finance

"I want to leave but I can't afford to." Effie Zahos on how to financially escape your partner.

For some women, it’s a feeling that builds over time. For others, it comes like a bolt out of the blue.

I’m talking about the realisation that you’re unhappy in a relationship and you want out. But what if you don’t have the financial means to walk away?

The first thing you need is an action plan. This doesn’t have to be in writing. If your partner is likely to become suspicious that you’re thinking of leaving, just keep the plan in your head. But do think carefully about how you’ll manage financially, where you’re going to live and how you will pay for everything.

You really need to take a good, hard look at your expenses and what you will need to pay for when you’re on your own. That means groceries, gas and electricity, petrol, kids’ activities, etc. Download a budgeting app such as MoneySmart’s TrackMySPEND will help work out the costs.

Build a f*ck-off fund.

If you don’t have a bank account in your own name, open one as soon as possible. It’s not just about having somewhere to stash away survival funds. Having a bank account of your own lets you build your personal financial identity – something that will be needed if you want to apply for a loan at some stage. Having your own account is also essential if you plan to receive government support payments – be it Newstart if you’re looking for work or Family Tax Benefit if you’re raising kids.

If you already have a separate account in your name be sure to change your PIN and online passwords.

Once your account is up and running, use it to build a personal f*ck-off fund. Think of it as a financial safety net that’s your ticket to freedom.

Where will the money come from?

Yes, it can be hard to stash cash away but having even a small amount set aside will help to cover essentials like rent, utilities, food and transport until you’re on your feet.

Or get an extra $20 out each time you pay for groceries by card – it may not show up on your bank statement as an extra transaction. A slow but steady approach may be your best bet if you’re worried that your other half will get suspicious about large sums of money going missing.

If you’re not working and don’t have any income, then you will need to look for ways to make some extra money to stay afloat until any settlement is finalised. Consider selling any unwanted items laying around the house to boost your kitty. If finding a full-time job isn’t an option, then look for ways to make extra money when you can.

You might be eligible for crisis cash.

If your f*ck-off fund is a little lean, rest assured that crisis money is available. If you’re already receiving payments from the Department of Human Services (DHS), a one-off “crisis” payment may be available. It’s worth calling the DHS support line (132 850) to know exactly where you stand. It can take several weeks for any support payments to come through, so make this an early priority. Charities such as the Salvos (phone 1300 371 288) may also provide emergency financial assistance.

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Talk to a lawyer.

It makes sense to get legal advice, preferably before you mention to your partner that you want to end the relationship. A number of community legal centres and Legal Aid agencies offer free advice. Try doing an online search for women’s legal services in your state or territory. Many will provide urgent advice over the phone.

Gather records.

Where possible, pull together a personal file of key documents that you’re going to need for your new life. Originals are best but if that’s not possible get copies of birth certificates for yourself and your children, citizenship certificates or passports, your tax file number, and copies of bank statements, loan statements and super statements.

Protect yourself financially.

Your first priority may be to split from your partner but once you have left the relationship, act fast to protect your financial identity. Together with a good credit score, this will help you get re-established. Protect yourself against the possibility of your ex maxing out a credit card that’s in your name. It can be a smart move to ask your credit card issuer for a new card with a different account number.

The main point is that an unhappy relationship can drag down every aspect of your life, and you don’t have to stick with it even if you’re struggling to scrape some cash together. It may take time to get back on your feet but there is a whole range of support services to help you along the way.

This is an edited extract from A Real Girl’s Guide to Money: From Converse to Louboutins (Bauer Media Books, RRP $24.99) by Effie Zahos.

Effie Zahos is a finance editor and commentator, author and speaker at the Business Chicks 9 to Thrive Summit in Sydney on May 10. To purchase tickets, please click here.

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Effie Zahos Source: Supplied

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