7 ways single moms can get their financial act together in 2019

single mom money

This post is a sponsored partnership with Ladder, the simple and smart way to apply for competitively priced term life insurance.

Whew, it’s 2019, baby! If you’re like me, you set some resolutions — goals and milestones to hit in this new calendar year. This might include fitness, relationships (start dating again, maybe?), self care like travel, or read more books, get the kids on a chore schedule, or start that side gig already.

If you are like 84% of Americans, you had financial goals for 2018, according to a NerdWallet survey of 2,000 U.S. adults. Unfortunately, that same survey found that one in five people abandoned their money goals within two weeks, and more than half failed to reach some or all of their resolutions.

There is a reason I blog primarily about money on this site and in my book (though I do love writing about dating!!). Money touches every vertical of your life:

If you are not in control of your finances, this affects your family life, because you are stressed, perhaps overworked and distracted worrying about bills. You are more likely to argue with your kids’ dad, which affects your co-parenting.

Money affects the men you seek out and attract — I have heard countless stories of very smart women moving in with all the wrong guys because they were tired of being stressed about rent.

Money affects your physical well being (less money means you are more likely to eat unhealthy food, pass on a gym membership and check ups, and suffer all the negative side effects of anxiety).

When you don’t have enough money, or feel that you don’t have enough money, you lose your power.

If you are like most single moms I know, you are going through a lot of life changes — your romantic life, family situation, living arrangements and relationship with yourself are all in flux.

So is your money.

This time of transition offers great opportunity to make positive changes. But with so many balls in the air, there is also lots of opportunity to join the majority of Americans and not stick to those money goals.

Here is your 2019 guide to locking down some practical financial resolutions, stick to those goals, and uplevel into 2020 and beyond!

  1. Single mom money mindset
  2. Protect yourself
  3. Slash spending and get that single mom budget together
  4. Create a savings plan
  5. Maximize investing — on every single mom budget
  6. Earn more (ask for raise, make a plan for job change, start that side gig)
  7. Focus on money role modeling for your kids

1. Single mom money mindset

The most important thing you can do to change your financial life, is change your financial mind.

How and what you think and believe establishes what happens in your bank account.

The first and most critical step to earning more, saving more, investing more, spending and stressing less about money, is to renovate what happens between your ears.

If you are stuck in broke, there are likely limiting beliefs specific to single motherhood that are spiraling in your mind. I have struggled with many of these, and have heard time and again (and again!) from moms on this blog and social media.

I’m a single mom, and single moms are broke. Of course I’m poor!

Reality: Yes, statistically, single moms are poorer than married moms. But, you are likely telling yourself that story (and it is indeed a story) based on decades of media portrayal of single mothers as downtrodden, struggling floozies, politicians who blame unmarried mothers as the source of all social ills.

There are also countless stories of both down-and-out married moms, as well as thriving, affluent, self-made single moms.

The beauty of living in 2019 as a woman is that compared with the sexism our grandmothers and even mothers faced, we have endless opportunities to earn and invest.

Here is a common money story single moms tell themselves:

I need to sacrifice and struggle and overcompensate for the fact that my children are from a broken home.

Reality: What’s with the martyr syndrome, mama? Not a good look! Focus on earning big, spending little, and maximizing quality time with your kids. Studies find that financial stability and a thriving mom are two of the biggest factors when it comes to child development.

Other ways to improve your money relationship: stop overspending on your kids (they really don’t need much), and focus on creating positive relationships for your kids, yourself and the whole family. Kids thrive not because their home looks like the Cleavers, but because they are safe, cared for, understood. You can control all of that, but first you have to decide to do those things.

What to do:

  1. Write down your limiting beliefs when it comes to money.
  2. Write down where these ideas came from. Who told you you are bad with money, or that you have to martyr yourself ? What was your earliest memories of a single mom? Was she thriving, or struggling?
  3. Think about who your support system is. Do these people set big goals, and actively work towards them? Do the support your dreams and goals? Even the wonderful people who love you most may not be your money tribe. You can meet and be inspired by other, big-thinking and ambitious single moms who will change your paradigm at Facebook.com/groups/millionairesinglemoms.

2. Protect yourself and your family (life insurance for single moms!)

This post is designed to free you from worry: worry about making rent, worry about whether your car will break down and you won’t have enough cash to make repairs, worry that you will be stuck in debt forever.

This post will not absolve you from all worry. You know why not? Because you are a mom.

Moms worry. We do.

But I can help you reduce your worry, including that horrible fear that something will happen to you, and as a single mom, you are your kids’ primary caregiver.

Life insurance is a big piece of this mom-worry therapy. With enough life insurance, you can rest easy that your children will be cared for financially in the event that you pass.

Ladder is a really cool company that allows you to apply for and buy life insurance entirely online. Ladder* is one of the first companies that offer the ability to apply for term life insurance entirely online and without a call or visit from an agent, and in some cases, without a medical exam. Ladder also allows you to apply to increase or instantly decrease your coverage entirely on their website (no calls or visits from an agent — ain’t nobody got time for that! – or without any additional fees). Apply and get a decision in just a few minutes at LadderLife.com.

3. Slash spending and get that single mom budget together

Here is something surprising I recently learned about myself:

The higher my income, the greater my net worth, the less stuff I want.

Yes, I enjoy a beautiful home, nice clothes and jewelry, and enjoy good food. But the fewer items I own, the happier I am.

I like my closets and drawers and cupboards occupied only by items I use and enjoy.

The less crowding my fridge, the more I enjoy the meals and snacks I have — as the waste of uneaten food stresses me out.

Everything else must go.

The irony is that this is not only good for my mental health (less stuff to keep track of, keep clean, organize), owning less is also awesome for my bank account.

Here is how you can spend less every day and every month (more on how to create a single-mom budget you can stick to):

Car. Nothing makes me crazier than when a mom who confesses to me that she is struggling

financially posts on Facebook a pic of her “new” 2003 BMW she saved up for to “treat” herself.

Gah! Unless you really, truly can afford a luxury vehicle, your car should be nothing more than a

ride. A reliable, gas-efficient, affordable way to get you and your kids places you need to go. Ideally, you have no car payment, of course, but if you do finance a vehicle, an affordable annual payment plan should be roughly the equivalent of your monthly income. So, if your net monthly income, after taxes and benefits, is four thousand dollars, don’t finance a car for more than a $333 monthly payment. And for the love of all things holy, do not buy an old luxury brand car as a “treat” for yourself.

Cable TV. I know, you love it. The kids love it. But this is serious business, and the whole family

must get on board to make important changes. And it doesn’t have to be forever. You can watch tons of stuff on your computer (or stream Netflix and Amazon videos to your TV, which is what I do).

Also: Read, play games, and do other stuff you keep telling yourself you’ll do with the kids but

don’t get around to.

Gym membership. I really hope you’re getting exercise and taking care of your body. But if you

haven’t been to the gym in more than two months, you must cancel that membership. Get real. Also, there are zillions of ways you can get and stay fit for free, including jogging, yoga, and training and aerobics at home.

Subscriptions. Go through all the subscription and automatic-renewal services on your bill. Upon close inspection I realized I was paying for two monthly Netflix subscriptions. At $9.99 per month, that was costing me nearly a hundred dollars per year. Sneaky on their part! Lazy on mine! You may pay for membership to professional organizations that you’re no longer interested in, or access to publications or online services you don’t use. Cancel, cancel, cancel.

Phone. If you have a landline and a cell phone, cancel the landline. Then call your phone carrier and ask them to analyze your usage and suggest a more affordable plan. I did this and saved twenty dollars per month, effective immediately.

Utilities. Get serious about using less electricity and gas:

  • Set the thermostat at a few degrees cooler in winter.
  • Raise the AC a few degrees in the summer.
  • Keep blinds closed in the summer and unplug electronics when they’re not in use.

Food. It can be very tempting for a busy working single mom to splurge on restaurant food and

prepared meals. Use these as special treats, or when a discount makes them a great deal, and keep your monthly food budget to around 10 percent of your take-home. To save time and money:

  • Focus on cooking in bulk. I like to make a giant pot of stew, roast, or pasta sauce—eat a third that night, freeze a third, and eat the rest for lunches and dinner leftovers.
  • Avoid purchased lunches, and instead pack sandwiches and leftovers.
  • Remember: Generic and bulk products tend to save you big bucks.
  • Eating healthy can be the least expensive way to eat. Replace meat with lentils and beans a few days per week. Focus on fresh fruits and vegetables. In many parts of the country, farm shares are very affordable ways to get local, fresh produce, while also supporting area farmers.
  • If your kids are age 8 or older, they can cook full meals by themselves. This cuts down on pressure on you to cook three full meals each day, which can lead to last-minute, exhaustion-saving, expensive takeout.

Insurance.

  • Call your auto insurer and ask about lowering your rate.
  • Look around for a lower life insurance rate.
  • If you own an older car, don’t carry more than your state minimum, and note if you drive fewer than ten thousand miles per year, which could mean savings.
  • Research other car insurance policies.
  • For health insurance, if your family is generally healthy, downgrade to the least expensive policy. Your co-pays and deductibles may be higher, but you will save overall on this expense.

Holidays and birthdays. Christmas, Passover, birthdays, Valentine’s Day . . . these special days can be especially stressful for single moms (they are for me). Co-parenting arrangements tend to implode during these events, and special times can feel especially empty without another parent to share them. The financial stress can make them anxiety ridden for everyone involved. It’s no wonder that overspending plagues the holidays—and single moms are especially vulnerable. To tackle this financial land mine:

  • Set a budget in August for the holidays. Stick to it.
  • Establish on January 1 a budget for each family member’s birthday celebration and gift. Stick to it.
  • Get the whole family on board. Tell the kids: “We are on a family mission to stay on a budget and get wealthy! Everyone has to participate, and that includes really thinking about what we buy and give to one another.”
  • Focus on activities instead of things. Instead of toys, make part of the Christmas gift a family trip to the water park or a favorite museum (especially if you were planning to go to these places anyway). Studies find that experiences bring more and lasting enjoyment than things.

Stop shopping. Sure, kids grow out of clothes all the time, and you may find that your thighs have rubbed holes through all your jeans (true story, happened to me). But many women believe that shopping is a legitimate hobby. If you are independently wealthy, maybe.

Otherwise: Do. Not. Shop.

Want something new to wear? Dig into your closet and drawers. Swap with a friend. Mix up tops and bottoms that you otherwise never pair. Do not buy new clothes. Just don’t. Not until you can afford it.

4. Create a savings plan

Do you have at least 3 months’ living expenses in a savings account? No? Create a plan to build up a cash account that will save your butt in the event of unemployment, a natural disaster or otherwise being displaced, a major medical event or any other unforeseen financial event.

The value of this savings account is one part practical, one part emotional (you will feel better each and every day knowing this money is safe and available), and one part spiritual. After all, you make better, wiser decisions from a place of power when you not afraid. Money in the bank relieves fear.

Here is a list of the top-earning online savings accounts.

5. Maximize investing — on every single mom budget

Saving money is so awesome, but investing is where the juice is. After all, if you park all you savings in a checking account, or a low-earning savings account at your local bank (as most are these days), your hard-earned money will be flat year after year. Meanwhile, inflation means the cost keeping yourself and your children alive goes up 2 to 4 percent each year.

Nevermind that you likely want to grow your quality of life, too!

That is why investing your money in the stock market is so important. Over the last century, stock market returns have averaged 10 percent.

What’s that you say? You don’t understand the stock market? Feel intimidated and stupid when it comes to investing (even though you are smart, successful and confident in the rest of your life)?

Join the club. Most women do — including me! Wall Street — populated by mostly men — wants you to feel stupid so you’ll hand over your money to brokers and advisors — again, overwhelmingly bros — who you will pay a lot of money to manage this money.

I wrote this post to help women like you understand investing basics, and feel confident in picking a company, fund and plan to safely invest your hard-earned income for retirement, a home, your kids’ college — WHATEVER. Because you deserve that kind of security.

6. Earn more (ask for raise, make a plan for job change, start that side gig)

When you are broke, or want more money for whatever reason, the first and natural thing to do is slash expenses. That is great, and you should do that. But the best and biggest way to have more in your pocket is to earn more. After all, If you focus on clipping $1 coupons for paper towels, the best you can do is saving $1. If you focus on earning and growing your career, the sky is the limit!

Not sure where to start?

Here is my guide to asking for and getting that raise.

Also, here is a run-down of high-paying careers you can do from home.

7. Focus on money role modeling for your kids

Like it or not, your kids are watching. Lecture them all the livelong day about the importance of saving, budgets and investing, but if your children see you live beyond your means and spend frivolously, one of two things will happen:

  1. They will repeat your bad habits, or
  2. They will grow up to have better money habits, and resent your bad ones. Especially if your are now financially dependent on your kids because of those bad habits, which they now feel pressure to care for.

Instead, involve your kids on your money journey. Set them up on an allowance system.

In this post, I elaborate here on what we do at my house, with spend/save/give jars, as well as a guide to teaching kids about investing.

Talk to them about the importance of money for security, including all kinds of insurances.

Set a family money goal — say, an ice skating outing (which my kids have been nagging me about for weeks). If the event costs $50, find ways to save money (sell unused items, skipping a weekly ice cream treat), to save up.

Get creative, and pay attention to what excites your kids — and you!

When my friend Blake was growing up, his family made a game of seeing how low they could get the monthly electric bill. This is something I think will go over well at my house, as both my son and I are passionate about green living.

Not only do these measures teach your kids important, core skills, but it keeps you motivated and on-track, too.

Plus, it relieves guilt, since you know you should be be a good money role model for your kids.

*Ladder is backed by Fidelity Security Life Insurance Company & Hannover Re. ​Fidelity Security Life was established in ​1969 and has an A.M. Best Rating of (A- Excellent), and all of the policies are reinsured and backed by Hannover Re who has an A.M. Best Rating of A+ (Superior).

About Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.

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  2. Marcia on January 16, 2019 at 10:24 am

    This is a great article, but what do we do when our childrens’ father habitually takes us to court? If it wasn’t for legal bills, I’d be doing just fine financially. Over the past two years, I’ve paid $50,000 in legal fees due to his motions to modify the custody order, motions to decrease child support, false complaints about phone calls, etc. He’s a diagnosed narcissist and an attorney. Help!

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