I know an amazing mother of four children. She is on her second marriage and this time, the marriage is extremely successful. She and her caring, supportive husband are both school teachers. They have two-year-old twins and a house with — literally — a white-picket fence around it. It wasn’t always this way.
I’ll call this woman “Anne.”
Anne’s ex-husband was an obsessive, controlling and verbally abusive police officer. He drank. He cheated. And when Anne protested, he threatened to use his job to take custody of their preschool-aged kids and make her life a living hell. He also threatened to use his position as the sole bread-winner to hire the best lawyer and steam-roll over her in court. Yet, rather than feeling trapped and overwhelmed, Anne seized control of the situation — by taking control of her finances.
But not in the way you might think.
This woman didn’t earn the family’s income or even oversee much of the bill payment. Yet for three years she took charge: Unbeknownst to her husband, Anne set up a savings account and had the bank send the statements to a trusted friend. Then she budgeted everything: She figured out how to trim the cost of the groceries and then pocket the difference she saved — even making excuses for needing extra milk during the week. Tiny changes like switching from brand-name to generic products generated pocket change added up. Anne got creative with white lies about losing one of the kids’ sneakers and needing to replace them, then returning the extra pair for cash. Gifts given to the kids were returned unnoticed or exchanged for less-expensive toys — then she’d save the difference (particularly when the kids were younger and didn’t notice).
During these three years Anne also collected copies of his bank statements, tax returns and credit card bills — proving how much he earned and how much he spent on excessive drinking and other women. She collected cell phone bills and kept records of his drunken and verbally abusive episodes. Finally, when she’d saved about $5,000, she hired a divorce lawyer. Then — documents in hand — she dropped the divorce bomb in her husband’s lap, demanded that he move out and give her the house and the kids. She also told him that unless he got his drinking under control, she would seek supervised visits from the court. She also received his financial support until she could get a job and start earning her own living.
While the husband was trapped by his own bad behavior, Anne’s patience and perseverance set her free to make a better life for herself — and her kids.
Tips from Anne’s situation:
- Have a bank account in your own name (whether it’s a secret or not). These days it’s even easier to have an account go unnoticed because most banks offer online statements that don’t mail statements.
- Money can be squirreled away from small changes to your budget: substitute generic items at the grocery store for brand name (you can even refill a brand-name box with generic items –particularly cereal).
- Look for items that can be returned or exchanged for lower prices — particularly clothing or toys for children (for example: your child was given a Gap t-shirt, take it back and get one that’s on clearance and pocket the difference).
- Get creative. Anne found ways to save by inflating the cost of items (for example: if the school is asking for $12 for teacher gifts, claim that the gift request was for $15 or $20).
- Figure out what you need. Contact attorneys — if some offer you free consultations take them up on it and find out your rights. (Note: If your situation involves physical abuse, don’t wait to save money — many organizations offer free legal help.)
Morghan Leia Richardson is a family and divorce attorney and mediator in New York City. She juggles her Queens-based law practice with her other job as the single mom of two preschool-aged boys, Hayden and Ozzie. Her firm is Richardson Legal PLLC.
This blog originally ran at: www.WealthySingleMommy.com and http://www.huffingtonpost.com/morghan-leia-richardson/true-story-how-to-squirre_b_3230958.html