Are all single moms destined for poverty, loneliness and effed-up kids?
Quick answer: NO.
More details on how to build an amazing life, find love and raise happy kids as a single mother:
It’s no one’s Plan A.
But being a single mom does not mean you’re destined for the welfare line, free school lunches for your kids, or living in your parents’ basement.
The first step is to convince yourself that your new life will be one that is full, joyous and financially rich.
Love it or hate it, your finances are one of the biggest parts of your life.
Unfortunately, there are millions and millions of single moms out there that are not giving their finances the attention that they deserve.
It can be difficult being a single mom, but not taking smart financial steps is going to make it a thousand times worse.
The good news is that, thanks to technology and lots of information from experts (like this blogger) it is easier than ever to get your financial act on track, and gain the confidence you need to build the foundation of an incredible, full life for yourself and your family.
Here are my steps to living a rich single life:
- How to be a single mom — including with no help
- Embrace that you are now financially independent as a single mom.
- Let go of assumptions about what is possible as a single mom
- Simplify your budget
- Get a grip on how much money is coming in
- Understand your new tax situation
- Check on your credit score for free
- Set some short- and long-term financial goals
- Do not make decisions ‘as a single mom'
- Protect your family
- Set quality of life goals
- Make more money
- Go on a shopping diet
- Spend money in ways that will make you money
- Practice financial self-care
- Give yourself a break
- Dream really, scary big
Also, check these out:
1. How to be a single mom — including with no help
I often get asked: “Emma, how can I be a single mom?”
What the question really means is: Emma, how can I be a kick-ass, successful, happy single mom?
And deep within that question is:
I'm pregnant and it looks like I'm doing this alone — how hard can I expect it to be??
I have to get out of this relationship — how hard is it to be a single mom after divorce?!! Please tell me now so I can decide?!!
I'm thinking of getting pregnant on my own. How hard will it be?
If this resonates with you, then let me help you out. What you are really, actually, truthfully asking me is:
How do I make sure my kids won't be messed up — and are even successful, productive adults?
How can I break the stereotype of the welfare, broke, angry single mom?
Will I ever find love? Romance? Where do I even start?
Can I even be a happy single mom?
WTF, this is hard and scary and I don't know where to start?!!!
The fact is that you can more than cope, or financially survive as a single mom — you can thrive.
Have emotional money blocks that you can't seem to get over on your own? Personal finance issues is a popular specialty for counselors. Try private, online therapy with BetterHelp >>
2. Embrace that you are now financially independent as a single mom.
Fights about money are one of the biggest reasons single moms are not romantically involved with their kids' dads in the first place.
The fact that you are now financially free to make good, sound money decisions is one of the most positive, powerful changes in your life.
So is your newly encumbered ability to work and earn more money. You don't have to play to anyone's ego anymore.
Embrace this independence, and all the freedom and power that comes with it.
Do not start to dream and strategize about how the next man will be your meal ticket to a better financial future.
Maybe one day you'll couple with a man who is at least if not more successful for you, and than you, which will bolster your financial security. Even then, you need to take care of yourself, and your finances, and build a life and wealth as an independent adult woman. Because you are, and you can.
Yes, you may receive child support and/or alimony. But remember this: That money could go away any time.
He could lose his job, skip town, become disabled or pass away at any moment.
You cannot control that. But you can control how much money you earn.
And you can earn far more than a judge may order you be paid.
3. Let go of assumptions about what is possible as a single mom
Your family, media, friends and colleagues likely give you messages — subtle and not-so-much — about your urge to get married “while you're still young and cute,” settle for a low-paying, but steady job, and how statistically, your kids are destined for juvie and a life of otherwise underperformance. Ignore those people, and contend with those messages in your own mind (I've had them, trust me! Worries about living out of a car that I didn't even own, visions of constantly struggling). Instead, surround yourself with successful, positive people. Identify successful single moms in your own life, or in the world. Cocoon in messages of what is possible. You absorb it by osmosis.
Single moms are statistically poorer and more stressed out with kids who don't do so great when compared with other families. That is not a sentence for your life. You can do whatever you want, but you have to do it through the lens of a person, a professional, a woman.
Were you offered a promotion of your dreams, but consider not taking it because the travel will permanently damage your kids? Has any man ever in the history of mankind ever had that thought?! Take the freaking promotion, hire a wonderful babysitter to help you out, get a housekeeper for crying out loud, and show your kids — and the world! — how shit is done.
Living your greatest potential is the best gift any mother can give her children, and the world.
4. Simplify your budget
If you are stressed about your money, chances are that you are also financially unorganized, whether you regularly fail to stick to a budget (or maybe you don’t have a budget? You’re not alone!), don’t reach your saving or investing goals, or your debt and credit scores are a mess.
In fact, a deep clean of your finances can do a couple, critical things:
- Face the facts. No more ignoring what has made you uncomfortable.
- Save time and energy.
Even simple things like figuring out what’s the best credit card for your lifestyle can change your financial picture drastically.
Open all your bills and use a bill pay app
If you’re not clear on your money situation, chances are you’re avoiding it.
This may include failing to open bills, ignoring due dates, missing payments and looking the other way, or humming and tapping your foot when friends bring up investing.
First things first: Get real with yourself. This means opening all your bills as they arrive. No ignoring them. This is adulthood!
Second, plug all your accounts into a third-party app like Tiller.
Tiller's online budgeting tool helps you plug in all your bank, credit card, brokerage, checking, debt, investment and mortgage accounts to get a snapshot of all your finances.
One of the best advantages of Tiller is that it syncs with all of your bank accounts and credit cards and categorized all of your transactions.
Tiller will show how much you’re spending on transportation, entertainment, and much more.
This is one of the best ways to track all of your spending and identify any areas that you’re spending too much and places that you could cut back.
The point is to get a single, clear picture of all your money, in one spot.
Consolidate your credit cards and address debt
I used to have several credit cards: A personal card, business card and two store brand cards.
I kept them all in my wallet, they all had different due dates, and different points programs, and it was confusing.
Finally, last year I decided to streamline my finances and narrowed my credit cards down to one business card and one store card. They both have good points programs, and since I don’t carry a balance, the interest rate is irrelevant.
What is relevant is that I have two cards, and no more. If you don’t own a business, it’s worth thinking about cutting the number of cards in your wallet down to just one. After all, the less you have to manage, the easier it is to be empowered in your finances.
Are you struggling with debt, or otherwise balancing different credit cards and other bills? Have a lousy credit score? This is a complicated, time-consuming juggle that you need to deal with ASAP!
The answer likely includes a combination of a strict budget, debt pay-off plan, and credit repair. The Credit People is an affordable credit-repair company that assigns a single customer service rep to improve your credit score quickly and affordably.
Set one due date and automate
There is no reason to write paper checks to pay your bills. Perhaps your landlord requires this ancient form of currency, or your kid’s daycare, in which case there is not much you can do.
For everything else, go online or call the utility, insurer, bank or service and set up automatic payments. Many places will give you a buck or two discount each month for making your own life easier!
The next step is to set the due date for as many bills as possible to the first of the month. Perhaps your cash flow does not allow for all your bills to clear at once, but that means that you are spending a lot of mental energy and stress worrying that paychecks will clear before bills hit.
The goal is to make money simple, and low-stress. In this case, make it a goal to maintain enough cash in your checking account (or accounts) to comfortably afford regular monthly expenses to be cleared on a single date each month.
Two goals at a time
There’s a lot of great advice and tools on the market for how to create and maintain budgets. Lots of people set up fantastic goals with great, realistic systems for reaching them — but within a month or two, have slid right back into their old ways of willy-nilly spending and the guilt and shame that goes along with it.
One of the big challenges is that when you are ready to make major changes to your finances, your enthusiasm can lead you astray and you create numerous goals: Create the emergency fund and pay off your credit card debt and save for vacation and get up-to-speed on your retirement goals.
Instead, start with a maximum of two goals. In fact, one goal is even better! The two goals should complement each other: Add to your investments and pay off your credit card. Or, one long-term savings goal (like retirement) and one short-term goal (like saving for a home remodel).
The fewer the goals, the higher the chance of staying on track and reaching them!
5. Get a grip on how much money is coming in.
Tiller is really helpful with this, and it's important because if you don’t know how much money you’re making, then you have no idea how much you have to spend.
If you have several streams of income, it’s vital that you know how much money that you can spend every month, how much money you can save, and then how much would be left over.
6. Understand your new tax situation.
There is a huge difference in filing your taxes single compared to filing as a married person.
I don’t expect you to understand all of the tax rules, but it’s also important you understand the consequences of filing your taxes properly.
7. Check on your credit score for free.
Your credit score is probably something that you don’t think about.
I go into the reasons why in my post here.
Let’s be honest, most people don’t spend a lot of time thinking about their score, but that could be a huge mistake.
Your credit score plays a huge role in several areas of your life.
It can be the difference in getting approved for a loan or mortgage.
It is going to also to impact the rates that you get on loans.
If you’re a renter, there is a chance that a bad credit score will get you declined for an apartment.
Also, when you apply for a job, your employer might check your credit score when you apply.
Having a poor credit score could keep you from getting the dream job or that new apartment.
8. Set some short- and long-term financial goals.
According to one New York University study, on average single mothers possess only 4 percent of the wealth of single fathers: single moms have $1,000 saved compared to the $25,300 that single fathers have. The study found that black and Latino single mom have a median wealth of zero, while white single moms report $6,000.
Compare this to the 64 percent of successful retirees (those who claimed to be comfortable in their retirement) who saved and invested during their 20s and 30s — prime baby-making and raising years! A recent Allianz survey of professional families found that the average traditional, two-parent family has saved $264,000 for retirement while single-parent families had just $171,000 in savings.
This disparity does not have to be your story.
But you must set some goals to buck the single-mom trap.
Short-term goals might be to pay off a credit card bill, build an emergency savings account, or make more than you spend.
Find the best, high-yield savings accounts for single moms here.
Long-term include buying a home, saving for your kids’ college, or investing for retirement.
I'm a big fan of investing for retirement using Ellevest, which make it SUPER easy to save and invest.
If you haven’t dipped your toes into the investment waters, you might be nervous about starting an investment portfolio.
Don’t worry, thanks to Ellevest and the other robo-advisor investing companies, it’s never been easier to reach your financial goal.
If you decide to use start retirement investing with Ellevest, you can get started investing in a matter of hours.
All that you have to do is create an account, set your financial goals, and answer a few simple questions.
After that, the robo-advisor (i.e. Ellevest) will handle the rest for you.
They automatically invest your contributions based on your risk tolerance and goals.
They continue to shift your investments around the closer that you get to your goals and automatically reinvest any money that you make.
Even if you can only start with a $5 investment or a $500 investment, getting started will help you build the momentum you want.
Related post: How to get started investing for women
9. Do not make decisions ‘as a single mom'
Single moms are statistically poorer and more stressed out with kids who don't do so great when compared with other families.
That is not a sentence for the rest of your life. You can do whatever you want, but you have to do it through the lens of a person, a professional, a woman.
Were you offered the promotion of your dreams, but consider not taking it because the travel will permanently damage your kids? Has any many ever in the history of mankind ever had that thought?! Go after that promotion, hire a wonderful babysitter to help you out, get someone to clean your house for crying out loud, and show your kids — and the world! — how shit is done. Living your greatest potential is the best gift any mother can give her children, and the world.
One of the biggest mistakes single moms make is they prioritize saving for their kids' college over their own financial futures.
Nearly half (47 percent) of single moms say that saving for their children’s education is their No. 1 greatest motivation for developing a long-term financial plan — above saving for retirement. Compare that with just 26 percent of other modern families who say the same, according to this Allianz survey.
I suspect that single moms feel guilty for being a “broken family” and attempt to make up for any pain a breakup caused their children by financing their educations. The reason may also be that the moms themselves have struggled financially, and hope to lessen that struggle for their kids.
No matter how benevolent the reasons, don't do this.
Your kid can get loans for school, you can't get loans for retirement. Financial pros will tell you that retirement savings trump college on all fronts: more tax benefits, longer vestment periods and a higher priority overall. Plus, your kids will be super irritated if they have to support you when you're old and you could have made better decisions.
10. Protect your family.
Life insurance is insanely affordable, easy to get, and just plain smart.
Read more about single moms and life insurance in this post.
Life insurance is one of the most important investments that you’ll ever make for your loved ones, especially as a single mom.
Nobody wants to think about tragedy striking their family, but not planning for the worst is one of the worst mistakes that you could make.
One reason that people don’t buy life insurance is because they assume that it’s going to be too expensive, but in most cases, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Regardless of your health or any pre-existing conditions that you have, it’s possible to get affordable life insurance to protect your family.
Bestow life insurance has a quick and simple quote process. Bestow promises no medical exam or lab tests, and prices start at:
- $3/month for $500,000 coverage
- $8/month for $1 million coverage
You can read more about the Bestow, backed by two of the largest life insurance companies in the world, and rated A+ (Superior) by A.M. Best that was founded in 1886. in my Bestow review.
Not sure how much life insurance you need?
If you are aged 50 or older, you should also look into long-term care insurance.
11. Set quality of life goals.
There is no point in paying off a credit card bill if it means you work so much that you never see your kids or have time to exercise.
Consider free time, quality time, the health and wellbeing of your family.
Think about how your money and life can work together.
Every person and family is different. I can't tell you what your quality of life goals should be.
That requires some deep digging. Take some time to sit down and decide how you want to balance your money and family.
Other people want to spend extra time or can’t take on that additional work.
12. Make more money.
You can cut costs like Netflix and restaurants, raise the thermostat, cut coupons, and negotiate your insurance, and other tasks that do help your bottom line, but keep you focused on surviving financially as a single mom, and how to afford to live.
But there is only so much you can slash.
And super-budget thinking is small thinking.
However, if you focus on earning more, growing wealth, and thriving, the sky is the limit!
Decide today to increase your income, your credit, your bottom line. Recalibrate your energy into a wealth zone.
Take a mentor out for lunch to learn about opportunities in your profession.
Research going back to school.
Consider starting your own business.
Join a local or national networking group.
Hell, attend just one networking event!
Talk to your boss about telecommuting and other life-balance arrangements.
Thanks to the Internet, it’s never been easier to make some extra money on the side.
There are hundreds of ways single moms can make money from home, in your spare time without having to wait tables on the weekend.
Resource: Use the job search site ZipRecruiter
13. Go on a shopping diet.
No more trips to the mall or Amazon.com to browse.
If you are broke, shopping is not a hobby you can afford!
Make a strict list before stepping foot in Target and do not stray into the cosmetics departments for a “treat” – and I don’t care how great of a deal you find!
By making each purchase a conscious one, you will feel empowered and confident about your money.
14. Spend money in ways that will make you money.
Pay for yard service, and use that time saved to build a business.
Invest in a dishwasher and spend that extra time studying for a degree that will earn you more money.
Send out your laundry and devote those hours to fun family time.
Put money into advancing your career, learning a new skill or building your business.
15. Practice financial self-care
Create a money self-care practice
Just as everyone needs a fitness routine and can benefit from mindfulness or spiritual practice, so, too, is the case with money. Creating an action-based plan for staying conscious and actively involved with your money habits and attitudes is the essence of financial self-care.
Examples of items in your self-care practice might include:
- Daily money gratitude writings
- Weekly check-in with financial support group/friend
- Weekly review of all expenses
- Monthly assessment of financial goals
- Twice-yearly meeting with financial advisor / CPA / banker
- Monthly charity donation
Of course, your self-care practice will be your own. As you commit to and tweak your own wellness practice, you will find that it can feel so powerfully positive that — not unlike a great exercise habit — your whole being will crave it when you miss a day or week. That is when you know true change is underway.
Here are other parts of financial self-care:
Successful single moms are grateful.
It is easy to compare yourself to who you were when you were married, all the ‘perfect' nuclear families populating your Facebook and Instagram feeds (fun fact: most people live in debt, half those families will divorce, and a whole lot of them are not as happy as their Disney-going, recently-remodeled kitchen, Invisalign smiles suggest).
Instead, focus on the realities of your own life, which include a WHOLE lot of abundance: that you live in a time and place of untold opportunities and rights for women, that you have many successful single mom peers in the world, that you have access to technology which empowers you with information on how to do anything at all — including making a ton of money.
Face facts about your money
Money still carries heavy taboos, and talking about it with anyone but your partner is still considered rude in many circles. This shadow over money carries over into our own feelings and management of our personal finances, which are easily ignored.
Do you tend to leave bills and financial statements unopened? Do you know exactly how much debt you have — and at what interest rates? How close are you to healthy retirement savings?
If you can’t answer these basic questions, it’s time to get really honest with yourself. Face all the facts about your money.
One of my favorite tips is to use free online tools to easily pull in all of your financial accounts into one place, tallying all your income, debt, investments and credit cards. Simply looking at these numbers in one spot is often life-changing.
You may be pleasantly surprised — one single mom who undertook this step at my advice told me she was stunned and thrilled to learn that she had six-figures in assets. You may be less pleased with what you see, and that is OK. Be kind to yourself, and appreciate the bravery involved in taking this first, hard step — which growth depends upon.
Identify the root of your relationship with money
To start a new, better relationship with your finances, dig into where your current relationship started. Think about your earliest money memories and write them down.
What lessons did your parents teach you about earning, spending and saving? Did your parents fight about money? Were finances a source of stress or joy in your home? Was money revered as a very important source of status? A means to control others? Or simply a currency to help achieve comfort?
Just like it can take decades to decode any other life challenges, money issues are complicated and nuanced, and your insights will evolve over time. But honoring the very real early influences on your money relationship can help you take control of a new, better path.
Surrounding yourself with others who are on a positive, self-care journey with their money is critical to your success in this part of your life. Studies find time and again that the people you surround yourself with have a huge impact on your habits.
For example, teenagers whose friends smoke are also likely to smoke. Same, too, with personal finance habits.
If your friends are all swimming in debt, love to shop when they can’t afford it and care little about their investments, it is time to find a new tribe.
This might include joining a Facebook group of like-minded women, forming a support group in your neighborhood or house of worship, or reaching out to a friend who lives far away and scheduling monthly accountability calls to keep each other on track.
Getting the financial support you need also likely includes working with professionals. A good accountant or tax preparer, financial advisor, bookkeeper (if you own a business), debt counselor and a banker might all be part of your financial team.
These experts will not only provide money- and time-saving services, but will also hold you accountable to your goals. Plus, simply reaching out and creating a professional relationship is a positive action step that will make you feel empowered.
16. Give yourself a break.
Getting back on your feet after a divorce can be a long process full of setbacks.
But this can also be one of the most exciting and empowering times of your life.
Going through a divorce can turn your whole life upside down, and it can take a long time to recover from the emotional and financial stress, but it can be done.
The tips above are just a few of the simple ways that you can take control of your finances and ensure that your own your way to a rich life as a single mom.
If you have any questions about any of the tips that I listed, or you want to share your own, please feel free to add them in the comment section below.
17. Dream really, scary big.
Single moms might get out of rock-bottom poverty mode, but they often fail to truly break free from mindsets that hold them back from their true potential. I often see single moms who blame their exes for their financial limits, complaining that failure to pay child support means they can't go back to school to earn a higher degree, and therefore make more money.
Others say that the lack of their ex's involvement means that they work the hours required to qualify for a promotion. Others blame their family status for not taking on big risks like starting a new business, taking a demanding new job, or otherwise stretching their professional or financial comfort zone, citing needing to be home more, or lack of support as the reason.
I get all of these, and have felt them myself. But when I am about to kill my ex for not honoring his visitation schedule, which means I have to scramble to find a sitter last-minute, or cancel a media opportunity, I have learned to pause, reach out to my network of sitters, family and friends, and hire that child care, work after the kids are asleep, or otherwise do whatever it takes to make it work. Otherwise, I am giving my power to others — my ex, my family status, or society who I may fear judges me and my parenting.
Do not give your power to others. Do not live in fear, anger or otherwise mute your brilliance. Instead, put the petal to the metal. Set giant, scary, ridiculous goals. Hire the child care you need, and make parenting about quantity over quality time. After all, if you are stressed over money, resentful over unfulfilled dreams and goals, you are a far, far lesser mom and woman than one who spends a few less hours with her kids, but is living her full potential, and serving as a far poorer role model for her children.
Go for it. You got this.
Kickass Single Mom money manifesto
This is my mission statement for this platform, myself, and for single moms everywhere. It is from my #1 Bestselling book, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), which the New York Post called a “Smart, must read” and was featured on The Doctors, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Jenny McCarthy Show, O, Oprah Magazine, MONEY magazine and more than 150 other outlets:
I will set big, giant scary goals for myself and family, regardless of what my family looks like, or what other people think I am capable of.
I appreciate every single day that I live in a time of unprecedented wealth and opportunity for women, and it is my duty to achieve both to honor the people who fought for me to have these opportunities, as well as for those who come after me.
I accept responsibility for my own financial well-being.
I might not have it all figured out right now, but I am taking steps to be debt free, financially independent, and with a financial plan for the future.
I will never chose to under-earn in order to maximize receipt of child support, alimony or public benefits.
I will never under-earn to minimize paying child support or alimony.
I will take steps to minimize working mom guilt, instead deferring to extensive research that finds that after age 3, the number of hours moms spend with their kids does not impact their development, and actively thwart peer pressure that assumes that the stay-at-home mom is the better mom, because all science finds to the contrary.
I will take big and calculated (and some not-so-calculated) risk. Because that is the only way to grow and change — financially, professionally and personally.
I will seek without guilt or shame work that is exciting, creative and fulfilling.
I will never minimize my professional success — in actuality or perception — in order to appear attractive to men.
I relish that I am role model of earning and professional success for my children. Also, for other women and moms.
I give back. Even — especially — when I feel like I don't have any more to give, I remember that I can give to others, and that gives me strength.
I accept help. I'm just one woman, I am vulnerable, and I can't do everything on my own (that would be insane).
I will stumble, fail, eff stuff up in the worst way. Then get back up and go for it again.
I'm never, ever, ever, ever, ever entitled. Ever!
I am capable of so, so much more than I limit myself to. I open myself up to the amazing and impossible.
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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.