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Ask the Readers | Tips for starting over

Last week, when I wrote about why I am decorating my rental even though it’s temporary, Reese, who has been through a divorce herself, left this comment:

Would it be worthwhile to have people submit helpful frugal tips from folks who have had to essentially start over? And maybe they could share how they have found happiness and how they started putting pieces back together?

van loaded with furniture.

I think this is a great idea! As I have shared about my current situation, I’ve gotten lots of comments and emails from readers who fall into two groups:

  • people currently walking through separation and divorce
  • people who have been through it and are offering cheer from the other side

So, since those two groups of people are represented here, I think this could work very nicely. 

I am obviously not an expert here because I am smack-dab in the middle of this and I am not really near to coming out the other side! I’m still figuring it out as I go. 

I’ll briefly share what is helping me at the moment, though, and then I’d love for you guys to chime in.

Reese is basically dividing this into two questions, one about saving money, and the other about finding joy.

Saving Money

For me, this has looked like doubling down and using all the frugal skills I’ve already got.

I’m trying to:

  • use up my food
  • shop at Aldi
  • cook at home
  • repair/reuse things

Kristen on a bench holding a coffee mug.

Starting over for me has meant outfitting a home somewhat from scratch, and as I talk to other women in my shoes, it seems to me that this is extremely common. Almost every woman I have talked to has had to be the one to leave the family home.

And while we can debate why that is (or whether it is fair!),  the fact of the matter is that it’s the state of things.

And as you know from reading my posts, I have been busy outfitting my house with inexpensive/free things through Facebook Marketplace, eBay, and my Buy Nothing group. So we can add, “rehabbing freebies/cheapies” to my list. 

Looking at this as a fun challenge has helped me to maintain motivation; I think, “Ok, how can I save tons of money, but still make this home feel awesome?” 

(Why awesome? Because it is fairly easy to outfit a home and make it functional but ugly. I’m interested in making my home functional and beautiful on a budget.)

Finding joy

You guys already know most of my tips for finding joy because I write about them incessantly.

So, I’ll just put one thing in this section: I find it helpful to focus on the present moment and also the future.

Relatedly, I do not find it particularly helpful to dwell in the past.

When I think about the present and the future, I feel hopeful! My future looks bright and cheerful, and full of good things.

Kristen smiling at the camera.

When I look bad, I see loss and hurt and heartbreak. I know it’s necessary to process those things in a healthy way (and believe me, I do cry over those things when the sad feelings come up.).

I’m just saying that if I spent the majority of my time dwelling there, I would have a hard time having energy to move forward.

I can’t change the past, but I can make choices in the future, so I’d rather focus my energies toward what I can control vs. what I can’t. 


Ok, readers! If you’ve had to start over (regardless of the reason), please share what you’ve learned! How did you save money, and how did you find joy? 

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Wednesday 10th of August 2022

I have never comment before, but this topic hits so close to my heart.

I was a stay at home mom for 14 years with two sons. I was with my ex husband for a total of 23 years. When we first separated, people were absolutely shocked. Everything seemed so perfect to others on the surface.

However, in my heart I knew something was very wrong. I wanted out, but I couldn’t verbalize why. I had so much guilt, that I had to seek counseling.

Through two years of weekly counseling, I was able to realize just how dysfunctional my marriage was. The red flags were there from the beginning, I was just not equipped to see them. It is not normal or healthy to live in a mentally and emotionally abusive marriage. It is absolutely soul crushing.

So, my advice is, please seek counseling. Sometimes it takes seeing more than one professional before you find the right fit.

My second piece of advice is to please, please, please get competent legal counsel. I will forever be grateful to my attorney, she warned me right away of the things my ex-husband would do and try to do. I thought she was absolutely crazy, no…she was experienced and wise. My ex-husband has done everything she said he would. While we were married he praised me that he couldn’t have gotten as far in his career if I hadn’t stayed home. His tune changed completely when I asked for a divorce, and he realized I was never going back. He has made it his mission to destroy me.

My third piece of advice is, please be very careful who you listen to and take advice from. My pastor tried desperately to try to get me to reconcile with my ex husband. This is even after I confided in him that there was abuse. He told me God hates divorce. I left my church.

However, when all is said and done, there IS light at the end of the tunnel. I too left my family home, and while that hurt greatly, I discovered it to be the best decision. Sometimes you really do need to start over.

In the beginning, the guilt crushed me that my sons had to go through a divorce, I now realize I would have felt devastated if my sons turned into men that thought it was ok to treat women a certain way.

And I know for some this might be hard to believe when you are going through a painful divorce, there is a love out there that is like none you have experienced before. It took me until my mid 40s to find my person. He treats me with love, kindness, respect, acceptance, understanding, dignity. Love can be found when you least expect it, no matter your age.

Divorced after 25 years

Wednesday 3rd of August 2022

I divorced 10 years ago this month. My decision to end it, as well as to leave the marital home. I am pragmatic, home needed a lot of work I didn't have the time, skills or money to address. 4 older kids: 1 in college, one a legal adult chose to live with Dad as a college commuter student, the youngest 2 came with me. Agreed to remain in the marital town until youngest graduated HS, put myself on a 5 year plan to start over. Get kids thru HS, move to a nearby city (cheaper), rent for a year to try it on for size, buy a modest, forever home after year 5. Step 1) hired a good attorney (temporarily borrowed $ for retainer, from family, paid it off once all was finalized Step 2) untangled myself financially as much as possible. Luckily, I was always the one to set up bank accounts, cell phone plan, utilities, credit card, etc so removing myself and/or putting things in my Ex's name was easier. I was very fair. Closed the joint bank account once I had set up a separate one in my name, and paid the final household bills through it once the last checks cleared the joint account. Split the savings in half, cut Ex his proceeds, let it clear, then closed that as well, walking away with $2500 to my name while the proceedings were going on. Luckily as well, I always had a credit card just in my name. Speak to your lawyer on this, if you haven't already. Step 3) made a list of must haves. We are in a 50-50 state, so that helped. I made a list of household furnishings/supplies I would be taking with me. I started with rooms listed such as : kids bedroom: 2 twin beds, night table, desk, lamp etc. There were a few things that Ex refused, some I just let go, some I did have my lawyer fight for. I now had a list of Must acquire (dining table and chairs for example) and a list of Creature comforts, not a need but a want (such as the small tv for my bedroom) As I got ready, I intentionally chose classic pieces that I liked, that were well built. I am still using the PA House dining table and 6 chairs that I paid $129 plus tax. Second hand is a market I frequently shopped, and still do, as I am frugal by nature. I also chose neutral tones for anything I was refurbishing: white painted furniture, beige/off white towels (went thru 3 rentals before buying my forever home), reupholstered in beige/ivory. You get the idea. Freecycle, local FB sites were excellent sources, as were thrift shops. During my 5 year plan, I lived frugally and saved every penny that I could, amassing a 20% down payment plus an additional $40,000 to remodel/refurbish my new to me home, cover closing costs, etc. I divorced 1) for the kids and 2) for me as it had been over for some time, and I couldn't continue with another 25 years. Will leave it at that. Life is good, and financially I am doing very well, I took early retirement for medical reasons and am now home based, which is weird as I worked FT throughout my marriage. I didn't ask for his retirement, nor alimony as we both worked and earned approx the same amount. He didn't ask of me either, which I appreciate. I asked for my 1/2 of the home to be bought out (he remains there), child support for the youngest 2, and I took the newest car, a 4 y.o. economy car. When he asked me why not one of the other vehicles, I explained, because I know that I can make the payments and you can't . I got the car, paid it off immediately, and removed his name from it. HTH

Carrie Willard

Monday 25th of July 2022

As you know I’m starting over too. I’ve been doing a bit of trash picking alongside all my usual frugal habits. Eating a ton more beans as my protein source. My gut happens to loves this.

I’ve also been looking into resources that exist to help. In the summer our local library gives out free food boxes for families with kids. I also applied for a homeschooling grant from the HSLDA.

Also, I find that people can be very kind to single moms. I’ve gotten free furniture from my family and when I go out with a friend they often pay for my meal or drink because they know of my situation. It’s never expected of course but it’s a pleasant surprise.

Mary in Maryland

Sunday 24th of July 2022

I was married many years ago. The first weekend we were married he came home from Friday work at about 6 pm on Saturday. When asked why, he said there had been a line at the copier. The Holy Spirit appeared to me and said, "Don't get pregnant." By the time the proofs of the wedding pictures came, I knew enlargements would be a bad investment. He continued horrid. Retrospectively I can't imagine why I stayed for 20 months and 8 days. I had just taken a new job (to shorten his commute) and it was hard forming friendships in my depressed state. Staying where I had a support system would have been better, but that bridge had been burned. One of the best things I did was resolving not to say anything about him or our marriage at work. It left my mind clearer. With respect to money--it was his only life interest. I let him have the big half with the proviso that he pay any IRS claims that emerged from audits. He got wedding presents that were orange or green (from his side of the family) while I kept anything that was blue, white, or clear. I spent a year in a group house until I could afford an apartment. Bicycling and running helped me though the first couple years. I'm so glad I left--although my family dropped me for such unCatholic behavior.


Friday 22nd of July 2022

I started over about 25 years ago, and yes, I was also the one who moved out. My biggest piece of advice is this: before you move out, if possible, understand your assets. (I actually bought a book on women, divorce and finance at the time.) Learn what is and isn't yours, and know what to do with any assets or money you may have. I avoided a long drawn out fight by understanding this, and negotiated most things with the ex myself, which avoided lawyer fees. Literally, I listed the assets on legal paper and we passed it back and forth with codes (i.e. want, don't want, might want). I timed these negotiations on "good days", and tried to shield the kids from any money or asset discussions. It was hard but better in the long run. My grown kids realize now how much of the uglies I didn't let them know when they were young, and they appreciate it. After that, I was pleased to be able to decorate my OWN place with what you all have said: thrift and curbside finds, bartering with friends, and selling the big bed I had and getting one smaller, after all, I wasn't sharing one! Entertainment was family walks, discovering our new neighborhood, singing in the car, cooking dinner together, my kids having sleepovers.

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