6 Financial Mistakes Newly Single People Make

Whether you're divorced, widowed, or broken up, your spending and saving habits need to adapt to your new reality.
broken heart

You're newly single because of a breakup, a divorce, or the death of a spouse. Suddenly, you're flying solo and facing all sorts of challenges you may not be emotionally ready for. This can set the stage for costly mistakes.

Your heart is broken, but you don't need your finances in tatters, too. Here are the six financial missteps you'll want to avoid now that you're single again.

Don't Make Any Big Changes Right Away

You just want the pain to be over. But moving, changing jobs, or jumping into a new relationship isn't the answer. "It won't give you the distance or distract you from the feelings of loss and grief," says Toni Coleman, a psychotherapist and relationship coach. Many experts say not to make any major decisions until 6-12 months after this type of life change.

Many experts say not to make any major decisions until 6-12 months after this type of life change.

If you happen to be going through a divorce, it's easy to get caught up on petty property battles like furniture or memorabilia. Let some little stuff go. "This sucks up time and energy you and your lawyer should be spending on bigger items, like alimony, child support, or the house," says Carla Dearing, founding CEO of SUM180, an online financial planning service.

Adjust to Your New Economic Reality

Often, people cling to their old lifestyle rather than adapting to a new one. This can hold you back and keep you from moving forward in general. But it can also be disastrous financially.

"They find themselves living a lifestyle they can't afford, which can lead to increased debt, not saving appropriately for retirement, canceling important insurance such as life and disability, and having no emergency fund," warns Ed Vargo, founder and private wealth manager of Burning River Advisory Group. "It's not business as usual. You will have to adjust your spending. Create a new budget."

Avoid the temptation to indulge in retail therapy just to make yourself feel better.

Don't Cling to the Family Home

Yes, the house is home sweet home. But some folks feel they need to keep the house no matter what, because they lived there for years and it represents home for the children. That impulse is understandable. Still, try to accept that your financial landscape is being redrawn and your home may no longer fit your budget.

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"Do the math. Then be brutally honest with yourself. Will you have enough future income to maintain the house? Remember, maintaining is more than just paying the mortgage," says Dearing. "It means covering utilities, upkeep with repairs, and more."

Update Your Shared Accounts

One of the biggest mistakes that can haunt people for decades is not updating their beneficiary designations. A beneficiary designation determines who gets the money in an account in the event of your death. Most people don't know that a beneficiary designation trumps a will. "There are thousands of exes out there coming into big inheritances that were not intended for them after the breakup," says Rebecca Schreiber, co-founder of Pure Financial Education. "You can change a beneficiary designation at any time, so make sure they are up to date."

Most people don't know that a beneficiary designation trumps a will.

Be swift to take each other off joint credit and bank accounts. Owning joint property can create liability for both people if one party is negligent. "The more promptly such joint ownership can be undone, the better," says Benjamin Sullivan, a certified financial planner with Palisades Hudson Financial Group.

Also, if you receive part of your spouse's IRA, it's important that the money is immediately rolled over into your IRA. Otherwise, you could be subject to the 10% early withdrawal penalty, points out Ted Jenkin, co-CEO of oXYGen Financial.

Similarly, you want to update wills, power of attorney, and insurance policies. Remember, the person who is named first on a car insurance policy is the one who keeps the auto insurance. The second named person needs to get a new policy as soon as one person moves from the home. "If not, the second person is not insured," says Lacey Langford, a financial counselor.

Set New Financial Goals

Get up to speed on your financial picture. Make sure you have access to all bank and investment account passwords, important documents, and recent tax returns. Check your credit reports for discrepancies. Throw out your old financial playbook and create a new one. Decide what your want your future to look like; now that retirement may be just you, your numbers will change.

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How much will you need to live on your own? How can you save to meet the new figures? It's more expensive to live when you're single, as opposed to a team. The difference feels even greater when you're older, no longer employed, and without options like working overtime to take up the slack.

Be conservative and greatly raise any projections you may have had for how much you need to retire. You may need to adjust when you'll retire, or work part-time in retirement.

Get the Support You Need

This is no time to act like you can handle everything on your own. Turn to family, trusted friends, and advisers for clarity and energy for the next steps you need to tackle. Says Dearing, "With your emotions all over the map, you need your trusted advisers to guide you toward decisions that honor your priorities and align with your longterm goals. It's okay to let your support network carry you a little bit just now."

Readers, what financial mistakes did you make after becoming single? What did you get right? Let us know in the comments below.

Sheryl Nance-Nash
Contributing Writer

Sheryl Nance-Nash is a New York City-based freelance writer specializing in personal finance, small business, general business, and travel. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Money, DailyFinance.com, Forbes.com, and many more.
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