In the end, there are really only two things to focus on if you want to survive financially as a single mom: decreasing expenses and increasing income. The more you do both of those things, the better off you’ll be.
Whether you’ve always managed the household checkbook or this is your first time, the financial struggles of being a single mom can feel overwhelming. Stop, breath, and start with these simple steps to getting your finances under control.
3 Tips For Surviving Financially As a Single Mom
1. Stop incurring new debt. If you’re in the red hole, the first step is to simply stop digging deeper. It’s just not possible to get out of debt if you keep creating more. It might be easier for a while to just stop using credit cards in order to not incur any new debt. Every day that you don’t add to your debt is another day closer to seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. If you find that you can’t get to the end of the month without incurring debt, Step 2 below will help.
2. Budget every dollar. I know, it’s a dirty word to many, but I turned my financial life around when I got serious about budgeting. One of the reasons we find ourselves out of control financially is because we don’t have clarity on what goes in and what goes out. Even if you think you know, you never really do until you track your income and expenses and account for every dollar. Mint is a free app that can help, but I find YNAB to be worth every penny (plus, you get a free month trial to then budget how to pay for the app).
If apps don’t appeal, there’s always pen and paper, an Excel spreadsheet, or even a Word doc to get you started. You can round up to the nearest dollar, but you may be surprised on just where those dollars have been going! It will help you figure out where you really can cut back, and where you can’t. YNAB uses the zero-based budgeting method (this method can be used with or without the program) and the concept is, you can only budget the dollars you have. If you’ve been budgeting by assuming your income and expenses, it will take some adjustment to get used to this new method, but it will be well worth it to get you on a more solid financial footing.
3. Beware the Single Mom Guilt. I have been there. I have felt so guilty about my marital status that I’ve spent more than I could afford, trying to overcompensate. But after using my tax refund to pay off credit card debt, and then building up debt, and then paying it off, and then doing it again, I finally had enough. And I realized that throwing money at the problem wasn’t really helping.
The more financially stable we became, the less stressed I was. The less stressed I was, the happier my girls were. The happier my girls were, the more we could simply enjoy being together and not have to spend so much money on cable, on outings, on activities they weren’t really enjoying. Instead, my oldest daughter helped out at the dance studio to get a break on tuition.
My youngest daughter shops at Goodwill when she needs new leggings. We come up with solutions together when we hit financial blocks. And if you feel bad for saying, I can’t afford it, try saying, “sorry, that’s not in our budget right now” instead. A small difference, sure, but it takes the focus off the negative part, and reminds both you and your child that you have financial goals.
Of course, personal finance is always personal, and you will have to make some difficult decisions, but try to remember, that’s true for most of us! Divorced or not, kids or not, we all can only work with what we actually have. And you may find that there simply isn’t enough. If things are that tight, you may need to look into increasing your income.
I ended up going back to school once it became clear to me that I was never going to make it on my salary as an Assistant. So I went back to school, got my Paralegal certificate, and got promoted. I took out some student loans and was able to get reimbursed through my employer’s educational assistance program for some of it. Thankfully, my interest rate on my student loan is low, but I am currently throwing any and all “extra” money into paying that off. So far, I’m paid a year ahead.
If going back to school is not an option, consider freelancing. Please do NOT pay for any “work from home” opportunities. But there are things like ride-sharing services, babysitting, and e-commerce sites. I have a friend who has done very well with her Etsy shop!
In the end, there are really only two things to focus on when it comes to managing your money: decreasing expenses and increasing income. The more you do both of those things, the better off you’ll be.
Our family has gone from surviving to thriving, and I can trace it back almost to the day that I was absolutely done with the paycheck-to-paycheck struggle. I am now a month ahead financially, and having that breathing room definitely, helps when we get hit with a new financial problem.
I am out of credit card debt completely, and we even went to New York this spring to see Hamilton, all completely paid for in cash. (I do use credit cards again, but only for the rewards, and I have auto pay set up to pay the balance in full every month so that I don’t pay any interest.)
It’s true that money doesn’t buy happiness. It’s also true that money can’t buy the previous, married, 2-parent household, either.
It’s also our job to teach our children about personal finance. As with everything else, they will learn these lessons by our actions, and not our words. If you want your children to have a healthy relationship with money, it’s time to have your own healthy relationship with it, too.
You’ve totally got this!