How to thrive on a single-mom income

How to thrive on a single-mom income

The awesome Jenny Hoff at interviewed me for her latest ChargedUp podcast episode. This is a great conversation about my own story of overcoming my fears, hang-ups and neuroses when it comes to single motherhood and money. It is also about overcoming your own barriers that keep you stuck financially, emotionally, and professionally. Not gonna lie- I think this is a killer interview!


On becoming a single mom: “I live in New York City, which is just teeming with amazing, competent women who are doing incredible things with their careers. Nonetheless I immediately went to that dark place and was like, ‘I'm a single mom and I'm going to be living in my car.'”

Who are single moms? “It's such an honor to be able to speak and connect with so many of these women who are either finding their way or really just find these incredible things. I mean, some of them are very high-profile people, building businesses and leading companies.there are also moms who are caring for disabled kids and serving their communities and caring for an older parent, and they're keeping it together and enjoying a dating life, and there are just everyday heroes everywhere, and this is beautiful. I love it.”

Focus on your power: “Let's get some context around your situation. If you're listening to this, you are probably living in North America and you are living at a time of the most incredible amount of abundance for any human being, especially for women.”

… and …

“OK, you're more broke now than you were before the situation happened, but you still have more than 99 percent of people in this world. Do not ever forget that. And if you really tap into that feeling, it’s hard not to feel a sense of obligation and service, so that might mean that you feel of service to other women around you.”

Chose your friends carefully: “We are all products of who is around us, whether it's our friends, even if these are wonderful people who you grew up with, who you love, who are part of your family, even if it's your biological family or your colleagues. If these people are all just bringing you down, if they're saying, “Well, what do you mean you think you're going to go back to school and have this big career? What do you think you're going to get out of this financial situation? Do you think you're better than us? Who do you think you are?”

Whether it's explicit or it’s implied or they retaliate because of your new ambition, your new goals, your new positive attitude, it is really reflecting on the fact that they're stuck in some place they probably don't really want to be. You can't be thriving and hanging out with those folks all the time.”

On the myth that you can't be rich and also have a high quality of life: “Get rid of the idea that “Oh well, I want to earn more, but that means that I have to work that many more hours and I'll never see my kids.” That's just a story. Take Warren Buffett, he has literally billions of times more income than I do, but he is not working billions of hours more than I am, right? It's just a story that people say.”


Full transcript of Like A Mother episode featuring Jenny Hoff's ChargedUp

Jenny Hoff: Welcome to Charged Up. I'm your host, Jenny Hoff. Whether you're a single parent or part of a couple where one partner no longer works, stretching one paycheck and not having the safety net of another, can put a lot of financial strain on a family and on relationships. Today we're speaking with Emma Johnson, founder of the popular blog, Wealthy Single Mommy, host of the podcast, Like a Mother and herself a single mom of two. A traumatic event in her life forced her to take on the responsibility of kids and still make her career work, like many of us try to do every single day. She's going to share with us her tips on not just surviving in a single income household, but thriving. Let's get charged up about learning to thrive.

Jenny Hoff: Thanks so much for joining us, Emma. Appreciate that.

Emma Johnson: Oh, thank you for having me.

Jenny Hoff: So, this should be interesting. You talk to single moms on your blog about not only surviving financially but thriving financially. As a single mother, yourself, you've been through the financial ups and downs. Can you tell me a little bit about your own story and your financial journey?

Story of Emma Johnson's financial journey

Emma Johnson: Sure, well, just to start I was raised by a single mom and I had always the sense that that had a really big impact on me and I was just sort of intellectually very curious about that because I was born … I'm 40. I was born in 1976 which I guess was probably right in the middle of that big boom of divorce and then this whole new crop of single motherhood, which was started 40-ish years ago and so that was always very present in my mind even as I grew up. I got married and I had a “traditional” family. I married a man and had the baby after the marriage and just really did this kind of traditional and nuclear thing, which I imagine was, in part, a little bit of … I don't want to say a rebellion, but more like we all want to do better than our parents and that was part of my narrative. Well, we did it. My husband, he was also from a single parent family, very similar background, educated moms who struggled financially throughout their lives. Neither of our moms remarried and so that was definitely a connector.

Emma Johnson: So we both thrived in our careers when we got together. We moved from Phoenix, Arizona where we met in New York, where we both live now and we started making money. For the most part, I think we did pretty well with our money. We put money away and saved and had the cash reserve and did the retirement fund and when our daughter was born, we even did the college fund, the 529 funds, bought a nice apartment. And then our tragedy happened. My husband had an accident and had a brain injury, which he's miraculously, largely recovered from now, but our lives unraveled and our marriage unraveled and what do you know? I was a single mom and I was also, after some time of receiving child support, I was financially on my own with this show and I had 2 kids by this point.

Emma Johnson: It was horrifying. It was like, even though I had figured out how to make money and I'd been making really good money before I had kids and I a degree, I had a Rolodex, I had skills, I had all of these things and I was surrounded. I lived in New York City which is just teeming with amazing, competent women that are doing incredible things with their careers. I still immediately went to the dark place. I was like, “I'm a single mom and I'm going to be living in my car.” Even though I had the benefit of so many other storylines and plots to my life, I went there. I went to the darkest place and it's very, very common. I mean, there is some study from some years ago about how all women, like huge amounts of women of all income brackets, have this bag lady nightmare all the time. Not dreaming nightmare, but a fear that you're going to become a bag lady and actually the more income you earn as a woman, the more likely it is that you're going to be afraid of becoming a homeless person.

Figuring out how to make money as a single mom

Emma Johnson: That was very applicable to me, so I was facing this really tough situation. I felt like I failed. I felt like that was my big goal in life is not to be a single mom and what the heck? Here I was. I had a lot of wonderful support around me, but the narrative was like, “Well, when are you going to go and get on welfare?” Literally. I figured out how to make money pretty quickly and I also received some nice child support right away that lasted maybe about a year and people close to me, who shall remain nameless, were like, “Well, okay, that's fine. Those numbers are big numbers, but when are you going to get on food stamps?” And that is also the main comment, I hear that same story.

Emma Johnson: Just one of many examples, another mom who I am friendly with through my work, again, she was very successful. She was the breadwinner in her family. She is a marketing consultant and she is making really great money through her divorce, everything, and her mom was like … she never stopped. She never became broke like many of us do when we're going through that transition. She just kept earning and earning and her mother still said to her, “You know what? You can still get a job at Wal-Mart. I know somebody who can help you get a job as a clerk at Wal-Mart.” “What are you talking about? You're sitting in my giant house that I paid for,” you know? And so it's just so ingrained and it's very, very hard as an individual and, collectively, to break out of that messaging because we're only human, right?

Emma Johnson: I figured it out and I found it very empowering and it's always great to have professional success and it's always great to take care of your family and it's always great to make money. Women don't talk about that enough. They don't say how awesome it is to make money. It feels so fricking good and I want women to own that and say it out loud. But when you're doing it, like my story and I think a lot of women's stories, I'm doing it despite that really stupid story I was telling myself last year. I'm breaking through my own barriers and that was just so satisfying to me and I started seeing similar stories around me and so I started this platform.

Emma Johnson: I'm a professional writer and that was my background I kind of just met with … not a whole lot of big, mega-planning, I started a blog about professional single moms and it's grown and grown and now it's my full-time career and I should mention I have a podcast, Like a Mother, a shameless plug and I have a book coming out next year about single motherhood and it's been such an amazing journey and it's such … I don't know, I feel like it's such an honor to be able to speak. I connect with so many of these women who are either finding their way or really I just find them doing incredible things. Some of them, very high profile things, building businesses and companies. There's moms that are caring for disabled kids and serving their communities and caring for an older parent and they're keeping it together and enjoying a dating life and they are just everyday heroes, everywhere, and it's just beautiful. I love it.

Taking charge of your finances and losing the victim mentality

Jenny Hoff: Yeah, that's amazing and I love what you said about you get in this mentality of you feel like now all of a sudden you have to be kind of a victim. You're going to need support from other people and I think it's easy for people, even if they're very successful, to fall into that trap probably even easier. Sometimes, if you already feel like you're close to that and then you're going through a divorce. I loved one thing that you said in one of your recent podcasts about you need to make decisions out of a place of abundance and not out of a place of fear. I think a lot of financial situations, while they're tangible, you've got debt on your credit cards, it's also very mental. When you get into this place and you can start digging a hole for yourself of, “I'm never going to get out of this and what do I do?” In panic mode, it's very hard to make better decisions. Can you talk a little bit about that? How to mentally get out of that hole of desperation and anxiety and have a place of kind of confidence and power of taking charge of it, especially if you're in debt?

Emma Johnson: Yeah, well or debt or … FYI, 57% of millennial moms are unmarried and half of the ones that do get married are on track to be at that roughly 50% divorce rate. So the idea that the “nuclear” family is the ideal or should be the goal, well, everybody's entitled to their own goal and that's great, but this is really mainstream now and, in fact, 51% of families in this country are not that heterosexual couple, two kids, think marriage unit. Families look like all kinds of things today and it's really beautiful. The majority of that 51% is now single mothers, but gay families, multi-generational homes, all sorts of wonderful configurations of family. But when you come to single motherhood, it's usually in a place of crisis. Even if it's divorce, it's pregnancy outside of a relationship, even if you're a single mom by choice, I mean, parenthood is catastrophic. It upturns your life, including your finances. And single motherhood is going to make you poor in the short term. It's just a reality.

Emma Johnson: So, it's just like if you lost a job or the stock market crashed and your assets tumbled, you go into panic mode. It's completely normal. But here are my tips for reframing that. Well, one, let's look at this in perspective. Let's get some context around your situation. If you're listening to this, you are probably living in North America and you are living at a time of the most incredible amount of abundance for any human being, especially for women, especially for women. So we have equal economic power, technically. We have equal political power. You can get a credit card in your own name, which our mothers and grandmothers could not. You have equal access to capital, whether that's to buy a home, to start a business, to get a student loan. You have so many options. It is embarrassing how many resources that you have right now.

Starting a gratitude practice with your kids

Emma Johnson: So, it's really about gratitude and that is not just some frilly meme that's going to come across your Facebook feed. This is like a real, actual mindset that is going to change your life. And so figure out how to remind yourself of that every day, whether it's writing down everything you're grateful for. I have a gratitude practice I do with my children, which is I started to teach them, but really, it's just as much for me to remind me of all the things that I'm grateful for in my life. So, really, you're broker now than you were before this situation happened, but you still have a leg up on 99% of the people in this world, so do not ever forget that.

Emma Johnson: And if you really tap into that feeling, it's impossible not to feel a sense of obligation and service, so that might mean that you feel of service to other women around you, maybe women that are still stuck and have a poverty mentality when they don't necessarily have to. Maybe you feel a service to whatever you're passionate about, whether it's improving your business where you work or that you own or whatever non-profit you're committed to in your community or your neighbors or just being a great role model for your kid. So when the people are obliged to give … Eleanor Roosevelt said it better than me. We can look up the direct quote. It's about gratitude, perspective, and then a sense of giving back and service, but then how are you going to maintain that? You can't maintain that if you are only hanging out with people who are stuck in a scarcity mentality.

Emma Johnson: I am such a huge proponent of being very, very conscious and ruthless with the people that you spend time with. So, you know what? We are all product of who is around us, whether it's our friends … even if these are wonderful people that you grew up with that you love that are a part of your family, even if it's your biological family, your colleagues … if these people are all just bringing you down, if they're saying, “Well, what do you mean you think you're going to go back to school and have this big career? What do you think … you think you're going to get out of this financial situation? Do you think you're better than us? Like, who do you think you are?” Whether it's explicit or that's implied or they retaliate because your ambition, your new goals, your new positive attitude is really reflecting on the fact that they're stuck someplace they probably don't really want to be … you can't be thriving and hanging out with those folks all the time.

Find your tribe online

Emma Johnson: So, find a new network and you can do that anyway. And we live in this technological age where you can find that network online. You can kind of … I run a Facebook group. It's called Millionaire Single Moms and there's something like 5,000 women in there and all income levels. You can't play the victim. You can't gripe about your ex-husband or your boss or your mom. It's like you can pose questions. We laugh a lot. We joke about dating. All of these things, but it's all about women who are on a path to bettering their lives. Professional groups or you just make new friends and maybe those friends aren't women and maybe they're not your age. Maybe they're older. Maybe their younger. Maybe they're married. But they're people that are going to lift you up and be on the same wavelength as you and it's just critical.

Jenny Hoff: Yeah, I really agree with that. That's a great point that you made about surrounding yourself with people who are going to encourage you in your new endeavor and not try to hold you back and I think sometimes we're scared of people then, old friends or family members saying, “Who do you think you are,” like you just said, and in order to not have anybody judge us, we hold ourselves back. I want to talk to you a little bit more about how single parents, you said, can go further, find this abundance. We live in a country that there are a lot of opportunities open to us and I think a lot of people, though, feel I'm already maxed out. I have a job that I'm working at. I'm with my children. I don't have a single moment of the day. What other options are there that they can go out and find ways to increase their income?

Emma Johnson: Right, and I that's really common. First of all, reevaluate that story that you just told yourself about that you're so busy because progress is measured by how much free time you have. You think about it in lots of ways. We have a washing machine, so you don't have to spend hours beating your clothes against a rock down at the river. Or you have a cell phone, so you don't have to write a letter to your friend to figure out when you're going to go and have margaritas or whatever. Technology is your friend and we live in a culture that prizes this whole idea of being busy. Somehow busy makes us seem important, like you have all these things to do. You must be very important or you must be productive or you're suffering and people get off on this idea that you're somehow suffering and, therefore, that's desired. I don't know.

Emma Johnson: But really evaluate that because, again, there's so much affirmation for that. I'm so busy. I'm so exhausted. Because, you can probably find a lot of efficiencies in your life to do what you really fricking want to do. So, okay, your kids are demanding. Work is often very demanding. Taking care of a house, whatever, but what do you want to do? Do you want to get out of debt cycles? Do you want to be doing more interesting work? Do you want to be working with more interesting people? Do you want to be living and working in a different location, different city, whatever your goals are and then, honestly, it's really just about okay, I'm here, I want to be there. What three things can I do today to set that ball in motion?

How to begin tackling your goals today

Emma Johnson: Literally, you could probably do three things in 10 minutes. It could be like printing out your old resume and then calling your friend, who's really excellent resume editing or sending an email to a resume expert, which I advise even more. It can be scheduling a meeting with your boss about a promotion. It can be saying, “All right, you know what? I'm going to spend an hour tonight after the kids go to bed and I'm going to look on some job boards.” Or scheduling a meeting with somebody in your life that's either in your desired field, maybe somebody that could serve as a mentor to you or just somebody that's going to be encouraging that you say, “Look, can I please take you out for lunch sometime, on me, and I just want to run some ideas by you, if you don't mind.” Or, if that's asking a lot, lunch … just say, “Can I get 20 minutes on the phone with you?” And people will give it to you and that's going to set the ball in motion. You're going to get ideas. You're going to get inspiration and once that momentum is going, then there's no stopping you.

Jenny Hoff: Yeah, and I want to talk a little bit about … I know a lot of stay-at-home moms or people that work and on the side at home they're doing these side hustles, which I'm going to do another show on, but you know they're selling products for companies and what they're doing is they're getting a team of other people who are stay-at-home moms to also sell those products and there can be a lot of money in this. A lot of people I know swear that they're paying off all kinds of debt doing these kinds of programs, whether selling beauty creams or nail covers or clothes or anything like that. But, I also want to talk a little bit … I don't know if you're familiar with the risk that these can involve, too? Is that something that you would recommend for someone to make extra money or do you feel that sometimes people get caught up in investing in this kind of stay-at-home salesperson mentality and they don't actually make money from it.

Emma Johnson: Yeah, I know people that … a couple of moms who follow me make, a bunch of them actually, one in particular I know, she had this big six-figure business and she's really smart about it and it's a great lifestyle for her and her son. I know a bunch of other women who do it more as a side gig, to your point, and it works really great for them. One data research, I think most people know that, like there's a lot of kind of … maybe it's not scams, but there is a lot of fine print that you need to read. It's a network, where the person selling you is going to showcase their crazy, wild success that they had, but really ask a lot of questions. A lot of times these things are done in a social atmosphere and everybody's having a good time and you might feel kind of shy about asking the hard questions, but we're talking about your life here. Ask the fricking questions. You go into talk to the mortgage broker, you're not … you shouldn't be, at least. You know you shouldn't be embarrassed to ask about the fine print in all the minutia.

Knowing the truth about others' incomes and MLM side gigs

Emma Johnson: This is maybe even more important because you're talking about your time and your reputation is at stake. So, really if that person's saying they're bringing in $30,000 or $40,000 a month in income, ask exactly where that money is coming from. Ask them, “How do you spend your day? How do you spend your week? How long did it take you to make $40,000 a month? What is your overhead?” Okay, you're bringing in $40,000 a month, but they might be spending $45,000 a month. There's a lot of marketing that goes into roping you into this program and then keep in mind, you might be selling cosmetics or beauty products or cookware and you might be a really passionate, wonderful cook or you might be really passionate about beauty. You might be very beautiful yourself, but that doesn't mean you're a great salesperson and those are two totally different skills. And if you don't have sales experience, you don't know that you're a real dynamo.

Emma Johnson: Start small. Start absolutely small, but also ask more questions because a lot of these programs have minimum monthly investments. So, for everybody that's killing it in this business, there's a lot of people that are broke. I knew one woman and she got caught up in it and my friend got swept up into it and she invested in $8,000 in product.

Jenny Hoff: Yeah, so she was just $8,000 in debt and she realized that she wasn't a salesperson?

Emma Johnson: Yeah, or she wasn't committed to it or she got … if you're that personality where you get swept up into things, then you might get distracted into something else, when you don't immediately start making a profit and I think that's the other thing, too. Okay, you're a salesperson, but you're a business person. And just because you haven't been a salesperson or you haven't been an entrepreneur or because you are an entrepreneur, that doesn't mean that you can't do it, you absolutely can, but there's some really, really basic tenets of successful businesses and one is that they usually start very small, they make lots of mistakes and it takes them many years to be making good money. And so if you're ready to sign on for that and give it the go, then go for it, but go in with your eyes open.

Jenny Hoff: Yeah, good advice. Definitely good advice, yeah, and if you have to put up money up front, you should definitely know everything you can about it because I don't want people going out there and putting money on their credit cards. That's just another debt they have to pay off. You know, talking about debt and expenses, you talk to a lot of single parents. Parenting is expensive. As a parent, myself, it's a lot more expensive than I ever anticipated it was going to be. How do parents who feel like they're kind of living paycheck to paycheck or there's not a lot of extra money, give their kids everything they think their kids deserve without going into debt?

How to give kids what they deserve without going into debt

Emma Johnson: Well, one, what do your kids really deserve? I think kids need like a healthy meal, a safe place to live, reasonably find education. They don't need to go to fancy private schools and they need a hug like once a month. That's what kids need. And they don't need … I mean, like the same day, the same advice to the multi-level marketing things … you've got all the money in the world, then sure, go and buy the expensive baby crib. Sure, you can have whatever child care that you want and your kids can be super-duper cute, or all kids are cute, right? They can be tricked out in whatever fashion. They just don't need that much stuff, especially when they're little, hand-me-downs are great. The kids don't … I mean, they don't even need a crib until … maybe they don't ever need a crib. They need a bed when they're two. You can probably skip the crib.

Emma Johnson: Whatever you're feeling, all the marketers know that guilt and they are tapping into it day and night and advertising so, just let a lot of that go. I mean, the horror stories. This mom is in one of my groups online and she was struggling. She was really having a harm time to make ends meet and she worked as a day care worker. At the same time, she's asking advice for planning a trip to Disney for her 4-year-old and my mind just melted. It's like, what? Okay, this is so-

Jenny Hoff: They're not even going to remember the trip.

Emma Johnson: Yeah, that is it. I don't care if you're a billionaire. A 4-year-old isn't going to remember a trip to Disney. I'm telling you, my kids are 6 and 8 and they're just … they'll start to remember now, but up until now, they don't care. If there's a pool, they're good. I could take them to a Motel-6, wherever in the world with a pool and that was like the best vacation of their whole life, like that's it. So just keep it real and ask yourself why are you spending the money? Is it because it's actually enhancing the kid's quality of life or is it assuaging your own guilt? Social pressure? Are you worried that the kids are going to be socially ostracized because they don't have the right sneakers or the right birthday party? And, again, it comes from you and being very clear about your own boundaries, your own budget, values within yourself. And so much comes from that, but then it's also about just communicating that with your kid, like, “This is our values in this family.”

Emma Johnson: Kids understand so much. Oh, my goodness, they understand so fricking much including money and business. It is unbelievable, if you talk to them. Just talk to them like adults and they get it. One of my favorite stories. This was a year ago. My kids were 5 and 7 and I was launching a digital course online about money and I was talking to them. I'm like, “Yeah, so I've been doing this thing and here it is. Here's the landing page,” and I'm trying to figure out how much money I should charge and they got into a literal argument on the walk to the bus stop about price elasticity without any education from me. They just inherently understood that if you charge a low price, more people will buy it or if you charge a higher price, fewer people will buy it. That was not like an explicit message, their brains just inherently understood price elasticity.

Kids absorb money lessons all the time

Emma Johnson: So, just really get into expressing your values. We believe in, for example, experiences over things and that's why, for Christmas, we're going to go to the Motel-6 and you guys are going to jump into the pool, instead of us buying the latest whatever thing that you don't need because you never … we gave away all that stuff you didn't play with last year because you didn't play with it. So, yeah, I just think being really brutal with yourself and don't go down that rabbit hole.

Jenny Hoff: You know, I love that and I actually talk to people that I know that I know they're actually in debt. They're not even paying off their credit card in full every month. They're paying the minimum payments and yet they're signing their kids up for every single class and they're worried about sending them to the best private schools and I told a person I knew the other day, I said, “You know, your kids are going to be more affected by the financial stress between you and your spouse that you're experiencing right now and the potential that your relationship might even end and that you're fighting at home over money,” than they are going to be about a smaller classroom. Let's talk a little bit about that, because you've said on your website and in podcasts, you know, a lot of relationships actually end because of money. That is the main stressor in a lot of marriages. Can you talk a little bit about that and the importance of, if you want to keep your marriage together, being smart about your money?

Emma Johnson: Oh my gosh, yeah. And it doesn't end when the marriage ends, because then you're still fighting about money because there's often child support or alimony exchanged and even if there's not, you're still fighting about which school to send the kids to. Which camp? Who's paying for the day care versus investing in the 529, whatever? It doesn't end. So, financial health, number one, everybody needs to be earning. If there's one parent that doesn't earn, doesn't have a job, the chances of divorce by some studies is 50% higher. If you don't have your own money that you are earning, you know where it is, you know where it's going, you don't have autonomy as a partner in that relationship and even if you are earning, you need to absolutely know where all the money's going, where it's invested. Whose name is on the house? Whose name is on which accounts? Who's responsible for which debt?

Money really makes or breaks relationships

Emma Johnson: And it's so hard to do because you go into marriage, everybody does, the message is that this is forever. Money doesn't matter. Love conquers all and my money is your money. And it's all really beautiful and that's a nice notion, but there's no historical precedence for that ever being sustainable. It's just a fallacy and I'm telling you, if you believe that, you are kidding yourself and it will bite you in the butt. It just will. Your relationship is that much more vulnerable to start with and then if and when it does end, you are going to be screwed. You just are, because you don't know where the money is. You don't know if there's money. You don't know … if your name isn't on the house, you might not get a piece of that house. There might be savings that your name isn't on and you think it's your money, but it's not, if you're not demanding the answers to really hard questions.

Emma Johnson: And it's so common that women are in this situation and if you are and all of a sudden tomorrow you're going to listen to this podcast and go speak to your spouse, it's like, “Yeah, so I was listening to this podcast and this loud lady told me to do this thing and I need to know all this.” I mean, it's going to upset your relationship and you know that and that's why you're not asking. So, it's tough. It's really, really tough, but the good news is from friends of mine, just kind of anecdotally, and statistically there's some studies about women and their participation in their finances and management of the family finances. It's changing a lot for younger women. So, friends of mine that are in the financial wellness space and wealth managers, they say that younger women are definitely more inclined to stay in the workforce after they have kids. They're more inclined to have their own accounts and they're having better, more informed discussions with their partners about money, which is all great, so that means that people like you and me are doing our jobs.

Jenny Hoff: Yeah, I think that's super-important. When I first had my child, I wanted to just be at home with him, full-time, and it still was important to me, but I realized I didn't feel good when I wasn't making any money because I had made money my whole life and even if your spouse seems totally content to be the 100% breadwinner, it puts stress on the relationship and it puts an insecurity in the other person who's not making money, in the sense of, “Do I have a right to even buy that? Do I have a right to be making those financial decisions?”

Emma Johnson: Right. Ask any divorce lawyer, when people split up, the truth just comes out. Like, whatever things that you were too polite to say during the marriage, you say it. Just all the truth comes out because it's horrible. It's such a trauma and the truth always comes out and the truth is, whoever made all the money never felt like it was our money. They're like, “No, but that's my 401K from my job.” Or like, “Oh, what does she think she gets? A piece of the house? I put that money down or my family helped with the down payment.” If you're not actually going and earning or earning somewhat equitably in that relationship, like I said, it's a beautiful idea to say, “Your money is my money,” but no one, deep in their heart really believes that, and when you split up, it's just not the story.

Masterclass that teaches single parents how to make money

Jenny Hoff: Yeah. So, you have a video master class, as you mentioned before on your website to teach single parents how to make money. Let's talk about all parents for a moment or all people who feel financially strapped. What are the lessons that you teach in your master class? Can you give us some of those tips?

Emma Johnson: Well, first of all, figuring out why you're not making money. I have struggled through my own hangups about why I'm not making money and everybody has their own story, right? So, when it comes to single parents, it's pretty easy to see what the story is. It's always like, “Well, I'm a single parent, therefore, I have to be broke.” Like, that's the mega-story that we're all told and it's so hard to break free from that when all of society is shoving that down your throat. Everybody has their own individual neuroses. You would not be human if you didn't and we all have things that are holding us back. I mean, Warren Buffett, he's got some personal neuroses that could be like doubling his income if he got over it. Everybody just has one.

Emma Johnson: So, it's digging into those stories you tell yourself that become true. I really am a big fan, again, of surrounding yourself with the right people, so whether it means earning more money or being more professionally or creatively fulfilled in your work, maybe working fewer hours for a higher income, whatever those are, you need to be around people who support that vision. And that doesn't mean that they look like you. They might be people outside of your field. I've been trying to really make a conscious effort to surround myself with people outside of media and professionally, because it's just to have a whole different set of experiences that I can learn from, but at the end of the day, business is business and career is career. Those people, again, they might be in a different industry, they might not even live in your same country. You connect with them online. They might be older, younger, different gender, whatever.

Emma Johnson: But surround people that are like, “Oh, yeah, that's a great idea,” or maybe you can think about your idea differently or here's how I do my business and I can see you applying those lessons to your business and just having an open mind to the notion of your success because, by osmosis, you will start to get that. Getting rid of this idea, that's a big story that people tell themselves and I hear all the time is that, “Oh, well, I want to earn more, but that means that I have to work that many more hours and I'll never see my kids,” and that's just a story. That's a story. Like Warren Buffett, he has literally billions of times more income than I do, but he's not working billions of hours more than I am, right? That's just a story that people say. So it's like, “Well, what's your story and how can we deconstruct your story and apply logic to it, because your story is probably very rooted in motion and history and figure out a way.”

Pros and cons of being a work-at-home mom

Emma Johnson: The other thing to keep in mind is again, we live in this incredible time where every single industry thinks the technology and the nature of our autonomy is being completely deconstructed and that's very scary. Back to the stay-at-home parent thing, it's super-scary for folks who drop out of the workforce because even if you talk to a career expert and they will tell you, “Two years. You were out two years, you're obsolete.” And even very traditional fields like teaching. I heard from a mom recently and she's like, “You know what? I really believed I was a better mom for staying home with my kids and I was a teacher and I always felt like I could just jump right back into teaching if something happened. Well, now my marriage ended and I can't even get a part-time teaching job because the education industry has changed so much and it's the worst mistake I ever made.”

Emma Johnson: So, that's the downside of that, but the upside is that you can make your own rules. You can completely do whatever the heck you want, whether it's inside a staff position, being an entrepreneur, somewhere in-between, maybe you have a staffed gig and then you have a side gig, whatever, but it is a time of complete professional liberation and the sky is really the limit.

Jenny Hoff: Yeah, no, I totally agree with that and I think a lot of times it's what you said. It's surrounding yourself with different people because they might give you an idea that you might not have ever thought of. There are so many opportunities with technology today that you can make money without even leaving your house. Extra when the kids go to bed or at night by doing any kind of freelance work or helping people out in an expertise and it's really cataloging what you're good at, what you know how to do and there's somebody out there who's probably willing to pay you to do it.

The changing professional landscape

Emma Johnson: Yes, there is. I mean, everything is kind of moving that way in the economy anyway. I'm in media. It's a classic example where there's hardly any staff jobs anymore, but if you want to be an independent entrepreneur or a freelancer, there are so many opportunities. Companies don't want staffers anymore. They want people that they can try out and if it doesn't work out, well then there's no love loss or they can go on and make tons of money together indefinitely and that's very scary for people that have come of age in a time of corporate staff jobs with a lot of security, but you know what? Fortune favors those that embrace change and that's just not the reality of most industries anymore, any industry. So the sooner you get on-board with this idea of like a nimble career, you'll just see and find so many incredible opportunities.

Jenny Hoff: And speaking of changing, we get a lot of readers who write in and that has kind of become a way of life where they feel satisfied if they can at least make the minimum payments. They're proud if they're making the minimum payments on their credit cards every month, but we know that that just means you're paying a lot of money in interest and people are over-paying for everything that they buy. What's your advice regarding credit card debt? How to get out of it and how to stay out of it?

Emma Johnson: Well, imagine what it would feel like if you didn't have it. Just really think about that. Spend some time feeling that and it feels so fricking good, because you know, people are comfortable with it, but I don't really buy that. I think that deep down, there is a deep, deep discomfort with it because every purchase then is second-guessed. If the purchase is not like, well, you know, should I pay for this $3 cup of coffee or should I put that $3 towards the debt because I know I really should do that because Jenny on that podcast, she said I should do it and so it's a constant conflict and it becomes … it's almost like a spiritual conflict. It's between doing what you know you should and what you want to do in that moment. And I don't want people to feel like that.

Getting out of debt and living within your means

Emma Johnson: I want people to be making even those little tiny decisions, right? Like, oh should I leave the light on or should I leave the light off. It's going to cost me 45 cents. I want you to turn the light off and I want you to put that 45 cents that you saved towards your credit card debt, because that is really living within your values and there's just nothing more beautiful than that. That's like euphoria.

Jenny Hoff: Yeah, no, absolutely. And you say on your website and in podcasts, getting out of debt is the number one goal. It's the first thing that people should be doing, correct?

Emma Johnson: Yes, I would temper that with also, you need some cash on hand and you need to be managing … not just paying down your debt, but also managing your debt and managing your credit because you know, in an emergency you want the cash but you also need access to credit. You know, if something really, really bad happens, you need access to credit. That's a lot of security, too. Credit, credit scores, some cash, but really focus on earning because the more you earn means the bigger your career becomes. It means the more successful and interesting people you're surrounding yourself with. You are stretching yourself professionally, personally, creatively and your universe expands beyond just the dollars in your bank account. Your entire being expands if you're living within your potential and every part of your life, including your professional life.

Emma Johnson: I know in personal finance and blogs, there's often, I feel an overemphasis on saving and budgeting, super-important. I can't tell you how important that is, but that's limiting because if you pay off X-amount towards your credit card or you save X on your shopping, that's a finite thing and I get it. It feels very empowering because you know that you saved 20% on your groceries that month and that's great, that's a fixed number, you did it, you know what the number is. Whereas, you start a business or you go in and ask for a promotion or a raise or you invest in education. That's a lot of question marks and it's scary and it's risk and risk is not always immediately rewarded and so people shy away from that and just focus on the known and I really urge people to go big and grow and focus on the growing because the growth is infinite. Your credit card is $20,000 and that might seem insurmountable, but that's just $20,000, whereas your income and your career potential is infinite.

The importance of knowing your credit

Jenny Hoff: And I also want to quickly touch on credit because that is one thing that you mentioned here and it's one thing that I notice when I did a story on stay-at-home parents a lot of them had no idea what their credit score was. They didn't even know how to check their credit. They didn't know why their credit would be important because they're not working and that's one thing that you touch on in some of your blog posts and stuff and really how important having good credit is, especially if you may be going through a divorce or you may be thinking you might go through a divorce in the future or if you just want to have financial independence, even if you are with somebody. Can you talk about the importance of knowing your credit?

Emma Johnson: Oh my gosh. Well, first of all, if it's good it feels awesome. And then you have options. If you have no credit, I mean, for better or worse, you can usually get some kind of credit and it's going to be at an atrocious rate and that means you're spending money. You're spending a lot of money. I have written about financing growth in my business with 0% credit cards over these last few years and I believe that was a great option for me and it was at 0% and I could do that because I have really excellent credit in the 800s and so I was able to earn more money because I was able to invest money with a great credit score. It's all a cycle.

Emma Johnson: So, okay, maybe you don't have a business, but you probably need a ride, you need a car. Not a lot of people have $10,000, $20,000 to buy a car. You need a place to live and it's a great time to buy a house, even though mortgage rates are climbing, they're still at near historic lows. Your education, whether it's for yourself or your kids, all kinds of really good reasons to finance things in your life and if you've got a great credit score, you have a lot of options and the more options you have, the more empowered you are, the better you feel and the less money you're going to spend on interest.

Jenny Hoff: All right, great tips. I also want to talk about your book. Can you tell us the name of it and what it will be about and when is it coming out and when can people start ordering it?

The Kickass Single Mom book

Emma Johnson: Yes, so you can start ordering in February. It's called, “The Kickass Single Mom. Be Financially Independent, Make Every Man Want To Date You, And Raise Fabulous, Happy Children,” and it's through Penguin Random House's [Tarsia Parashee 00:37:23] and I'm very excited about it.

Jenny Hoff: Fantastic. So, it'll be coming out officially in September, but people can start pre-ordering it months in advance?

Emma Johnson: Mm-hmm (affirmative), exactly.

Jenny Hoff: Okay, perfect and one last question. Our show is called Charged Up. What charges you up about mastering money and being financially independent?

Emma Johnson: Because I get just really excited about blowing through my self-imposed limitations, whether it's regarding a relationship. So, for example, the notion that I can't do well or be financially independent without a spouse or a partner, or the idea that I can't be a creative person. I'm a writer and also make great money. Or this idea that I can't be a single mom and also not only make great money, but spend a lot of time with my kids and not be stressed out and crazy. So, these are all stories that I've told myself over the years and then breaking through them and proving myself wrong is, ironically, extremely satisfying. So that it just it and then it gives me a sense of control. It gives me a sense of control knowing, you know what? I don't have debt that I don't choose to have. I've seen my money grow.

Making financial decisions from a place of positivity and empowerment

Emma Johnson: It gives me a sense of security for now, so when I make financial decisions, I'm coming at it from a place of empowerment and positivity and I feel a sense of security and positivity for the future that I have a likely chance of being comfortable and not a burden on my children. Having options as I go through the rest of my life and also that I can give back and whether that means financially giving back to causes I care about or that I will simply be comfortable enough where I'll have ample time to lend my vast resources, my best skills, my energy to things that I believe are deserving of my time and energy.

Jenny Hoff: Perfect. Thank you so much, Emma Johnson, for joining us today. Her blog,, your podcast, “Like a Mother” and your book is coming out in September, so that all sounds great. Congratulations to you on pushing through any kind of financial obstacles you've faced and thanks so much for sharing your tips with us today.

Emma Johnson: All right. Thank you so much, Jenny. This was fun.

Jenny Hoff: All right. It was fun. Take care.

Jenny Hoff: And thank you for joining us for this episode of Charged Up. If you have a moment, please rate and review us on I-Tunes. You can also subscribe and be notified as soon as we have a new episode. If you have questions you want us to answer on air or ask our experts, please send me an email at I also look forward to your feedback and suggestions on what topics you would like me to cover. It's time to get Charged Up about your financial future.

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.

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