How to get out of BROKE when the world is stacked against you

single mom wealth



This was posted in Millionaire Single Moms, my closed Facebook group (which has 7,201 members as I write!), for which the mission statement includes:

This is a mastermind of single moms who are committed to growing their careers, businesses and personal wealth, who think BIG, and refuse to accept that exterior challenges define us or limit our potential.

A member posted this:

I have mixed feelings about the premise behind this group: that we as single mothers can achieve financial freedom if we work hard enough and stop internalizing a victim mentality. On the one hand, I agree — I've known more than a few people who focus on external obstacles rather than on possibilities and make nothing happen in their lives. It's a self-defeating way to live. I'm all about embracing agency, our power to change our circumstances, dreaming big and taking steps to make those dreams happen.

At the same time, the bootstraps mentality can only go so far. It deny that the playing field is not level and sweep all forms of privilege and discrimination (institutionalized racism, sexism) under the rug; it has been used to pathologize the poor and deflect responsibility from a corrupt billionaire class, giving lots of leverage to people like Paul Ryan, whose justification for taking away healthcare from millions of poor people is that they'll work harder to pay for it!

Now more than ever, we need to be mindful of the limitations of a brand of empowerment that's focused on the individual rather than the collective. True financial freedom can only happen in an advanced nation that is willing to invest in women and children; and unaffordable childcare is the biggest obstacle to a single parent's financial success. It seems to me that women are better served working together to make change happen in this country than they are by trying to adapt a millionaire mentality (trying to “manifest” wealth, while juggling multiple gigs and struggling to pay off debt), although the two don't have to be mutually exclusive. Imagine how many single mothers would be freed by universal daycare to pursue their career ambitions and not have to rely on child support or alimony. 

My response:

I have been thinking a lot about how my work with single moms is my greatest influence in the resistence. I have also been honing my deep understanding that earning and achieving professionally is the greatest act of activism each of us can participate in. When you defy your limitations, you break through very real class, race and gender barriers. You model a different, better story for your children, your friends, family, colleagues and everyone who is silently watching. Your own life either perpetuates a stereotype, or tells the world to FUCK OFF, and write a new set of rules.
As it pertains to this group, and my message overall …
  • To individuals I say: The very practically of it: You are what you focus on. Focus on what you can do to get out of a cycle of juggling crappy part-time work and debt (which never got anyone anywhere). Stop focusing on the very real inequalities for women, the poor, racial minorities (unless you are on a mission to actively change those). There simply is no room for excuses when it comes to running one's own circumstances. Surround yourself with positive people, get focused, and make a decision to change your life, and your children's lives. This is the greatest act you can make for changing systemic inequality. I have never, ever met anyone who has achieved —whether with thanks to the good luck of being born to money, or despite incredible hardship — who has not simply looked bad luck and circumstance in the face and got the hell on with it already.
  • Yes, generational poverty and inflexible class structure are real and powerful. Also: each of us is responsible for our own happiness and wellbeing. The moment anyone suggests they are owed anything, their own individual power and society overall crumble.
  • Billionaires and politicians are not solely responsible for the wellbeing of the masses. We are living in a time of unprecedented wealth and opportunity for women. We are more privileged than any group of women in the history of the world, and 98% of women in the world today (yes, I get Scandinavia has it really fucking good. I spent the past two summers in Denmark and wrote a bunch about social infrastructure for women and families for Forbes. The difference is real!). You and I have incredible privilege, and with privilege comes responsibility. The biggest impact you and I can make right now, today, is to earn and achieve. Decide right now to not depend on a man, grovel for low-paying work, model scrimping and playing victim to your children. These choices keep the pay gap alive and thriving. That is when the wealth gap widens. Corporate boards and Washington remain void of women. Anti-women an family policy persist. As a person of privilege, it is your responsibility to work to change those realities.
  • I 100% agree with you on universal child care. It is in my near-term planning to be very politically active on that front (my Plan A was for Hillz to call me up personally and ask me to spearhead universal childcare, but I'm working on Plan B. Stay tuned).

What do you think? What external excuses do you use to not achieve or get out of a cycle of being broke, dependent or otherwise under-achieving? Share in the comments!


About Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour,, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.


  1. Megan on July 20, 2017 at 11:09 am

    It’s similar to the concept of people needing to know a person of color, or gay, or atheist, or poly, or some other “Other”. It opens minds. Once we show the world how kickass single moms can be, they’ll stop trying to peg us as victims. ‘Cause it’s true – we got this. :)

  2. Ellen on July 22, 2017 at 4:52 pm

    I love this blog! Of course the odds are stacked against non-white-women-and-men to varying degrees. That is the point isn’t it? That is why single Moms need inspiring blogs like this one: because we share the challenge of raising these precious peanuts in a set of circumstances that lead so many of us into stressful and many times impoverished positions.

    Your voice is important because it is unique. Why not be grateful for help but also pave our own way? Why not support our children well with our salaries? Why not have bad-ass careers? Doing so IS activism. We raise our sisters up when we live our independence. We can help others when we are earning well and living well. The more I accept my own responsibility to support my family financially as well as in all the other ways mothers hold their families up , the better my relationship is with their Dad and the more he is willing to do.

    I want my girls to take their financial well-being seriously. I want them to thrive in their financial lives. It is not a man’s job to support the family alone. Why not own that?

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