It’s a cliché, but clichés are clichés for a reason: Single moms are poorer than married moms. I know this for a fact. I know because I’ve been a single mom for three years. I also know because I hear from financially struggling single moms all the time. The fact is that according to a 2010 census, the most recent data available, 41 percent of households headed by single women with children live in poverty—nearly triple the national poverty rate.
As someone in the trenches, and a writer who often hears stories of other single parents’ struggles, this is what I know: When there is just one breadwinner who also happens to be the primary caregiver, there are fewer resources for that family. Resources do not just include money. There is less time—time to build careers and businesses, time to have fun and nurture children. There is less energy to invest in all those things as well as relationships and your community.
But all is not lost! In my own experience, and in hearing the inspiring stories of scores of mothers (and fathers!) who unexpectedly found themselves raising children without a spouse, it is indeed possible to build a financial future that is comfortable. I reached out to other single mom bloggers for their advice for making it happen financially. But first, I want to share what I’ve learned on my own journey:
- Invest in your career. Find ways to make more money—not just spend less. Find something you love and something you will succeed at. That will bring you joy, and that will spill over to other parts of your life. Build a professional life around your family life through self-employment or with an employer that appreciates the value of telecommuting and flexible work schedules.
- Get serious about time management. You can always make more money. But you cannot get back time wasted on a dead-end job or energy-sucking relationship. Your children are growing so fast. Make the most of every minute to enjoy, to earn and to blossom as a person and a parent.
- Outsource. Sending out your laundry and hiring a cleaning service leads to time well-invested in building a career and raising your children. Which leads me to:
- Dream big and don’t put energy into the stresses of your life. Put your energy into your goals and a beautiful future. Because even though it can be really, really tough and really, really lonely, life as a single parent can be even more brilliant than your plan A.
To learn from the successes of others, I reached out to single mom bloggers to question them on the ways they make the most of their finances.
Find ways to cut costs on necessities
Alaina Shearer, who for five years has blogged at Ms. Single Mama, is an enthusiastic thrift store shopper (and an amazingly stylish one, I might add). “Thrift stores have evolved since the recession, and it really is a go-to place for my mom friends and me living on a budget,” Shearer says. “I find everything from kid clothes to new furniture at the thrift stores. For accessories (I would prefer unused, like shoes, belts, hats and gloves), I turn to online shopping where I can bargain hunt for the best deal.”
To keep costs down for daily essentials and food, Tracee Sioux blogs at The Girl Revolution and buys in bulk but doesn’t stockpile goods in her pantry. “We do the majority of our shopping at Sam’s Club and can buy $80 worth of food for the entire week,” Sioux says. “The trick is to keep it simple. Plus, we will rotate through our staples like spices and toilet paper before we buy more.”
Kerri Zane, author of It Takes All 5: A Single Mom’s Guide to Finding the REAL One ($19.95), blogs at KerriZane.com. She, too, uses coupons to buy staples like cream cheese, eggs and cranberry juice at shopping clubs and the regular grocery store. But it’s also important to her to buy organic and other specialties, which she says are worth an extra trip. “I am careful about shopping for daily staples like fruits and vegetables at Ralphs or Trader Joe’s,” Zane says, “and I love natural, self-ground peanut butter, so that may be the only purchase I make at Whole Foods.”
When it comes to free time, Sioux aims to give her son and daughter a full childhood experience but on a budget. “We keep gift-giving and parties simple,” Sioux says. “My children have great birthday parties at the free park with inexpensive cakes made by my neighbor or a slumber party with $5 pizzas.” She also aims to buy them the gifts they ask for, even if a Wii comes from Craigslist.
Shearer’s family turns to free and inexpensive community activities in her hometown of Columbus, Ohio. “I sought out every free and fun activity in the city,” Shearer says. “The libraries, free festivals and even play areas at Barnes & Noble are lifesavers.”
Lainie Liberti’s idea of fun is living and traveling abroad with her son. She blogs about their excursions at Raising Miro. She urges single moms to include their children in budgeting and spending, so they can appreciate the cost of living while learning math and planning skills. Activities might include having an older child choose a restaurant through online research, or having your kids set daily budgets for hotels and happenings while traveling. “Include their suggestions on what to splurge on and what to avoid, which involves them in defining your family’s priorities,” Liberti says. “All these tips allow you and your family to apply real-world math skills, engage your children in the planning process and teach the importance of budgeting.”
Always think ahead and save
Honorée Corder lives in Austin, Texas, with her daughter and second husband and has long blogged at The Successful Single Mom, where she also sells a series of books by the same name. Like me, she urges single mothers to think strategically and with wealth in mind. For example, Corder suggests that single moms put away 10 percent of their income each month for emergencies and unexpected expenses like medical issues and home repairs. “You’ll enjoy how good it feels to have a nest egg,” Corder says.
The key is to take a holistic approach. “Single moms need a solid plan and budget,” Corder says. “Assemble a small team of experts, including a financial adviser and an accountant, to make sure you are making the right decisions.”
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