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.
Here are steps you can take today that could make a huge difference in your bottom line:
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 tackel them, easily. Start free for 34 days with YNAB now >>
Get actions steps on budgeting in this post: How to set up a budget you will stick to
And find free printable budget worksheets here.
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).
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!
Stop telling yourself stories about — 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.
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. Look at the fees you’re paying.
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 get them off your plate.
7. Do all of your shopping 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.
8. Save money on bills
When you’re trying to save money on a low income, you can make a big impact if you’re willing to give a few things up. Here are strategies to try cut your expenses if you need to cancel or renegotiate some of your bills:
Here’s how bill negotiation services work:
- Create an account and upload bills via the provider’s website, app or email. Scan images of bills or take pictures with your phone.
- Skilled negotiators contact companies and use persuasive tactics to save you money, keeping you in the loop along the way.
- If the negotiator is successful, you realize savings in upcoming bill cycles. The bill negotiation service will charge you an upfront percentage of the savings. No savings? No fee.
What I love about this? I’m empowered to shorten my ‘to-do’ list.
It’s nice to know you can offload a few things and save money in the process.
TrueBill is the leader in the bill negotiation space. This service identifies any recurring subscriptions, and on your behalf will cancel or reduce recurring bills like iTunes, Hulu, SlingTV, cable, Internet, cell phone, BlueApron or even Planet Fitness (face it—you never go!). TrueBill is 100% free unless they negotiate down a bill, in which they take 40% of the savings.
Once you create an account, upload a recent bill for one of the more than two dozen service providers they work with. These include:
- Cell phone service
- Gym memberships
- Time Warner Cable
- Car insurance and other insurances
TrueBill then reviews your bill, and then on your behalf, contacts the company to negotiate a lower rate. To do this, their expert negotiators find hidden fees they ask be canceled, apply special discount codes, or simply secure a better plan.
TrueBill then charges you 40% of the savings.
TrueBill reports 85% success in lowering bills. The site has received positive reviews on CNN, MONEY magazine, TechCrunch and Los Angeles Times.
Like TrueBill, BillShark is a bill negotiation service that proudly declares ‘no bill is safe.’ The business started in 2014. Like similar bill negotiation services, BillShark haggles with your service providers to snag savings on your monthly bills.
BillShark helps consumers and businesses lower existing bills, finds and switches cost effective service providers and cancels unnecessary subscriptions. BillShark then negotiates lower rates with cable, satellite TV, wireless and security services such as:
- Time Warner Cable
Though a mobile app (Apple and Android compatible) or desktop, create an account and upload copies of your bills to BillShark.
Next is the hard part. Waiting.
Depending on how many bills you throw to the Sharks, it may take time. Keep an eye on progress through your account or use the handy chat feature linked to Facebook Messenger (if that’s your thing).
BillShark claims to have an 85% success rate with lowering bills and handles negotiations for home and business accounts. While you won’t know your actual savings until you go through the process, the average savings is $300 to $500 per bill over a 12-month period.
BillShark also provides a bill cancellation service, which combs your bank accounts for monthly or weekly fees like Beachbody, Spotify, New York Times Digital, Dollar Shave club and more than 100 others. You chose which services you want to cancel, and BillShark negotiates refunds for unused subscriptions. $19 per cancellation. The company claims a 98% success rate for this service.
BillShark charges a fee of 40% of the savings they secure on your behalf. If they are unsuccessful, there is no fee. Fee is payable at conclusion of negotiations process.
Services are risk free and backed by a guarantee. If a provider backs out on negotiated savings, you will have a refund of BillShark’s 40% fee in full.
It’s a multi-location business accredited by the BBB with an A+ rating. Besides being featured in the Miami Herald and on The Today Show, CBS News, and Fox 35, it’s backed by Mark Cuban, notable businessman, investor and resident investor on ABC’s Shark Tank.
“It’s my new favorite service, and money I’m glad to pay for an overall lower bill,” says Jennifer Jolly, mom and tech-life columnist for Tech Now for USA TODAY. Her review is just one of more than 1400 on the site with an overall rating of 4.9 out of 5 stars.
Fun fact: BillShark donates one hour of financial literacy instruction to one child for every bill negotiated.
According to the money-saving app Trim, it has helped its customers save more than $20 million since it launched in 2015.
Trim bills itself as a holistic financial management service. Like other bill negotiation services, Trim combs your accounts for recurring bills, will cancel unused subscriptions and negotiate on your behalf to lower your bills. Trim also has budgeting tools and an interest-bearing savings account.
Similar to TrueBill and BillShark, Trim promises to use automation that helps you save money. The site promises to quickly save you money on your phone and Internet bills. On average customers save up to 30% on bills, according to Trim.
Here’s how it works:
- Sign up for Trim on your mobile device or desktop.
- Use your Facebook account or email to activate your account.
- Link your primary bank account or credit card so Trim can scan your spending habits and identify ways to ‘trim’ the fat.
Trim also has a personal finance dashboard, receive spend alerts and reminders, detect overdraft fees and identify, and will cancel old subscriptions.
Remember that any savings or debt repayment you can automate will help you tremendously! When you let someone else do the work, you’re much less likely to forget.
Trim bills you up front for 33% of the savings negotiated. If Trim saves you $120 over a 12-month period, you’ll pay Trim $40. Since Trim constantly monitors your accounts. If additional savings can be found, Trim will attempt a new negotiation.
Trim uses 256-bit SSL encryption for its website and server side databases. If you opt for SMS communication, Trim requires a two-factor authentication protocol. If using Facebook Messenger, Trim relies on Facebook’s OAuth protocol for secure sign-on.
Trim servers are hosted by Amazon Web Services, and online data storage and hosting service also in use by the Department of Defense, NASA and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). They also claim never to sell your data or use it without your permission.
Trim has relationships with more than 15,000 financial institutions nationwide and received favorable press from many sources including The New York Times, NBC News, ABC News, VentureBeat and Fortune.
Here’s our comparison of TrueBill, BillShark and Trim:
|Savings||Upfront customer fee||Legit?|
|BillBargain||Up to 30% over 12 to 24 months.||40% of savings||Many positive customer reviews and testimonials on their site.|
|TrueBill||Up to 30% over 12 months||40% of savings||4.9 stars on TrustPilot, saved Wealthysinglemommy founder $500+|
|Trim||Up to 30% over 12 months||33% of savings||“Trim, found nine line items that represented a monthly amount well into the three digits.” — NYT|
|BillShark||$300 to $500 over 12 months||40% of savings||BBB A+ rating. Backed by Mark Cuban.|
Overall, these bill negotiation services all have legitimate methods to help you save money. I think it boils down to your comfort level.
If you don’t want to talk to anyone and like the thought of automating your savings, try TrueBill. You’d also have to be comfortable with linking your bank account or credit card so that TrueBill AI can monitor your payments.
7. 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.
Limit restaurant meals.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that in 2015, high-income households spent more than half of their food budget dining out. The obvious way to save money on food is to limit dining out as much as you can.
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.
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.
8. Cut the cord
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.
Find cheap or free things to do outside.
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, 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.
9. Buy used.
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.com, 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.
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. A great pair of classic pumps, boots, a wonderful winter coat or suit will pay for itself. I have a great black and white houndstooth wool jacket that I have worn for 10 years and get compliments on every time I step out, and a royal blue Marc Jacobs shoulder bag that I have used daily for four years and still looks brand-new.
Buy timeless pieces and avoid trends.
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.
10. Save on travel.
Get a solid travel credit card and rack up airline miles or flexible travel points.
You can save on travel with the right travel rewards credit card, although the ideal card for you will depend on where you live and your travel style. If you fly often, look into getting a co-branded credit card through your favorite airline. If you mostly need hotel stays because you’re within driving distance of your favorite vacation spot, then get a hotel credit card or a card that doles out flexible travel credit.
And if all else fails or you just can’t decide, get a standard cash-back credit card and rack up cash-back for everything you buy.
Go off-peak when you can.
Traveling with kids can be expensive because you have to plan around school schedules or “peak” travel times. With that being said, however, it may be possible to go off-peak if you’re flexible.
If you have two weeks for spring break, for example, you can often save by traveling Tuesday – Tuesday and skipping the weekends at the airport. You could also opt to take the kids out of school a few days to get the best prices close to your school breaks, although this option tends to work best for single parents with younger kids.
Cruise or pick an all-inclusive resort.
All-inclusive resorts and cruises are ideal for single parents for one simple reason – they have supervised kid’s and teen’s clubs! Traveling alone with kids can be exhausting, which is why these clubs are a life-saver if you just need a break or want some quiet time.
The good news is, both cruises and all-inclusive resorts can be affordable if you shop around and don’t choose the highest-end option. MSC Cruises, for example, frequently offers seven-night Caribbean cruises starting at $449 per adult, and they let kids under 11 cruise free on select itineraries. As with all cruises, your meals, lodging, and entertainment are all included in one low price.
Book condos or Airbnbs.
Hotels are often the death knell for family travel budgets – and often travel comfort. Who wants to sleep four-deep in a hotel room anyway?
To save money and have more space, consider renting a condo or Airbnb. Having separate bedrooms for the kids can make travel a lot more relaxing, and you can save some cash by preparing at least some of your meals in your room.
Do a home swap.
I am a big fan of HomeExchange.com, a marketplace for people open to swapping homes. There are tens of thousands of members, who pay $199 per year to be a member. My kids and I have used this amazing service to visit Copenhagen, Denmark, Sarasota, Fla., a resort town in upper Michigan and a Venice Beach, Los Angeles bungalow — all for free.
Let the deals pave the way.
One final way to save money on travel is to never get your heart set on a specific trip. If you decide you’re absolutely going to take the kids to Disney World for spring break this year, you might miss out on a deal to another destination they would like just as much. I recently booked a trip to Vietnam when an email alert informed me that my two kids and I could travel to that country for a total of $1,200. I used points from my travel credit card to get it even lower.
As you plan your travels for the year, try finding the best deals you’re interested in then figuring out which one you want to pursue. For some of the best deals on travel, check out Groupon Getaways, Expedia, and CheapCaribbean.com.
11. Automate your savings and investing
Once you slash your spending and find some “extra” money to save, it’s important to make sure you’re actually moving that cash to a savings or retirement investment account each month. If you don’t, it’s far too easy to wind up spending it accidentally.
The key is to pay yourself first, and understand the basics of investing to build wealth.
We recommend a few strategies. First, you can set up automatic transfers to a savings account each month on a specific date or on payday. Second, you could sign up for Digit, which is an app that analyzes your spending and saves the perfect amount of money each day on your behalf.
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 study from CareerBuilder noted that 78 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 study even noted that 1 in 10 workers who earns $100,000 or more are living close to the cliff.
The best way to be more financially comfortable is to focus on earning more.
Thanks to technology (like your phone!), and companies growing 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.
While no-brainer apps can help you save money quickly, you can only save so much. The best way to be more financially comfortable is to focus on earning more.