If you’re like most divorced moms, there are at least a couple of areas you’d like to change or improve now that the dust has settled from your divorce. The number one area of concern for divorced moms is finances, followed closely by weight and fitness, time management, and more effective parenting. We all have individual areas we’d like to improve, too, like sticking to a meditation practice or fixing up our homes.
Most of us have firsthand experience of making a budget and then not sticking to it or starting a new diet and then falling off within the first week. And who hasn’t made a New Year’s resolution that’s long forgotten before the end of January? I count myself in this crowd.
But in the past few years I’ve had much more success in making changes using a single strategy that works for just about any area: being accountable to someone besides myself.
Your “accountability” partner can be anyone from a friend to a coach to a family member to a coworker or an acquaintance who shares a common goal or desire. It can even be a tool or app. And unless you’re working with a professional, using an accountability partner or an app is free or low cost, as well as easy.
All you need to get started is willingness to make a change and someone (or something) to be accountable to. It helps to keep it simple so you’re more likely to stick to it.
Here’s one example of how you might use accountability to make the changes you want in life after divorce in the #1 area of concern — finances. You can apply these same ideas to other areas (for more examples, check out this recent post on my blog or this more detailed account about losing weight.
Finances: This is a complex topic, and there are lots of approaches, apps, books, and professional advisors to choose from. Say you want to pay off the credit card balances you accumulated during your divorce and establish a reserve fund for emergency expenses. It often feels overwhelming to tackle this on your own. Using the accountability approach, here are a few ways you can get started:
- Sign up for a class or workshop: This automatically gives you others who have similar goals and, at least for the duration of the class you have reinforcement to support your financial goals and accountability for the actions suggested. You may also be able to find a buddy to continue the process once the formal class is over. For example, Financial Peace University offers in-person classes in many locations across the U.S. as well as online options. Some local divorce recovery workshops may offer financially-focused sessions. The Twelve Step program Debtors Anonymous goes one step farther with a team approach to developing and monitoring financial plans on a monthly basis.
- Find someone else who shares a similar interest in financial goals: You can hold each other accountable with weekly or monthly check-ins once you have established the process or actions you plan to take. Your goals don’t have to be the same, but it helps if you both have plans and can be accountable to each other. Your check ins can be via email, phone, or in-person – whatever works with your schedules and time. An added benefit of working with another person as a peer is that you can share resources and tips you’ve gathered and challenges you’ve faced. The act of reporting your progress to someone else makes you much more likely to stick to the plan for the long-term.
- Automate the process, and track your progress: You can set up automatic payments for your credit cards using whatever approach you decide to take. You can also set up automatic payments to savings that occur before you see the money. Use a money management tool to track your progress and hold yourself accountable (with or without a partner). Say you decide to pay an extra $250/month on the smallest credit card balance and the minimum payments on the others. You’ll want to watch your balance decrease so you can feel good about the progress you’re making, and so you can shift the extra payment to the next credit card once you’ve paid off the first one. Some banks and credit card companies offer these kinds of tools, or you can use an online tool like Mint that is automatically updated once you set it up. When you set up your automatic savings plan, you’ll want to watch the balance grow, too, which feels even better than paying off the debts.
- For the disciplined, use an app or tool: While budgets don’t work for most people, especially divorced moms who often don’t have the time to track their spending in detail, a variety of apps make it easier to get some objective accountability and visibility over income and spending. Many people have success with Mint, and there are a variety of apps for smart phones that you can explore. Even simpler – to track contributions to your reserve fund, create a separate savings account online (Ally Bank at ally.com is one site that offers this option). Set up an automatic contribution (monthly or each payday), and check the online balance periodically. Research shows that having separate accounts with named goals makes it more likely that you’ll stick to your contributions, so open several accounts if you need to.
- Hire a professional coach or advisor: If you need one-on-one professional advice, Certified Financial Planners (CFPs) or other financial professionals can help you create a plan and set up contributions. For accountability, though, you might consider a financial or money coach who is experienced in helping you identify the changes you want to make, the blocks that keep you from acting, and supporting you through the change process.
- One-way accountability: If you can’t afford a professional and can’t find a partner who shares your desire to make financial changes, you may be able to find someone who will provide you with “one-way” accountability. In this case, the other person agrees to receive your weekly (or monthly) accountability report, but they don’t give you one in return. While you may not get the benefit of shared experience and support, just the act of reporting to someone else may be what you need to get you started on the path of change.
The first step in the hardest, but if you’re willing to change, accountability is the best way to follow through.