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To Her Credit

How to manage finances as a single mother

Having an action plan to follow can help if you're a single mom struggling financially.

To Her Credit offers targeted advice about personal finance based on unique challenges faced by women. It is authored by women with different financial backgrounds, dedicated to encouraging empowerment through financial literacy.

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Raising kids as a single mother – whether you’re divorced, separated or making a conscious choice to tackle parenthood solo – means accepting the challenges that go along with it. That includes figuring out managing finances as a single mother while juggling the other demands of parenting.

“It’s not just earning the money, but it’s balancing your life on a daily basis so you can be present and a good parent while also working so you can provide for your kids,” says Judith Lu, CEO and founder of Blue Zone Wealth Advisors.

Lu, a single parent herself, understands firsthand some of the unique struggles single moms often make when it comes to money.

Statistically, women with children are less likely to be employed full-time. And when they are, the gender pay gap means they 82 cents on the dollar versus men, on average (and it varies widely by race and ethnicity).

Sixty percent of children who live in poverty live in households headed by unmarried women. And nearly 30% of single-mother families experience food insecurity.

The numbers aren’t pretty. But they don’t mean you have to spend the rest of your life as a broke single mom either.

If you’re a single mom struggling financially, these tips can help you get your money situation on the right track.

Start with a single mom budget

Budgeting as a single mom can be different from budgeting as a married mom or a single woman.

For one thing, you may be working with less income. For another, the income you have may need to go further as you add new expenses into your budget, such as child care.

The first step in making a single mom budget is knowing how much money is coming in each month. That includes money earned from:

  • A full-time job
  • Part-time job(s)
  • Side hustles or freelancing
  • Government benefit payments
  • Child support/alimony

If you’re receiving child support and/or alimony, think carefully about how you include them in your budget.

Amy Maliga, a financial educator at Take Charge America, says one challenge single moms often face is the possibility of those payments being inconsistent.

“If they’ve budgeted to include support payments and those payments only arrive sporadically or not at all, they can find themselves unable to meet their financial commitments,” says Maliga.

If you can make your budget work without those payments, then you may want to leave them out of your spending plan altogether.

Review your expenses – and cut what you can

The next step in budgeting as a single mom involves taking a critical look at your expenses when deciding what you can cut out. This is one of the financial tips for single mothers you can’t afford to skip, as it could make the difference between coming in under budget or going in the red each month.

Maliga says this means separating fixed, variable and periodic expenses so you know where your money needs to go.

Fixed expenses are the same month to month. So this category might include rent or mortgage payments.

Variable expenses can fluctuate and include things like groceries or utilities. Periodic expenses are ones you might pay just a few times a year, such as vehicle registration or biannual insurance premiums.

Using a free budgeting app can make it easier to categorize expenses and keep track of spending. This is how Liz Newman, a writer, doctoral candidate and single mother of four teens, manages single mother finances.

“I use an app called Goodbudget to record every penny I spend,” says Newman. The app takes the cash envelope system and makes it digital, so Newman is able to keep tabs on how much money she has available to spend from her mobile device.

Once you’re in the habit of budgeting as a single mom, it’s important to be consistent.

According to Lu, that means sitting down with your budget regularly to see if there’s anything you need to change. You also need to be committed to living your budget, not just making it.

“It means sticking to the budget, which can be tough,” says Lu. “But the budget is there to give you guard rails so you don’t suddenly find yourself veering off the road.”

Find ways to make child care more affordable

Lowering expenses can help you to save money and ease some of the stress associated with managing a single mother’s finances.

That’s especially important if child care takes up a large chunk of a single mom’s budget.

“The biggest financial challenge single mothers face is child care,” says Christine Michel Carter, a single mom and best-selling author of “Can Mommy Go to Work?”

Nationally, the average cost of infant care eats up 40% of a single mother’s state median income. And child care costs don’t go away once your infant reaches the toddler, preschool or elementary school stage.

You may still be paying for a sitter or daycare in the morning hours before your kids go to school or after school until you get home from work. So how do you bring those costs down when you’re a single mom struggling financially?

Child care subsidies are one possibility. If you qualify, subsidies may help to pay for some or all of your child care expenses.

You can also make child care less expensive by claiming the child and dependent care tax credit when you file your return every year. This tax benefit can help you to recoup some of what you pay for child care.

Asking friends or family to step in and help with child care is another option. Or you may know another mom who’s willing to do a babysitting swap.

Finally, you can enroll in a flexible spending account if you have the option through your employer. The money saved in an FSA can be used to help pay for child care costs.

Pay down debt and improve your credit

Getting out of debt can be critical to your success when figuring out how to make it as a single mom.

“Managing and paying off debt is the best way to ensure financial well-being,” says Lu. When you don’t have debt hanging over your head, you may feel less financially burdened. And you’ll have more money to apply to your financial goals.

If you’re ready to get out of debt as a single mom, start by adding up what you owe. From there, you can come up with solutions for paying it down.

For example, transferring high-interest credit card debt to a 0% balance transfer offer card can help you save on interest. You may also consider a low-interest debt consolidation loan.

Maliga says nonprofit credit counseling may be worth pursuing for single moms struggling financially. A nonprofit credit counselor can review your finances and help you create a workable plan to pay down debt.

Once you’ve got a handle on debt repayment, consider how you can improve your credit scores.

How to improve your credit:

  • Pay bills on time each month
  • Keep your credit card balances low
  • Limit how often you apply for new credit
  • Keep older credit accounts open

Here’s one of the most important financial tips for single mothers: If you have joint credit accounts with a former spouse or partner, consider how that could impact your score.

For example, sharing a credit card with an ex could hurt your score if they run up a large balance and don’t pay. If you have joint credit cards, it may be a good idea to close those accounts to prevent credit score damage.

In the case of joint loans, including a mortgage, car loan or student loan, your co-borrower has to refinance them to have you removed. If you’re in the process of getting divorced, it’s important to have the detailsof who owes what and who will pay what worked out in your decree. Otherwise, you could end up on the hook for your former spouse’s debts.

Don’t forget about saving

If you’re living on a tight budget, saving money might seem impossible. But it’s important to leave room for saving when planning your single mother finances.

“Without another person to rely on financially, it’s even more important to build a healthy savings account,” says Andrea Woroch, a consumer finance expert.

Go back to your budget and look at how much you can save each month. Then commit to saving that amount, even if it’s just pennies.

Having three to six months’ worth of living expenses saved for emergencies is a good goal to have. But it’s more important to focus on consistency if you’re just getting started with saving as a single mom.

“Set up a separate high yield online savings account and set up automatic transfers from your paycheck or checking account,” says Woroch. This way, your savings can grow with minimal effort.

Look for ways to increase income

One of the most significant ways to improve your situation as a single mom struggling financially is to make more money.

When you have more income coming in, it becomes easier to manage child care and other expenses. And you may be better equipped to make a dent in your debt and grow your savings.

Sabrina Victoria, business owner, coach and single mom, got creative with finding ways to make money to help cover her monthly expenses. In addition to working a full-time job, Victoria says she made extra cash by selling her son’s clothes on eBay as he outgrew them, reselling items she picked up at thrift stores and renting out rooms in her home on Airbnb.

“For years, my entire rent and utilities were paid in full using these tactics, and the money I made from my job was gravy,” says Victoria.

She was eventually able to save enough money to buy a car in cash and get six months ahead on rent payments.

Stephani Roberts, a single mom and host of The Audacious Mamas Show and The Audacious Life podcasts, says single mothers who are struggling can also look to their laptops or mobile devices for ways to make money.

“Earning online is a wise protection in this time of COVID and avoids the high cost of child care,” says Roberts.

Some of the money-making options that could help you figure out how to survive financially as a single mom include:

  • Remote and work from home jobs
  • Starting a side business as a virtual assistant
  • Online proofreading
  • Teaching or tutoring kids online
  • Offering freelance services, such as content writing or graphic design
  • Social media marketing
  • Making and selling crafts on a platform like Etsy
  • Creating and selling digital products, like planners or journals
  • Setting up a print on demand shop to sell your original designs
  • Taking surveys
  • Joining online focus groups
  • Starting and monetizing a blog
  • Online jury duty

These are all things single moms can do online to make money.

See related: Can you make money through a multilevel marketing company?

Some can put a few hundred extra dollars in your pocket each month. But others could become lucrative work from home businesses or side hustles, depending on how much time you put into growing them.

Take care of your mental health as well as your financial health

Learning how to make it as a single mom involves more than just taking care of your finances. It’s also important to prioritize your mental, emotional and physical health.

One way you can lessen the burden a little is to have your kids pitch in.

“If single moms want to get ahead financially, they must teach their children how to think independently and handle household responsibilities,” says Carter. “So many moms think their children aren’t ready to support the household when in reality even a three-year-old can clean up their room.”

Assigning chores to kids can lighten your load mentally and physically while freeing up valuable time. And it teaches kids self-reliance in the bargain.

Single moms shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help, says Lu.

“We get into this superwoman mindset that we have to know everything and do it perfectly,” she says. “There are so many resources, whether it’s inside of your own circle or using financial resources only or through community outreach programs that can help.”

For example, if you need help with meeting basic needs, like food or housing, there are government programs that can help. They include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

You may also be able to get the help you need through local nonprofits, church groups or your friends and family.

Bottom line

“You don’t need to be worried that you’ve got to figure it out all by yourself,” says Lu.

Editorial Disclaimer

The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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