Quick quiz for you: When you hear the word “budget,” do you:
(a) Smile and pop open a spreadsheet detailing your spending for the past 3 years, color coded by expense type;
(b) Remind yourself you really need to balance your checkbook from last month;
(c) Stare at the small children throwing toilet paper all over your living room and wonder who has time for a budget; or
(d) Run to the nearest toilet and hurl.
I’d never prepared my own budget until I became a family lawyer. I’d like to tell you that I already knew how I spent my money, but that’s not the truth. The truth is that I didn’t really want to look at how I spent my money because budgeting sounded boring, time-consuming, and frankly a little scary.
The only reason I did a budget a few years ago was because I spent so much time telling clients how to do their own, I figured I ought to actually know what I was talking about. It was not easy. It took several hours, a bunch of wadded up pieces of notebook paper, and some tears.
But when I was done, I had a solid handle on where and how I spent my money, and some good ideas for how I could improve on both.
Courts require parties to a divorce to prepare a budget, which is actually a part of the full picture of your finances - assets, debts, and expenses. You might hear it called a “financial affidavit.” (Financial for obvious reasons. Affidavit because you sign it under oath).
Make no mistake about it: your financial affidavit will be the most important document you’ll prepare in your divorce case. It’s the document you’ll rely on to determine your financial outcome. It’s what you will use to support the figures you’re asking to receive. If you’re asking for alimony or child support, your budget had better be in tip top shape, or you will leave money on the table.
Boring? Maybe. Critical to your financial future? Absolutely!
So if you answered anything but (a)* above, how can you go about putting together your divorce budget easily without becoming certified in QuickBooks?
Follow these 5 tips and you’ll be well on your way:
Print 6 to 12 months’ worth of your bank and credit card account statements. You need that many to get a good average.
Add up all your spending by category, such as groceries, travel, beauty expenses, kid costs, etc. Use a highlighter or pen to mark each expense in your statements as you add them.
For each category, divide your total by the number of months you used to get a monthly average. For example, if you used 6 months’ worth of expenses, divide your total by 6.
Think about expenses that occur infrequently, such as auto insurance paid every 6 months, or gifts you only buy at Christmas. Make sure you calculate the monthly average for those too.
Go back over your statements and make sure you’ve marked every expense on them. If you missed any, you probably need to create another category of expenses you didn’t think of.
*For you ladies who proudly answered (a) above, be aware that most courts have their own form they want you to use for your budget. And while it’s probably not nearly as sophisticated as what you’re used to, you’re going to have to make your format fit theirs.
I know money can cause a lot of stress in divorce. And creating a budget can be an incredibly overwhelming and daunting task. I also know how critical this exercise is for your future.
So, girlfriend, crank up some good music, sit in a quiet place, block off a bit of time - and get to work on those numbers! You have the power within you to do this. Trust me, this is one of the most important things you’ll do to protect your future. And you’re so worth it.