When Christina Rodriguez divorced four years ago, she had no idea how she was going to make ends meet. After all, during her marriage, she earned $38,000 per year as a visual designer, and even with her husband’s income, the couple lived paycheck-to-paycheck and accumulated tens of thousands of dollars in debt. Rodriguez’s share of credit card debt was $10,000.
“Here I was struggling with two incomes, and now I was on one income,” says the 35-year-old mom of two. “It was scary.”
Like so many people, Rodriguez stayed awake at night, worried what she might do should she need to replace her car, especially if her credit were poor because of her debt burden. She spent her energy juggling bills and minimum credit card payments, barely staying afloat.
“I realized, ‘I can’t live like this. My children don’t deserve to live their life like this’,” Rodriguez says. “It was about figuring out how I could get to a place where I would truly feel free.”
Fast-forward four short years, and Rodriguez is debt-free, invested $22,000 in a home purchase and remodel, counts $7,000 in cash savings, and has increased her annual income from $38,000 to $128,000.
Themes of Rodriguez’s success story:
Cut back all extra expenses and focus on paying off debt. At the time of her breakup, Rodriguez had $10,000 in credit card debt. She also had a new, tricked out Chevy Malibu and regularly got her hair and nails done. “That was a huge part of my identity,” she says. “But it wasn’t more important than my kids having food on the table.” Think big! You can only cut so many costs, but your income potential is infinite. “I realized I was taking on jobs that paid $300 or $400. Why wasn’t I taking on jobs that paid $3,000 or $4,000?” she says. “When I realized my time and skills are valuable — that is when everything changed for me.” Put a dollar value on your time. Rodriguez’s income ballooned when she stopped taking low-paid side gigs, and started investing without guilt in child care and housekeeping. Splurge on experiences, not possessions. Christina could easily afford to upgrade her Nissan Rogue, but chooses instead to travel with her kids. “My daughter says: ‘More meetings means more vacations!’” Rodriguez says. Focus on setting up a life within her control. Rodriguez’s worries included rent increases, job instability, financial instability, depending on her kids’ dad, and a long commute which took her away from her children during the week. “I realized that the kids could only depend on me,” she says. Her focus on home ownership, high earning and self-employed income and a job close to home helped her regain power.
At the time, her budget breakdown was:
Rent $825 Car payment $450 Car insurance $155 Electric $130 Internet $65 Phone $125 Childcare $250 (her half) Plus food, gas, entertainment etc Credit card minimum payments $125 Nails and hair $75 Subscription services $8 Cable TV $149 monthly Private school tuition $480 monthly
Upon her divorce, Rodriguez cut her cable, subscription services, nails and hair, and downgraded to less expensive car.
She then focused on both paying off debt and earning. Rodriguez got a new job where she earned $45,000 per year, and also built up her side business doing freelance graphic design work, carefully selecting jobs that paid a high hourly fee, and helped her reach her goals. “I only work side jobs that meet a specific goal financial goal, because if I was going to dedicate time away from my kids it has to be with purpose,” she says.
A couple years ago, Rodriguez saved up $15,000, quit her full-time job, and focused narrowly on building her design portfolio. Then, a local health care company near her Kissemmee, Fla., reached out via LinkedIn, and offered her a new job. Today, Rodriguez earns $77,000 salary, plus an annual bonus of $5,000, and last year her side business grossed $46,000, bringing her income to $128,000.
One of the biggest changes Rodriguez made with her new financial status is buying a 2,300-square-foot home in a gated community. She also purchased a 20-year, $250,000 term life insurance policy, and focuses on travel. She is looking forward to a trip to Paris soon, and she and her grade-school-aged son and daughter are 5 states into their goal of visiting all 50 before the kids graduate.
Rodriguez also hires a housekeeper twice per month — without any guilt at all.
Today, Rodriguez’s budget:
Mortgage, taxes and insurance $1471 HOA $216 Car payment $311 Car insurance $155 Electric $100 Water $49 Internet and cable $125 Phone $120 Disney annual passes $138 Childcare $340 Life insurance $38 Cleaning service $140
Says Rodriguez: “I’m still really frugal. But living a budgeted life works for me. I know where every penny goes and that allows for more opportunities, to make more memories. It also allows me to spend without buyer’s remorse. I think the best feeling though comes from teaching my kids about smart financial decisions like my parents did with me.”
Emma Johnson is a financial journalist, author of the bestselling Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), founder of MomsForSharedParenting.org, and founder of Wealthysinglemommy.com — the world’s largest platform for single mothers. As an expert she has been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, O, the Oprah Magazine, CNN, The Doctors and hundreds of other outlets. She lives in New York City with her children.