Breaking Through the Scarcity Mindset During Divorce


It’s natural, even expected, for recently divorced women to experience a paralyzing panic about money.

Women tend to get the short end of the stick after a divorce. Many of us are over-educated in our younger years, stayed home for a long period of time, then are expected to go back to work like no time passed at all.

Even if you didn’t give up a career, women not only earn less than men but also invest less—and then we live longer. Plus, Social Security is vanishing. By 2040 it could be tapped out completely (without changes).

No wonder we’re freaking out about money!

The uncertainty of the future makes any sum in your bank account seem like not-quite-enough.

Thanks, Mom!

Everyone has memories about the quirky nuances of their grandparents who lived through the depression.

My great aunt would only eat half of her meal, then take the rest home.

My grandmother had crackers (always smushed) in her purse that she had collected off restaurant tables.

When I was in the 2nd grade, my mother sat our family down, and with a terrified look, told us that our father had lost ALL of our money in the stock market and we were now poor and could no longer afford the luxuries we had.

Of course, this wasn’t exactly true. My father was still a successful Cardiologist and though he did lose a ton of money in the stock market, we wouldn’t be desolate.

My mother grew up on the poorer side, and never really had access to nice things until she married my father. Along with her flair for exaggeration, she clearly had a scarcity complex from her childhood and passed it down to us.

We inherit many of our traits from our parents, and one of them is our relationship with money.

Once it’s hardwired into the psyche, it’s not so easy to rid of.

Lacking self-confidence in the workforce is a huge understatement

Though perhaps it’s not a lack of self-confidence at all, but a good grip on reality.

Realistically speaking, as a middle-aged woman, restarting a career is a huge undertaking that takes time, and sometimes money to retrain. I can’t simply manifest a great high-paying job just because ‘I believe in myself’.

When I divorced, I was desperate to get out of a terrible marriage.

I hadn’t really thought about how I would survive financially.

Then when up against the reality that I’d now have to provide for myself and my children, after being essentially a housewife for many years, the thought of pulling a career out of my a$$ was terrifying and seemingly impossible.

Lack of financial literacy

Like many women, I was completely kept in the dark about our family finances.

My husband wouldn’t even show me the credit card statements, mainly because he didn’t want me to see all the bills he was racking up on his mistresses (gourmet restaurants, spas, plane tickets, fancy hotels, jewelry, lingerie — all the cliché adornments a mistress could require).

I suppose my financial ignorance was bliss, but it certainly didn’t do me any favors when I needed to be financially independent post-divorce.

Is Your Fear Warranted?

There are two categories to this complex, and you must realize which you fall into.

One is a founded rational realization that you need to make some changes financially- you won’t be okay unless you make changes.

There is a logical, albeit terrifying, kick-in-the-behind to figure it out, and figure it out fast.

And there are resources to help.

There are programs dedicated to revamping careers that have been in hibernation, or retraining for entirely new careers. Just do a quick google search on career counseling and mentoring. There’s an abundance of free resources.

I really needed help in this department.

I was a ballet dancer before having kids and that was something I could longer do when I divorced in my late 30’s.

No ballet companies were hiring washed up, overweight, out of shape dancers. And with two young children, that ship had sailed.

I would have to reinvent myself from the ground up.

I chose real estate, for no other reason than I was an old lady from Florida and it’s a rite of passage. I also enjoyed the product (houses) and had some sales experience in the months between my dance gigs.

I had three years of alimony, so I got my license and started as an assistant. If there’s a will there’s a way.

And then there’s the second group, the ones who just don’t know they’re going to be okay.

Like my grandmother, hoarding smashed crackers even though she was living in an upscale retirement community and drove a Cadillac.

Sometimes, no matter how much money someone has in the bank, the destitute feeling that they are always on the brink of poverty is constant and crushing.

Jason Crowley, a prominent Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, sees this a lot. He spoke of an extreme case:

“I had a client with a net worth in the nine figures, who was set to receive seven figures a year in spousal and child support, who had serious concerns over whether she would be okay financially.

She even asked whether she could afford to buy a new car, a modest Toyota Rav4. I didn’t have to crunch the numbers before giving her the green light!

This is a shining example of scarcity complex.”

Not only would she be okay – she would be more than okay.

So, how do you nip this fear of spending money?

A good dose of self-awareness, financial education, and professional help

Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest through the trees.

Your real financial picture might be blurred, or hidden from vision, especially during the uncertainty of a divorce.  Hiring a trained professional, a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, who can sort it all out for you may be priceless.

A CDFA can gauge where you stand now, and help you plan for your financial future, relieving much of the stress and worry.  They can also help you budget and show you where you’ll need to cut spending.

I tell myself that ‘worry is a misuse of the imagination,’ and ‘money shouldn’t be my master, but my servant.’

And I could really use some servants!

Curious to learn more about divorce and money? Here are a few of our favorite resources:

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