5 Financial Tips For Single Parents

When I divorced nearly 10 years ago, the first thing I freaked out about was money. I had been a stay-at-home mom to our 6 kids for 16 years. I had no job, no degree, and no skills (unless you count diapered a squirming baby with one hand, making a nutritious lunch for the toddler to throw on the floor, and explaining to the preteen that they will not, in fact, die if I don’t buy them $100 sneakers. I mean, those skills are pretty impressive, but I didn’t think they’d help land me a job.)

I read all sorts of advice for single parents, but I found most of it geared toward parents in a slightly different situation. Things like – make sure you have adequate life insurance, make sure you have savings to cover at least 3 months of expenses, and create an estate plan to protect your children. Although it was all good advice, it completely went over my head because how do you establish a savings account with 0 income? So here are a few tips for those single moms who are drowning, or maybe just barely staying afloat.

1. ASK FOR HELP
This is a lesson I still haven’t fully mastered. I think a lot of us feel that asking for help is a sign of weakness. If we were better parents, we wouldn’t need help, right? But when you’re trying to figure out how to pay for child care so you can work at a minimum wage job, ask. For. Help. Establish and enlist help from your support system. Maybe your friend can watch your little ones during the day while you watch hers in the evening so you can both work without having to sign over 70% of your paycheck to daycare.

Help includes searching out government-subsidized apartments, food stamps, and other programs designed to help people in your very situation while you strive toward finding a good job. It’s hard to ask for help, you say? I understand. It is hard. But a friend once told me, “You know how you feel when you help someone? It feels great, doesn’t it? By not letting me help you, you’re robbing me of that. You’re stealing my chance to be a blessing to you, and to feel good about helping someone in need.” Think about that the next time you’re hesitant to ask for/accept help.

2. KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WANTS AND NEEDS
I said above that one of my skills was explaining to the preteen that they will not, in fact, die if I don’t buy them $100 sneakers. That’s actually sound advice. Set a firm budget and stick to it. Shop at resale stores and garage sales. I joke that if I ever become a millionaire, I’ll still shop at Goodwill because I love finding new-with-tags, name brand clothes for a couple dollars. Score! When you sincerely ask yourself before spending money whether you truly need an item, or merely want it, you’ll find that you probably do a lot of unnecessary spending.

And teach these skills to your kids. My youngest son understands that we do not have money to spare on luxury items and he’s aware that even though most of his friends wouldn’t consider a trip to McDonald’s a luxury, we do. And not only is he aware of how much things cost, and the difference between wants and needs, but it serves as motivation for him to do well in school, earn scholarships, attend college, and get a well-paying job.

3. STOP COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHERS
I think one of the most damaging things a single mom can do is compare herself to others. Money is tight, but you’ve established a budget and you stick to it, always asking yourself – do I truly need this or do I just want it. You celebrate the little things and get excited when you score a brand-new shirt with tags at Goodwill for $1.29! You have fun Friday night playing board games with your kids and taking a trip to McDonalds to splurge on ice cream cones. And then you scroll through Facebook. You see pictures of friends on vacations, out to dinner, buying new furniture, new cars, new houses. Suddenly those ice cream cones you treated your kids to become less special in comparison to the lobster dinner your friend is having in Barbados at this very minute. Comparison breeds discontent and can easily sabotage that long-standing budget as you try to squelch the feeling of inferiority by attempting to keep up with the Joneses.

Cultivate an attitude of thankfulness for the blessings you have. Step back from social media if you find it difficult to be happy for your friends without envy creeping in. Remember, as a single mom you may be on a tighter budget than your friends, but that doesn’t diminish your worth in any way.

4. DON’T BE ENTICED BY CREDIT CARDS
Of course, emergencies come up and you may need to use a credit card for car repairs, or bills if you miss work due to illness, for example. I recently got a credit card to pay for a root canal I couldn’t afford. The card I got, which is designed for medical emergencies, let me save my tooth, thus saving me from an extraction and costly implant later, and it lets me repay the loan amount without interest. But don’t use credit cards to buy things you don’t really need and cannot afford to pay off at the end of the month.

Too late, you say? If you already have outstanding credit card debt, look into consolidating and paying down your debt by getting a low interest personal loan through a credit union, or if that’s not an option, using a reputable non-profit debt consolidation service. If you go that route, do your research, check the company’s rating with the Better Business Bureau and make sure you understand what services they’ll provide and the total fees involved for those services.

5. RETHINK YOUR JOB
When I first got divorced, I had been out of the work force for 16 years. I never went to college so I had few options available to me. I was quickly offered a job with a steady paycheck and medical insurance, which was important to me since my ex wasn’t working or providing support or insurance at that time, so I jumped on it. In retrospect, I wish I had kept freelancing back then instead of abandoning my love of writing in favor of a steady paycheck, but the fear of not being able to support my children overwhelmed me.

My advice now is to take a minute and meet with a career counselor, get on LinkedIn, go to job fairs, research possible jobs and determine if you’ll make enough to support your family. If not, look into going to school. As a single mom, you’ll likely be eligible for programs that will let you get a degree or certification for little money. Yeah, it’ll be tough taking care of your kids, working, and taking classes at the same time. It will be. But the payoff in the end will be worth the struggle up front. And hey, we single moms are superheroes! If anyone can juggle all that, it’s us!

For more expert advice from single parents, check out this round-up HERE!

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