Decorated Christmas tree branch with holiday pastry

A Season of Firsts: Financial Tips for New Widows and Divorcees During the Holidays

As any new widow or divorcee knows, the initial year after her transition is full of firsts—the first birthday alone, the first anniversary alone, the first vacation alone—and among the most challenging of these can be the first holiday season alone. “The most wonderful time of the year” may not feel so great this year and the combination of emotions, finances, and expectations can result in some comforting, but irresponsible, financial decisions.

If you are a new widow or divorcee, or you know someone new in this phase of life, we have a few tips to navigate the holiday season with wisdom and grace—acknowledging your tender emotions without compromising your financial future. We recommend the following cautionary tips to keep finances intact:

First, the old adage of making a list and having a budget for gifts is more important than ever. Many new widows and divorcees come into a financial windfall because of their recent life transition and they may feel particularly flush going into their first holidays alone. This sense of wealth combined with the emotions of grief, loss, anger, or disappointment can lead to a dangerous bout of retail therapy. Shopping to feel better—particularly on big ticket items like luxury cars, new furniture or a vacation (property!)—might offer temporary solace but can have serious consequences for your future financial security. Some ideas to avoid buyer’s remorse (and, adding to your grief):

  1. Make a list and set a budget to help stay on track whenever or wherever you are shopping.
  2. Shop with a good friend and ask her help in keeping boundaries. “You don’t really need that,” will never sound sweeter.
  3. When shopping online, place items in the cart and then wait 24 hours to purchase them. Do a “sanity check” before clicking Submit to ensure the items are on the list and within budget (see #1 above).
  4. Similarly, set a dollar limit that is meaningful ($100? $1,000 $10,000) with the “rule” that you will not spend above that amount without consulting your trusted financial planner, tax preparer, or similarly objective person who cares about you.

Second, be very careful about giving or loaning money to family and friends.  It is understandable to want to nurture and preserve important relationships when a relationship as important as your spouse has recently changed. Feeling vulnerable, perhaps lonely, and like you have “unexpected” resources, it can be tempting to dole out generous sums to help family or friends who share a sad or desperate story of financial need. The details of this largesse are often murky—is it a gift or a loan? —and it may make you almost immediately feel guilty for even putting boundaries or requirements around it. You also are not sure the impact that the gift may have on your own financial well-being long after the holidays. This well-intended gift or loan may offer initial cheer but ultimately can result in permanent damage to your relationships and finances.

Finally, take care of yourself this holiday season in ways that are meaningful to you and won’t reduce your financial certainty. You can start by giving yourself permission to feel whatever you are feeling at the time (which may not be happy) without anyone else telling you otherwise. You can renew your spirit with those activities that comfort you and bring you joy without breaking the bank. Whether it’s a walk on the beach with your dog/kids/grandkids, a cup of coffee with a dear friend, a massage with some downtime from the hustle of the season, or something else that lightens your heart, you can traverse the holidays in many ways that you won’t regret come January.

Most of all, you must do what seems right for you. Accept invitations but know you can change your mind or leave early if you want. Be with family and friends when it’s comforting but take time alone when you need it. No matter all the well-meaning advice—including these financial tips to survive your first holiday on your own—the path you take should be yours.

Inspired Financial is a firm dedicated to helping women who are in transition due to a variety of circumstances like death of a significant other, divorce, retirement, or other juncture in life. Please call or email if you have questions or we can help during your life transition.

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