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Want not waste

September 24, 2010

I was working on another post when Just Jess’s comment about maintaining two residences sent me reeling off onto an entirely different tangent: the dread of waste. If you are as waste-averse as I am, divorce is a total bitch, because long after you’ve worked through the emotional toll of dissolving a union, you still have the daily reminder of the piles of discretionary income you might have if things were different.

I’m at a complete disadvantage when it comes to the need for efficiencies, because I come from a long line of New England stock steeped in Yankee frugality. Exhibit A: the fold-out couch that had been the fulcrum of my parents’ first apartment together was still in their house, and used regularly, 45 YEARS LATER until they moved last spring. Sure, there may have been some sentimentality involved, and the thing weighed more than a battleship, but still. We save things. And we’re hardwired to stretch however many dollars we make as far as we possibly can.

Moxie and I were lucky, I suppose, that we didn’t have a lot of marital assets to split up while we were splitting. However, we dropped a lot of cash on couples therapists and legal eagles, plus the usual comfort items to help stave off the trauma of a Life Restart. (My primary vice was DVDs, most of which I haven’t freed from their cellophane yet. Wasteful!) That’s all in the past, of course, but the unavoidable truth lingers on: two households are a lot more expensive than one. And it dogs me sometimes that we’re spending a lot of rent money that could instead be making our lives easier and more enjoyable.

Frankly, I couldn’t care less about eating in more restaurants or seeing more live music. I really wish I could spend more on the kids. It’s hard enough dealing with the hypercompetitiveness of this city, and the parents who invest in luge lessons and harpsichord tutors and casually mention that they took their kids to Florence because you really need to seeeee the David firsthand in order to appreeeeciate it. I’m used to all that bullcrap. But when you have to consider budgets for mundane things like eyeglasses and back-to-school clothes, it’s easy to let your brain think about all the intact households it knows and wonder how things might have been different.

I know there’s really no telling what that hypothetical life might have been. And the kids don’t care, either; they’re mostly happy that they have some reliable structure in their lives and get to see both parents as much as they do. But since no one plans to be Divorced With Kids, part of coping with divorce is recognizing that your life will never be as you envisioned. I like to frame all this “wasteful” extra spending as investment in the overall happiness of the four of us, but my Inner Spendthrift can be a tough sell.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. September 24, 2010 2:59 pm

    Having happy parents who are not always fighting with each other? Priceless.

  2. September 24, 2010 5:06 pm

    I haven’t even gotten my own place yet, and already we’re spending way more than before. We were a one income household (my income) and were doing fine financially. However, we cannot afford 2 places on just my income, so now my wife is looking for a job (disruption) and we’ve been broke at the end of each month since I moved out (disruption) and we’re still both miserable (disruption) so there’s just no fucking upside to it. As the one who does not want the split, this blows in every direction.

    So yeah, I’m with you. And I never see it ending until one or both of us remarries. 15 years of working towards my present six figure income down the motherfucking drain.

    • September 27, 2010 4:12 pm

      The way I thought of it when I was going through all of that – it’s like you’re on an island surrounded by an ocean of shit and the only way to get off is to wade through more shit.

      • September 28, 2010 1:25 pm

        Well, shit.

  3. Audrey permalink
    September 25, 2010 7:29 am

    I love that this triggered a Google ad for atrial defibrilation.

  4. Heather permalink
    September 26, 2010 12:24 am

    This fact kills me, too, especially when my husband tells me every day how broke we are and what a nice house and yard we could have for the kids if we weren’t spending 3 grand a month on two shitty apartments…talk about guilt.

  5. September 26, 2010 7:16 am

    This is where the almost-inevitable “I need to know what you’re spending it on” demands really become infuriating. Aside from the fact that, no, you don’t legally need to get an exact accounting, it’s very hard to reconcile the actual cost of being a divorced parent.

    Sure, you can total the cost of school lunches, of soccer cleats (“Did you have to buy the good ones?”) and what you spend on allowance, haircuts, clothing and even oddball things like presents-to-bring-to-birthday-parties.

    But what is the cost of driving six miles out of your way each day because of soccer practice? What is the cost of having the heat cycle on in the house at the end of the school day instead of at the end of your work day? And would you have a three-bedroom house if it were just you and the dog? Would you be driving a van that only gets 22 mpg? I mean, hey, if you want to nit-pick over whether I should buy store-brand peanut butter instead of Jif, let me run out the rest of the “what ifs,” because my nit-picking can beat the heck out of your nit-picking!

    Of course, you can just split everything up the middle. Then you just play the game of “I need him to bring his good clothes back when he comes here. I bought him those pants!”

    Sigh. People who want to quarrel, who want to continue to exert control in a relationship that no longer exists, will find things. Money is a biggie.

  6. Chiara permalink
    September 27, 2010 7:57 pm

    This is a comment not for this post but for both of you the writers. Im a married mother of two boys living in Brooklyn. My parents divorced when I was 5 after several trial separations. Their divorce, which was a fairly typical 70s version, has had a profound impact on my own choices for my career, my kids, etc. Its been really enlightening to read your accounts here (I also read your individual blogs) and has given me insight into my parents and their divorce and the aftermath. Im fortunate to have a solid relationship with all of my parents, step-parents and various degrees of siblings. I think you guys are on the right track. Its clear that you really try to make all your decisions with your sons’ best interest at heart and my exeperience that is what counts the most. My parents divorced and my mom hauled ass 400 miles away (very one day at a time sitcom style). My life would be so very different had my parents stayed in the same community or at least close enough for weekly visits. Money is nice but I think when its all said and done, the active presence of both of you in your kids lives will be what will help them most. Not having my mom at all of my school plays (i lived with my dad and younger sisters went with my mom) sticks out a lot more than all the extra presents etc. that I did get. Im still at the office right now and am a bit rushed so Im not writing my thoughts out as clearly as I would like–I wish you guys the best. And your boys too.

    • BratGrrl permalink
      September 28, 2010 2:10 am

      Wow. As one half of a co-parenting team, I want to thank you for reminding me that was worth not doing the “one day at a time” (great description!) thing for our daughter’s sake. I, too, look forward to every new post from this blog for inspiration to always put her first.

  7. Ottis D Brown permalink
    September 28, 2010 5:20 pm

    What is VERY hard to stomach is when you get divorced in a court system that still thinks it is the 1950’s and women don’t work. I share 50/50 custody with my ex. I pay for every expense for my daughter when she is with me. YET, I still pay her mother $700 / month, b/c the court ‘had’ to assume someone was the ‘residential’ parent and therefore, covered most of the expenses. BUT, when you share custody 50/50 – there is no one covering the majority of the expenses – it’s just split. MEN who care about their kids and WANT to be with them get screwed in a divorce. In our court system, it’s actually cheaper to be a dead-beat dad. Think about that.

    • September 28, 2010 9:27 pm

      I’ve been divorced for over 25 years and have written on the topic quite often in that time. There have, over that period, been many safeguards put in place to assure sensible outcomes, and, if you didn’t get one, the fault is not in the law but in your attorney.

      That said, I’m sorry to hear this argument presented so early in the life of this interesting blog. I’ve seen it before, and I’m not going to respond beyond what I’ve said: The laws are fair and work. If you didn’t get an outcome you feel was fair, either your lawyer was incompetent or your expectations are not realistic. I do not expect this to convince Mr. Brown.

    • askmoxie permalink*
      September 28, 2010 10:13 pm

      Ottis, I wonder where it was that you had this outcome. I have two female friends who really got the shaft (ex-husbands who’d refused to work for years and claimed that they’d been caring for kids despite years of receipts for fulltime child care) and ended up paying the men even when they have primary care. So I do think there are some bad judges and some bad lawyers.

      But overall, I think the courts are leaning toward a more equal split in all ways. But I’m also glad that I didn’t have to find out how a judge would have decided my case. Both because I wouldn’t want someone else to decide my kids’ lives, and also because I’m glad LOD and I managed by sheer force of will to hash it out with a mediator so we could agree on something we could both live with.

      • Ottis D Brown permalink
        September 29, 2010 10:06 am


        Missouri. They still use an archaic Form 14. It is a calculator, basically, and assumes one parent only has the child 10% of the time, regardless of what is actually agreed to by the parents.

        Bummer. But, it’s only money… and, my hopes are that her mom uses it for my daughter’s well being.

  8. September 28, 2010 11:30 pm

    Ugh. Having spent the first two years of our marriage in separate households thanks to our respective military assignments, I can personally identify with this frustration. And having more furniture in this house that once belonged to my parents than I care to admit, I’m also with you on the frugality.

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