Successfully navigating the various unique, intertwining facets of one’s personal finances is often no small feat regardless of income or circumstance, but it can be particularly challenging for those raising children on their own.
And if you’re a single parent already striving to balance packed schedules and stretched resources, it can be tempting to simply tread water.
The truth is, however, there are practical, easy-to-implement money hacks and tips that have the potential to not only save you money and time today, but also to help you begin to build the foundation for a more stable, prosperous future.
The first step in managing your finances effectively, especially if you’re going it alone, is almost always to develop a budget.
Though no two budgets will look exactly the same, a general rule of thumb is to allocate 50 percent of the income you can count on each month to needs—i.e. housing, utilities, insurance, transportation, food, childcare, and other essential expenses. The next 30 percent is typically earmarked for “wants” such as travel, gifts, clothing, and eating out. Reserve that final 20 percent of the pie for “savings,” which may include contributions to a standard savings account, emergency fund, 401(k), IRA, 529 education savings account, or any other savings vehicle that suits both your short- and long-term goals.
If your current spending level consumes more than 80 percent of your monthly income, some readjustments are in order: You may, for example, decide to begin downloading mobile coupons to save money on groceries and household essentials. Or dine out less often. Or use public transportation more often. Or sign up for a cheaper cell phone plan.
The important thing, especially at the outset, is simply to dig deep into your spending habits—don’t forget quarterly or bi-monthly expenses such as insurance payments or haircuts—and commit to change. Once you’ve done that, you will likely be surprised by the sheer number of opportunities to save that quickly manifest in your everyday life.
Want to take your efforts to the next level? An online banking app can help you track your spending and stay on budget.
Create a Plan for On-Time Bill Payments
Most single parents are busy juggling work, kids’ activities, and their own personal lives, and it’s easy to lose track of due dates or overlook a payment.
By having a plan in place to keep you on track, you can avoid missing bill payments—along with the late fees and dings to your credit score that come with them.
First, if you can’t pay all your bills at once, stagger bill payments throughout the month based on your payday. While your rent or mortgage payment may be due at the same time every month, your cell phone provider or utility company may be willing to adjust your monthly due date. When all your due dates are set on dates that work well for you, set up automated bill payment to keep everything paid on time without you having to remember.
Make a Plan to Pay Down Debt
When you’re carrying consumer debt, you’re not just spending a portion of each month’s income to make payments; you’re also limiting your ability to save for the future or unexpected expenses. Paying off your debt will allow you more breathing room in your budget each month and open up new worlds of possibilities.
Most people don’t eliminate debt without a plan, however. For many, the most effective course of action is to focus on paying the highest balance or highest-interest debt first—that is, by paying the minimum amount on any other debts and applying all extra money to the one debt you’re focusing on. Then move to the next one, and the next one, until you are finally debt free.
Don’t Go It Alone
Single parents raising children on their own may feel isolated at times, but they’re really not alone. Almost one-quarter of American households consist of children living with a single mother, making that the second most common family arrangement, according to U.S. Census figures. Between 1960 and 2016, the percentage of children living in families with two parents decreased from 88 percent to 69 percent.
Which is to say, your situation is not an exotic one—and an infrastructure has been constructed to off your support if you need it through government programs such as the Emergency Food Assistance Program, Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, childcare grants and others.
At the end of the day, raising a child in a financially viable way and being a single parent don't have to be mutually exclusive. Embrace these best practices and you'll be well on your way to a solid financial footing for your family.