Divorce, Downsizing & The Deal Of A Lifetime.

Image Source:  Katherine Lam

Image Source: Katherine Lam

 

“I’ve been KNOCKED DOWN so hard I can’t even PRAY.” These were the only words that I could bring myself to write in my journal that fateful Saturday on the 21st of March 2015. It was a mere three months after I had moved out of my marital home, instituted DIVORCE proceedings and skillfully mastered how to put up a BRAVE FACE leading up to that day.


 

At first, I put up a brave face when my family and colleagues told me they’d known about the affair. Then when my lawyer told me there was nothing I could do about the 2-week living arrangement my (then) husband had implemented for our kids, who at the ages of 9 and 3, I believed needed to be stationed in one home, with their mommy. I put up a brave face when my colleagues started whispering about my marital status to each other and how the once-mighty that used to growl into the Sandton banking headquarters in the latest Porsche Boxster, were now slipping through the boom gate in a humble VW. I put up a brave face when my kids kept coming back to mommy’s house with tales of what a lovely time they had with her.  


I’ve been knocked down so hard I can’t even pray

— Samke Mhlongo
Image Source:  Katherine Lam

Image Source: Katherine Lam

 
 

But on that day, I couldn’t do it anymore. I was humiliated, confused, angry and hungry! I was literally hungry as I was reduced to rationing my food portions just so there would be enough for the children to eat. Between not having enough money for rent, electricity, the pool service and fuel and groceries and the nanny and DSTV and wifi and the garden service and car insurance and and and...the world as I had understood it no longer existed. My life as I knew it came completely undone when the man I loved since the age of nineteen, built what I thought would be a legacy with, was now seen unapologetically holding hands with another woman at a Michael Bublé concert, while I went hungry.

After cutting down as many expenses as one reasonably could, borrowed money from everyone I could think of, here I was still hungry. Add to that, walking away with nothing but a hatchback and furniture, I found myself in what felt like a grossly unfair reality. One that went against all the vows we had solemnly made and saw me stripped of my wedding ring – I was asked to leave that behind too, along with my car and my house. Well, his car and his house.

Image Source:  Katherine Lam

Image Source: Katherine Lam

Starting afresh on my own after eight and a half years of marriage and ten years of dating, I wanted nothing more than to maintain the life my children and I enjoyed whilst I was married to their father. Although my intention was to give my children the same comfort, routine and lifestyle they were born into, it quickly became evident that things wouldn’t be the same. Every single one of my intentions unraveled at the sound of the little one screaming, “we have more fun at daddy’s house!” in refusal to be dropped off at my house whenever his father would drop them off. What killed me was how what I was trying to avoid, by ensuring the lifestyle at mommy’s house was just as good as at daddy’s house, was now the inevitable end that I now found myself in. 


It felt as though the more I tried to downsize and live within my means, the higher the risk that I would lose my children. To him. To them. And let me be clear here, it was never about putting up a fight to preserve this lifestyle we were used to for my own benefit, although that’s not a ridiculous desire by the way. Rather it was about wanting to keep as much of the old life as possible so that my children could be comfortable and have an easier transition into our new normal. Of course, the father of my children didn’t see it that way though. Neither did his family. Neither does society. Instead, once you’re inducted into the ex-wife role or “baby momma” role (I despise of this term), it is seen as making ridiculous and selfish demands, almost like you’re an inexperienced professional who feels entitled to a salary above their pay-grade.



 

Image Source:  Katherine Lam

Image Source: Katherine Lam

To have one's intrinsic worth stripped away as a wife and threatening the same to do the same to your role as a mother, coupled with the fact that I had to now unwillingly play hunger games, on that Saturday night, the burden I was carrying was simply too much. And I was tired of fighting. I was tired of praying. I was tired of praying to a God that seemed to be retreating further and further away from me. At this point it made sense to ditch prayer; it clearly wasn’t working. I decided to bargain instead. I knelt on all fours hunched over with a faux fur throw, of course, covering me on all sides, and telling God that I had the following deal for Him:

“I can’t take this anymore. Please make it stop, make it end, and if you do, I promise to dedicate my life to ensuring that no other woman goes through what I am going through. And that if they were to go through it, it should at least be a little bit easier for them, because no person should go through this kind of pain. I do not wish this on my worst enemy. Not even her

I cried myself to sleep, as usual, but when I woke up, I had a renewed resolve and strength to fight – to fight my circumstance and buy God enough time to meet His end of the bargain, because I sincerely believed I’d made Him an offer He could not refuse. I had a renewed resolve to do whatever it took to make it out of my rock bottom because I believed God would be ready to meet me on the other side, again not because He is merciful and kind, but because I’d made Him an offer He simply could not refuse. And so what followed is a strategy that I thought I would share with you:


 

#1: Get a new job 

I had been working in the same company for a period of four years and though I absolutely loved my job, the luxury of staying in the same company for love was just not going to cut it. Finding a company that was going to pay me what I needed to make it month-on-month became my mission. I phoned up recruitment agencies, sent them my CV and started interviewing with different banks. Before long I was one or two rounds away from getting to the offer stage and my employer found out about my intentions to leave. I welcomed the counter-offer they made and in a period of three months, I’d added about R8,000 to my net income.

#2: Plan your life to the hour
Whilst I was working on increasing my means, I cut down my expenses by planning my life to the hour. 

Meals: I drew up a meal plan with affordable yet tasty alternatives so that the kids wouldn’t sniff out that we were on a tight budget. For instance, on Mondays supper was Mac n’ Cheese, Tuesday's menu had Pork Bangers with gravy and mash; Wednesdays was Roast turkey leg, sweet corn, and green salad and so it went. 

Clothes: They say we wear 20% of our clothes 80% of the time, and to avoid this (and the need to go shopping), I decided to implement a revolving method of dressing. It’s simple: after I have worn an item, I would hang it at the end of the cupboard and be forced to wear the item that was now “at the front of the line”. With this method, I wore every single item of clothing (that fit) and came out with very interesting and new outfit combos, negating the need to shop and avoid the repetition of clothing. 

Social life: I didn’t have much of a social life for the first six months after my divorce so that helped the budget. 

#3: Line-by-Line review 

After cutting a plea-bargain of sorts with God and with the comfort of knowing I would not lose my kids because I was exposing them to a lifestyle that was different from what they knew, I had clarity of thought when it comes to my finances. I did a line-by-line review of our monthly expenses and looked for cheaper alternatives. I cut down the DSTV to the basic package; I asked the pool and garden service to come half as often as they used to; I told the nanny I would not be giving her a raise but in exchange, she could stay at home on the days that the kids were at their dad’s house; I used my Wifi to watch YouTube videos so I could do my own hair at home and avoid salon trips. I even learned how to apply my own acrylic nail tips! 

#4. Rather borrow from family and friends than the bank

I can proudly say that I did not take out a single Rand of additional debt while I was going through my divorce. I did this by borrowing money from family and friends instead of going to the bank. I found it easier to repay monies owed to people that know me and were empathetic to the season I was in, rather than to rely on my self-discipline to repay a bank. 

#5. Monetize your skills

Many people find it fascinating that my entrepreneurial journey is a result of my Facebook posts. I decided to start posting money management tips on social media. The social media posts resulted in requests for TV and radio interviews. The interviews led to speaking requests. The speaking requests led to my very first invoice: R12,000 for a 1-hour keynote address at Anglo American Head Office. Twelve thousand South African Rands, just under half my then salary, in one hour - FOR TALKING! I didn’t realize then that posting my tips on social media was actually showcasing my skills, and that appearing in media was free and much-needed PR for my skills. 

The plea-bargain agreed to with Bra God worked and fast forward two years from that fateful night on the floor of my house, the stormy season I needed to survive came to an end. God had indeed met his end of the bargain, and I had to meet mine. I left my job at the bank because I needed to be unencumbered as I journeyed to meet my end of the bargain to God. The divorce was finalized, He had seen me through, and it was now time to step into the next chapter. That is what I found fitting to name the business I would build my legacy on: The Next Chapter, TNC.

 
 

 

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