Trading the car in, buying a new home, diving into the share market … when major financial decisions need to be made, many of us take comfort from talking through the options with a partner who’s equally invested in the outcome.

But what happens when death, divorce or relationship breakdown means that you’re flying solo? How do “suddenly singles” become comfortable making the big calls all by themselves? And who do they turn to for advice and reassurance when there’s no significant other to mull things over with?

Family for hand holding, and financially savvy colleagues for advice on the nuts and bolts, says mortgage broker and former advertising sales executive Kaia Hunter, 45, who has been sailing her own ship since her marriage floundered in 2007.

Financial settlement left her with enough to buy a block of land outright in Palmwoods, on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, where she built a house for herself and daughter Aspen, 9, while living nearby with her parents.

“It had always been a dream of mine,” Hunter says.

“It was daunting but satisfying as well. Because my parents were with me, it didn’t feel quite so daunting. I had [them] in the background – not financial but emotional support.” Thrashing out the figures before committing to the project provided a little of the comfort that comes automatically when you’re in a double income set-up with another adult to bolster you financially and emotionally, according to Hunter.

“I worked out a budget down to the dollar,” she says. “There was nothing spare. It was scary, the money side. I thought ‘how am I going to afford it?’ but I ploughed ahead.” After extensive research – “I read every property investment book for about two years, I read all the magazines, I did lots of online research and went to investment seminars” – she subsequently bought two investment properties.

Seasoned investor colleagues, rather than family, acted as her sounding board in this instance and their counsel and encouragement gave her the confidence to take the plunge.

“I talked to my parents briefly, then stopped,” Hunter says.

“Dad was very risk-averse so he would have talked me out of it.” Hunter is part of a significant minority of Australians making major financial calls on their Pat Malone. In 2011, 24 per cent of households comprised a single person, according to the Australian Institute of Family Studies. The 2011 census showed just under a quarter of families with dependent children were headed by a sole parent.

Those thrust suddenly into the driving seat, after years of being with a partner who’s played a dominant role, can face a steep learning curve, according to Nexia financial planning partner Craig Wilford.

“I have had people in tears – they have literally had to start from ground zero,” he says.

Seeing an expert – or becoming one yourself – is the only way to become comfortable about your ability to manage your affairs and make the big decisions solo, Wilford says.

“Arming yourself with knowledge is the best way to lose the fear and gain confidence.”

Just because you haven’t doesn’t mean you can’t, agrees Psychology Melbourne consulting psychologist Dr Geraldine Lockley.

She says trepidatious types should start small and look to family, friends and professional planners for the perspective and reassurance previously provided by their significant other.

Setting goals and not allowing yourself to become overwhelmed by uncertainty are the secrets to shifting successfully for yourself, according to speech pathologist Helene Frayne, 60.

Now the chief executive of a Queensland not-for-profit organisation, 20 years ago she was left with four children to support, and some tough decisions to make, when her marriage to a banker who’d taken charge of the family finances ended.

Heeding friends’ advice that she could not afford to stay in Sydney, Frayne packed up and drove north to Brisbane, where her goals of home ownership and a Catholic education for her brood were more achievable.

She says she applied the speech pathology principles of setting short- and long-term goals to the issue of managing her money and making choices, including returning to full-time work, that would provide security for her children.

“It’s an enormous stress being responsible for it all,” she says.

“It’s almost as if you’re running a marathon – you can’t slip up or stop. You’ve got to make good financial decisions.” Practising positive self talk – “you don’t have another person to bounce things off so you need to do this” – and resolving not to worry about the distant future helps keep fear and uncertainty at bay, Frayne says.

She admits to having lain awake at night in the early years, fretting about her lack of superannuation and picturing herself ending up impoverished in a grim public nursing home.

“I taught myself not to think too long term,” she says.

“Don’t think about superannuation; think about getting the kids educated. You can’t trouble the future – you get too anxious. Life is long and you need different tactics at different stages.”

The satisfaction of reaching a point where you can enjoy the odd indulgence, such as an overseas holiday, is difficult to overstate, Frayne adds.

“It was so exciting to be able to get from lying awake worrying about the nursing home to getting on the plane and seeing Italy again.

“Difficult decisions early reward you at the end.”

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Posted by Sylvia Pennington — The Age on 1st February, 2015