The Financial Lessons Of Divorce #3. Priorities

ID-10093950 piggy bank.DanI have previously covered the topic of human needs. Needs tend to be hierarchical in nature with lower needs required before higher needs. It tends to follow in the order of – survivalstabilityconnections esteem – experiences – giving back. If basic needs are not met one can become stressed or have a hollow feeling of something missing. You have to fill lower needs first, become strong at your core, then move upwards to building your esteem. With strength within, you can then start giving back to others. Aiming too high before strength has developed, can make everything collapse due to a weak base.


The same concepts can be applied to our financial situation. To provide for our needs,  financial costs are required. The same hierarchy exists – survival – stability – connections – esteem – experiences – giving back.


Herein can lie the issue after divorce. Before, both my emotional and financial lower needs were fully met. My lifestyle and expenses moved up; up to worthwhile activities for my esteem (hobbies, projects), savouring experiences (travel, entertainment, eating out), and giving back (philanthropy, community projects, and family). When my whole world crumbled, and with it my strong base, as I kept trying to feed higher needs I was used to, my lower needs crumbled further. I had to prioritize my needs in the situation as it stands today. That means thinking of myself, meeting basic needs first, growing a secure savings net next, planning activities (and expenses) that will provide me with connections or improve my self-esteem, then moving upwards to life experiences and helping others.


These are my financial priorities:

1. Survival

  • My Home and utilities.
  • Essential living costs. Food, healthcare, basic clothes.
  • Minimum loan repayments on debt


  • Communication. Phone, internet.
  • Safe, reliable car. Petrol, maintenance.
  • Transport, travel and accommodation costs in visiting my family.

3. Stability

  • Disaster prevention – insurance
  • Paying debt off
  • Save for emergency fund

4. Discretionary

  • Time. Labour saving appliances, cleaner, tradesmen.
  • Goals and projects. Education, sport, music, crafts, hobbies, books, computers
  • Experiences. Travel, eating-out, entertainment, holidays, festivals, social events.
  • Beautiful things. More clothes, furniture, cars, boats, cameras, musical instruments, jewellery, ornaments, paintings, ‘stuff’
  • Philanthropy. Helping others, community projects, volunteering, gifting.
  • Accumulation of savings, investments.

The Lessons From Divorce

  • A basic lifestyle # 1 provides only for essentials, a modest lifestyle adds in a level of security from lists #2,3. A comfortable lifestyles allows some choices from #4.
  • I initially classed the first 3 lists ‘essential’ until I realised some people cannot afford them.
  • What I previously regarded as comfortable was in fact luxury. After separation, I dramatically cut down our couple luxuries of excessive experiences (it being my husband who tended to need this buzz) and too much ‘stuff’.

My Comfortable Lifestyle

A. My New Basic Budget

  1. I include all items on Lists #1
  2. Even though not essential, I include all items on lists #2 & 3 as they are essential for me, especially communicating with and visiting my family.

B. My Choices From Discretionary List 4.

  1. Maintain essential insurance, eliminate non-essential.
  2. Maintain savings schedule for emergencies and unexpected costs.
  3. Embark on meaningful projects.
  4. Experience moments with special people or those activities that give me meaning. A lot of things I enjoy have little cost such as walking, reading, writing. An occasional meal or drink with family or friends, family gatherings, can still be enjoyed. Watching the sunrise costs me nothing.
  5. Maintain savings schedule for higher discretionary costs. Don’t go into debt for them

C. The Items I Have Eliminated Or Reduced

  1. Impulse purchases of discretionary items.
  2. Non-essential ‘stuff’ – trashy magazines, newspapers, books, fashion accessories, household items, gadgets, music, hobbies, hair costs – except for items that fall under #B3 above (meaningful projects).
  3. Reevaluated travel plans, house upkeep and entertainment in terms of budget.
  4. Cut out bought lunches & coffees.
  5. Halved my grocery bill, buying less meat, more vegetables and pulses, hardly any processed foods. I am shopping at the farmer’s market. I diligently use up food at the end of the week, plan menus ahead, and shop from a list.

D. As for ‘giving back’?

See point B3 above.

This is so empowering to be taking control of my life again, one step at a time.

🙂 🙂 🙂


This has been the ninth in a series of posts on My Responsibilities

Image courtesy of [CoolDesign]:

29 thoughts on “The Financial Lessons Of Divorce #3. Priorities

  1. Thanks for your posts- difficult as finances are to deal with. I’m at the beginning stages of this myself. and often am tempted to use “retail therapy” in times of stress. I can’t afford the expense, guilt or burden of unnecessary purchases now. I am still allowing myself the occasional online binge- when the tempting email (60% off clearance at the Loft) hit my inbox, I went shopping. I filled my cart with all sorts of lovely purchases. Instead of buying, though, I left them there. Even at 60% off clearance, I’m not comfortable buying things right now with so little left in my emergency fund, Your money posts came along just when I needed a reminder to stay focused on my goals and not give in to impulse.

    • It was hard in the beginning to alter my direction from where I thought I was heading and so making new goals was the first important step. Then with the new goals, making sure things were not going backwards. Now I know that I will be able to live on what I have and can survive, albeit by a changed lifestyle, the heat will go out of my panic and I will be able to calm down a bit more and get back into the land of the living.

  2. I love these lists Elizabeth! In some ways you and I are looking at the same things. I like how you are planning your menus and then buying the food necessary. I do the same and typically shop for food every 3-7 days. When I used to buy for weeks or even for a month, I ended up buying things I either didn’t use or went bad before I could use them. I can’t help wishing that you and I could have a coffee (my treat) and compare notes. 🙂

  3. A good list indeed! I’m still having trouble meeting the SURVIVAL priorities, healthcare being the most difficult challenge right now. Am living a very humble life now, which feels good and right, but not being able to afford travel in order to connect more with family back on the East coast is difficult. With siblings scattered up and down the coast, I tend to pick the most important person to see once–possibly twice–a year . . . my Mom with whom I am incredibly close in heart. This to me is the greatest unexpected sacrifice of life after divorce.

    • One advantage of living here in Australia is there is free basic healthcare, so one less thing to worry about. The travel and its costs to see family members is the hardest thing because it is part of what I want from life, to remain in contact with my family. Hence my moving it to my first priority after basic costs. At the moment I am sacrificing everything else to fund my travel costs to see all of them. Maybe as I move further out of the grief process and making a new life for myself I will be happy with longer spaces of time in between.
      Glad to hear you have a happy relationship with your mother. There is no-one like my mother who knows me understands me and loves me anyway.

  4. I always enjoyed being frugal–it’s the fear of not having enough money to survive that gets my mind going at 3am. But after a lot of time with the calculator, I think I will JUST make it, so I’m sleeping fine now. But surviving will take a lot of creativity!

    You have a realistic financial plan and I know you will be fine, too. Plus think of the pride we’ll have accomplishing designing a new life!

    P.S. I don’t know if it’s because I’m American, but I had to google the word “pulses” and want to thank you for adding a new word to my vocabulary!

    • I KNOW that you will survive because you have such a strong spirit. I am not sure how it works in America but I think it may be a little harder there than here in Australia. Here we have free basic healthcare and (after you turn 60-65) you can apply for a government pension which provides for essentials. So I guess what I am saying is that here we do not have to stress about the ‘survival’ level and the striving is for enough savings to put yourself into one of the next two levels – modest or comfortable. I am not there yet, it is what I am striving for. My posts tend to give my aims, rather than the reality that I struggle sometimes to cope with.
      Interesting about the ‘pulses’ (legumes). I am not sure whether it is an Australian / American thing or whether I just have a weird diet 🙂

  5. You have been thrown a “curve ball,” too. Not a loss of a job, but a loss of a long 37 year marriage. I am saddened by the sparse and tightened budget, can relate to that so well. Although not a long marriage, my recent divorce was 7 years ago, it had lasted 13. I think we have some similar patterns of behavior. I appreciate your saying on my post, that you have been too polite at times. Let’s regain our strength and move forward gracefully! Thanks so much for your supportive comments on my post, too.

    • Yes, I am working on that ‘grace’ part. When my mind is saying ‘its not fair, its not fair, its not fair’; it is hard to smile and say gracefully ‘hello, how are you today?’…….. but I do think that in the long-run that graceful attitude is better.
      Thanks for the boost of a reminder today. 🙂

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  7. Simple actions like cutting out buying lunches and coffees can really help your budget. Sometimes, like today, I splurged on Graeter’s ice cream and a nice iced butter cookie. Will have to cut a corner to stay on the budget but fun with a friend, as they say in commercials: “Priceless!!”

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