Running a household as a single parent can be challenging. But with the right tools, organization, and support, you can become exceptionally efficient when it comes to managing day-to-day tasks. Because, let’s get real: YOU DON’T HAVE A CHOICE!
By using apps, outsourcing, budgeting, and automating, you can organize your busy life regardless of whether you have multiple children, a demanding career, and a desire for more quality time with your family.
The guide below will show you how to prioritize your calendar and your tasks to keep your family happy, healthy, and balanced.
One of the easiest ways to effectively manage your household is by outsourcing. However, you can’t hire help until you know how much money you have to spend. That’s where budgeting comes in.
Creating your first budget as a single parent can be challenging, especially if you’re used to having dual incomes. However, with enough tracking and organization, you can find a way to maximize your money time and energy to live the most kickass life you can — and be an awesome role model for your kids (and anyone else who is watching).
When creating a budget, the first place to start is tracking your spending. Personal Capital is a free tool that shows your whole financial picture including your income, expenses, your debt, and your net worth. Tiller is also a good tool to use to track your spending throughout the month.
Create budget categories
Once you start tracking your spending, you can create budget categories, keeping in mind that you should have a zero based budget. A zero based budget is when you allocate every dollar you earn to a specific category, including a savings category.
Take some time to think about the budget categories that would make your life easier. As a single parent, you might need to allocate more to outsourcing certain tasks, like babysitting and housekeeping, while cutting back on some extras like going out to eat.
Keep in mind that budgeting is a habit that takes time to learn. It will likely take a few months for you to get used to living within a budget. However, once you have a strong budget in place where you assign every dollar to a category at the beginning of the month, you’ll start to feel empowered with your money.
In addition to following a budget, one of the most important aspects of running a single-mom household is time management. This can be challenging when you have to coordinate work, after school activities, nights out with friends, and more.
To manage your time more effectively, look at your current schedule. How many extracurricular activities are on your calendar? Recent research shows that parents spend an average of $739 per year and countless hours on after school activities. Not only are extracurricular activities expensive, but they take up a lot of time. Can you pick just one activity per child? Can you stop participating in the one activity you dread driving to each week? After all, your kids aren’t getting maximum value out of the experience if their mom is grumpy about that hour round-trip drive to the expensive gymnastics class that your kid isn’t even that interested in!
Remember, it’s OK to send your kids to football but not have them compete on the traveling competition team. It’s also OK to send your kids to tennis lessons without them taking part in tournaments every weekend. Essentially, do what works for your family.
Plus, single parents have an extra layer of scheduling to consider if you share custody of your children and the related scheduling. At the same time, you need to remain flexible if you or your ex is traveling, or one of you has a work conflict or illness come up.
While maintaining all this might seem overwhelming, there are many ways to consolidate and organize even the busiest schedule. Some examples:
- Cozi: Cozi is one of the most popular family organizing apps available. You can manage your family’s schedules in one place as well as store your grocery lists and to do lists. Best of all, you can access it across multiple devices so your kids can see the schedule too.
- Week Calendar: Many reviews say Week Calendar is the best calendar app available. It is not free, but it is a reasonable $1.99.
- Hub App: Apple chose Hub App as the best new productivity app. You can share calendars and lists with family members through the Hub App. You can also share photos and memories too.
Another great way to improve your time management is to outsource.
No one ever became wealthy without outsourcing. After all, you already outsource your laundry to a washer and dryer, and transportation to a car or bus or plane. Take it a step further and outsource housekeeping, and errand running.
Babysitters and child care:
It’s important to have several babysitters on call for moments when you need more help. For example, you might want to have a younger babysitter who charges less per hour for a night out with your girlfriends. Then, you might want a trusted babysitter who is older with a clean driving record to help you get your kids to and from activities after school. Having several different babysitters who are different ages will help you feel confident when making plans or scheduling important events. Care.com is a great resource to find caretakers.
Lawn Maintenance and care
If you enjoy working in your yard, feel free to complete this task yourself. However, if you want to spend your weekend enjoying your children instead of mowing the lawn, this is an inexpensive task to outsource.
House cleaning and laundry
The only way to grow your income and reduce your stress is to outsource things that you hate or are bad at — or are below your pay grade. Laundry and housekeeping are top of this list. Some people enjoy laundry (the soothing quality, the warm towels in the winter, yada yada), and if that is you, I think you are an alien. If this is you, consider laundry a hobby — not an obligation. Never feel guilty for hiring someone to clean your house and do your laundry. All you’re doing is paying someone else to free up your valuable time, so you can grow your business, relax, exercise, hang out with your kids or date.
Errands and maintenance
How many times have you said, “I need a personal assistant!” Luckily, with apps like TaskRabbit, you can hire someone to do small maintenance tasks around your home, run errands or otherwise boss around (nicely) for a reasonable fee. GENIUS.
There are many ways to automate your life these days, and this can help streamline your schedule, your bills, your phone calls, and more.
Set up automatic payments for credit cards, electric bills, cable bills, car insurance, and more. All you need to do is ensure you start each month with enough money to cover these bills (and other regular expenses) in your bank account. At the end of the month, check to make sure each company deducted the correct amount from your bank account, and that’s it.
If you have an iPhone, you can ask Siri to add things to your calendar. Tell Siri “Add a haircut at 9 AM tomorrow to my calendar.” She will automatically add the appointment to your phone without you having to type it in.
Use Amazon Subscribe and Save to create subscriptions for your household supplies. Plug in toilet paper, paper towels, diapers, cleaning supplies and whatever else you use regularly, and get it automatically delivered every couple of weeks — at a discount. One less thing to worry about and saving money!
The idea of planning an entire month’s worth of meals seems daunting. Plus, as a single parent, you have limited time. Luckily, thanks to the beauty of technology, you can make grocery shopping, prepping dinner, and even finding inexpensive restaurants much easier. Here’s how:
We all want to make healthy meals for our family, but sometimes, going to the grocery store can be such a chore. Here are a couple of ways to make it easier:
- Menu Planning: You can sit down, sift through dozens of Pinterest recipes, and plan your menus yourself, or you can pay for a service to do it for you. Some great menu planning services are Plan to Eat and the Dinner Daily.
- Delivery: Subscribe to Amazon Fresh, and they will deliver groceries right to your door. If you don’t want to pay for a premium service, you can order food from Brandless, where everything is $3. Many local groceries stores also now offer curbside pickup for a nominal fee (including WalMart.) You can also use a service like Instacart, Shipt, or Peapod to hire someone to shop at your local stores.
The popularity of meal delivery services is on the rise. These are more expensive than getting your groceries delivered to you. However, they can be a great way to try new recipes in the kitchen. Some favorites include Hello Fresh and Green Chef (for families who like to eat primarily organic food.) Both of these options also have vegetarian menus as well.
If you want to go to a restaurant with your kids to save yourself from a messy kitchen, that’s understandable. You can cut down the cost in a few ways.
- Use Restaurant.com. Here, you can put in your zip code and find coupons for restaurants in your area. Usually, they’re good coupons too!
- Use the Kids Eat Free App. Allow this app to see your location, and it will show you restaurants where kids eat free (or very cheaply) near you.
Managing Your Kids’ Lives
Speaking of kids, there are many different strategies for managing all their different needs while saving money along the way. Below are a few examples of day to day time management tips as well as long term planning tips too.
Day-to-day management of your kids
- Chores: Forget chore charts. Download the ChoreMonster app instead. This app rewards kids through a point system for doing chores. They can redeem them for screen time, ice cream, cash, and more.
- Extra curriculars: There are many different options when it comes to extracurricular activities. Try to choose activities that your kids enjoy because it will prevent whining and fighting leading up to the activity. It’s hard, but try to strike a balance between keeping them busy and overloading them. Many parents choose one athletic activity, one arts activity, and one school activity. So, your kids might play soccer, practice piano, and join the programming club at school. That should keep them more than busy throughout the week all while teaching them valuable life skills.
- Set Out Clothes the Night Before: Kids as young as 3 years old can help with the laundry. Start them early, and enlist their help with the process. If the laundry is done, kids can set out their clothes the night before. This will eliminate morning stress. Don’t forget to set out or pack all clothing needing for the day, including soccer cleats and ballet shoes. Many parents like the Happy Kids Timer app, which helps kids remember their morning chores, like making the bed, without you having to nag them.
- Spend, Save, and Give Jars: Teaching kids money management from a young age not only helps them as adults, but it helps them appreciate your hard work too. Growing up in a single-mom household can be stressful financially, but talking about money early on will show your kids how to respect money. Each time they earn money, encourage them to split up their earnings into three jars. Make one jar one for spending now, one for saving for something bigger, and one to give as charity.
Big-picture household management
Buy Birthday Gifts and Bags in Bulk
You know you’ll have to attend a million annoying kids’ birthday parties throughout the year. So, stock up at once to save money and headache. If you see a great sale on a toy appropriate for your child’s age group, buy several. Gender-neutral gifts too like books, puzzles, science and cooking projects and outdoor toys streamline this mess.
Then, buy gift bags. Dollar Tree is one of the best places to buy gift bags and cards. Again, when you go to buy one, buy several. This eliminates the pre-party stress of needing to spend time buying a gift and wrapping it. You can start the school year with several wrapped gifts in your closet ready to take to the next kid party. And don’t forget about the best time and money saver: REGIFTING!
Planning Your Own Kids’ Birthday Parties
Birthday parties for children are way overdone any more. Instead of trying to plan a Pinterest-worthy party, opt for experiences instead. Tell your child they can choose a friend to bring to a theme park, a movie, the aquarium, or some other fun experience. It will be less expensive for you, and your child will be more likely to remember it.
Save for the holidays year-round
To have enough money for holiday gifts, save a certain amount every month in a high yield savings account. The average parent spends $422 on Christmas gifts per child for kids ages 8-14. To hit that goal, you have to save about $35 per month from January-December.
Chose the right bank accounts
Lastly, in addition to getting organized with your time and your money, make sure you have the best checking, savings, and investments accounts for you.
As a single mom, managing your money to the best of your ability is extremely important. So, you should work with trusted banks who don’t charge exorbitant fees. That way, you can keep more of your hard earned money for you.
Recommended checking accounts
- USAA – USAA is for military members and their families. They have no monthly fees and no ATM fees.
- Charles Schwab – Schwab is known for excellent customer service and no ATM fees.
- Capital One 360 – Capital One 360 has no fees or minimums and check deposit from anywhere.
Recommended savings accounts
- Ally Savings Account – Ally savings account interest rates are 1.15%. Plus, you can rename the accounts to save for specific goals.
- Bank Purely – This bank has a great 1.3% savings account interest rate. Plus, they plant a tree for every account opened.
- Goldman Sachs – Get 1.2% on your savings with no minimum balance to open and no transaction fees.
Recommended investment accounts
I am on a personal mission to get women to save and invest more. There are some fascinating studies that find that women are actually better at investing that men, but they save and invest far too little, too infrequently, which puts us at a huge disadvantage. The wealth gap is a terrible issue, as women have far less invested and saved than men, and we need those long-term assets even more than dudes since:
a) we will live longer, on average,
b) are disproportionately more likely to care for children and aging relatives, and
c) will have earned less during our careers (damn you, pay gap!), and therefore receive less from Social Security.
Plus, we are better at investing, so we should just be investing and growing our money for the sake of the economy and national security, right?! ;)
It pisses me off to no end, and I am set on fixing this!
Unlike pretty much every other post you will find out there about how to invest for beginners, I will not bore you with details about diversification, rebalancing or other crap. That is boring and confusing to me, and I have worked as a personal finance journalist for more than a decade. All that jargon is important, but if you are not excited about learning it, then don’t. After all, the details of human anatomy are important, but you don’t bother reading medical journals if you feel sick. You leave that to experts who went to school for a long time to learn about medicine, and you pay them a lot of money to make you feel better.
Same with money. Especially since all that jargon and systems were created by men, and are designed to make you feel stupid so that you pay them a lot of money to manage your money for you. This is fact, not opinion, and I it should make you really mad.
You are not dumb or stupid. You are brilliant and you have what it takes to easily invest your money for the future and not pay anyone a lot of stupid fees for that. Here is the skinny:
- If you have a 401(k) or other investment plan at work with a match, maximize that. You probably get a handful of investment options to chose from, and one is likely a target date fund. Choose this. Breakdown:
- Fund= group of stocks, which is way better than a single stock, since the mix means you are better protected in case the market crashes, and more likely to make money when it goes up.
- Target date= the fund is managed in a way to maximize the time you own it. For retirement accounts, chose a target date fund that ends around the date you expect to retire. For example, I am 41, and expect to retire around the year 2040, so have a lot of my retirement investments in Vanguard Target Retirement 2040 (VFORX). Vanguard is famous because it is low-fee, and in return for that low fee, a bunch of nerds are paid huge salaries to make my money grow. I’m not a fund manager, so I would never pretend to do a better job than those nerds. They got you. A target date fund is awesome. Do that.
- If you don’t have a retirement program at work, you can create your own! Here are three easy options, and you can’t go wrong with any of them!
- Open your own brokerage account, and buy target date funds. Brokerage = Company where you can buy and sell investment products, like target date funds! I am a big fan of TD Ameritrade, because it costs you $0 to buy target date funds. $0 = FREE. Do that. Or:
- Go with a roboadvisor. Roboadvisor = a really smart computer system that manages your money for you, for very very low fees. I love these because of a) low fees, b) super-easy to use, including setups that take a few minutes, and set up automatic deposits. My favorites:
- Ellevest — This genius roboadvisor was created specifically for women, taking into account that we often take time off to have babies, suffer at the hands of the pay gap, and like pretty websites! The founder is Sallie Krawcheck, a female Wall Street trailblazer who has been a guest on my Like a Mother podcast, and I love the interface, which creates a custom financial plan for you — for free — for whatever your financial goals, including planning for kids, buying a house, paying off debt, or, of course, retirement. No minimum investment!
- Betterment — Betterment is awesome if you are looking for another very low-cost platform that takes less than 5 minutes to set up. The interface is as simple as can be, and you can’t beat the .25% fee, $0 minimum, access to human advisors via chat, and an app.
Finally, my advise for single moms about investing:
- Prioritize retirement investing far above your kids’ college education. An Allianz survey found that Americans over-save for their kids’ college fund when compared with retirement, and guilt-ridden single moms are especially prone to this mistake. Remember: the best gift you can give your kids is your own financial health. This makes you a less-stressed, more secure mom today, and relieves your children from the worry and resentment for caring for you in your later years. There are countless ways to finance college, but no Pell grants or loans for retirement!
- Believe that you are worth it. You deserve to have a fat wad in the bank, peace of mind and confidence that you can have a comfortable, joyful life and financial future!
- You are not dumb or lazy because you have not started investing — or not saved enough. The system is stacked against you. You are smart and you can do this. When you succeed in your finances, all women succeed. We lift each other up, set great role models for one another, and together we are going to close this wealth gap!
With enough organization, tools, budgeting, and perseverance, you can enjoy raising your kids on your own knowing that you are on track and on schedule not only week to week but for the long term as well.
Do you have any other tips, apps, or tools for single parents who want to successfully run their households?
GUEST WRITER HOLLY
Holly Johnson is a financial expert, award-winning writer, and mother of two who is obsessed with frugality, budgeting and travel. In addition to serving as contributing editor for The Simple Dollar, Johnson owns Club Thrifty and is the co-author of “Zero Down Your Debt: Reclaim Your Income and Build a Life You’ll Love.”