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How to save money as a single mom

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When it comes to the best money-saving tips for single parents, my advice is simple:

  • Shop less
  • Focus on maximizing time vs. money
  • Focus on quality over quantity — this is true for products you buy, as well as life experiences. I prefer three weeks in Vietnam with my kids over three days at Disney. The former is less expensive, more adventure, more memories and life lessons.

How can I achieve financial freedom as a single mom?

The mom happily plays with her son. Stop worrying and achieve financial freedom by following this guide.

Here are actionable tips you can take today that can help you save money and achieve financial freedom:

  1. Create a monthly budget
  2. Stop spending money
  3. Stop around your insurance rates
  4. Pay off high-interest debt
  5. Refinance your debt
  6. Eliminate bank fees
  7. Automate your finances
  8. Shop online
  9. Save money on food
  10. Cut non-essentials
  11. Find free or cheap things to do
  12. Shop intentionally

1. Create a monthly budget

Are you thinking: Budget my money? What money!? When you’re barely getting by, the thought of creating a budget might seem ridiculous.

However, creating a budget is important no matter how much you earn. A budget is nothing more than a “spending plan” you can use to dictate where your money goes each month. In that sense, a budget helps you be proactive about your finances versus just letting the chips fall where they may.

Once you track your spending from the last few months, create a budget that sets limits for your spending for the upcoming month. Include all your fixed bills like rent or mortgage payments, utility bills, and insurance, and create spending caps for categories where you have some wiggle room. Ideally, you’ll be able to set aside some money in your budget for savings right away — even if it’s a small amount.

You Need a Budget, or YNAB, is our recommended tool to help you collect all your accounts and debt in one spreadsheet, set goals and tackle them, easily. Start free for 34 days with YNAB now >>

Track your expenses and make a budget with these free printable budget worksheets.

2. Stop spending money — here's how

Here is a page from my book, 30-Day Kickass Single Mom Money Makeover:

Day 6: Buy Nothing Month

Today is all about not buying shit. Our culture is hyper-focused on shopping for, consuming, and owning stuff. If you’re not happy with your money situation, you’re likely out of alignment with your values. If you always wish you had more or other things–a new wardrobe, a different/better/bigger house, a nicer car, better furniture—your thoughts and energy are engaged in a poverty mentality. You are focused on things, when deep down you know it’s people and experiences that bring you joy and love. You become focused on what you do not have. You put little energy in being grateful and full with what you do have. Which, if you’re reading this on a smartphone or laptop, then you already have a lot.

A personal shopping ban requires not just curbing the buying, but putting a stop to the shopping. No more browsing your favorite stores “just to look.” No longer skimming online retailers “just to see what they have.” No more careering from Target’s grocery section to the home goods section “in case there are good deals.” The point is to recondition yourself from seeing shopping as an innocuous hobby, and instead focus on how much you do have and appreciate that it’s more than enough.

Today, I invite you to join me on my no-shopping month. I am right there with you. I know we are a few days into our challenge, but let’s support each other for the rest of this month to buy nothing. No new clothes. No toys or crap for your kids. Make a goal to eat through everything in your pantry, cupboards, fridge, freezer—including the granola bars in the glove compartment, but not necessarily all the booze in the liquor cabinet (I leave that to your discretion).

Here's another tip from a Redditor:

3. Shop around for better insurance rates

If you’ve been with the same insurance company for several years, it may be time to get a new quote for all your insurance products.

  • Call your car insurance carrier and update the value of your vehicle, and ask for any savings for safe drivers, your new age and other discounts.
  • Call your current car / renters / homeowners insurance company and ask if you can bundle it with another policy.

4. Pay off high-interest debt

If you have credit card debt or personal loans, it may be ruining your chances of saving money. The average credit card interest rate is 18%, according to CreditCards.com, and you may be paying more than that!

You can pay off debt. The first step is getting real with yourself, and you can read the other steps to paying off debt (even on a low income).

The more high-interest debt you pay off, the more money you’ll have to spend and save each month. By lowering your monthly interest rates, you can pay down debt faster. A good way to do this is to refinance your debt.

How to prepare for a recession and survive

5. Refinance your debt

You may be able to sign up for a balance transfer card that gives you 0% APR for up to 21 months. Keep in mind, however, that some cards that offer 0% APR for a limited amount of time also charge a balance transfer fee of 3% to 5%.

If your credit is low, and you don’t qualify for a personal loan or credit card, work to fix your credit. Read: How to repair a low credit score — fast!

6. Eliminate bank fees

Eliminating fees is another way to save money every month. Fees you could be paying include banking fees, ATM fees, debit card fees, credit card fees, and more. Look at your bank and credit card statements to see what fees you’re paying and if there’s a feasible way to cut them.

7. Automate your finances

This can include:

  • Auto-deposit your pay check and other income
  • Aut0pay bills
  • Stagger your bills so that there is enough money in your accounts to cover the bills. For example: Don't autopay all your bills for the first of the month if you get paid every two weeks.
  • Automatically send a portion of your paycheck to your savings account — either through your employer or from your checking account.

The key is to pay yourself first, and understand the basics of investing to build wealth

Personal check cashing “near me:” 19 places to go

8. Shop online

To save money, you need to step away from the mall. Shopping for fun or “retail therapy” won’t save money. Think about it.

If you absolutely need something, shop online. Not only can you usually score the best price and free shipping through websites like Amazon.com, but you avoid window shopping and buying stuff you don’t need. Of course, the key is to buy only what you need when you shop online and nothing else.

9. Save money on food

Get your groceries delivered

Getting your groceries delivered via a company like Peapod or Instacart may sound like the ultimate indulgence, but it can also save you money. Sure, you’ll pay slightly higher prices, plus a delivery fee, but you won’t wind up throwing lots of “extras” into your cart.

The best way to benefit from grocery delivery is to do it strategically with a planned menu in mind. When you only buy what you need and get it delivered, you get to skip time and energy schlepping the kids to the store and avoid wasting cash on snacks and other food you don’t really need.

Plan meals ahead of time

Whether you get your groceries delivered or not, you can save money by planning meals ahead of time. Doing so ensures you buy the ingredients you need for big, healthy meals (plus leftovers) while avoiding buying extra ingredients that will just expire in your pantry.

Let’s say you plan to make chicken enchiladas on Monday, vegetable soup on Wednesday, and tacos on Friday night, then eat leftovers or inexpensive take-out the other nights of the week. Of course, you know you also need ingredients for breakfast (cereal, eggs, bagels) and ingredients for lunch (sandwiches, fruit, snacks). In that case, write out the ingredients for each of those meals ahead of time and use it as your core grocery shopping list.

Cook in batches

Cooking in batches is a great way to save some cash provided you don’t mind some meals doing double-duty. By making more food than you need on the nights you actually cook, you can use them as leftovers in the next day’s lunch or dinner. If you cook a lot more than you need, you could also freeze individual portions for future meals.

Clean out your pantry once per month

Last but not least, one of the easiest ways to save money on food is to eliminate food waste.

Each month, clean out your pantry, fridge and freezer. Identify which items are soon to expire, and focus on those first. Get creative, and see what you can throw together to make a healthy, tasty meal. You might surprise yourself and your family — in a good way! Make it a fun game to see how little food you can throw out each week.

10. Cut non-essentials

Cable

If you’re paying out the nose for cable television and don’t watch it enough to justify the cost, it’s time to dial down your package or drop cable altogether. With a Roku Box and Netflix or Hulu, you can get streaming television for less than $20 per month. Check your Amazon subscription and phone plan to see what free streaming services are included.

Limit restaurant meals

Instead of dining out 3-4 times per week, set a goal of once or twice. Tell your kids (over and over) that eating out is a special treat — not something you do on a whim in the middle of the week.

11. Find cheap or free things to do

Finding cheap or free things to do can be a huge money-saver. Look for free museum days, free entry to water parks, and free events put on by your city or local businesses.

Hiking, picnics, hikes, family bike rides and beach days are all free, create great memories and are healthy ways to appreciate the outdoors and each other’s company.

12. Be intentional with what you buy

Whatever your kids need for fun, buy it used. If they’re into video games, buy their game consoles and games second-hand from stores like GameStop or local sellers through Facebook groups, Craigslist, or sites like Craigslist. If your kids are into sports, buy used gear online or through their peers.

“Buy used” is the most generic advice out there when it comes to saving on clothes, but it’s also the best and most feasible tip to follow. Clothes depreciate in value at rapid speed, and that means you can save a lot (often more than 60 – 70 percent off) by buying used clothes for yourself and your kids.

You don’t have to go to garage sales though. You can buy used clothing online through websites like ThredUp.com, Poshmark, through neighborhood Facebook groups, or from people you know.

Hit up consignment stores

Consignment stores offer some of the best and highest quality used clothing you can find, but the prices are usually pretty low. Check local consignment shops for business attire, work out clothes, or fancy dresses you won’t wear often. Meanwhile, teen-focused consignment stores can help you afford the best brands for your kids – at a discount.

Sell what you don’t wear

While buying from consignment stores is a smart idea, so it selling clothes you and your kids no longer wear. When you sell your clothing or take a payout to consign them, you can turn around and spend that cash on new clothes you’ll actually put to use.

Choose quality

While it’s tempting to buy cheap clothes from China online or shop only at discount clothing stores, cheaply-made clothing doesn’t tend to last long. This is a lot more important for you than your kids, as they grow out of clothes in about a minute (as you know). You’ll be better off if you buy high quality pieces that will stand the test of time, specifically if you buy them second-hand.

Since fashion is often fleeting, you’ll save a bundle if you avoid most of the trends and purchase timeless pieces instead. Remember when Juicy Couture tracksuits were in style? Or when head-to-toe denim was actually a thing? Yeah, me neither.

Bottom line: How can a single parent save?

You may find your situation immensely frustrating, but it’s important to know you’re not alone. A recent survey from CNBC2 noted that 58 percent of American workers are living paycheck-to-paycheck — meaning most of us are struggling to keep up with bills or save money each month. The survey also found roughly 70% said they feel stressed about their finances, mostly due to inflation, economic uncertainty and rising interest rates.

The best way to be more financially comfortable is to focus on earning more.

Thanks to technology (like your phone!), and growing company demand for smart, hard workers, flexible, at-home jobs are readily available in every industry — including traditional fields like nursing, teaching, engineering, project management, bookkeeping, proofreading and more. 

For more, check out our list of career-level jobs that are great for moms.


SOURCES

  1. “Food Prices and Spending, 2021” https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/ag-and-food-statistics-charting-the-essentials/food-prices-and-spending/?topicId=2b168260-a717-4708-a264-cb354e815c67
  2. “With inflation stubbornly high, 58% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck: CNBC survey,” April 11, 2023 https://www.cnbc.com/2023/04/11/58percent-of-americans-are-living-paycheck-to-paycheck-cnbc-survey-reveals.html

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