Michelle Singletary’s Advice to Kerry

Kerry with Girls

When I first started working with Kerry as part of the DailyWorth Money Fix, Kerry’s marriage was ending, her husband was planning to move to Texas with their two daughters, ages 7 and 9—and Kerry intended to stay in Alaska, in part to finish her second Masterss degree.

Kerry’s dilemma sparked a powerful debate among DailyWorth readers, with many people saying that Kerry was wrong to leave her children—and others arguing that Kerry was making the right choice for herself, all things considered.

I urged Kerry move to Texas, that she didn’t need a second Master’s—a better investment would be following her kids.

What got lost in the debate is that regardless of Kerry’s maternal dilemma, she has some serious financial issues to tackle. That is something we can all learn from. There is a temptation to use emotional chaos to neglect the financial basics, but you do so at your own peril. Given that Kerry has made her choice about her family, here is what she needs to do for herself, financially: 


Cut car costs. A good rule-of-thumb is to spend no more than 15% of your income on your car payment, insurance and gas. She is paying 30%.



Be smart about savings. Kerry has $17,000 in savings (largely from her parents). I suggested she put $12,000 into an emergency fund to cover six months of expenses, and $2,000 into a “life happens” fund.



Pay off debt. With only $1,500 in credit card debt, I recommended she pay that off.



Stick to a budget. Now that Kerry is single, money will be even tighter and she needs to watch what she spends.



Tackle student loans now. Kerry has $31,000 in student loans in deferment from her first Master’s degree, but relying on deferments can significantly increase debt (you get a break from repaying, but interest keeps mounting). I suggested Kerry take the income from her part-time bartending job, and make a $300 loan payment each month. To reduce her payments, she could apply for the relatively new Income-Based Repayment program.

But my biggest concern was about her family splitting up. Kerry now has an emergency fund of $12,000. I realize Kerry doesn’t see it this way, but I would call moving to be with her daughters in Texas an emergency.

Yes, she would have to give up her dream of another degree for now, but the most important task before her is helping raise her children. I realize this has generated quite a debate among DailyWorth readers. But I believe this is the best use of her resources, financially and otherwise.

See both sides. Have you ever been in an emotional situation that made it tough to know what the right financial choice was?  

    Michelle and Kerry

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