Single moms can’t afford to have a job (Or: Why self-employment is the single mom’s ticket to sanity)

This weekend I was at a family Halloween event in Brooklyn, New York’s hub of the creative professional, Yuppie parent. While watching my kids get down to some crappy children’s rock band, I distracted myself by eavesdropping on a couple of above-described moms. “Cobbling together a living with freelance projects has been tough – but when I had a fulltime job it was even harder!”

I have long sung the praises of self-employment. Allow me to continue here. When you have a traditional full-time job in which you are required to report to a boss an office, there is little flexibility with how you use your time. Time is humans’ greatest commodity, and single parenthood only highlights that. Swinging work, kids, home, personal time, money management, a relationship and getting that occasional wax requires super-human juggling scheduling when you have to do it by yourself. If you’re tethered to an office and a strict schedule, this can seem impossible. If you only have 12 personal days per year, what happens when your kid wakes up on a Wednesday in pool of his own puke? What about the parent-teacher conference, when your own parent needs your company at a doctor’s appointment. What do you do when you need to get your roots touched up?

In fact, I wrote a whole post about how I became a WAH, freelance writer and blogger single mom. 

But if you have control over your time, you have control over your life. This point is in full effect this week for me. Consider the following single-mom specific challenges my flexible (freelance writing) career has accommodated: daycare closing owing to Hurricane Sandy; a child support court hearing; accompanying a friend to an out-of-town medical appointment, and a Halloween party at said daycare. Yet most days this week I will exercise, and I will also bill around three times what I would earn in a staff job in my profession.

True, this is an unusually hectic week, and it will mean that I work some hours after the kids are in bed and over the weekend. But what would I do if I had to clock into a desk? I would find a way to make it all work, but it would be at the expense of paying a babysitter, and in stress for all three of us. Instead, today while the wind picks up and the rain intensifies, my kids and I are baking pumpkin banana muffins that we will use to bribe our neighbors into joining our afternoon dance party.

One of the most beautiful things about living today is that achieving a work-life balance has never been easier. Companies increasingly allow telecommuting and other alternative work arrangements; freelancing and consulting arrangements are now the norm in many professions, and technology facilitates flexibility in ways we couldn’t have imaged a few years ago. The other thing successful, self-employed people will tell you: if you do it right, you almost always earn way more money than if you are stuck to a salary.

Don’t get me wrong, it is always a struggle to do the single-mom juggle. But if you have a grip on your time, the chaos goes down, your quality of life goes up and your hair has never looked better.


Interested in being a work-at-home freelance single mom? Here is the rundown of how I got started, with more information on this post:

Here is the rundown:

I bought a domain name (that is the URL of your blog, like at

I then signed up with DreamHost as my server (if your blog is a house, the host/server is the town in which it resides). is also a popular hosting service.

Like most personal blogs, mine is built on WordPress. Make sure you go with WordPress.ORG (not .com). This is really important. It would be really lame if my URL was You don’t want that.

Then you You need a basic design. No need to spend a bunch of money when you start out. I bought an affordable one at Elegant Themes — they have lots of really pretty ones.

Sign up for a service to collect email addresses and send emails. I use Aweber, one of the most popular services. I like it because it is easy to use and has lots of design options.

One of my favorite parts of my business is hosting “The Emma Johnson Show.” I had never worked in radio until this year. I host all of my shows as podcasts using an easy and affordable app, Libsyn.

But you may know that I am also a freelance journalist, writing stories for publications like The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Glamour, Woman’s Health, Woman’s Day, Real Simple, WORTH, MSN Money – you name it. In fact, that is still how I make a lot of my income. I highly suggest you use sites like FlexJobs , a site that lists only freelance, telecommute, contract and other flexible positions (the owner launched the business to find work-life balance for herself and her family, and all workers are telecommute).

When it comes to building the actual business, earlier this year I started using QuickBooks, which is awesome (for years and years I had a really ghetto accounting system involving an Excel worksheet, Word doc invoices and email. Negative!). Seriously, Quickbooks looks awesome, is super-easy to use and helps me keep track of all the money I make.

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15 thoughts on “Single moms can’t afford to have a job (Or: Why self-employment is the single mom’s ticket to sanity)

  1. I understand (and fully agree) that it is easier in many ways to be self-employed. But I’d love some ideas on making that happen when your day job doesn’t even pay the bills, let alone allow you to save money.

    1. Teresa – excellent question. You have to think outside the corporate box. How could you do your current job in a self-employed capacity? Contract work? Freelance? Maybe you can work with your current employer to find telecommuting or job-share options. Check out this article I wrote on the subject:

      From there you can build up your own business — but like Lawmom said, you need a plan, and that plan needs to include a ramp-up period. Maybe you build up savings, get a loan or expect to strategically take on credit card debt with an eye towards a better situation in the future.

      One key is to connect with other people in your industry who are doing what you would like to do. Ask them how they did it, the challenges, and ask for references and to take on overflow work. You’d be surprised how few people ask for help — and how willing others are to share!

  2. Sing it! When I realized the chaos that having a second child brought to my biglaw time constraints, I jumped ship and started my own practice. But like the other poster said: you have to have some fall-back to transition. I would say be prepared for at least six months of very little income as you set yourself up. This may mean you have to get a business loan or save as much now for the transition or get creative with how you will ease from day job to freelance…

    1. Hello Ladies, I am so happy I found this blog of successful single mothers. I have exactly that problem, I work in an office setting with no flexibility and always worry about money. My job schedule does not allow me to drop off nor pick up my child from school. I would love to have a more flexible job schedule and to be able to spend more time with my son. Please help me.

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  4. I’ve been self employed for a year. No taxes taken out, and no insurance. That’s the rub. Any suggestions? I love the flexibility with two kids, but it doesn’t pay as much as corporate, and after visiting my CPA this week, I am wondering if I should just sell out. How can I set aside enough for taxes and insurance when what I make is getting us by? How do you marry these issues?

    1. Hi Angie – First, good for you for taking the plunge into self-employment! I can’t imagine you will ever want to go back to working for the man, but your questions are good.

      I’d love to help, but need more info. Like: which path offers more income now? Which offers more income growth? Which do you enjoy more? What about lifestyle benefits (flexible schedule, etc.). As for taxes, I find many more tax savings by working for myself, including deductions from health insurance, home office, mileage, etc. Lots of moving parts. If your CPA isn’t helpful in giving you some guidance on this, consider finding someone who will. Feel free to email me and maybe we can think through some of this:

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  6. I came across this blog post. I am completely tired of the monotony of the day to day hustle of a 9 to 5. I feel as if I’m missing out on being involved in certain things in my children lives. Before I know it, they will be adults with their own families. Are there any particular careers/jobs you may suggest in order to leave the 9 to 5 and essentially work from home (but with a substantial income )?

    1. Ty – Thank you for this– I would suggest starting with my friends FlexJobs, which vets all the jobs they post for being truly telecommute, parttime, freelance and otherwise mom-friendly.

      You’ve also inspired me to create my own list- – book even! — of these jobs. This is such a key part of being a happy mom, in my opinion.

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  8. Can i get some help starting a blog? I am a writer at heart and already have a wordpress account but no idea how to set it all up and get it functioning. How do you write freelance for magazines etc? I am very interested in finally following my dreams of being a writer after years of abuse im about to be single with 4 kids and i want/ need to be there for them. Any help? Please email me.

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