Did you just get a divorce? Did your partner walk out on you or vice versa? Is your child's dad out of the picture? Whether this happened today or happened from the conception of your child, budgeting on your own can be tricky, especially if it's something you've never done on your own before.
I had lived on my own before I met my ex-husband, but during the duration of our relationship and marriage, he managed the budget and money. So when it came time for me to take over my finances, I was nervous because it fell all on me and I didn't want to make any mistakes, because hey — money mistakes are costly, pun intended! Here are some tips and thoughts on budgeting, single-mom style!
For the Kids
Your Friends' Bounty
Unless you have not one single friend who is a mother, when it comes time to dress your kids, if money is tight, reach out to your friends to secure their gently used hand-me-downs! Number one: your friends most likely have similar tastes and you know which ones of your friends care for things well or not. Number two: it's free, whereas consignment is cheap but not free.
For me, my ex and I are able to buy clothes for our daughter, but sometimes there are items like snow boots or suits that my child would only use a few times and I would rather not pay full price for a new set when I can get them free, courtesy of my friends. Plus, it gives me more money for more important items like leggings, pajamas, etc. Originally when my ex signed over the deed to our marital home, I panicked trying to find a new place, and since Summer was coming, my first thought was to ask friends and hunt for sales so my daughter had Summer clothes. There's no shame in asking for help when you need it. Your friends probably don't want to hang on to old clothes anyway. They're probably dying to unload some things, especially to a worthy person.
Bonus tip? I always buy clothes on big sale days and try to buy in bulk. This means Labor Day, Presidents' Day, and Memorial Day shopping for me.
If you're divorced, your ex should be helping with activities, but if with or without help things are very tight, talk to your kids about paring down their after-school activities to one or two things. Or if they're in one activity but it's an expensive one, you may have to switch studios or reduce a competition or game schedule in order to keep your kid active in the hobby or sport.
Does this stink? Yes. In fact, if you have an active ex or active dad, this shouldn't have to happen, but divorce can really hurt everyone's finances, and if you're a single mom without any helping hands ever, you may need to call some hard shots. Having a roof over your head is more important than cheerleading or baseball, as sad as that is.
For us, we chose one activity for our daughter to do this year despite wanting to sign her up for two. I was disappointed but recognized she would survive despite and hope that one day, we could get her involved in the second activity of her choice.
Vacations and Gifts
Staycation, staycation, staycation!
Kids don't need fancy vacations to be happy. Disney is nice, but it's not mandatory to live a happy life. We skipped Sesame Place even this Summer because it was costly and visited the beach and local amusement parks that were cheaper.
As far as gifts, if your kids are old enough, explain that perhaps this year they will have to choose either a few cheap presents or one big one and that's it. And maybe instead of presents, you save toward a vacation or a day trip, whatever your single-mom budget is. Explain to the kids that they could have an experience or a toy, and see what they pick.
Remember: no one died from getting too few Christmas or birthday gifts. In fact, no one died from getting none. Do the best you can, hunt down sales, shop for small items at the dollar store, and if your kids are preschool age and younger, don't spend a lot of money on gifts, period! They play with a doll for 10 minutes and are over it half of the time, so don't bother. They don't understand materialism yet. Buy all your gifts at the dollar store, and they'll never care.
A little tip? Hunt through garage sales for bigger-ticket items for the little ones. Your kid won't care that his playhouse was someone else's. It will be brand new to him!
Credit Card Payments
If you were paying more than the minimum, that's great as interest rates can keep you sucked into credit card debt for life, but if things have grown tight, go back to paying the minimum until you can bulk up payments again.
Savings or Debts Paid?
I decided to keep some savings rather than pay off debts. It bothered me, but I knew I could pay my minimum payments consistently and I wanted savings in case of an emergency.
A financial adviser might tell you to get rid of debts so you don't have that debt plus interest over your head, and if you can pay them off, that's wonderful, but whatever you do, do not leave yourself without emergency money. As a single parent, you need something to fall back on when tough times happen, which they always do.
401(k) — For Later
I waited to open a 401(k) until I got myself settled in the new place, and now I am ready to open one! Personally, I would tell you to cut down on everything but NOT your 401(k) since we all know we are doomed to work later in life, especially without retirement savings, but at the time it was all about survival and I couldn't look down the road that far. Forget when I am 60; I needed to think about the immediate here and now, and finally, I will contribute money. It won't be as much as I want to, but it's better than zilch!
The Bottom Line
I'm not a financial adviser, so I highly suggest visiting your financial adviser for tips, and if you can't afford one and want to be financially educated (you should want this!), visit Savvy Ladies for financial tips and budget help! They made my life so much easier.
Miscellaneous Home Expenses
Track all of your expenses using an app or Excel sheet. You'll see that maybe you're visiting Starbucks too much (guilty as charged!) or that you could cut down your visits to the dry cleaners (also guilty!). I started hand washing more of my clothes and avoiding buying things that couldn't be machine washed as much as possible. You can also buy most of your favorite coffees and teas in store now, so if you're a Starbucks tea or coffee addict, you can most likely find your "poison" at Target these days!
I also made sure to turn off the AC and avoid blasting the heat whenever I am not home, which saves me money. I forgot one month and my bill was $30 more!
Gas station savvy: I found the gas station with the best prices, and I do my best to visit them (they're near my home) and avoid getting gas near my job or on the highway, which tends to be more expensive.
Food Shop Sense
Once it came down to being the solo show, I cut down my organic food purchases and stopped having my groceries delivered. While I know eating healthy is important, I had to pick and choose my organic products (dairy and meats) and avoid having groceries delivered unless a real emergency or bad week came up. Every time I had groceries delivered, it cost me more and then I had to tip the delivery boy as well.
Buy as many no-frills brands as you can, avoid junk foods and microwavable items as those tend to cost more, pick out only as much produce as you truly need for the week, and buy in bulk when needed.
It's not easy starting over financially or feeling the pressure of a one-income home, but you can do it. It just takes a little bit of common sense and a lot of great bookkeeping and energy!
For a list of great financial apps and budget tools, see this article by Our Freaking Budget.
Manicures, Pedicures, and Beauty
Oh ladies, who doesn't love a mani/pedi? But if your budget is tight, beauty expenses like this should be cut. I know it's not the same as when you have them done by someone, but it's not very hard, and if you struggle to paint them by yourself, watch a YouTube tutorial or have a friend help you out.
P.S.: Sally Hansen's gel polish line is pretty kickas and lasts a good amount of time. It's cheaper than a gel manicure at a salon!
Hair and Skin
When it comes to beauty, we all know this can be a great expense for us ladies. For me, my skin is so sensitive and I need to cater to it, but I decided to cut my hair and highlight less in order to save some funds. If you feel comfortable, try box hair dye and using deep-conditioning treatments more frequently and cutting your hair less. If you don't feel comfortable, ask a friend. Dye is much easier to do on one's own head than highlights, but if you've got a skilled friend, she could help you in either situation. To extend the life of your hair and your hair color, there are plenty of drugstore-brand UV-protectant sprays that will protect your hair from the blow dryer and the sun, and we all know that sun can affect hair color.
If your skin is sensitive, stick to the program, but if you've got nonreactive skin, many drugstore brands will deliver decent results. Use cheaper products or search on Google/Pinterest for DIY facial exfoliators and moisturizers until you're able to buy your favorite products again.
Products You Can Safely Buy Cheap
- Mascara: Drugstore brands are just as good. Think L'Oréal, Revlon, and Maybelline!
- Powder: No need to spend a fortune on powder unless, again, your skin is mega sensitive, and if it is, try Almay.
- Lip gloss and lipstick: Drugstore brands are just as comparable. I've always liked Revlon.
- Eyeliner: Go cheap! Revlon carried my favorite liquid liner for years.
- Shopping tip: Ulta carries drugstore brands that are less familiar, cheaper than high-priced beauty, and decent quality. NYX brand is nice, and I believe Target carries them as well!
If you're going to budget for beauty, spend more on good foundation and some neutral eye shadow shades. Not all eye shadows are created equal. Stila and Urban Decay have nice shadows if you want department-store beauty that's not top-of-the-range expensive. If you're looking to go cheaper, try NYX. You can't go wrong!
Some of you may not even have the time or money to go out, but everyone needs a life, and single parents are no different. That said, when money is tight, get creative and frugal. Coffee out with your girlfriends, wine night in with a date, or game night with friends is a cheaper alternative than fancy dinners or visiting the local winery with the girls. You should set aside at least some money for entertainment purposes. Too many single moms forget their own needs and end up burning out quickly, which is not good.