How to survive financially as a single mom: 11 steps to a richer life

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

Quick answer: NO.

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.

How do single moms survive financially? Emma’s quick take

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.”

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: Open a bank account, simplify your budget, check your credit score, consolidate your debt, buy life insurance, and make 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.

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Here are my steps to not only surviving financially as a single mom, but living a rich life:

  1. Get life insurance
  2. Open a bank account
  3. Create a budget
  4. Secure affordable housing
  5. Find child care
  6. Cut expenses
  7. Make more money
  8. Check your credit score
  9. Consolidate debt
  10. Set goals
  11. File tax returns

1. Get life insurance

Life insurance can be insanely affordable, easy to get, and just plain smart.

Protecting your family with life insurance is one of the most important decisions 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 leave your children without financial security in the event of your passing.

One reason people don’t buy life insurance is because they assume it’s going to be too expensive, but in most cases, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Read more about single moms and life insurance in this post and why we think Bestow is best for most.

2. 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 or check cashing service.

3. Create a 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?

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 You Need A Budget.

YNAB is an app and website that helps you create budgets and meet your financial goals — including paying off debt, saving for an emergency, car, house or education. Free 34-day trial.

Get started with YNAB now, FREE for 34 days >>

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

More about how to make a budget you will stick to

4. Secure affordable housing

If you need help to secure or pay for housing, there are a number of programs that can help:

  • The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) works with landlords to offer affordable rent to low-income individuals and families. Learn how to qualify for HUD housing, and search for an HUD apartment.
  • Low-income renters can apply for HUD Section 8 vouchers to pay part of their rent to participating landlords. 
  • There are numerous charities, like the Salvation Army and Catholic charities, that provide rental assistance to low-income families.

For more affordable housing resources, including programs that help single moms buy homes, read: How to get free housing or an apartment for single moms in 2022

5. Find child care

As a single mom, you need to earn money to support your family, and affordable child care is a significant part of that equation.

Fortunately, there are resources available for free or low-cost child care:

  • Head Start and Early Head Start are federal programs that offer free child care and early learning opportunities for low-income families.
  • Some YMCA programs offer free or low-cost care for families who qualify based on income and other criteria.

For a full list of child care programs by state, read: Free daycare and child care assistance programs in all 50 states

6. 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.

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. Read: Easy, affordable meal planning for single moms.

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 in 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 ways to save money

7. 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 jobs that can earn you in the six-figures or more. These include bookkeeper, grant writer, coder / programmer, and virtual assistant.

Already have a good-paying job you like?  Negotiate a pay raise.

Going back to school? 21 scholarships for single moms.

8. 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 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 and how Experian Boost could help — for free.

9. 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. 

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

10. Set short- and long-term financial goals

According to think tank Demos, The poverty rate for single parents is 46 percent for single parents with a young child, compared to 27 percent for single parents with a child older than 5. Black and Latino parents confront still higher poverty rates. For families of children under 18 of any age:

  • The median two-parent black family had $16,000 in wealth.
  • The median two-parent Latino family had $18,800 in wealth.
  • The median single-parent white family had $35,800 in wealth (two-parent white families had $161,300).

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.

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

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.

11. 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

Single mom, no help: How does a single mother survive?

Financial success is core to overall success as a single mom.

It is also critical to view and manage your mental health in tandem with your money — the two are deeply connected. Finally, read this wonderful guide to Self Care Sunday from psychologist Elizabeth Cohen – lots of really unusual advice I had not heard elsewhere.

Bottom line: How do low-income single moms survive financially? With a lot of help

If you are struggling financially as a single mom, there are numerous resources available, including housing assistance, free child care programs, and help for expenses like formula, food, diapers, utilities, and more. 

We put together a comprehensive list of resources to help low-income single moms. Check it out here: Free money for single moms in 2022: 16+ resources


Find YOUR Single Mom Success:

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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 Company for Life and Health Insurance®.

How do low-income single moms survive financially?

If you are struggling financially as a single mom, there are numerous resources available, including housing assistance, free child care programs, and help for expenses like formula, food, diapers, utilities, and more.

Wealthysinglemommy.com founder Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, activist, author and expert. A former Associated Press reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has appeared on CNBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, TIME, The Doctors, Elle, 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. As an expert on divorce and gender, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality and multiple state legislature hearings. More about Emma's credentials.

47 Comments

Parents must not make their kids education no #1 priority because kids will be super irritated if they have to support their parents when they are old. Selfish parents & super selfish kids. Is the human kind really so selfish? If that’s true genetic codes must be rewritten to fix humans. Nature did not do a good job. But i do not think this is required. I support my old mother and i am not irritated. This is what being a human is.

Thanks! Right now Im searching for a some kind of ways to make money online so this is very helpfull for me cause im BROOOKE. But I would like to share thing that I found recently – Honeygain. So, it makes me around $30 per month just by leaving this app running on my devices background. Basically this is an app that lets you sell your unused internet traffic via it. Plus, you can always use extra $5 coupon secret5 to add some extra earnings

Thanks for the advice, but this is not helpful to anyone who is truly a broke, single mother. 1st off, no one in my situation would ever have years worth of change just collecting over time..when u r truly broke, u use that change asap and there isnt time to let it “rack up over the years”, we have to take cans back on the regular to acquire the deposit as well..do u honestly think ppl that have children and can barely make ends meet would just have all this extra change lying around ? It’s not realistic for a truly broke, single mother . Also, If we had family that had money I am sure most of us wouldn’t be in this position. .great advice for someone who already has a leg up and great for ways to avoid going broke basically…and I am sorry but what broke, single mother do u know that is able to go on amazon shopping sprees ?!?! My children are lucky to get new clothes but it’s been years since I have been able to shop for myself for new outfits and such so I’m sorry, the “shopping diet” bs..this is just so unrealistic for a seriously poor, single mother. Really irritating article-if u ever really were in this position, u would know there would never be those opportunities for us…maybe change the title to “advice for single mothers” but def doesnt help anyone who actually is the definition of a BROKE & single parent

Here is some tips for single moms. For clothing go to thrift stores and garage sales, swap meets. We live in Arizona and I have found a town 2 hours away full of swap meets and thrift stores. I can get items of new clothing for 50 cents to a dollar. I buy household items we need there too. I got to a very cheap farmers market for produce and now to a store that sells meat and food and personal care items at extremely low costs. Its cutting my food budget way down. For extra work i do overtime at my job when available, food deliveries when weather is not really hot, and even look for part time work on my days off. I am teaching my kids to cook and have life skills, and looking into trade schools for them after high school which would be 9 month courses and immediatly into hopefully a lucrative career.

I am a single mother of 7 children and I need help with everything. I’m broke I’m poor no job no vehicle no home .

Yes this article it seem like all of these things would be so easy to do, like starting your own business or finding a six figure job even if you’re not good at those things. It has to be sustainable for you. What if you’re not good at things that can possibly lead to making lots of money.

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