Being a single mother is a grab-bag of stress and struggle – whether you have shared custody, full custody, child support or no child support. When your children are in your care, you are solely responsible for them in every way.
Single mothers often fall into a low-income bracket and have an entire family to take care of. Yet, here most of us are, rocking it everyday and making it work.
What if I told you that you could make it work just a teensy-tiny bit easier? By simply paying attention to your spending, you can easily create a budget to help keep your money on track.
Here are 5 tips for establishing and maintaining a budget:
#1: Be Realistic
When you’re a single mother looking after children, it is difficult (if not impossible) to follow common budget advice.
For example, it may be easy to suggest cutting out expenses like cable and eating out to save money, but, when you have children, these expectations are not realistic.
Before you start budgeting and adjusting your spending, you need to take your lifestyle into account. Consider the ages of your children and their needs – as well as your own.
#2: Prioritize Your Spending
In order to take control of your money, you need to know where it has to go first. Listing out your priorities in order will help you focus when making payments, spending money and also saving it.
Here is a simple hierarchy of priority spending:
- Food: First and foremost, you and your children need to eat. Your initial focus of spending should be on food. Luckily, with some careful planning and shopping, you can save a lot of money in this area.
- Shelter: Next, your family needs a place to live, electricity and heat. Energy-efficient practices, such as thermal curtains on the windows and air drying clothing, can help offset the costs of utilities.
- Clothes: You and your children cannot go anywhere if you’re naked. Thrift shopping, hand-me-downs and smaller wardrobes will keep the cost of clothing low.
- Transportation: Between work, school and activities, you need a way to get around. While having your own vehicle is ideal, lower costs options include taking the bus or walking if close-by.
- Cable/Internet: I can hear some of your saying, “Wait! Cable and internet are not necessities?” Aren’t they? Every single mom knows how vital distractions are from time-to-time when showers need to be had or dishes need to be washed. While it’s hard to circumvent internet costs, you can always look into affordable streaming services instead of cable.
- Everything Else: The final category includes debts, savings and fun – but the focus should be in important debts that may hinder your lifestyle such as overdue bills. Otherwise, you should try to tuck some money into savings (every little bit counts!) and treat your family to something fun.
#3: Track Your Spending, Adjust Your Budget
It’s one thing to tell you where your money should go, but do you know exactly where your money is going?
When you don’t pay attention to your spending, it’s easy to lose control of your money. You may find yourself short on rent or unable to purchase groceries.
However, you can avoid this stress simply by writing down your spending. I wanted to emphasize this because it’s just that easy. Start with a piece of paper or budget tracker and write down what money comes in, what goes out in bills and rents and what you spend on other stuff.
After a couple of months you’ll likely notice a pattern. This is when you can begin to shape a budget by decided what expenditures can be cut or paired down.
For example, you may find yourself spending $70 each month on eating out. While eating out is enjoyable, it certainly isn’t a necessary expense. You can decide to set your dining-out budget at $50 for next month.
Categorize your spending and give yourself a limit on each. Here are some more examples of areas of spending:
- Eating Out
#5: Get Help
There are many resources available for single mothers and low-income families that can help alleviate some financial stress:
- Food Banks/Food Stamps
Take advantage of food programs if you find yourself struggling to purchase groceries – remember, food is your #1 spending priority!
- Government Assistance
Depending on where you reside, there are many government programs designed to help out low-income families. There are tax benefits, daycare supplements and even funding for extracurricular activities.
Many places offer housing programs that will place you in a dwelling and base your rent on your income. Most programs will accommodate the size of your family and the residences are as well maintained as any other rental property.