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Overcoming Poverty After Divorce

Today we have a guest post for you. This is the story of how Lila Donovan’s mother overcame poverty after divorce and the lessons she taught Lila along the way.

Many people hate making budgets and paying off debt because they start thinking about all the things they can’t do. Growing up my mom taught me that budgets and being debt-free actually frees you.

When my first step-dad and my mom couldn’t work on their marriage anymore, they decided to get divorced. Mom was a former teacher who had quit her job to stay at home but my step-dad proved to be emotionally abusive towards mom and me.

Although mom hadn’t intended on becoming a single mom (again), she eventually became one. After my mom filed divorce from my step-dad, we moved out to an apartment in a less than stellar neighborhood.

Education is Key

A friend of my mom’s that was a hairstylist advised her to go to cosmetology school because training was quick and it was affordable. When we were moving into the new apartment  my step-dad had told both of us that we’d never live in a nice home again.

He also told my mom she would fail. My mom didn’t have much in savings from her former teaching years but with the little she did have, she decided to enroll in cosmetology school.

When she wasn’t at cosmetology school, my mom decided to take on a low-wage job and started side hustling. Her side hustles included selling home baked cakes & she made stuffed animals which she sold at an independent toy store.

Separate Your Finances

Around this time my mom was still using the joint bank account she had shared with my step-dad. Originally my step-dad had told my mom she could have the money on this bank account which was roughly $10,000.

He went back on his word and transferred the entire amount out of it. She never thought he’d ever do anything this degrading. He basically cleaned it all out so my mom didn’t have any money to her name. He was still listed as the co-owner of the bank account which is how he was able to do that.

When she called the bank they treated it as a case of he said, she said. There was nothing they could do. Eventually my mom decided to get her own bank account at another bank and told the bank to remove her from the joint account. She doubled down on her side hustles and took extra hours at her minimum wage job.

Hard Work

After she graduated from cosmetology school, she landed a job at a barber shop, and started to work crazy hours. She was working at least 60-70 hours each week.

With the money from her day job and the side hustle money she started racking up her emergency savings pretty quickly. Mom had always derided debt as evil and as a result she never took on any debt. After the divorce was finalized, mom didn’t get any alimony or financial help from my step-dad except for their used car he had bought during their marriage.

There wasn’t any child support either. A few months after the divorce was finalized he actually came to our apartment and wanted to talk to my mom. He wanted to get back together with her and have us be a family again! She told him to go away or she’d call the police. We never saw him again afterwards.

Living Frugally

During this time we couldn’t afford the type of vacations a two-income household often takes. My mom found a solution by putting me in the local Boys & Girls club during the summers.

After a couple of years mom was able to move us out of the lower-income apartment complex and we moved into a middle-class apartment complex. She also bought a new Honda with cash.

After five years of working for the barber shop she decided to squirrel away money to open up her own barber shop. I asked her once why she didn’t want to open a hairstyling salon for women. Mom explained that cutting men’s hair was quick and she got fast enough where she cut it quickly with quality.

She told her current customers she was opening her own shop and many of them followed her. In addition she decided to promote the new shop by passing out flyers in person and she put them on car windshields as well.

Building a Business and Buying a Home

Her own shop got going pretty quickly and quit her side hustles as the business reached a point where it was out earning her side hustle money.  One day she was talking to a male barber who encouraged her to buy her own home. Mom wanted her own home but wasn’t sure she could afford one. After running the numbers she decided she could actually afford it and got a realtor to help her find a home.

She eventually found a detached home for roughly $120,000, a 3-bedroom and 2-bathroom home. There was actually a bidding war when she and her realtor went to make an offer, and interestingly enough mom won the home. Eventually she bought the home for $150,000. It was a nice home in a middle-class neighborhood.

Within roughly five years of her divorced my mom had managed to: get trained for a new job in a new field, bought a car with cash, opened her own barber shop, and bought her own home. We eventually were able to take nice vacations to Disneyland (several times), Kauai, the Grand Canyon, NYC, etc.

Being Self-Reliant

My mom knew that there wouldn’t be anyone to rescue us. There was only her. You hear it all the time how single moms and their children are statistics, my mom refused to give in and I did too. I focused on school, got great grades, and avoided in getting into trouble.

I graduated high school without ever becoming a statistic. Mom focused on providing a living and getting out of poverty. In my mom’s eyes there were no excuses and no time for pity parties. It wasn’t a picnic at all, she had many hard and lonely days. She often likes to say that pity parties don’t pay your bills.

When I graduated from high school my mom said, “Always be independent even if you marry Mr. Wonderful.” As for my mom she eventually found a nice guy who cared for both of us and they got married. He became my second step-dad.

She found her own happy ending eventually, but he didn’t rescue her. Mom rescued herself.  My second step-dad had his own home and they decided to sell both of their homes (after I moved away to college) and bought a new home of their own.

If we just get out of our own way we can achieve more than we can imagine. Financial freedom doesn’t have to remain a fantasy. Too often people get depressed and think about all the money and opportunities they don’t have. It’s not about all the things you can’t do, it’s about all the things you can do.

Lila’s a writer who wants to inspire and empower people through the written word. Her home right now is Nebraska where she’s enjoying the heartland. You can find out more about Lila on her website.


  1. What a great story! “She found her own happy ending eventually, but he didn’t rescue her.” This is a very, very important message for all women to take to heart. The Cinderella fantasy is still very much alive and well, and too many women wait for that prince to make everything better. How wonderful that your mother made everything better on her own – and then found her prince. Lila, you were such a key player in all of this. It could not have been easy for you having a single parent working all of those hours. I’m glad you were supportive of your mom and inspired by her.

  2. katscratch says:

    This is very inspirational – especially the bit Prudence pointed out.

    My mom came from a very difficult childhood and the stories she’s told me are absolutely incredible. It definitely put my own parenting choices into perspective.

    I love that you can recognize your mom’s struggles and achievements; that alone gives you an advantage in making your journey what you want it to be!

  3. Sharon says:

    Your story is so motivational. Much of your mom’s story is my story. I hope my adult children feel the way you do. I, too, was fortunate that they were good kids, stayed out of trouble and did well in school.
    You and your mom are awesome!

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