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How to survive financially as a single mom: 13 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 and embrace your new reality as a single mom, let go of past assumptions, set goals to earn more.

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.

Here are my steps for how to survive financially as a single mom after divorce, 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.

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.

Personal check cashing “near me:” 19 places to go in 2023

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. Explore government assistance and nonprofit programs

Check out my roundup of assistance programs for single mothers with low or no income, which includes:

  • Cash assistance
  • Food assistance
  • Housing assistance
  • Child care assistance

5. 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 2023

Thinking about buying a home? Read: Low-income home loan options

6. 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.
  • Check out to find child care providers in your area

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

7. 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

8. 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.

What can a single mother do to make money? Here are 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.

9. Establish an emergency fund

According to Wells Fargo Bank, a good rule of thumb is to have at least three to six months' worth of expenses saved in an emergency fund.

If you find yourself in a financial bind, check out my post on how to get free money to pay bills.

10. 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.

10. 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. 

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

11. 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 the basics of investing to build wealth.

12. 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

FAQs about how to survive as a single mom

I often get asked: “Emma, how can I be a single mom?”

What the question really means is: Emma, how can I be a kick-ass, successful, happy single mom?

And deep within that question is:

I'm pregnant and it looks like I'm doing this alone — how hard can I expect it to be??

I have to get out of this relationship — how hard is it to be a single mom after divorce?!! Please tell me now so I can decide?!!

I'm thinking of getting pregnant on my own. How hard will it be?

If this resonates with you, then let me help you out. What you are really, actually, truthfully asking me is:

How do I make sure my kids won't be messed up — and are even successful, productive adults?

How can I break the stereotype of the welfare, broke, angry single mom?

Will I ever find love? Romance? Where do I even start?

Can I even be a happy single mom?

WTF, this is hard and scary and I don't know where to start?!!!

The fact is that you can more than cope, or financially survive as a single mom — you can thrive.

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.

How can a single mother survive with no income?

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is a government program that helps qualifying low-income individuals and families pay for things like food, housing, and child care. Eligibility requirements vary by state.

However, there are limits to how long you can receive TANF benefits — in Pennsylvania, for example, a person qualifies for a total of 60 months in a lifetime.

Fortunately, there are lots of work-from-home jobs for single moms that allow you to work a flexible schedule.

If you are struggling financially, these are some resources to help:

Help for single moms: 16+ resources$500 monthly single mom grant
Free laptopsScholarships for single moms
Free carFree Christmas gifts
Free smartphoneBest jobs moms can do from home
Free wifiFree and low-cost prescriptions
Free formulaFree clothes
Free toysLow-income home loans
Free gasFree daycare
Free preschoolFree prescription glasses
10+ charities that help single mothersTutoring and homework help
Health insuranceFree food

Can I be wealthy as a single mom?

Yes! There are no limits to how much income you can earn as a single mom. If you want to be a wealthy single mom, check out my advice for obtaining financial success:

How can you get over your fear of being a poor single mom?

It is completely human to assume your life will conform to stereotypes or other ideas that informed your concept of what your life would be like in this stage.

Take time right now to dig into your own limiting money beliefs

What are you, as a single mom, capable of when it comes to your career and money? What is the first thing that comes to mind?

Where did you get that idea? Was it something you were taught growing up? A message from the media or your family? What money messages did you receive from you parents when it came to finances and career?

Write these ideas down. Share them in the comments below. Own them. Your assumptions about what you are capable of are not good or bad. This is just information. You are understanding where you are on your single mom journey, and where you want to go (because really, you can go anywhere you want. Anywhere!).

Focus on how your own career and financial opportunities are so much better than for women in generations past

Today, you and I have unprecedented access to education, jobs, legal rights — opportunities that were unheard of for women even one generation ago, and are still but a dream in most of the world.

Things like get a credit card in your own name, access birth control, keep your job while pregnant, and get into top universities. While we have so far to go in achieving gender equality, solely focusing on the gender gap, and not on your opportunities, is in of itself a limiting habit.

Gratitude is the answer.

I have long practiced daily gratitude, and teach my kids the same. There are many studies that prove that by focusing on what you do have, developing an attitude of abundance, and not focusing on your lack, you physiology actually changes, and your attitude and happiness factors increase.

Anecdotally, I will tell you: The more you focus on the positive, the more you attract the positive. The more positive people you surround yourself with, the more success you will have.

Start your own gratitude practice.

Share in the comments here, or in your journal, or on the back of some announcement from your kids’ school exactly all the things you are grateful for. Your health. Being alive as a woman today. That you can open a bank account in your own name. That you are no longer dragged down by him.

So, here you are in single motherhood.  It feels overwhelming, daunting. All around you, it seems, are happily married, two-parent homes where everyone has more.

But even though your life doesn't look exactly like those two-parent homes, your potential to live a full and successful life is exactly the same.

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 2023: 16+ resources

Find YOUR Single Mom Success:

Just pop in your email and immediately get your free guide. 


No B.S. I will never sell your contact info.

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 can a single mother survive with no income?

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is a government program that helps qualifying low-income individuals and families pay for things like food, housing, and child care. Eligibility requirements vary by state.

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.

Can I be wealthy as a single mom?

Yes! There are no limits to how much income you can earn as a single mom. If you want to be a wealthy single mom, check out my advice for obtaining financial success:


I was enjoying the article up to the point where the author started talking about the gratitude journal. When you listed one of the privileges you had as “being white” that just broke my heart. Your forum is amazing, please realize you have a wide audience including black women following your articles. Listing color as a privilege simply disempowers any black women out there without that privilege lol.
Also for any black women reading this, please know it is possible to thrive despite this privilege. When my marriage ended I went back to school and completed my masters in a computer science field and as God’s favor would have it, I secured a great job, paid off my student loans, purchased a house and on the way to obliterating that mortgage. God’s been working it out since then, Emma shares good tips, learn your finances, lose the single mum crutches and have a bigger than life dream. God’s got you, all you need to do is call to him and do your part- work extremely hard!! You can all do it regardless of who you are!!!

I really loved this article! To the point, practical and so so easy to follow and implement just a few strategies to get us on our way. Thank you!! xx

This is a very empowering post. It has gave me and I’m sure other mum’s the confidence to organise their lives and believe that they can be successful. It has covered many of the doubts that hold us single mothers back and it is right…. we can be successful high earners and raise our children by developing our skills in managing our lives, working hard and having no self pity or anger where things haven’t worked as we planned. I feel strong, empowered and ready to make the changes to help me reach my potential. Thank you.

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Hello i live in a small town and i work 3 jobs to support my 4 children. And i really dont see a way out of our financial situation. I am barely paying rent an utilities every month, somedays we jist sit at home because i jave no gas to go anywhere. How do i het ahead in life? I already work from son up to son down and its not enough. I dont even buy birthday/christmas gifts. Or anything extra. Please help

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Hi Emma,
I loved your posts. I liked what you had to say about getting a firm grip of what is coming in and how much you are spending. Then set goals to make sure you are always bringing in more money. Being a single mother isn’t easy, but if you can get through college and then get an advanced degree finding a job after that can make life much easier. Setting realistic goals where you come out on top is the hardest part, but once you make it, you make it!

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Great tips here, especially about not sacrificing quality of life for money. The most important thing is being with your kids and helping them grow. It’s about balance!

Hi Emma, lovely post. It touched me.I am almost 24 I have a 4 year old daughter and am a single mom living in the Caribbean. I work two jobs but wages are too small so I can’t afford to leave my folks home and be fully independent. I currently goes to school. I have huge burning desires and dreams which cannot leave the ground since it looks grim. I need some great advice to assist me to full independence and becoming a profitable individual. Thank you

Great post, important info for all single moms. Sometimes just a daily reminder to keep on keeping on even when they are struggling is important to. Some days are bad and they may have to take a financial step backward (use a credit card to buy groceries cuz the cash ran out, etc), but one bad day does not make a bad lifetime. It’s important to keep the goal in mind no matter where they are financially today. Love your site!!

“one bad day does not make a bad lifetime.”

You know what, that is so wise. I’m going to cross stitch that on a pillow!

Thank you Emma. I just learned 7 days ago that my hours would be cut in half. I divorced 2 years ago, I’ve supported the kiddos and myself for 7+ years, and been employed 13+ years, full time. I have gone to school, when I can work it around the kids and my work. So my schooling has led me over 3 years to the level of a sophomore in college. I married young, bought into the religious/faith koolaid. My then husband earned next to nothing, and still does – OH! But he’s going to have his master’s degree in (manipulation and abuse — wups, sorry, that statement wasn’t supposed to make it on the blog, oh well) organizational development and leadership. I’m trying to do everything I can, as I have for the last three years. I’ve always had a stable job in healthcare, but the way the industry has shaped up (yes, I believe in looking at Forbes, Fortune, and Success, and following business like a hawk to keep ahead of my industry to help me follow where I ought to focus my degree in order to land the best possible job), I just don’t have an edge where I need it , at the right time.

I’m frightened, but know there’s not a thing I wouldn’t do for my three boys to keep a roof over their heads. I do not collect support from their father, I applied for aid from the state (my first time ever, I feel ashamed ) , and help with daycare assistance. I guess i’m more mad and upset with myself, as I walked down the aisle to marry and devote 11 years of my life to a man & support him, knowing full well I needed to obtain my degree sooner than now. I argued with him, went to class “against his wishes” and scored A’s, and have continued to do so. I’m hoping to pull my networking resources together, and I am freaked out to travel for my job, as I don’t want my ex pulling ANY custody battles with me (we took the mediation route…. 50/50 custody the entire way, but he keeps an eye on his pocket book, and the children = his pawns for tax returns & image maker).

I am hoping to get ahead of the industry and break in wherever I an. I am trying to also submit my photos to a modeling agency to try and see if there’s any way to break into that realm… I know..stupid thought, but it was at the urging of my co workers. Thanks for your resourcefulness and wit, I appreciate your professionalism Emma!

“Have you paid for daycare Darth? ” Nope. Thankfully, I got wise to the foolishness of marriage before I ever stepped into one and had kids with a woman who would leave. I also – very, very thankfully – got wise to how single moms work after dating too many seeking after a long-term commitment and marriage.

And after dating those too many single moms who showed me that most – not all, but enough to make a man think all – single moms just want a man’s money, regardless of whether he’s the real dad, or the stepdad. Just when I think maybe there is hope that some single moms might be decent, another single mom I meet reminds me not to ever trust one for any reason. Heard another delightful story today from a young single mom who has had an on and off with her bad boy baby daddy (in and out of jail, of course), but admits she is “settling”to marry a Poindexter that she “likes, but doesn’t love” because he has a job and she needs a man to pay her and her deadbeat dad’s kiddo. After she’s drained Poindexter, she’ll cheat on him – likely with her ex because they’ve been so on and off -then leave Poindy. She comes to the marriage with nothing, but she’ll walk away with everything this Poindexter owns and not bat an eye. THIS is the true vision of most single moms today.

I would NEVER recommend that a woman be a SAHM for their kids in this day and age. Does being a SAHM have value? Yes, I certainly think it does. It isn’t just the expense of daycare, as it is also parents being responsible for raising their own kiddos whenever they can. However, in the crazy world of false commitment that is still called “marriage” in this age, no man or woman should make themselves vulnerable to the other spouse leaving, since it happens all the time (although more frequently it’s the wife who files for divorce, to be honest.)

In my opinion, noone should get married, ever.

Good grief Darth, your outlook makes me really sad – for you. There are good and bad men AND women out there. I think your attitude might attract the wrong type of women.

But Darth you keep saying that you have this new, fake peresona – swearing and acting aloof with the intent of feigning “bad boy.” When people are phony it is because they are ashamed of their true feelings. What are you hiding?

Single mom. No child support. No government assistance. Graduated college 6 months after my child was born. Now have a job making 60k with full benefits and opportunities to promote. Fuck off. If you meet an asshole in the morning, you met an asshole. If you meet assholes all day every day, you’re the asshole. Pick better women to date and don’t hate on a group of women who already have it hard enough. If you’re picking up single moms at the bar only to find out they are just after your money, you’re doing it wrong and you’re the problem.

Darth- I assure you that your generalization of single mothers wanting a man solely for financial means to inevitably drain him is completely wrong. Are there women like that? Sure, undeniably so however, there are men that are just as guilty & low life’s as you’ve described these single mothers to be. Marriage can be beautiful, if two people enter into it in their own time with good intentions.
I’m a single mother with two children. Full time mother. Full time civilian for the Government. I do not need a man to fulfill a void nor do I need his financial assistance. I can support myself thank you. The man I married decided that he “didn’t want the responsibility of a wife & kids”. So Darth, you tell me what type of person is worse.

These are all great points, and mostly common sense. I make a pretty good salary, am pretty frugal, and still wonder how any parent, married or single, has much left after a paycheck. Of course, a lot of kids today do get a whole lot more “benefits” (phones, laptops, music) than I remember getting as a kid because of all the parental guilt and desire to “keep up with the Jones’s”.

I talked to one mom with four grown girls who had once all been in cheerleading, and she said they were spending $2,000 each “season” on EACH daughter to keep them in uniforms, poms-poms etc. One of my sister’s kids do sports, and I suspect they are spending similar with uniforms, bats, gloves, additional coaching traveling to games. BLECH. Nothing against sports, and having a kid in them, but, honestly, is most anyone’s kid good enough to warrant spending thousands a year for what is generally recreational?

“And if you think that you are legitimately entitled to that money you should accept it guilt-free. ” – LMAO most EVERY woman I’ve met thinks they are legitimately entitled to any man’s money. I’ve even read stories of single mommies getting child support for their kids from their 2nd husband – the STEPdaddy -after a divorce. Most mommy’s just want men’s money, and don’t care whom they get it from.

I had to take a few deep breaths before I responded to this comment. While I agree there are plenty of mommies out there that are more than willing to take as much of daddy’s money as they can there are some of us that don’t. I was a stay at home mom for almost my entire marriage. That was a privilege but it wasn’t always easy. My ex traveled all over the world, sometimes for months at a time. I felt stuck at times. Too many kids and not enough time to get a job. Have you paid for daycare Darth? Then came the end. I stare at the ceilings most nights wondering how I can support myself and three kids with no job and no education. I am fully aware this is my fault. Do not rub it in. I wasted time. By many accounts I am entitled to that money. I took care of running the house and raising the kids while he furthered his career. But I don’t feel that way. I am in school, raising our boys alone because he still travels constantly and trying desperately to find a way to make money so I can tell him to keep his money. Darth, please remember some of us mommies do not want a mans money. Emma, thank you for the idea of taking a mentor out to lunch to learn about opportunities and lessons. I would have never thought about that one.

Im a single mom living in the Caribbean. I work really hard to provide for my self and my son, plus send my self back to school and to be financially independent. My problem is i cant seem to make ends meet and move out my moms home. Every busy i try or venture in , im unable to keep it a float , due to the minimum wage im earning. I need advise on the way forward and achieving my goals.

I’m inquiring about the loan information my name is wilkeisha b hill my address 3300 Alabama st Houston Texas my occupation is unarmed security started at 9.00hr my phone number 832-886-9372 I’m a single 23year old mother and I’m looking for a loan for around 10k to start my own non profit organization name God’s center of hope for needy or low income families all around Houston area

I have so much that I KNOW people could learn from and the humor to make it an enjoyable experience… All my life I’ve been told I could write a book….. It’s true… Can you point me in the right direction of running a successful blog???

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