A bar graph showing a reduction in income.

If a life-changing event, such as divorce or the death of a spouse happens in your life, your finances will probably be the last thing you'll want to deal with. But, enlisting the help of friends and family and, most important, having a plan, will help you through this difficult time. Here are some tips to help you.

Getting Your Finances Back in Order After a Death or Divorce

The role of women in the workplace has changed dramatically during the last two centuries. Some changes were by choice, and had to be fought for, while others were the product of circumstance and necessity. Many changes were welcomed and embraced by society, while others were initially rejected and only gained acceptance over time. When Alexander Hamilton wrote his Report on Manufacturers in 1791, seeking ways to develop industry in the United States, he identified women and children as a source of cheap labor. The income profile of the female wage earner has changed drastically in the last 150 years, from the advent of the Industrial Revolution right on through the 1930s, and was increased almost exponentially during our country's participation in WWII. Six million women workers entered the labor force for the first time and took heavy industry jobs formerly available only to men. When the war ended, many women had to give up their high paying jobs to make room for returning veterans. The passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 led to the creation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. By 1970, when the courts had invalidated many "protective" labor laws, women found themselves eligible for many jobs formerly closed to them.

Some changes have never been welcomed or chosen, but are as inevitable as night following day. Drastic life changes, such as divorce or the loss of a spouse due to death, can sometimes force an inexperienced, ill-prepared individual into the workplace. If such a thing were to happen to you, the last thing you would probably want to deal with is your financial situation. However uncomfortable or difficult it might be, this should be one of the first things you do take care of. Getting your finances back in order can provide you with some very valuable peace of mind and help ease you into recovery. Here are some suggestions to get you started.

  • In the aftermath of your life-changing event, you probably received many offers of help from friends and family. Don't be so quick to decline these offers! Enlist a trusted friend or family member to organize things for you. Insurance policies, monthly bills, mail and phone messages - these countless daily demands for your attention can be overwhelming if they aren't dealt with right away. If you still aren't able to handle any or all of these chores, at least allow someone to sort through the mail and weed out any unimportant information. Any help you can get is better than none at all.
  • If you've fallen behind on your bills, contact your creditors as soon as possible and advise them of the situation. Prioritize your expenses; if your income has been drastically reduced by the situation you will need to determine which need immediate attention. Obviously, your regular daily living expenses, such as shelter, utilities and food must take priority. Afterward, if there is still some flexibility remaining in your budget, you should address all of the expenses associated with your automobile, including monthly payments, gas, insurance and maintenance. Finally, you must prioritize your debt payments. You should never miss a mortgage or rent payment to pay a credit card bill instead. The following list is a basic guide to help you prioritize your bills:
    • Home expenses (mortgage or rent, health insurance, utilities, groceries etc.)
    • Travel expenses (car payment, car insurance, gas, etc.)
    • Debt (credit cards, student loans)
    • Savings (pay yourself 10% out of every paycheck for savings)
    • Other (restaurants, take out, clothing, etc.)

In addition to whatever assistance you may receive from your friends and family, there are a number of resources available today to help you cope with your loss and get you through tough times. Your particular circumstances will determine where you should seek help. Here is a list of websites to help you in your search:

Social Security Administration

This is one of America's most important family protection programs. The website will teach you how to apply for benefits, give you an idea of the aid you can expect to receive, and let you know how to contact them directly.

Veterans Administration

This website provides links to veterans benefits and services as well as to information and resources for other departmental programs and offices.

Women's Institute for Financial Education (WIFE)

This is the oldest non-profit organization dedicated to providing financial education to women seeking financial independence. The website contains plenty of valuable and informative articles, from "Budgeting and Planning" to "Investments and Savings", all presented from a woman's perspective.

National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA)

Since 1983, NAPFA, the most respected confederation of financial planners in the country, has been working to establish a registry for fee-only advisors. Fee-only financial planning means that NAPFA advisors are compensated solely by their clients. They do not accept commissions or compensation from financial institutions whose products they recommend.

If you had not been working prior to your life-changing event but are able to do so, you may want to consider returning to the workforce. This can be a very daunting or scary thought, but it doesn't have to be. Remember, you don't have to do this alone. Don't be afraid to ask your friends and family if they know of any opportunities. Don"t hesitate to attend job fairs in your area, or to contact employment agencies and search firms.

Rick N. Tumlinson of the Space Frontier Foundation once remarked that, "we're at our best when we're given our biggest challenges." If your recovery seems as distant or improbable as a trip to the moon, don't give up - it can be done. Other people have made it and you can, too.

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