Whether you’re new to single parenting or you’ve been at it for years, managing a household on your own can sometimes feel chaotic.
From daycare costs to athletic fees to new clothes for rapidly growing kids, covering everything can stretch you pretty thin. However, with a little organization and planning, you can get your family on track for a more secure financial future.
1. Set Financial Goals
Making a financial plan will help you make better decisions today.
One way to do that is by setting financial goals. These goals will motivate you to stick with new habits and give your confidence a boost as you track your progress. Eliminating debt is one of the most popular financial goals people set and it’s a good place to start.
In addition to paying off debt, you might consider setting savings goals. For instance, establishing an emergency fund can keep you from relying on credit cards if unexpected expenses come up or if you experience a job loss.
Even if you can only start small, you can amplify your savings by being consistent and choosing a savings account that suits your situation — such as saving to pay for college.
You might also want to teach your kids how to save, establish an IRA, or make space for charity. The most important thing to remember is that your goals should reflect your beliefs, your needs, and the life you want to live.
2. Make Time for Budgeting
Start by setting aside some time in your week to work on your budget. You might choose a time of day when you can focus, such as when your child is asleep or at school or engaged in an activity. You’ll want at least 30-60 minutes to start, but you can probably get away with 15 minutes a week once you’re set up.
If you have older kids, invite them to join you for budgeting sessions — the earlier they learn how to make budgeting a habit, the better equipped they will be to manage their finances as adults.
3. Determine Your Expenses
If you used a budget before you became a single parent, that’s a great place to start developing your new budget. Your approach will depend on your situation.
Transitioning from a two-income household to a single income? Go through your existing budget carefully. Highlight the expenses that now fall under your sole responsibility.
Have you gone from being single to being a single parent? Make note of new additions to your budget and look for old habits you can stop funding now that you’re busy with a family.
If you’ve been a single parent for some time now, but you’ve never created a budget, don’t panic — it isn’t too complicated. Start by compiling a list of your monthly expenses. It may help to group them by general categories like this:
- Home: Mortgage, rent, insurance, services (yard maintenance, pest control, house cleaning)
- Utilities: Electricity/gas, water, sewer, trash/recycling, phone, internet
- Childcare: Daycare/aftercare, music lessons, language lessons, sports
- Car: Gas, auto loan payment, insurance, routine maintenance
- Health: Monthly medications, weekly therapy sessions, gym memberships
- Food: Groceries, kids’ lunches, baby formula
Look over recent bank statements, credit card statements, and receipts from purchases you’ve made over the last few months. Record due dates and the amount due (you can record an average cost for expenses that change month to month).
Once you have a good list of your monthly expenses, make a habit of recording what you spend. Keep all of your expense receipts in a shoebox or store pictures of them in a folder on your computer. At the end of each month, review these receipts and refine your budget.
Make note of your income as well so you know how much you have to spend and how much you can save. Make sure to account for:
- Job income
- Side hustles
- Child support
- Government assistance
4. Keep Track of Your Spending
It might sound tedious, but recording your purchases is an important way to improve your financial health. You can use this information to re-assess your budget, look for ways to cut costs, and find opportunities to pay down debt or save more. Here are some ways to stay organized and keep track of your purchases:
- Mobile banking apps are great for quick reference.
- If you’re proficient in Excel or similar tools, you could use a spreadsheet (many of these applications come with budget templates).
- You can also use a good old-fashioned notebook.
Logging your budget in writing as you go will also help take the pressure off remembering everything when you sit down for weekly budgeting sessions.
5. Eliminate Joint Accounts
While it’s not exactly a budgeting measure, keeping your accounts organized can help you avoid setbacks. If you’re coming from a two-income household, you should remove your name from all joint accounts, close them, and establish separate accounts in your own name. This includes accounts for checking and savings, credit cards, and even utilities.
This way you won’t be responsible if your ex fails to make payments. Even with a divorce decree, you will remain responsible for any accounts with your name on them.
6. Pay Off Any Debt
Eliminating debt will free up money for your current expenses or give you something to save for a rainy day. You might pay off your credit cards or refinance your student loans. The key is to find a debt elimination strategy that works for you and to stick to it.
Stop Using Your Credit Cards
Each time you use your credit cards, you add more to the principle you’re trying to pay off. Instead, pay cash, use a debit card, or wait to make the purchase. If you absolutely must make the purchase, try to eliminate another expense to cover it. For instance, you might eat at home extra nights one week or find a way to cut your entertainment costs for a while in order to pay for car repairs.
Develop a Payoff Plan
There’s no single right way to eliminate debt. What works for your friend or coworker might not work for your financial situation. However, there are a few strategies for paying off credit cards that tend to be highly effective.
Cutting costs not only reduces your dependency on your credit cards, but it frees up money you can use to pay them down. There are many ways to do this, and some of them are even fun! For instance, you might:
- Cancel cable to use DVD rental and free streaming options through your library
- Trade outgrown clothes and old toys toward new-to-you things at second-hand stores
- Do clothing swaps with other parents in your neighborhood, church, or other social groups
- Skip eating out in favor of cooking at home together
The more you work with your budget, the more ways you’ll find to reduce your spending in different areas.
Being a parent isn’t easy, and being a single parent is even harder. By taking control of your finances, you can give your family greater security — and give yourself greater peace of mind.