in some states. I am retired and I have ACA until I get 65 to join Medicare. I did not read about dental insurance for your family. ACA has it too but you can check your community where there maybe dental clinics that take on clients. I found them in Ohio. Also, life insurance is needed for yourself and your sons. It is inexpensive when you get the policy at a young age such as your sons. You need to get some too. Jobs today can be horrible especially the management so if you got a good thing keep it and ask for more hours or get another part time gig. Please stay motivated to do your business. Sometimes good ideas come to us at the 3rd or 4th quarter in our journey bc I am pursuing one for personal reasons and for taxes because I have no tax deductions.

  37. Sharon says:

    This may seem harsh but you need to be real about you situation. Right now you are very, very dependent on the kids father. This is a dangerous situation for you. Even a very nice guy could be influenced by a new spouse down the road who may not be happy with all the money he is sending you. If he stops sending the money you will have lawyer expenses etc. to try to get it from him. It is important for you to realize this risk you are taking in order to stay in a house that honestly, you can not afford. Realistically, if you want to continue with this lifestyle you need to get a full time job with benefits ASAP whether it decreases your child support or not. Otherwise move to a place you can afford.

    Many of your expenses are wants not needs and can be slashed or eliminated. Normally Mrs. Frugalwoods goes line by line through the budget pointing this out. I don’t know why she didn’t in this case. For example, the kids allowance is excessive. If you want to continue giving them each 50 dollars a month why don’t you put it in their 529 plans.

    I’m sure this is a very hard time for you and it seems like you are SUCH a great mom and person. I am not in any way trying to be a downer, it is just that this is your chance to reinvent yourself and start off on the right foot financially and sometimes hard truths need to be acknowledged so you can deal with them.

  38. Julie says:

    Thank you for sharing your case study!
    Get the divorce. The tax savings is never worth the emotional toll and insecurity of the limbo state. You need more of your own income. Since your income is mostly child/spousal support, the emergency fund needs to be liquid and large (I would set a goal for getting to 9 months of expenses). The situation can change in an instant- job loss, health crisis, or a new partner for either of you and amicable can turns sour and that could suddenly be zero.
    I am 40s and playing catch with retirement savings too. Yes fund the retirement first but also put something into the 529 as you still have many years for it to grow. Is paying for college and adding to 529 part of the divorce decree?
    Your mortgage is high with no equity. Are you paying extra on your mortgage? Round up so something extra each month goes to principle.
    Best wishes as you begin your new life!

  39. Laloffland says:

    I don’t think you or your soon to be ex can afford a house in your neighborhood- let alone both of you! It is imperative that you become self sufficient in providing for yourself and your boys in case something would happen to prevent your soon to be ex from contributing financially at his current level. Also, at your ages, you may find yourselves partnering up with others to create new families that will need to be financed. No matter how amicably negotiations are going so far, you need to get a shark of an attorney to ensure adequate coverage of expenses for your boys through college. I believe attorneys offer free consultations AND by consulting with the best ones they will not be able to be hired by your soon to be ex as that would be a conflict. I believe you want to keep everything friendly but you are divorcing for a reason and you need to be the watchdog for your boys’ best interests. Best wishes for your family.

  40. Michele says:

    I don’t have children, but I have been divorced and responsible for taking care of a house. I would sell that expensive house and buy a townhouse, where the association takes care of the exterior and landscaping. It might also decrease the utilities. If the place has a pool, that could be a place for you and the kids to enjoy. I would keep your savings liquid, not in a brokerage account. I would definitely ask about getting out of the gym membership, there are always exceptions. Get everything finalized, in writing. Agree with others, if your husband re-marries his new wife will want the money. Until you make more money, you should cut back some of your expenses: “adventures, dining out, fun money, etc.” You may have to combine some of that for awhile, until you have a bigger financial cushion. Start applying for better jobs, with benefits. Good luck and best wishes.

  41. With your casual admin job you are obviously being paid “per hour” for the week. Can you ask your employer to go permanent part time – here in Australia if you are permanent part time you get pro-rate annual leave and sick leave. Therefore if you had a week off because you are sick/in hospital you will see get paid after you accrue the hours. You would have to ask your employer given you are now a single Mum. Also in Australia your Superannuation [your Roth IRA] is an asset and if your split is 50/50 you are entitled for the money to be transferred to your account. ie if your ex has $100,000 and you had $10,000 together that’s $110,000 and a 50/50 split is $55,000. Therefore as you already have $10,000 you would be entitled for the company to transfer $45,000 into your Superannuation [Roth IRA] account. Check with your lawyer. While you are talking to your lawyer show him your gym contract and see if there is a loophole to get out of that $99. If you love going to the gym and use it every week a few times that is different. Over here we would have a max of a year membership and it would more than likely be a 2-3 month penalty. To hold you to Sept 2022 for that amount is a lot of money. They probably quote you the “standard” that’s the contract and it ends Sep 2022. Talk to your lawyer and then speak to the Manager of the gym not just the receptionist. You can then ask for compassionate grounds that you have split from your husband and you need to keep a roof over your head and feed your kids. I’m sure they would be able to do something. Ask your lawyer when you are speaking to him. Again if going to the gym is something you love and go to for your fitness and mental health then that is different. Separating things will give you more control and piece of mind. These days charity shops are a great place to get 2nd hand clothes that are cheap so shop their for yourself and your kids. Often clothes even come with tags on them as people buy on impulse. Both my teenagers [17 and 15] love shopping at charity shops and my son bought an $8 pair of beautiful cargo pants brand name that would have cost $60 at the shop. It is very trendy now to do this and they haven’t actually got the “thrifting” from me. All their friends are into it too these days. I agree about focusing on your own oxygen mask first. Having a roof over your head, in control of your finances and food etc. and not worrying about saving for your kids. They are old enough to get part time jobs, a paper run, mowing your lawn the neighbours lawn. If no mower get a second hand one or a relative can loan you one. All the best.

    • Roxane says:

      Sending you beautiful energy for everyone’s shares. This one stood out. This question is for Adrianna, sounds like you have so many blessings coming your way. The casual administrative job that does not require the phone, will you kindly share their hiring process and website. Looking forward to connecting – Roxane @ClearBalance2021 (Instagram, just in case it is easier for you) ✨

  42. Tax-wise, do you qualify for Head of Household? Sometimes even if the divorce papers aren’t finalized, the IRS may consider you “unmarried for tax purposes.” May not apply to 2020 taxes, but something to look into for 2021 — the standard deduction substantially higher for HoH than for single taxpayers, and the tax brackets are wider, too.

    • Anne says:

      You want to be able to file as head of household and with your dependents. You are looking at not only child tax credit, but also likely earned income tax credit (EITC), potentially a 5 figure refundable credit that will be sent to you next year. You should really speak to a tax/financial advisor as well as a better lawyer to make sure you are not leaving a bunch of money on the table (or sent to your ex’s pocket), especially with the additional child tax credits this year. What happened to the stimulus checks you and your kids received? Did you get them or did they go to your ex? You should figure out a way for these types of benefits to either go to you, as the parent who is paying for everything, or at least in 529s for them.

      You need to also take a look at some of the expenses that are lower and come up with a really realistic estimate of how much higher they will be post-COVID and once you are working full time. You don’t want to be in a situation where the real costs of caring for the children are higher than agreed to but your ex won’t budge unless you take him to court. And have clarity on college costs – if he is expecting child support to go way down or be eliminated when the kids are out of the house, then he should be putting that money toward their college costs. Yes he may be paying you more than half his salary, but he absolutely should be if all of the children’s costs are coming out of your share. This is especially true if your income is limited by being the primary childcare.

  43. Cara says:

    Adrianna — in your story, I see a proactive and collaborative mom driving her family towards financial health! In much of the advice you’re getting, I see people’s fear of financial vulnerability being expressed as strongly worded language, more directive and less encouraging than seems typical in these case studies. So take this comment as validation if you’re feeling a little bit bandied about by commenters, and as admiration and encouragement from someone who’s never been in your particular situation, but observes your tenacity in getting a plan for the present and future together. Good luck!

  44. Margann34 says:

    I just want to point out that the generous child support will only last 8 more years. I think that you need to be looking at a longer time line for ALL of your financial decisions. Will you be able to afford your mortgage in 8 years? Will you have an adequate salary to support yourself in 8 years? Will you have savings and retirement built up in that time? You basically need to use the next several years to build up your own financial situation and plan for life AFTER child support.

  45. Mama Minou says:

    Hi Adrianna! I want to suggest that with your Admin Assistant skills, working for state or local government, or for a local university, could be a great fit with very good benefits–health insurance and a retirement or even pension plan. I think this is especially true in a union environment. Public sector/public service work may be less well paid than the private sector, but the work environment, stability, and benefits help compensate. Also, some have become more flexible during the pandemic with work from home options. Also, good on you for all these positive changes you are making!

  46. Kristine says:

    I’ve been a single parent for 16 years. My only child turns 18 in a few months. Based on the NJ child support calculator I received 123.00$ a week. After 16 years with cost of living increase it’s 147.00$ a week. These are real numbers. I was fortunate it was paid. I have heard horror stories about dads quitting jobs, moving out of state, working under the table etc.. To avoid child support. This is real life for MANY single moms. You need a steady full time job. You are not going to be able to be the mom you were because that mom had a husband. You are now single. Good luck and God bless

  47. J says:

    We live in Richmond as well! I agree with others who’ve suggested a full time job with benefits. With your skill set, it sounds like you could likely obtain a completely remote job, and the benefits, paid time off, sick days, Health insurance are really nice and take away a lot of stress. Having worked from home for the last year, i think it can be pretty flexible, even full time. You can do house things between tasks and don’t have to worry about commuting times, so I think you’d still be able to be there for your boys.

    I think some of the house expenses seem low, as well as the vacation fund. 50 a month would be only 600 a year on vacation. Even with savings for house repairs, you probably want to try to put a little bit more in the house repair section… i’m not sure how old your house is, but something going wrong could easily be five or $10,000. For the restaurants, at $50 for three people twice a month it also seems a little bit low, but maybe you were getting a pizza or subs with your boys? Having grown up with a brother, I’d also say that as your boys get older, your food bill will likely go up quite a bit… Teenage boys can eat quite a lot. I tend to be overly optimistic about my own finances, so I may be biased when I say this, but it may be worth going back and making sure the amounts you submitted are truly accurate. Better to set aside more than less.

    Eight years will go by very quickly. I don’t know if he will continue to receive alimony after that, but you really want to prepare yourself to be in a place where you will be able to afford 5000 a month or however much monthly expenses are done at that time. As others have mentioned, your husband’s generosity could shift… I don’t know the circumstances of your divorce, but feelings of guilt may pass, he may meet someone you, his feelings may turn from generosity to anger. He could also lose a job, as unlikely as that may seem, or decide he wants to quit his job, and start his own business, or get a job he likes more that pays a lot less. I also imagine that a future partner of his may not be very happy with the arrangement he has with you. All that to say, I think it makes sense to get a full-time job with benefits, even if the pay isn’t great, and finalize the divorce… The job market is favorable to certain careers right now, so you may be able to negotiate work from home.

  48. Jena says:

    Adriana, reading your story brought back memories of my divorce twenty years ago. After twenty years of marriage and two boys, my ex-husband and I had an ‘amicable separation’ and from there on, things were a nightmare. All kinds of things came out of the woodwork as we waited for the divorce to come through. Get the BEST lawyer available and be prepared for things your husband would “NEVER” do. Even with a settlement, my ex defaulted on most everything and he knew I would have to sue him to get the settlement enforced, which I couldn’t. I lost most everything. One of sons was already grown and out but I still had a 17 year old to get ready for college. Many years later, my sons are approaching 40 and are married with their own families. Everyone survived and did well, thank you Lord. My advice to you is look out for YOURSELF. TAKE NOTHING FOR GRANTED. People change. When you cease to be a loved spouse, you become an obligation. Especially when new wives come into the picture. Keep your head up, prepare for changes, and enjoy the person you will grow into being.

  49. Lila says:

    Adrianna,
    You seem to be so on top of things with your family’s life, and have done an excellent job navigating the divorce amicably.

    One thing that stands out is that house. I understand the desire to keep it, but grab an online calculator and see how much house you’d qualify on just your income alone. With 0% downpayment (because you have 0% equity in the house), for a $300k house it would be about $80k income to afford it and qualify to buy it. That probably worked when there were two of you together, but as a part-time Assistant, the budget doesn’t cover the house. I would either need that house payment amount put into the divorce settlement, or better yet (and more realistically) sell the house. It’s on borrowed dreams right now, with zero dollars down and an income of a solo earner that doesn’t meet the qualifying amount to buy it. That’s one of the unfortunate pieces of divorce: owning a house together is cheaper than 2 houses/apartments apart, and it’s a lot cheaper, so quality of ‘house I can afford’ goes down for both partners after a divorce. The house *could* be doable, but only if he’s reliable on payments and those payments are guaranteed in the divorce settlement, that they won’t dry up all of a sudden when you start dating a new boyfriend or he finds a new girlfriend. Also, remember, the house is not your only priority, so while your situation is doable in that you COULD keep the house – eating PBJs, not vacationing, cutting allowances – it’s your biggest expense (too big!) – and it would be good to find cheaper housing and thus free up $400 a month or more. If he’s insisting you stay in the house, he needs to pay for it, and pay for it in writing. I could imagine an equity deal, even, where he gets equity in the house (it’s “his money”) while you live in it. That way when the kids are old enough and it’s time to downsize, he gets his $10k, $40k investment in the ‘lifestyle’ of the home back, but you were able to live in the dream home to take care of the kids.

    Also, separate note, don’t forget to save for retirement! Start with the $6k a year in IRA (Roth will be better once you’re divorced and ‘poor’ in the govt’s eyes, traditional for these years filing jointly, but really it doesn’t matter much. Just make sure you’ve invested in one of them, that’s an investment in yourself.) You’re about $100k behind in ideal investments, but you can make big gains at 50 and 60 when the kids have moved out. Right now is starting that motion: you’ve made that Roth account (woo-hoo!) and going from 0 mph to 20mph is the hard part, soon you’ll be cruising along, but only if you keep your foot firmly on the accelerator. Squirrel away $5 here and $10 there, and that retirement account will start being there for you to take care of you for those years you are 90, or 70, and don’t feel like showing up to work each day to do Access (Futurama) databases on the Tiktok platform of VizzonQuest. Leave that to the youngins, pay for the ability to get out and still have grocery money by stocking up that Roth IRA. Or trad IRA, they’re really similar and the goal is $6k a year, and then employer accounts (like 401k), health accounts (HSAs), and afterward the brokerage accounts that aren’t tax-advantaged.

    You’re doing really great in all aspects of life right now, even while playing on hard mode through a pandemic and a divorce. That maturity is shining through, and even in this area you know is a ‘weakness’, you’re doing really good financially for not having seen a tax return in a decade. 🙂 You’ll figure this all out in no time. (Side note, you also sound super employable. When ready based on the the kids’ schedule, jump in get those full-time hours and “bennies” – benefits. I know it’s different, but believe in yourself – you manage these kids already, so no doubt you have what it takes to handle a high paying career. Make sure the house is taken care of in the divorce settlement or downsize, put a laser focus on retirement savings once the upheaval has settled (love that IRA), and go get that full-time income!

  50. Steveark says:

    Divorce is inevitable, no way the ex is going to stay married on paper. That would prevent him from having a new relationship with a normal person, it would do that for you as well. I’m just saying you are approaching the issue like it’s a choice you get to make. It’s not. And yes, you need a full time job with benefits and maybe keep the side gig as well. You can’t depend on child support. Your ex could ghost you in a heart beat, it happens all the time. The only dependable source of income you’ll have going forward is you. Sorry you are in this situation.

    • Lisa says:

      Totally agree. You are going to have to shift your mindset from working just to keep from being bored while your kids are in school to working to support yourself and your children. This is a BIG shift you will have to make. The biggest potential problem I see in your story is that you seem very hesitant to make the decisions you need to in order to become financially independent, such as selling the house and pursuing a well-paying career, because of fear that your ex will stop supporting you. That will keep you dependent on him (as long as he’ll allow that and maximum until your youngest is 18) but also destroys your chances of becoming financially successful and able to retire and enjoy life as a retiree at some point in the future. It’s 2021 and no woman that can work should ever be financially dependent on a man, especially an ex. Good luck.

  51. Kate says:

    Adrianna, it sounds like you and your husband have a deep and sincere commitment to making the transition from one household to two as comfortable and easy for your boys as possible. I think this is really commendable, but worry that (in my totally superficial understanding of the current agreement) it may be predicated on your missing out on significant career opportunities in the prime of your working life. To help bridge this time when your boys still need help at home and you are also increasing your financial independence, I wondered if you might consider seeking a position, either as an educational support (Ed-Tech) or an office assistant, in Richmond’s school district? I am really unfamiliar with Richmond Schools and live in a small town where all the schools are grouped together so this may be more of a logistical nightmare than I am imagining, however, it seems like a way to gain strong health insurance coverage, increase your income a bit, and still have flexibility around the summers and school vacations. A job in the school district is probably not a path to significant wealth, but it does seem like it would add some financial stability in your life that isn’t dependent on the continued health and career of your ex-husband. Whatever you choose to do next, I wish you the best of luck on this transition –your case study illustrates that you are a skilled planner who has met unexpected challenges with grace and a cool-head!

  52. karen says:

    Hi Adrianna,
    Thanks for sharing your story with us. I just finalized my divorce here in Vermont. I’m 62, and it’s daunting, being on my own. I considered not legally divorcing, but now truly echo the advice to do so. You may be cordial now, but what if you end up meeting someone? First, they may not want to get involved with a legally separated person, and second, in that case things may not stay as cordial between you and your former husband. Also, I’m reverting to my maiden name – THAT’s no short task! My daughter doesn’t mind having a different last name than me, nor did I mind my mom having a different last name when I was a kid. Best wishes to you!

  53. Monica says:

    Looks like you are doing great, thinking ahead and am sure with the advice given by all you will do fine. My only comment is on call of the “budgeted amounts” in you expense list. Just want to be sure that just becasue you “budget” for it does not mean you have to use it- it can go to savings instead! One thing that stands out to me is the eating out budget includes once a week with your boys and once on your own – not to be too grumpy, but that seems like kind of a lot to spend if you are trying hard to save! I am heavily influenced by a friend who had an “entertainment budget” back when I was younger. At the end of each week she would often go and buy a bunch of CD’s (it was the 90s!) becausee it was “in her budget!. I would only buy a CD if I really wanted it and would never buy a bunch at a time the way she did. ( I have always been naturally good with money, never had any credit card debt – just never made sense to me to buy things I did not actually have the money for!) I knew she had credit card debt and could not comprehend how she could be buying any CDs instead of paying off her debt – “in the budget” does not alway make financial sense!
    Also- if you have two boys they should be mowing the lawn!!!!!

  54. Man, this is a really tough situation to be in. I have to commend you for keeping your head above water while going through so many changes while keeping a cordial relationship with your (ex) husband. I know you touched upon the fact that increasing your income would reduce the income you receive from him, but personally I still think it could be a worthwhile tradeoff. While the pandemic has certainly introduced a multitude of new challenges, it also has opened up a lot of new opportunities to work from home and I’m sure you could find something that would fit your skillset while increasing income and provide more benefits.

  55. Tara Red says:

    Hi Adrianna, as I read your story and the comments thereafter, I wondered if there could be any scenario where it might make sense to postpone divorce even for a limited time. First, how likely will it be that your husband will reduce his monetary support when you transition from legal separation to divorce? If he will reduce his support to align more closely with legal requirements, could it be in your interest to postpone the divorce settlement until you secure greater income? I wouldn’t suggest prolonging the transition indefinitely, but 6 months could make a major difference. Once you know what your income will be, you’ll be able to assess the long-term feasibility of staying in your current home. It’s hard to imagine making so many major life changes at once – unraveling a marriage, increasing employment, reconsidering housing. Each of these is momentous without the others vying for your attention. If you have the opportunity to stagger them, there might be wisdom in doing so. Best wishes for you and your family.

    • Adrianna says:

      I appreciate you taking the other perspective as everyone else. He has already indicated that he wants the support to go down a bit once we’re filing for divorce, but not a drastic amount. I will definitely take that into consideration if he insists on it being enough to significantly affect my budget. I can’t file before January so there’s time to hash that out.

  56. ” it’s not something my lawyer is familiar with.”
    This really jumped out at me. Is your lawyer any good? Surely it’s his/her job to find answers to any questions you might have?

    Speaking as a divorced mother of 4 boys – I left my husband when I had 4 kids under 5 and have raised them on my own – you seem to be stuck in a holding pattern of subconsciously expecting life to pretty much go on the way it used to be with regarding the little luxuries. Life has changed and you need to pivot with it.

    Thank God you’re a saver! Now you need to put that tendency into high gear. You also need to stop faffing around with the job you have, which obviously served you well when you had a husband paying all the bills and you could play with a part-time hobby job just to pay for extras. Now you need to go out and find a job to bring real security for yourself and the boys.

    No two ways around this – the buck stops with you.

    Don’t depend on your ex continuing to be happy paying 50% of his income to you. Absolutely no future spouse of his would be cool with that and once his emotions towards a new partner come into play, things can and will change for the worse for you very quickly. Even if he doesn’t repartner, over time he’ll want to buy things and move forward with his life and he’ll want more of his wage to stay with him. It’s human nature.

    What Steveark said was true – the divorce WILL happen whether you like it or not. Also what Rose wrote about – still having to pay for her ex’s tax bill years later… you’ve already said that your ex isn’t good with money. I’d not want to be legally tied to him if I were you. You’re already in a precarious financial position. You don’t want to be dragged down still further by being caught up in his financial mismanagement anymore.

    You have a busy few years ahead of you, but life after divorce is empowering. You’ll grow in strength and discover new things about yourself that you never dreamed of. You sound like an excellent mother – just be a rock for your kids and they’ll both turn out fine. My boys are now all in their 20’s – I have an accountant, a music teacher, a remedial masseuse/myotherapist and an actor. They’re all beautiful humans. Yours will be the same. 🙂

  57. CKW says:

    Hi Adrianna! You and your husband sound like you are working so hard to create a congenial, new version of your family, way to go! It must be such a difficult time and you’ve both done a lot of the work already. If you’re sure that you don’t want to remain married in truth, it seems that formalizing all the agreements you’ve arrived at via a divorce, at the time of your choosing, would be better for everyone in the long run rather than it inevitably happening in the future, perhaps under less controllable/amicable circumstances. After a divorce, you are both free and know where you stand in terms of responsibilities. One commenter noted above that remaining married to someone with wildly different spending patterns is quite a risk, as you could remain on the hook for their future debts, and that stuck out for me. And I agree with everyone pointing out that you are young and hopefully have a long and perhaps partnered life ahead of you, so a formal divorce would be cleaner for everyone involved. As for your retirement, you have your head in the right space and have made tremendous progress already! If you keep as you started, you will be better off than many, many Americans who start planning for retirement far later than you. For your situation it really seems like a full or mostly full-time job with benefits, including retirement match, etc., would be the holy grail for financial independence and retirement, especially once the child support tapers off/ends. I would also recommend some sort of admin job from a government office/agency or university/college, if you could find one. You wouldn’t get rich, but it wouldn’t have super stressful hours, it would be steady, and could also come with a back-up college plan for your kids. Otherwise, yes, oxygen mask first and then worry about your kids’ school $$ later, especially since it sounds like there will be some sort of grandparent and possibly dad support for them at that point. Plus, VA has great public colleges so your kids could always choose to go in-state to save on school costs. Good luck!!! Wishing you the best.

    • Heidi Louise says:

      “…remaining married to someone with wildly different spending patterns is quite a risk.”
      Obviously, the commenters here have widely varying experiences of divorce. I ask politely, because I do not know, is it typical in a divorce to run credit checks for both spouses? He seems a likely candidate to be carrying some significant balances in accounts that might have your name on them as well, or that might affect his financial future.
      I suspect many of the discretionary charges in your budget are to keep things as normal for your sons as you can, in the same way you wish to keep your work hours to be with them in the same way as they were when you were in a two-parent home. Those might or might not be possible going forward. One day at a time! Best wishes to you!
      (And as someone mentioned, even though it might not be a huge amount of money, you were married long enough to get spousal benefits from his social security).

  58. Emily DeLuca says:

    Adrianna, I am an employee benefits professional, and at least in MA where I live, an ex-spouse can remain on the former’s spouse health/dental insurance as long as neither one is remarried, and if it is part of the divorce decree that the former spouse must cover you and the kids. So I don’t think you need to stay married on paper in order to retain coverage, necessarily. I would look into the laws and options in your state. I wish you well.

  59. Winifred says:

    Dear Adrianna, I just wanted to weigh in here with a couple of thoughts as an adult child of divorce:

    – if you don’t finalize your divorce, your children may think/hope you and your husband can reconcile, which is not fair for them to believe.

    – my parents also started out with an amicable separation and as soon as my father met his second wife things went downhill, as others here have suggested can happen. He started to reduce/withhold child support and alimony because he had a new wife and new life and my mother had to take him to court many, many times. Of course we as children were aware of this and it was a terrible thing to know about.

    – to reduce living expenses we had to move from a nice big house in the suburbs to a very small 2-bedroom apartment in a different state. We as kids didn’t mind. It was an adventure!

    – mom went from being a stay-at-home mom to a full-time working mom. We didn’t mind being latchkey kids, honest! We had chores to do around the house after school to help out.

    – my parents remained acrimonious because of finances and never spoke again their entire lives. This made our lives awful: worrying about invited them to school events, graduations, parties, weddings, etc.

    The point being, as many others have said, my mother had to scramble to make some hard choices after my dad stopped supporting us financially and that bad feeling definitely was transmitted to us kids. I urge you to plan for the worst case scenario, as others have done, then you will be pleasantly surprised when things go well.

  60. Anonymous says:

    A very small point, but here is how you can cancel the gym membership if the company isn’t budging.
    1) email/mail the company explaining your are cancelling because of their long closure and COVID exposure concerns
    2) if they charge you again, dispute it through your credit card company and provide cc company with the documentation that you cancelled
    3) the credit card company will then block future charges, either directly or by issuing you a new card.

  61. Paula Johnson says:

    Reader Case Study Guidelines….Is there a prize on proof reading ? Katie’s Story?
    Greetings from Beaufort, SC!

  62. Anonymous says:

    You need to finalize your divorce so both of you can move on with your life. Yes, that will require you to seek benefits elsewhere but staying married for financial benefit is emotionally confusing for everyone involved. It makes sense until one of you falls in love with someone else or your children start to ask hard questions.

  63. Ness says:

    I think you should keep any extra cash in a flexible account, so it is on call, whenever you need it, for the next 2 years- give yourself time to make serious decisions, no rush. Do not lock it into a retirement account where it can’t be accessed quickly. Give yourself the option to move cash around as you need it.
    Working part-time can be great as a single Mum, do that if you wish. BUT cut back your living expenses so you can afford your current home loan.
    If you want to work part-time, do it, but budget carefully so you can. Not all Moms want to go back to work full time.

  64. Allison in Ky. says:

    Unless I missed it, I did not see how much your monthly cell phone bill is. I’m assuming you have a phone….do your boys also have phones?

  65. JD says:

    It may seem like a lot of negative comment here, but truthfully, I don’t see negativity, I see people who are blessing you with the truth. They don’t want to see you hurt financially and are giving you their honest viewpoints.

    I’m about to add one – but this one is something that could happen, but not necessarily. Still, I have seen this happen a LOT. When boys get to be teens, they sometimes ask to go live with dad. Not always, certainly, but as I’ve said, I’ve seen this numerous times, with friends and my extended family. Not that they no longer love mom, but they seem to feel the need to “break away” from mom at that age and get some more male presence in their lives. And at that point, dads usually go to court to change child support, since they are now housing and feeding the boy/boys. So I urge you to be prepared to take care of yourself with or without child support for that reason as well.

    I also agree that at your ages, it’s extremely likely that your husband will move on to someone new (and you might as well!) and that will change a lot of things, including how much he is willing to give you. As too many women of my acquaintance know, court orders of support can easily be ignored, usually with very little consequence to the one ignoring them.

    You can do this, though. My first husband emptied our account and walked out on me when I worked for minimum wage for 32 hours a week, had no car of my own, the rent was due, and our landlord had just handed us five monthly utility bills, which were still in the landlord’s name, so he would pay them and bring them to us to be reimbursed whenever he thought about it. Oh, and winter was coming and the propane tank for heating was empty. I didn’t have any family who could help me, so I gritted my teeth and got through it. You CAN do this, better than I did, probably, and will feel amazing when you reach the other side. Good luck!

    • Stephanie says:

      Yes!!! We were 50/50 but so many teen boys do this- it is normal and important for you to not have your feelings hurt if this happens. Being prepared financially if they move in with dad is huge.
      We had the opposite. Mine was at his mom’s when pandemic happened and he chose to stay there to protect me. No one expected a year+ and of course my husband contributes to my stepson expenses there. We miss him but he is now nineteen and in normal times he would be in a dorm and he comes over at least once a week for dinner.

  66. Rachel says:

    There’s a lot of great advice here so my advice on finding a full time job on a budget: employers are desperate for qualified candidates. It’s a great time to be job seeking even with time out of the workforce. Sign up for a free trial of LinkedIn premium for a month- set status as available to work. Look up your alma mater and location to target 2nd and 3rd degree connections in jobs or companies you’re interested in- set up networking meetings using inmail. Update your resume & profile, connect with people. At the end of every networking meeting ask “do you know anyone else I should talk to?” Be open to more traditional male dominated roles or industries that may value diversifying their workforce (sales for example but find salary + commission, not commission only). Don’t limit your earning potential up front by assuming you can only work in low income fields. The good news is that Richmond has many wonderful big employers so I believe that networking will serve you well! When it comes time to cancel the free trial, you’ll be in a good spot to be found online.

  67. Susan O'Donnell says:

    Adrianna you are a champion. Think about what you went through in the past couple of years(separation, pandemic, raising tween boys), and realize you are a tough person! It sounds like you have a support system in your family and friends, so I would also listen to their between the lines advise.
    A few bullet points:
    -Get the divorce. Being in limbo is too psychologically taxing.
    -Sell your house and find something more manageable now. Is it important that you actually own a home considering you are thinking of selling within ten years?
    Perhaps you can rent and therefore have a landlord(lady) that is responsible for major repairs. As homeowners, we have experience major repairs that cost tens of thousands of dollars(roof, septic, tree removal, well pump…). These types of things will wipe out your $32K in no time.
    -Get a full time job WITH Benefits! We are retired but too young for Medicare, and are therefore beholden to the ACA. Our “limited” income at this time allows us to pay a lower amount, but that is changing next year and now insurance will be 1500.00 a month for two people. We had a health emergency and how owe upwards of $14K for surgery costs. This is NOT affordable care. Your ex-husband should be able to insure your boys, but you mentioned you have some minor health problems. As you age, those minor health problems become larger and more expensive.
    -Fund your retirement to the max and when you get that full time job, each raise should go directly into funding that retirement fund. Take care of yourself first. The boys will get educated, but you need to prepare for your retirement.
    -Stop with the allowance. The boys are old enough to realize they need to be part of the solution. If you want to pay them to do special chores like cleaning out the garage, ok, but they need to realize their life is changing and you are planning for their future.
    Your positive outlook and shining spirit will get you through this!

  68. Shelly says:

    As a side note, check to see if your benefits include EAP (I think it’s employee assistance program). If so, you may be able to get a recommendation for a good local lawyer, tax advisor, counselor, ect and often a few free short meetings. It’s a valuable (and free!) resource I’ve used in the past

  69. Stephanie says:

    Get this done. Eventually one or both of you will meet someone else. My now husband waited, then pushed to finalize his divorce. When we met they had been separated over two years and she was pregnant with her fiancé baby. My stepson was three. Finally, a few years later when we were unable to move forward my now husband became significantly less nice because she still hadn’t dealt with her part of the paperwork. He finally had a come to Jesus about their ability to effectively work together and coparent with this hanging over their heads. He also said that even though he didn’t want to, he felt that waiting over four years was more than enough. She was asked to please complete her part of the paperwork within 60 days or he would be forced to push through the divorce and had no interest in damaging their working relationship but he was done.
    The divorce was completed in a few months, including the affidavits of non paternity/paternity. She married her fiance that spring, and we married a year later- over 13 years ago.
    Their working relationship immediately improved and my then 5/6 year old stepson was happier. They had always worked for his best interest but they got along so much better, seriously it was like night and day. He was a little kid but soooo much tension disappeared.
    At this point we have been each other’s emergency contacts, carpools, emergency overnights- like if someone had to go to the ER, the kids would go to the other house at 3am, the 4 younger kids have a cousin like relationship.
    It took a long time but things are good and never would have happened if my husband and ex’s relationship had been poisoned. Hell, prepandemic she and l regularly got together for coffee and would hang out- l am immunocompromised so that hasn’t happened yet.
    Get the divorce done and get it over with- long term you will be much happier and if you meet someone things will be cleaner. Good luck.

    • Danielle says:

      I agree with at least getting things settled. If you are cordial, even amicable, now is a great time to do this. You can put yourselves and your family first without the input of third parties. The man I am dating now waited, and his ex wife met a new partner and brought a whole other aspect (that was not positive for his child) into the mix.

  70. Shelly says:

    Another consideration when looking for a full time job: sometimes colleges will have a free or reduced program for employees and their immediate families. This may be something worth looking into since your boys are so close to the college years, if that’s a path they decide to go.

  71. Danielle says:

    I understand where Adrianna is coming from with the insurance. I lost my job during my divorce (and the COVID19 pandemic) and my lawyer was able to arrange with my ex that I could stay on his insurance for a set amount of time afterward. We financially settled in November so I had access to our cash, but did not finalize until May. It was not great staying married, but it helped for the short term so I could keep my providers. The cost for this was paid out of my settlement, and they also deducted the additional HSA contribution he received for me being on our family plan.

  72. Abby says:

    What about going back to college (maybe a masters if you have a bachelors) to find a career that will work with your boys hours as they get older and then provide you with a better career and income after there is no more child support. Usually college students especially at large universities have access to healthcare too. Or as suggested above working for a college often offers discounts or free tuition for kids of employees.

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