Can we talk about that monkey on your back?


You can make silly faces in any amount of square footage.

You can make silly faces in any amount of square footage.


I stepped over the threshold of the condo I was considering renting as my first place after my divorce, the floors were strewn with bits of trash, half-packed boxes were covering every surface in the room, the carpet was depressingly similar to the carpet in my first apartment after college and the flat white paint on the walls was full of scuff marks.  But all I saw was space – space to breathe, to not argue, to think in peace or to have a meal with my kids that was not filled with the tension we’d been having lately at the dinner table.  Despite any flaws, all I saw was a peaceful place where I could begin to start over after the chaos of a failed marriage and all the yuckiness of divorce.


So many times people tell me, “I can’t move from my beautiful home to some crappy, little apartment” or “I just don’t want to put my kids through a move after all they’ve been through.”  I get that.  I understand that when you are going through a divorce, adding the hassle of a move just seems like one more thing you can’t bring yourself to do.  I understand that when you are unraveling your family, asking your kids to leave their neighborhood and the familiarity of home seem like too much.  I know the feeling of wondering if you will have to live in a crappy rental for the rest of your life and having every fiber of your being protest at the idea of moving backward when you want so much to move forward.


I also know that many people, mostly divorcing mothers, put themselves in financial jeopardy by holding on to a house that they can’t afford.  If you think it’s stressful to move, imagine how stressful it is to not be able to afford to pay your cell phone bill.  Or buy food.


The rule of thumb I give is that your housing cost should be no more than one-third of your net income.  “Net income” in this example is how much money you have left over after paying your taxes from all of your income sources (that’s child support, alimony, a job, etc.).


Housing cost is very different if you rent instead of own.  If you rent, it’s easy – your housing cost is how much you pay in rent.  If you own, it’s the mortgage payment plus property taxes, homeowner’s insurance, homeowner’s association dues and the average cost of repairs and maintenance.  If the cost of keeping the house means that your monthly housing cost is going to be more than one-third of your net income, you are most likely going to be perpetually broke.


Many people cannot afford the house they lived in during their marriage.  It costs more money to operate two households and since people rarely win the lottery or get an awesome new job right at the same time that they get divorced – almost everyone has to find ways to downsize their expenses.  The smart thing to do is to sell that house, or move to a smaller place if you rent.  I know that people don’t like to hear this and there are 200 reasons why keeping the house feels like a good idea.  But moving isn’t always the only option, maybe your place is big enough to rent a room out to someone.  I’ve known moms that shared a house and had their kids share a room.  I’ve known moms that had a family member move in and help with the monthly bills.  I’ve known moms that refinanced their home to an interest-only payment for a few years, so they had some time to figure out their next step.  If you can’t cut down the cost, you might be able to increase your income instead – adding a side job or moving from part time to full time work.


You have options, mama, but if the option you choose is going to make you broke, that is going to be so much more stressful than packing up and getting a fresh start in a new home.  A house is just a house.  A home is where you create happy memories with your kids.  You and your kids will make wherever you live your home – whether that’s a 6,000 square foot mansion or a 900 square foot apartment.

Please share your thoughts.