There are few things as difficult and exhausting as being a single parent. Juggling work, after school activities, family time, helping with homework, dealing with crises, managing a functional household, having anything like a social life...it is a lot to deal with. But probably the most stressful issue of all is handling finances, from paying bills to budgeting.
As a single parent it is even more challenging than a two-parent family, as you are using a single income for the task. Chances are, your funds are limited and kids are expensive. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to manage things a little more smoothly. Try these eight tips to get you through.
1. Budget, Budget, Budget!
It is so easy to overspend. A single mistake made when you think you have more than you expected can throw you off entirely and leave you struggling for months to catch up. Then you have those large expenses that come every so often, like insurance or a broken down car, something on your house needing repair or taxes.
Creating a working budgets every month will really help to simplify the process and keep you on track. It will also help you to save, which will make things easier in the long run. Not to mention help when something unexpected happens.
2. Let The Kids In On The Plan.
One of the best decisions I made was to let my young kids know exactly how much money we had for recreational things each month. Because they are so little, I put it into terms they can understand. Every two weeks we have a special day out on Saturday or Sunday. We go out to eat, do something fun and get a small toy. This is a reward for good behavior and for doing chores through the week.
If we have more one month, I will give them some choices. For example, I will say “This trip we can go out to one of these places for lunch, and then we can go to the zoo or the aquarium. You can each have $7 to spend at the giftshop afterward.”
However, if funds are low that time around, I will tell them we can pack a lunch and go on a picnic to the park and they can get something at the dollar store, or we can have our picnic and go see a movie (which is at the dollar theater).
Not only does this give them some control, but it illustrates that things cost money, and we have to adapt to whatever situation we may find ourselves in. They also appreciate it when we can do something that costs more.
3. Save When You've Got It For When You Don't
A few years ago our car broke down. We had to get it towed and then fixed, and the whole thing came out for almost $600. For some that might not seem like a major disaster, but for us it was. We had no money, no savings, and I had just been laid off. My husband was working for chump change at his old job and we had no idea what to do. We ended up taking out a high interest loan that defaulted after a year of struggling under the additional fees. They ended up charging us $3,000 by the end, which was our final push into filing bankruptcy.
For many people, it is one emergency before we end up in debt. You can lessen that impact – and your personal stress level – by putting money away every month. Having a savings plan that you stick to will pay off fast.
4. Go With A Credit Union
There have been a lot of stories in the news in the last two years about bank fees. Because they are the major financial powerhouses in this country, the large institutions just don't have to follow by the same rules as the little guys. This point was driven home during the bailouts, when we as the taxpayers ended up funding major payouts to bank executives.
But they are even more notorious for attaching fees on everything. If you have a bank account you actually have to pay to use your own money. It is one of the great cosmic jokes that have pushed many to open up credit union accounts. This is always a better option, as the fees they have are less heavy, and in many cases there are none at all.
5. Get Child Support Payments Directly Deposited
If your ex is like mine, they want the perks of being a parent without the responsibility. After a certain amount of child support payments being missed, I went to court to revoke his visitation, which was reliant on him sticking to the plan we made out. The new plan, which he immediately agreed to, meant setting up a direct deposit system with his banking branch.
Now, the money goes to me to pay for out children before he can spend it on electronics, games and other vices a look into his financial information showed it was going to. Of course, your ex might not be like this but waiting for a check is still difficult, and stressful when you need to pay bills. So try to work out a direct deposit with the ex.
6. Make Extra Cash
I write for blogs, but this is not my main source of income. Instead, it is a way of building more income on top of what I make for through my full time job. If you have a skill or talent, it isn't hard to turn it into something more that pays. Even a few hundred more a month can make all the difference and lessen the load.
7. Use Automatic Bill Pay
One of the best things I ever did was switch to automatic bill pay. With so much to think about I would inevitably forget to pay something, This caused a ton of stress, especially when I would get a notice saying I was about to be shut off. So I started utilizing automatic bill pay, and especially utility bill pay that allows you to select your due date. Sometimes you can also switch your due dates with other companies like cable and phone, so everything is at the same time.
8. Save More When You Have More
While having a savings plan is a much, you can also use times when you have more to increase your nest egg. I like to do this at the beginning of the year when I get my tax return. My ex and I don't share the child tax credit because I have them full time, so every year I get back several thousand.
I use some of this for the basics, like things that have to be paid, repaired, new clothes for the kids and other items. But then I try to take between 25% - 40% and put it immediately into savings. This really helps me later on.
Manage Money As A Single Parent
It isn't that hard to figure out a way to lessen the load when you are living as a single parent. Just be smart, be patient and know where you stand. Things will get a lot easier from then on.
Annie is a frugal writer and creative blogger for Dobovo, the free app to find Kiev apartments and save on your trip to Europe.