Barbara Ballinger panicked when her husband of 29 years told her he wanted a divorce. At 51, she hadn’t seen the end of her marriage coming and wasn’t prepared to cover half the expenses for their five-bedroom home in a St. Louis suburb, their two daughters’ college tuitions, car and home insurance, and other necessities. She’d always worked, as a writer, but “he earned as a corporate attorney more than five times what I did,” says Ballinger, who is now 67.
She began clipping grocery coupons, eliminated Starbucks lattes and meals out, put off home repairs, and made fewer visits to the hair salon, while taking on as many freelance assignments as she could land. Still, during a trip to visit her daughters at college, a car rental company turned her away because she didn’t have a credit card in good standing. “My living standard changed dramatically,” she recalls.