You’re free from the abuse– but what happens now?

April is quickly approaching, and as the nationally designated Sexual Assault Awareness Month, it presents a crucial opportunity to assist those who are struggling after leaving an abusive relationship or healing from sexual trauma.

In the United States, one in five women is sexually assaulted and nearly a quarter of men have experienced some form of abuse in their lifetime. These statistics can be very disheartening, especially if you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault or domestic violence. 

Leaving a toxic relationship is challenging and leaving an abusive one is even more so. Domestic and sexual violence often co-occur. Survivors of each type of violence often share similar emotions, experiences, and challenges. One of these challenges is financial stress when establishing a life post-abuse. If you are looking for help for yourself, a friend, colleague, or family member, below are a few insightful ways to deal with the stress of finances after experiencing domestic or sexual violence.

What is Financial Stress? 

Survivors of domestic and sexual violence experience extreme stress both during and after their abuse. Symptoms of stress can include depression, loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, and irregular weight change. General stress is further compounded by the financial challenges that survivors face, which can lead to financial stress, a specific form of suffering attached to money.

In order to resolve financial stress, it’s important to get to the root of the problem. A recent study conducted by the American Psychological Association found that seventy-two percent of Americans have reported feeling stressed about money at least once in the previous month. For those who are enmeshed in an abusive relationship, there is plenty on the mind already–but money doesn’t have to be. 

Creating a Safety Plan

For those moving on from an abusive relationship, a new reality of being alone can feel daunting. Further concerns for one’s safety and wellbeing make these situations even more stressful. The importance of a safety plan cannot be emphasized enough.  

Safety plans work to protect an individuals’ immediate safety and identify a plan of action should there be an emergency situation. When considering a safety plan for those fresh out of abusive relationships, a key first step is to identify a reliable group of friends or family and a place to escape, if necessary. Installing a security system or changing door and window locks are also wise initial steps to take. 

Before you can get comfortable sorting through your finances, it’s important you feel safe in your surroundings. Start by distancing yourself from your ex-partner. If you’re considering moving far away, don’t let your financial situation discourage you from looking to buy a home. One option that may be beneficial due to less narrow financial requirements is an FHA loan.

FHA loans are a wonderful option to explore because they are government-backed loans that have lower credit score requirements in comparison to other loans. Even if you are recovering from a poor financial history or struggling with debt, you may still qualify. Physically distancing yourself from your abuser is not only critical for your mental and physical health, but also a crucial part of your fresh start in a life free from abuse. 

Organizing Your Finances

Whether you’re stuck on how to start saving money, establishing an emergency fund, leaving a cycle of debt, or need a guide to set future goals, below are helpful tips on easing financial stress within your life. 

Make a Budget

By establishing a budget, you’ll be surprised how much more financial freedom you can create for yourself. To get a solid start on creating your budget, you’ll want to sort through all your bills and figure out how much you can set aside each month to meet your financial goals.  

Start by accounting for your income– whether you are currently working or looking for a new job if or when you relocate, it’s important to know how much money you are bringing in each month. To help you get started, consider using an online budget template until you get comfortable creating your own. Having a budget in place will help you determine if you’re spending more money than you make and, if so, where to cut back.  

Cut Unnecessary Spending

One of the best ways to reduce your monthly bills is to cut unnecessary expenses. There’s likely one expense you could cut right now to begin saving more. While you may not be able to reduce fixed expenses like rent or utilities, you can eliminate variable expenses.

Look through your finances and identify charges that you could cut, such as streaming services you don’t use, cable, dining out, and any emotional spending (retail therapy, for example). It’s okay to splurge once in a while, but don’t get in the practice of making this a recurring habit. 

Build an Emergency Fund

For those who are experiencing domestic or sexual violence, building an emergency fund is crucial. There may be unexpected medical or childcare costs to accommodate for, as well as legal fees or other safety-related costs. Even when victims leave these relationships, they continue to face costs associated with them.

Worrying about how to support yourself through these experiences will bring stress, but preparing for the future as you can will bring peace of mind. Start by putting as much money as you can afford aside in a fund and don’t touch it. Consider a high-yield savings account to let your money work for you by earning greater dividends. Contribute a small amount from each paycheck to your emergency fund. Knowing you will be prepared for any financial challenges the future may bring will save you from unnecessary worry.

Pay Off Your Debt

Carrying a large amount of debt can be extremely stressful. Creating a plan to tackle your debt will help to ease your mind. 

Start by listing all of your current debts from smallest to largest, regardless of the interest rates. This can include credit card debt, student loan debt, or a car loan. Figure out the minimum amount you owe to remain current with each creditor.  

Paying the minimum won’t get you out of debt quickly, but it will help determine how much you can allocate from your budget each month towards these debts. It is noteworthy to mention that even though eliminating your debt as fast as possible is encouraged, you should first designate your money towards the necessities of food, shelter, and utilities.

Talk to a Financial Advisor

If you’re feeling lost and looking for guidance, talk to a financial advisor. A financial advisor provides advice to help individuals manage their money and plan for their future. It’s important to find a professional that is the right fit for you and can offer resources targeted to what you need.  

The advisor you choose will help diversify your money in investments, customize a financial strategy around your goals, and communicate with you to identify any changes to help keep you on track. Getting help towards building a financial roadmap is crucial for your emotional well-being, as navigating uncertain times alone can have adverse effects on your health. 

Set Goals

Future goals may seem far out of reach at the moment, but they are a valuable way to encourage you to work hard for what is to come. Even if you set a small goal for yourself in the beginning, it’s a great start.  

A few goals to set for yourself could be eliminating a fraction of your debt, establishing a vacation fund, increasing the amount you contribute to retirement accounts, or buying a home. No matter how big or small the goals you set for yourself, they all play a part in making your future dreams come true.  

Remember Your Resources

Through the ups and downs, lean on those in your support system for guidance and comfort. For additional support as you heal from your experiences, consider attending counseling, whether individual or in a group setting.  

Those who have experienced or witnessed domestic violence or sexual violence can benefit greatly from attending counseling. Counselors at SAFE in Hunterdon utilize a variety of approaches and tools to best serve survivors. For more information about our counseling services, click here.  

Through it all, remember that even though things may seem out of control, there is light at the end of the tunnel and you are not alone.  

Learning how to deal with financial stress and seeking the professional help you need to do so will put you one step ahead in your healing journey.

If you or someone you know is in or recovering from domestic or sexual violence and in need of assistance, call our 24/7 hotline at 908.788.4044. 


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