How to survive as a single mom: 13 financial steps to a rich life

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Are all single moms destined for poverty, loneliness and effed-up kids?

Quick answer: NO.

Keep reading for details on how to build an amazing life, find love and raise happy kids as a single mother, including my own journey to building a business, income, savings, investments and wealth.

Also, check these out:

Being a single mom is 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 the moms deserve. They tell themselves things like:

“Money isn't that important.”

“The desire to be financially secure is selfish and greedy.”

“I should sacrifice my career and financial security to spend more time with my kids.”

“I'm just bad with money 🤷.”

“The only way to get out of this pay-check-to-paycheck mess is to find a man / make my ex pay more child support.”

“Money is too complicated.”

Is being a single parent difficult?

It can be difficult being a single mom, but not taking smart financial steps is going to make it a thousand times worse. Money affects your mental health, the stress level in your house, your access to health care, and your ability to make wise decisions about career / men / family / time. If you feel really broke all the time, you make those decisions from a place of fear and a poverty mindset. If your bills are paid, your career is growing, you have a little extra money in the bank, your vision for your future includes security, financial wealth, your decisions are more likely to come from a place of abundance and confidence.

The good news is that, thanks to technology and troves of information from experts (like moi) 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.

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.

This is my story.

I was pregnant with a toddler when my ex left. He made all the money and his job provided insurance and other benefits.

I was terrified. I would lay in bed at night figuring out how the kids and I would live in my 1999 red Subaru Forester. Today, I run a business with revenue of hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. My hot boyfriend of three years is a wonderful partner. I enjoy at least four vacations each year — often internationally, and sometimes with the kids, others with my boyfriend, a girlfriend, or solo. My investments are in awesome shape for retirement, as well as short-term goals. And best of all— my kids are thriving and happy.

In this post, I share how I got over my own mindset blocks that had me stuck. These include:

1. Live frugally and simply. Even though I could easily afford a different home, my kids and I enjoy our two-bedroom NYC co-op. We only buy what we need, or what will give us true pleasure, and are mindful of the environmental impact of our purchases. My 2013, banged-up Subaru Impreza hatchback is paid-off and fuel-efficient.

2. Invest in myself first. Every year for the past five years I have maxed out my tax-advantaged retirement accounts (401k and Roth IRA), which are especially rich because I am self-employed (did you know you can shelter up to $56,000 in a 401k if you are self employed?). 

Other investments include a cash emergency fund, and life insurance and disability insurance. Yes, these investments are wise and advisable, but the greatest advantage is they make me feel safe and secure. Knowing that the chances of my family's future is secure has freed me from untold stress, and graced me with a confidence that informs so many of my decisions. 

3. I live debt-free. Early in my life, I struggled with student loans and credit card debt — did the monthly minimum payment mambo, and tossed balances around to different 0% balance transfer credit cards and other shenanigans. Fast-forward to today and a debt-free life (except a mortgage, with a very low, tax-advantaged interest rate).

4. I am grateful. It is very easy to slip into assuming society's damnation of single motherhood, and buy into the mantra that as an unmarried mom, I am a hot, struggling mess.

My secret weapon against the single-mom blues is finding a gratitude exercise. The more you focus on what you DO have, and what you CAN accomplish, and HAVE ALREADY accomplished, the more likely it is that you minimize your focus on what you lost, or what your friends have (that you don't), and free yourself to step into all the possibility of your future.

A gratitude exercise can include writing in a pretty notebook each morning all the things you are grateful, or creating a family ritual in which each member shares three things they are grateful for before a meal or at bedtime, or simply taking a moment during a stressful spot to remind yourself of all you have. Here are just a few things that I am grateful for:

  • I live in a time of peace, in a place and time where there are unprecedented opportunities for women — including unmarried mothers.
  • My children are healthy, bright, kind and funny people.
  • I have all the love I am capable of receiving.
  • I have skills to pay the bills.
  • So much privilege

5. I give back. Once you embrace all your blessings, big and small, and step into a sense of true gratitude, the resulting humility precludes you from serving others. This may mean giving to a charity or house of worship. It can include volunteering your time, being a listener, or bringing a casserole, shoveling the driveway or other favor to a friend or family member for those in your life who need a hand, or other selfless acts. 

My service includes giving at least 10% of my net income each year to charity; buying extra food with my kids each time we go to Costco each month and give it to a local food pantry; and giving free consulting services to people, organizations and businesses that align with my principles. Recently, I launched Moms for Shared Parenting, an activist organization to which I am giving my time, money and skills for zero pay.

Have emotional money blocks that you can't seem to get over on your own? I break these all down in How to break out of the broke single mom mindset — and thrive.

Personal finance issues is a popular specialty for counselors. Online therapy is increasingly popular, and a great option for single moms. BetterHelp is an online therapy platform with thousands of options for certified and licensed therapists who provide counseling through text, phone, video and email — whenever you need it.

With prices starting at $35/week for unlimited sessions, A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau, and 10% discount for Wealthy Single Mommy users, you can get connected to a counselor within 24 hours. Try private, online therapy with BetterHelp >>

How to survive being a broke single mom

Everything is harder when you’re broke, and that includes being a single mom. The good news is that there are things you can do to get  control over your finances, stop living paycheck to paycheck, and build wealth — and stop stressing over money.

Some of these steps are about logistics: Opening a bank account, simplifying your budget, checking your credit score, consolidating your debt, making more money. 

Some are about changing your mindset: Embracing your new reality as a single mom, letting go of past assumptions, setting goals. 

And others are about learning how to take care of everything you’re working to build by practicing financial self-care. But all of them will bring you one step closer to living the life that you want for yourself and your family.

13 financial steps to a rich life as a single mom

Here are my steps to living a rich single mom life:

1. Open a bank account

If you don’t have a bank account of your own, your very first step should be to open one. Why? Because it makes pretty much everything else in this list a whole lot easier to accomplish. 

It also just makes the logistics of life a lot easier, giving you somewhere to cash your checks, transfer money, and get a money order—while making it less likely that you’ll need to rely on a payday loan to make ends meet.

What bank account should you have?

Most people should actually have multiple different kinds of bank accounts. A note: As of 2020, interest rates that you can earn on these accounts are low for all bank accounts — lower than 1.5%, and typically below 1%. This trend is bad news for savings, but good news if you are financing a home or car, since the interest rates you will pay in those products will be lower than in years past. 

A checking account gives you a place to put money that you need to spend in the short term, protecting it from loss or theft. Typically, you’d access this money by using a debit card, checkbook, or by making a withdrawal at the bank. Checking accounts pay interest, but it’s usually pretty low—lower than a savings account or MMA. 

A savings account, on the other hand, is designed for money that you really don’t plan on spending in the short term. These accounts typically pay more in interest than a checking account does, which can help your money grow a bit while you save. Still, the interest rates aren’t great, and money in your savings account is harder to access than in a checking account.

A money market account is kind of like a hybrid between a checking and savings account.

An MMA  typically pays a higher interest rate than either savings accounts or checking accounts, but also makes it easier for you to access your money. If you’re only going to open one account, this is the one that I recommend. At 1.20%, CIT's money market account has one the highest rates on the market (as of June 13, 2020). Open a CIT account now >>

What do you need to open a bank account?

Opening a bank account is usually pretty easy and straightforward. Exactly what you need to open an account can vary slightly from bank to bank, but usually includes:

  • An application form, whether online or paper.
  • Personal information, including your name, Social Security Number, date of birth, address, phone number, and other contact information
  • Proof of address, typically in the form of a letter or bill in your name sent to you
  • At least one form of ID like a driver’s license, passport, social security card, or birth certificate. Some banks will require two forms of ID. 

Additionally, some banks may require a minimum deposit to open certain types of accounts. 

Cashing checks

You can cash a check in a lot of places, but by far the easiest and cheapest place to do so will be at the bank where you have an account, since that is typically free. 

Where to cash a personal check

If you don’t have a bank, then you may need to get creative in cashing your checks. Some options include:

  • Retailers like Walmart, for a fee that typically ranges between $1 and $5 per $1,000 cashed. For example, grocery store Kroger charges an average of $4 to cash a $1,000 check, while Kmart charges $1 to cash a $500 check.
  • The bank that issued the check. For example, if the person who wrote the check has an account at Wells Fargo, you can cash that check at a Wells Fargo. Most banks will charge non-account holders a fee to cash these checks, often between $5 and $10.
  • A check cashing service or payday lender, which tend to charge some of the highest fees, usually as a percentage of the amount cashed. For example, by law check cashers in Connecticut are allowed to charge up to 2% of the face value of a check cashed.

Walmart check cashing

Walmart and many other retail stores will cash a check—for a fee. Walmart will cash checks up to $1,000 for a maximum fee of $4, or checks between $1,000 and $5,000 for a maximum fee of $8. To cash a check at Walmart, you need to physically visit the store with your check and a valid ID.

Money transfers

A money transfer, or ACH, is a way to electronically move money from one bank account to another. You can transfer money from your Chase checking account in Virginia to your sister’s Bank of America checking account in Oregon. 

How to transfer money

If you don’t have a bank account, then you’ll need to turn to a money transferring service like MoneyGram or Western Union to send your money transfer. Both of these services charge a fee based on the amount of money being sent and where it is being sent. For example, if you’re sending a $1,000 money order within the U.S., MoneyGram estimates a $30 transfer fee, while Western Union estimates a $20 transfer fee.

If you do have a bank account, then transferring money through your bank will usually be the cheaper option. Some banks don’t charge fees for any money transfer initiated by an account holder, while others will charge a fee only for transfers being made between banks. Even when your bank does charge a fee, it will often be less than what you’d pay using a service like MoneyGram or Western Union.

How long it takes for a money transfer to go through will depend. If the account that you’re transferring money to is held at the same bank as your account, the transfer can be nearly instant. If the account is with a different bank, it can take between three and five business days for the money to clear. 

Money orders

A money order is a lot like a check. The key difference is that you pre-pay the money order when you purchase one, which means it can’t bounce when whoever you’re paying goes to cash it. It’s for exactly that reason that some businesses require payments are made by money order instead of personal check.

Money orders can also be helpful when you’re sending a payment by mail. Obviously, you don’t want to mail cash, because a.) you won’t have any proof that the person you’re paying actually received the cash and b.) it can be stolen. But you also might not want to send a personal check, which carries your personal account information that could be stolen and used to steal your identity. A money order gets around both of those problems.

How to get a money order

You can get a money order from your bank or credit union, the post office, a check cashing service, a local bodega, or even a major store like Walmart. Of all of these options, your bank is likely to offer the lowest fees; some banks will waive fees entirely depending on the type of account you have with them. 

Wherever you get your money order, you’ll need to fill out a form and pay both the amount that you will be sending and whatever fee the issuer charges, often between $1 and $10.

Money order near me?

If you’re looking for a money order near you, your best bets would be:

  • The local branch at your bank
  • Your local U.S. Postal Office
  • A supermarket like Walmart
  • Some convenience stores
  • A check cashing service

Cashing in coins

If you’re finally ready to cash in all of that loose change that you’ve collected over the years your own bank is the best bet. 

Most banks don’t charge a fee to cash coins for their clients. Some banks require you to roll your coins before they’ll accept them.

Banks often charge non-customers a fee to cash in coins. 

Whatever you do, try to stay away from kiosks like Coinstar machines, which can claim as much as 12 percent of your haul just to exchange coins for paper cash.

Payday loans

According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, approximately 12 million Americans borrow payday loans each year. The majority of those borrowers are unmarried women between 25 and 44 years old. Research has also shown that a person is more likely to turn to a payday loan if they’re unbanked, or don’t have access to a bank account. 

The problem with this is that payday loans are some of the most expensive forms of debt out there, far surpassing the interest rates charged by credit cards. While some states place a maximum limit on what this interest rate can be, the average payday loan carries an interest rate of 398%! That means that if you borrow $1,000, you ultimately end up paying close to $4,000 in interest and fees. 

Need a payday advance?

If you really need money before you get paid, a payday loan should be your last option. Some alternatives to payday loans include:

  • Asking your boss for an advance on your paycheck
  • Asking to set up a payment plan with whoever you need to pay
  • Asking friends, family, or church for help
  • Selling old, broken, or unwanted jewelry
  • Turning to savings, if you’ve got them

Payday loan near me?

If you’re dead set on borrowing a payday loan, first google “payday loans bad.” Payday loans have long lived in a grey area of the financial services industry: On one hand they are typically legal entities, but increasingly highly scrutinized since they charge exorbitant interest rates, and are notoriously misleading in their marketing and disclosures. Payday loan operations are located disproportionately in low-income neighborhoods with high numbers of people of color.

In other words: Payday loan companies target poor people with insanely high interest loans.

I do not recommend payday loans, and endorse laws that restrict predatory lending.

How to avoid payday loans

If you’re stuck in a cycle of relying on payday loans to get by, step one to getting off this ride is to open a bank account where you can start building up a buffer of cash. But once you’ve got that account, you’ll need to get creative to start filling it, which will require you to take a closer look at your budget.

2. Simplify your budget

If you are stressed about money, chances are that you are also financially unorganized. Do you 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? Are your debt and credit scores a mess?

In fact, a deep clean of your finances can do a couple, critical things:

  1. Face the facts. No more ignoring what has made you uncomfortable.
  2. Save time and energy.

Open all your bills and use a budgeting 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 MoneyPatrol.

MoneyPatrol helps you plug in all your bank, credit card, brokerage, checking, debt, investment and mortgage accounts to get a snapshot of all your finances, and create a budget.

One of the best advantages of MoneyPatrol is that it syncs with all of your bank accounts and credit cards and categorized all of your transactions.

MoneyPatrol 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.

Get your finances together by starting a budget now, for free, with MoneyPatrol >>

The point is to get a single, clear picture of all your money, in one spot.

Cut expenses

Once you understand where your money is going, time to cut the dead wood. You know the usuals: gym memberships you don't use (get real with yourself, sister! Plus: plenty of free ways to work out.), Hulu, restaurant meals, etc.

One favorite tool is using a bill negotiation service to cut spending. I use TrueBill's ‘Lower My Bill' service, which haggles bills on your behalf. I used this a few months ago, and TrueBill saved me $16 off my monthly AT&T bill while also getting me a bigger data plan, and $23.20 from my TimeWarner / Spectrum Internet bill! Boom!

TrueBill monitors spending (for free) using your bank and credit card accounts, and highlights recurring subscriptions — then will cancel for you any that you want to stop. These include:

  • Cable
  • Internet
  • Cell phone service
  • Gym memberships
  • Amazon
  • Spotify
  • Audible
  • Netflix
  • Hulu
  • Time Warner Cable
  • Car insurance and other insurances

Learn more about TrueBill now >>

Use a co-parenting app to track expenses

Even if you and your child's other parent are not court-mandated to use a co-parenting app, a program like Our Family Wizard can help not only keep track of kid expenses, and whether they were reimbursed by you or your ex, they can also help you maintain a co-parenting schedule, improve co-parenting communication and share information like contact and medical info.

Our Family Wizard is used by tens of thousands of families, costs $99/year per parent, has a 30-day free trial, as well as military discounts and assistance for low-income families. Check out Our Family Wizard now >>

Set one due date and automate all bills

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.

Set up a free online checking account or high-interest online savings account.

Go on a shopping diet

No more trips to the mall or to browse.

No more retail therapy.

No more “treating yourself” to meals out you can't afford, clothes that break your budget, or gifts for your kids that are outside of your financial goals.

If you are broke, shopping is not a hobby you can afford! Financial stress is not a treat — it is self-punishment!

While you're at it:

Eat through your pantry and freezer.

Use up all the shampoo, soap, toothpaste and mascara in your house before you buy more.

Use up all the cleaning supplies and paper products en lieu of picking some up, blindly, at the market.

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.

More about how to make a single-mom budget you will stick to

3. 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.

Some ideas for making more money:

  • 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.

Here is my list of top career-level, work-at-home jobs that can earn you in the six-figures or more. These include bookkeeper, grant writer, coder / programmer, virtual assistant, and blogger.

My favorite 57 tools for work-at-home workers, including social media graphics, business contracts and incorporation, tools to build a website, and more. Plus, three online tools you need: Bookkeeping, accounting and payroll >>

4. 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.

Plus: It is critical to your ability to move on emotionally in this phase of life if you are not connected to your ex and your former life through bi-weekly payments.

5. 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.

6. Check your credit score for free—regularly

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.

Read more: How to use credit repair to improve your credit score

7. Consolidate your credit cards and manage debt

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!

An important first step is to apply for a 0% balance transfer credit card — which can dramatically speed up your debt payoff process by saving you thousands of dollars in interest and fees.

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. It costs just $9 to get started repairing your credit >>

14 steps to pay off debt for good— even on a low income

How to repair your credit — should you DIY?

8. Set 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 save up for a vacation.

Invest with a robo-advisor

Long-term goals include buying a home, starting a business, remodeling the kitchen, saving for your kids’ college, or investing for retirement.

The last thing you want is a complicated investment strategy — or a high-fee broker who you may or not trust.

I'm a big fan of Betterment, which has a really cool and free goal setter on their beautiful website, founded by Wall Street legend Sally Krawcheck.

Plug in your info and goals, and in 10 minutes this free financial planning tool will outline what it takes to reach your financial goals.

One mistake moms often make is that they park their money in a savings account or checking account with a low- or 0% APR. Be sure to invest in the stock market, especially robo-advisor managed funds. Betterment is a robo-advisor, which means that sophisticated computers manage and grow your money for you — the benefits of which are very low fees, as well as much higher returns when compared to what you get when humans manage money, studies find.

Betterment is one of the oldest and largest robo-advisors, with $22 billion under management. Benefits of Betterment include:

  • $0 minimum
  • Fees starting at .25%
  • Tax loss harvesting
  • Better Business Bureau A+
  • Get a free financial plan
  • Access to human advisors
  • New member promo: Up to 1 year managed free
  • Socially responsible investing funds
  • Betterment savings and checking accounts

Learn more about Betterment now, and get your free financial plan >>

If you haven’t dipped your toes into the investment waters, you might be nervous about building a portfolio or opening a brokerage account. Learn about investing basics in this post.

Save and pay off debt at the same time

Your financial goals likely include both building an emergency fund and paying off your credit card debt.

Which should you do first: pay off debt or build savings?

Answer: Both! Split extra funds between paying off debt and boosting that emergency savings and/or investments.

Related: 9 steps for single moms to pay off debt for good

Don't make money decisions ‘as a single mom'

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 an 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.

9. Understand your new tax situation as a single parent

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.

Read more: What every single parent needs to know about taxes

10. Protect your family with life insurance and disability insurance

Life insurance for single moms

Life insurance can be 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 could be 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.

Bestow offers term life insurance with a quick and simple quote process. Bestow promises no medical exam or lab tests, an A+ Better Business Bureau rating, and prices start at $8/month for up to $1 million coverage.

You can read more about Bestow, the policies they offer are provided by one of the largest life insurance companies in the nation, and rated A+ (Superior).

Get a free life insurance quote online within 5 minutes now >>

11. Spend money in ways that make you money

Time is money.

If you spend all your free time on housework and errands, you will never break free from your financial challenges and build something new.

There is a reason the wealthy — and even the financially comfortable people — hire out cleaning, yardwork, and other chores: Their time is too valuable doing what they do not enjoy, and they can hire out to an expert, instead.

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.

12. 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:

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.

Get support

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.

Join my Facebook group, Millionaire Single Moms, where positive, evolved women support one another in building careers, businesses, wealth, relationships and more!Explore therapy. Online therapy starts at $35/week for unlimited access to a licensed therapist via BetterHelp, with a FREE 7-day trial >>

13. 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 pedal 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.

How to start over after divorce with no money

There is broke, and then there is poverty. Many female residents of homeless shelters and transitional housing are recently divorced or left a relationship.

If you are facing severe finances as a single mom:

Find housing resources at the National Coalition for Homelessness

Learn how to qualify for HUD housing, and search for a HUD apartment on the program's website.

Lifeline Assistance is a government program partners with mobile phone companies to provide qualifying families with free phones and cell service.

Find a food pantry near you using Food Finder, which will connect you with free food given away through churches, community programs and charities in your area.

The Women Infants and Children program, or WIC, is for families with children aged 5 and younger, and provides coupons you can use at grocery stores, markets and bodegas, for qualifying food. Learn whether you are eligible for WIC, and how to apply.

TANF, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, is the new name for cash assistance once called ‘welfare.' Learn more about TANF.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, loads financial credit to low-income people on a debit card, to use at your local grocery store and market. Learn how to qualify, and apply online for SNAP.

Free Charity Cars gives away donated cars to those in need throughout the United States. Find more single mom resources here >>

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.

Related: Lies that keep single moms broke, overwhelmed and alone

Find YOUR Single Mom Success:

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No B.S. I will never sell your contact info.

Disclaimer: The opinions and ideas expressed in the article are those of the author(s) and are not promoted or endorsed by Bestow or North American. founder Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, activist and author. A former Associated Press reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has appeared on CNBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, TIME, The Doctors, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine. Winner of Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web” and a New York Observer “Most Eligible New Yorker," her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was a New York Post Must Read. A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Emma's Top Single Mom Resources.


I was enjoying the article up to the point where the author started talking about the gratitude journal. When you listed one of the privileges you had as “being white” that just broke my heart. Your forum is amazing, please realize you have a wide audience including black women following your articles. Listing color as a privilege simply disempowers any black women out there without that privilege lol.
Also for any black women reading this, please know it is possible to thrive despite this privilege. When my marriage ended I went back to school and completed my masters in a computer science field and as God’s favor would have it, I secured a great job, paid off my student loans, purchased a house and on the way to obliterating that mortgage. God’s been working it out since then, Emma shares good tips, learn your finances, lose the single mum crutches and have a bigger than life dream. God’s got you, all you need to do is call to him and do your part- work extremely hard!! You can all do it regardless of who you are!!!

I really loved this article! To the point, practical and so so easy to follow and implement just a few strategies to get us on our way. Thank you!! xx

This is a very empowering post. It has gave me and I’m sure other mum’s the confidence to organise their lives and believe that they can be successful. It has covered many of the doubts that hold us single mothers back and it is right…. we can be successful high earners and raise our children by developing our skills in managing our lives, working hard and having no self pity or anger where things haven’t worked as we planned. I feel strong, empowered and ready to make the changes to help me reach my potential. Thank you.

A comment for u I whant to way i am 15 years old i am in New York i whant to Fine a website fining a mom my mom my dad died me and my sister we live in rent mean i Fine This i hope u fine me This. to live a new mom

Hello i live in a small town and i work 3 jobs to support my 4 children. And i really dont see a way out of our financial situation. I am barely paying rent an utilities every month, somedays we jist sit at home because i jave no gas to go anywhere. How do i het ahead in life? I already work from son up to son down and its not enough. I dont even buy birthday/christmas gifts. Or anything extra. Please help

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Hi Emma,
I loved your posts. I liked what you had to say about getting a firm grip of what is coming in and how much you are spending. Then set goals to make sure you are always bringing in more money. Being a single mother isn’t easy, but if you can get through college and then get an advanced degree finding a job after that can make life much easier. Setting realistic goals where you come out on top is the hardest part, but once you make it, you make it!

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Thank you.

I’m gone to tell my little brother, that he should
also visit this web site on regular basis to take updated from hottest gossip.

Great tips here, especially about not sacrificing quality of life for money. The most important thing is being with your kids and helping them grow. It’s about balance!

Hi Emma, lovely post. It touched me.I am almost 24 I have a 4 year old daughter and am a single mom living in the Caribbean. I work two jobs but wages are too small so I can’t afford to leave my folks home and be fully independent. I currently goes to school. I have huge burning desires and dreams which cannot leave the ground since it looks grim. I need some great advice to assist me to full independence and becoming a profitable individual. Thank you

Great post, important info for all single moms. Sometimes just a daily reminder to keep on keeping on even when they are struggling is important to. Some days are bad and they may have to take a financial step backward (use a credit card to buy groceries cuz the cash ran out, etc), but one bad day does not make a bad lifetime. It’s important to keep the goal in mind no matter where they are financially today. Love your site!!

“one bad day does not make a bad lifetime.”

You know what, that is so wise. I’m going to cross stitch that on a pillow!

Thank you Emma. I just learned 7 days ago that my hours would be cut in half. I divorced 2 years ago, I’ve supported the kiddos and myself for 7+ years, and been employed 13+ years, full time. I have gone to school, when I can work it around the kids and my work. So my schooling has led me over 3 years to the level of a sophomore in college. I married young, bought into the religious/faith koolaid. My then husband earned next to nothing, and still does – OH! But he’s going to have his master’s degree in (manipulation and abuse — wups, sorry, that statement wasn’t supposed to make it on the blog, oh well) organizational development and leadership. I’m trying to do everything I can, as I have for the last three years. I’ve always had a stable job in healthcare, but the way the industry has shaped up (yes, I believe in looking at Forbes, Fortune, and Success, and following business like a hawk to keep ahead of my industry to help me follow where I ought to focus my degree in order to land the best possible job), I just don’t have an edge where I need it , at the right time.

I’m frightened, but know there’s not a thing I wouldn’t do for my three boys to keep a roof over their heads. I do not collect support from their father, I applied for aid from the state (my first time ever, I feel ashamed ) , and help with daycare assistance. I guess i’m more mad and upset with myself, as I walked down the aisle to marry and devote 11 years of my life to a man & support him, knowing full well I needed to obtain my degree sooner than now. I argued with him, went to class “against his wishes” and scored A’s, and have continued to do so. I’m hoping to pull my networking resources together, and I am freaked out to travel for my job, as I don’t want my ex pulling ANY custody battles with me (we took the mediation route…. 50/50 custody the entire way, but he keeps an eye on his pocket book, and the children = his pawns for tax returns & image maker).

I am hoping to get ahead of the industry and break in wherever I an. I am trying to also submit my photos to a modeling agency to try and see if there’s any way to break into that realm… I know..stupid thought, but it was at the urging of my co workers. Thanks for your resourcefulness and wit, I appreciate your professionalism Emma!

“Have you paid for daycare Darth? ” Nope. Thankfully, I got wise to the foolishness of marriage before I ever stepped into one and had kids with a woman who would leave. I also – very, very thankfully – got wise to how single moms work after dating too many seeking after a long-term commitment and marriage.

And after dating those too many single moms who showed me that most – not all, but enough to make a man think all – single moms just want a man’s money, regardless of whether he’s the real dad, or the stepdad. Just when I think maybe there is hope that some single moms might be decent, another single mom I meet reminds me not to ever trust one for any reason. Heard another delightful story today from a young single mom who has had an on and off with her bad boy baby daddy (in and out of jail, of course), but admits she is “settling”to marry a Poindexter that she “likes, but doesn’t love” because he has a job and she needs a man to pay her and her deadbeat dad’s kiddo. After she’s drained Poindexter, she’ll cheat on him – likely with her ex because they’ve been so on and off -then leave Poindy. She comes to the marriage with nothing, but she’ll walk away with everything this Poindexter owns and not bat an eye. THIS is the true vision of most single moms today.

I would NEVER recommend that a woman be a SAHM for their kids in this day and age. Does being a SAHM have value? Yes, I certainly think it does. It isn’t just the expense of daycare, as it is also parents being responsible for raising their own kiddos whenever they can. However, in the crazy world of false commitment that is still called “marriage” in this age, no man or woman should make themselves vulnerable to the other spouse leaving, since it happens all the time (although more frequently it’s the wife who files for divorce, to be honest.)

In my opinion, noone should get married, ever.

Good grief Darth, your outlook makes me really sad – for you. There are good and bad men AND women out there. I think your attitude might attract the wrong type of women.

But Darth you keep saying that you have this new, fake peresona – swearing and acting aloof with the intent of feigning “bad boy.” When people are phony it is because they are ashamed of their true feelings. What are you hiding?

Single mom. No child support. No government assistance. Graduated college 6 months after my child was born. Now have a job making 60k with full benefits and opportunities to promote. Fuck off. If you meet an asshole in the morning, you met an asshole. If you meet assholes all day every day, you’re the asshole. Pick better women to date and don’t hate on a group of women who already have it hard enough. If you’re picking up single moms at the bar only to find out they are just after your money, you’re doing it wrong and you’re the problem.

Darth- I assure you that your generalization of single mothers wanting a man solely for financial means to inevitably drain him is completely wrong. Are there women like that? Sure, undeniably so however, there are men that are just as guilty & low life’s as you’ve described these single mothers to be. Marriage can be beautiful, if two people enter into it in their own time with good intentions.
I’m a single mother with two children. Full time mother. Full time civilian for the Government. I do not need a man to fulfill a void nor do I need his financial assistance. I can support myself thank you. The man I married decided that he “didn’t want the responsibility of a wife & kids”. So Darth, you tell me what type of person is worse.

These are all great points, and mostly common sense. I make a pretty good salary, am pretty frugal, and still wonder how any parent, married or single, has much left after a paycheck. Of course, a lot of kids today do get a whole lot more “benefits” (phones, laptops, music) than I remember getting as a kid because of all the parental guilt and desire to “keep up with the Jones’s”.

I talked to one mom with four grown girls who had once all been in cheerleading, and she said they were spending $2,000 each “season” on EACH daughter to keep them in uniforms, poms-poms etc. One of my sister’s kids do sports, and I suspect they are spending similar with uniforms, bats, gloves, additional coaching traveling to games. BLECH. Nothing against sports, and having a kid in them, but, honestly, is most anyone’s kid good enough to warrant spending thousands a year for what is generally recreational?

“And if you think that you are legitimately entitled to that money you should accept it guilt-free. ” – LMAO most EVERY woman I’ve met thinks they are legitimately entitled to any man’s money. I’ve even read stories of single mommies getting child support for their kids from their 2nd husband – the STEPdaddy -after a divorce. Most mommy’s just want men’s money, and don’t care whom they get it from.

I had to take a few deep breaths before I responded to this comment. While I agree there are plenty of mommies out there that are more than willing to take as much of daddy’s money as they can there are some of us that don’t. I was a stay at home mom for almost my entire marriage. That was a privilege but it wasn’t always easy. My ex traveled all over the world, sometimes for months at a time. I felt stuck at times. Too many kids and not enough time to get a job. Have you paid for daycare Darth? Then came the end. I stare at the ceilings most nights wondering how I can support myself and three kids with no job and no education. I am fully aware this is my fault. Do not rub it in. I wasted time. By many accounts I am entitled to that money. I took care of running the house and raising the kids while he furthered his career. But I don’t feel that way. I am in school, raising our boys alone because he still travels constantly and trying desperately to find a way to make money so I can tell him to keep his money. Darth, please remember some of us mommies do not want a mans money. Emma, thank you for the idea of taking a mentor out to lunch to learn about opportunities and lessons. I would have never thought about that one.

Im a single mom living in the Caribbean. I work really hard to provide for my self and my son, plus send my self back to school and to be financially independent. My problem is i cant seem to make ends meet and move out my moms home. Every busy i try or venture in , im unable to keep it a float , due to the minimum wage im earning. I need advise on the way forward and achieving my goals.

I’m inquiring about the loan information my name is wilkeisha b hill my address 3300 Alabama st Houston Texas my occupation is unarmed security started at 9.00hr my phone number 832-886-9372 I’m a single 23year old mother and I’m looking for a loan for around 10k to start my own non profit organization name God’s center of hope for needy or low income families all around Houston area

I have so much that I KNOW people could learn from and the humor to make it an enjoyable experience… All my life I’ve been told I could write a book….. It’s true… Can you point me in the right direction of running a successful blog???

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