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Running a family is not an easy job, this becomes even difficult if you are a single parent. If you’re raising one or more kids solo, you’ve probably felt the financial pinch a time or two. And trying to stay on top of your money without a plan for spending and paying bills can make like a heck of a lot harder.

And as a single parent, you’ve probably got enough to handle without money stress bringing you down. That’s where having a budget can make your life easier.

Regardless of where your money comes from each month, you need to know how much is coming in. And more importantly, how much of that money you can count on regularly.

Because having court-ordered child support or alimony isn’t a guarantee that your ex-spouse or partner is going to pay it. That’s just the hard truth of being a single parent.

So if you’re working on a single mom budget, consider basing your monthly income only on the money you know you’ll get regularly. That way, you can treat child support or alimony as “extra” when planning out your spending.

There are a lot of tips that can come in handy when trying to create a budget as a single parent. Considering the fact that you might not have enough money to plan with, you need to look for ways to save costs. This article will provide many tips to help you better manage your finances.

  • How Much Should a Single Parent Make?
  • Why do Single Parents Struggle Financially
  • 20 Tip to Save Money on Grocery
  • 9 Smart and Simple Ways to Stretch Your Budget When You’re a Single Parent
  • Benefits and financial support for single parents

How Much Should a Single Parent Make?

Managing finances as a single parent is no joke. You’re responsible for making money, budgeting, paying bills, and saving for the future with no other adults in the household to help you.

Pew Research Center found that divorced, separated or widowed single mothers earn a median annual income of $26,000 and single fathers $40,000, compared to a median of $57,100 in all households with children and $70,000 in two-parent households.

Why do Single Parents Struggle Financially

There are many reasons single parents struggle financially, and it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Being a single parent is hard, especially when there’s only one monthly paycheck instead of two and you have to put more money into childcare whilst you go to work. Here are some of the reasons.

Paying the Bills

If you’re not careful, the cost of bills can continuously creep up. But did you know that it’s easy to bring them back down? Most suppliers will reduce the cost if you simply call them and ask. You must be out of contract to do this, but it’s proven to be very effective.

The other way you can reduce your bill payments is by switching suppliers. This is easier than it sounds and could save you a lot of money in a year. Visit the uSwitch website and see how much you could save.

Trying to Save

It can be almost impossible to save any money as a single parent. All of your money goes into the bills, the food shop or new shoes that your children constantly grow out of.

The best way to stay on top of your finances is to create a budget. Work out what needs to be paid each month, like rent, bills and food, and account for extras too like school lunches, any childcare costs, etc. Set aside an additional amount every month for ‘surprises’ like school trips, or additional swimming lessons. Whatever is left over can go into a savings account.

You can also look into earning cashback on your purchases through cashback websites. You can save lots of money this way on things that you need to buy.

Paying for Childcare

Two-parent families might be able to pick up their child before and after school. But what if you work late or work weekends? Paying for additional childcare can be expensive.

There are tons of options for getting a certain amount of childcare free or claiming tax-free childcare, where an extra 20% is put towards care.

You can also see if you’re eligible for Working Tax Credit, which could cover up to a huge 70% of your childcare costs. You need to work for at least 16 hours a week, and already pay for approved care.

Here are some ways you might be able to save extra money as a single parent:

  • Get 25% off your council tax if your children are under 18 and you don’t live with another adult
  • Claim Child Benefit
  • Get a one-time payment of £500 from the Sure Start maternity grant for pregnant single mothers
  • Apply for the 30 hours free childcare scheme, whereby your child aged 3 or 4 can have free childcare if you’re working
  • Get up to £150 to go towards your child’s school uniform from the council
  • Get a one-off £140 discount on your winter energy bill with the Warm Home Discount Scheme

It’s worth researching some of these ways you can save money over the year. Just look into whether you qualify and how you can apply.

Affording Days Out

If the cost of school lunches, music lessons and school uniforms aren’t enough, weekends can become even more expensive when you want to go on fun activities and days out.

A walk or a day at the beach is free but what about the cost of cinema trips or eating out?

We wanted to find out if days out are more expensive for a single parent. Many attractions have a ‘Family Ticket’ that covers two adults and two children. But as a single parent, this option isn’t available to you and you have to pay per person, which could work out more expensive.

We created this graphic that shows the difference in price for two-parent families buying family tickets vs. single parents having to pay per person. You might be shocked by the results.

20 Tip to Save Money on Grocery

One of the things that will take up part of your budget is groceries. Below, we have provided about 20 tips to help you save money.

  1. Shop on a full stomach. You’ll buy fewer snacks and/or things you don’t usually buy – and only buy groceries, not gifts, and all the extra stuff, at the grocery store!
  2. Go armed with a list and stick to it, especially if your kids are “helping”.
  3. Plan your meals for the week before you shop and then buy what’s on the menu. Start with planning for 3 or 4 days if all week seems too much.
  4. Shop only once a week. You’ll tend to spend more if you stop at the store every day or several times a week.
  5. Shop when you have energy and aren’t worn out from a busy day. It’s easier to focus and make wise choices when you’ve got energy and aren’t preoccupied.
  6. Return your bottles and cans for the deposit that you paid. If you’ve got kids, get them to help with this job and let them keep the cash they earn.
  7. Shop in familiar stores when you’re tired, stressed, or in a hurry. You’ll find what you need and be able to get out with what you need quickly.
  8. Plan meals so that you have leftovers for lunch the next day, or freeze leftovers for a quick meal another day.
  9. Package your own treats, juices, and snacks. Buy the large package or snacks and a box of baggies and make your own individually wrapped packages to grab on the run.
  10. Buy less canned and packaged convenience foods and shred your own lettuce and cheese (cheeses often freeze well too!).
  11. Clean out your fridge and cupboards once a month. Use up what you bought before buying more.
  12. Organize your food storage cupboards and drawers. If you don’t know what you have or can’t find what you bought, you’ll end up buying more of the same unnecessarily.
  13. If you stock up, watch expiry dates and package the food to preserve it as long as needed.
  14. If you buy large packages of meat, pre-cook or marinate it and then freeze it to speed up mealtimes. If you know that you’ve got food ready at home, it’s less tempting to eat out.
  15. Spend some time once a week washing and/or cutting up fruit and vegetables. This will speed up dinner and lunch preparations and provide healthy snacks that are ready to go.
  16. Don’t buy snacks on the run. They are often less healthy and more expensive.
  17. Get creative and try new foods. You may find less expensive food that you enjoy just as much!
  18. Shop with a calculator and add things up as you put them in your cart. If you’re shopping with kids, give them the job to tally what’s in the cart. It will help you stick to your spending plan.
  19. Learn how to cook or bake. Hit up a family member for help or take a class.
  20. Buy non–food grocery items like detergent or garbage bags at a discount store.

9 Smart and Simple Ways to Stretch Your Budget When You’re a Single Parent

1. Budget Your Monthly Expenses

Now that you know where you stand financially, and you’ve created a plan for paying down your debts, it’s time to make sure that you’re making any other necessary adjustments so that you can keep up with your plan. And this means creating a budget.

This can be intimidating, but I’m going to make a suggestion for you: Sign up for Mint.com. It’s a free financial software program available on the Internet, and it will basically do your budgeting for you. It will create a visual pie chart showing how much you’re spending each month on housing, gas, food, entertainment, and more. This way, if it turns out that you’re spending a lot more on food than you really should, you can begin to make the necessary adjustments to get your spending under control.

If you would prefer to create your budget the traditional way, allotting a certain amount of money to each spending category, I’ve created an online budget calculator you can use, which includes categories for child support and other details specific to your life as a single parent.

Finally, in taking a look at where your money really goes each month, it’s important to know approximately how much money you “should” be spending in each category. Generally speaking, your net spendable income (after taxes) should be allocated as follows*:

  • Housing: 30%
  • Food: 12%
  • Auto: 14%
  • Insurance: 5%
  • Debt: 5%
  • Entertainment: 7%
  • Clothing: 6%
  • Savings: 5%
  • Medical/Dental: 4%
  • Miscellaneous: 7%
  • Child Care: 5%
  • Investments: 5%
2. Set Financial Goals

Now that you’ve worked out a plan to pay down your debt, and you’ve created a budget, it’s time to determine your needs moving forward.

Specifically, as a single parent, you need to ask yourself some questions, such as:

  • Do you need to file for child support?
  • Do you need to get a higher-paying job?
  • Is it time to think about going back to school?
  • Do you need to consider moving into a home/rental that would reduce your overall monthly payments?
  • Are there alternatives, such as taking on another job or splitting expenses with another single-parent family, that you need to consider at this point?

One of the things that I want you to know is that the ball is in your court. You determine where this goes from here on out. But unfortunately, you can’t do that if you’re ignoring your financial health, right?

So the fact that you’ve come this far in the process of getting a handle on your finances tells me that you’re determined to make the changes you need to make in order to provide for your family’s future.

So go ahead and ask yourself these questions. So much of single parenting is learning to roll with the punches and be creative in the face of adversity. If, indeed, you need to make some pretty major changes, now is the time to do it. Don’t incur any more debt where you are. Be resourceful, follow-through, and do what you need to do to turn your financial situation around.

3. Create a 50/30/20 budget

Are you still following the traditional way of budgeting?

If yes, then you should try 50/30/20 budgeting now! It can help you to save more money by allocating funds for different types of expenses!

In this budgeting, you need to divide your take-home pay into three categories, like:

  • 50% for your needs (rent or mortgage, grocery shopping, utility bills, etc.)
  • 30% for your wants or luxurious expenses (shopping, going out for a movie or eating out with your child, etc.)
  • 20% for your savings (emergency fund, stashing money in your retirement accounts, investing in a 529 plan, etc.)

Thereby, it can help you to create a balance among your essential expenses, financial priorities, and luxury preferences. Plus, you also become aware of how much dollars you can spend on a particular category!

So, precisely following this budget can help you to save more money and manage finances in a better way!

4. Work on Getting One Month Ahead on Bills

Trying to make a single mom budget work can feel a lot like being a hamster on a nonstop wheel if you’re constantly struggling to stay on top of bills. And just when you get one paid, it seems like the next one is due.

Getting paid up a month ahead can help relieve some of the pressure to make your budget work and not feel overstretched.

But how, exactly, do you do that?

This is where you might have to get a little creative. Because if you’ve already cut your budget down as low as it can go, you might not be able to do this with just your paychecks alone.

One smart way to get ahead is to use windfalls to pay up your bills in advance.

For example, the average taxpayer got almost a $3,000 refund in 2019. If you’re expecting a few thousand back from Uncle Sam this year, that could help you get ahead.

You could use the money to pay up an extra month on the rent or utilities, knock out a chunk of debt or cover several months’ worth of insurance premiums.

The same trick works with other unexpected amounts of money that might come your way. For example, you might get a bonus at work or receive a rebate in the mail that you forgot about.

That’s all money that could help you get ahead on bills. Remember, when you’ve got a tight single mom budget, no windfall is too small or insignificant.

5. Try a Money-Saving Challenge

Saving money is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your kids as a single mom. But it can also be one of the hardest.

Trying a money-saving challenge can help you find the motivation to save. And sometimes, challenging yourself to save can be fun.

One of the simplest money-saving challenges you can try is a no-spend challenge. This just means you commit to not spending money unnecessarily for a set period of time. What you don’t spend, you save instead.

Other challenges you could try include:

  • Saving all your spare change
  • $5 bill savings challenge
  • 52-week savings challenge
  • Penny savings challenges

The great thing about challenges like this is that you can get your kids involved. For example, with the spare change challenge, you can take turns dumping change in and then counting it out together.

It’s a fun and simple way to get kids interested in the idea of saving money. Plus, you might be surprised at just how much you can save as a family by trying a money challenge.

6. Become Even More Frugal

Now is the time to become even more frugal and learn to live within your means.

Practice Discipline:

Stop imagining that more money is going to pour in tomorrow—through finally collecting on unpaid child support, winning the lottery, or getting a promotion. If those things happen, great! You’ll be even better off. But living as if they’re going to happen is causing you to spend money you don’t have.

Instead, force yourself to make purchases with cash only. Do not continue to pay outrageous interest payments toward credit cards for purchases you don’t absolutely need. You can get by without that new furniture, right? What else could you skip, in the interest of spending only what you have right now in the bank?

Try These Ideas:

  • Check Freecycle before you make another major purchase. Someone else may be giving away the very thing you’d like to buy!
  • When you’re getting ready to buy something specific, look for it on eBay first. I buy a lot of my clothes, new-with-tags, through online auctions!
  • Forget trying to keep up with The Joneses.” You already know your value; don’t get caught up trying to “prove” your worth to others by having “just the right” house, car, or appearance.
  • Do not use shopping, ever, to appease your emotions.
  • Finally, when you do go to make a big purchase, step back and give yourself a few days—or even a week—to think about it. There’s no reason to suffer through buyer’s remorse and try to justify to yourself purchases that you really can’t afford. Think it over carefully and make those purchases, when necessary, with cash.
7. Shop at the Local Farmers Market

If you go shopping in your local farmers’ market, you can have fresh food. You can buy seasonal products that are usually cheap and fresh. For that, you can have a look at the seasonal produce guide of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Here are some tips that single moms can follow while visiting the local farmers market:

  • Many vendors sell the same in-season products but at different prices! So, before buying, take a stroll in the market and compare the prices. It will help you to get the best deal and save money!
  • Go 30 minutes before the closing time of the market. Usually, vendors give a discount during that time. So, you can get a better deal from the farmer. And in return, you can buy a sizable quantity at a reasonable price! 
  • Even if it’s too hot or too cold or it’s raining, the farmers market remains open! But during those days, the footfall of the customers is usually low! So, the vendors offer a good discount to the visiting customers to compensate for the possible losses.

The cool thing is, you can grab this opportunity to save a substantial amount of money on your grocery shopping budget.

8. Increase Your Net Worth

The next step is to determine your net worth and begin adding to it.

Determine Your Net Worth:

Your net worth is what you own minus what you owe. Programs such as Mint.com, Quicken, and Microsoft Money will calculate your net worth for you, automatically.

You can also determine your net worth simply by adding up all that you own, including all of your investments, the equity you may have paid into your home, the value of your car, and any other assets you possess; and subtracting what you owe in remaining debts.

Set Up a Savings Account:

Once you know where you stand, you’ll be ready to set up a savings account. You can do this through your regular bank, or begin investing in a mutual fund that pays interest.

Even if you can only afford to set aside $25 or $50 per month, it will begin to add up.

Before you know it, you’ll have an emergency savings plan in place, to protect you in the event that your car breaks down, or your home needs a major repair.

In addition, these regular savings will help you increase your net worth over time.

9. Learn to say “NO” to your child

Nobody wants to be a bad mommy to their children. But you need to learn to say “NO” if you want your child to become financially aware. And of course, you can save money by not spending on unnecessary things.

So, the next time you go shopping with your child, don’t give in to whatever he/she wants! Ask your child, “Do we really need this?”.

Initially, your child might say, “Yes!!”. 

But help your child understand why that product is not a necessary thing! And most importantly, please be polite and keep calm while explaining to him/her.

However, if you turn down the kid’s request every time, he/she might feel neglected. So, it’s okay to give your child a small reward for good behavior at the store from time to time.

This way, you can save money by not indulging in splurges. And at the same time, you are imparting financial awareness to your child.

Benefits and financial support for single parents

The benefits you may be able to claim as a single parent include:

1 Universal Credit

Universal Credit is a relatively new benefit that, in time, will replace six different income-based benefits, including Income Support.

It is being introduced in stages across the UK and, according to Faye at Gingerbread, this means if you are a new applicant, you will most likely need to apply for UC rather than individual benefits like housing benefits, tax credits or Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA).

The eligibility criteria includes:

  • you’re on a low income or currently out of work
  • you’re aged over 18 (or, in some cases, aged 16-17*)
  • you have £16,000 or less in savings
  • you live in the UK.

*In some cases, you can claim Universal Credit aged 16 or 17. Reasons include:

  • you are responsible for a child
  • you’re pregnant and it’s 11 weeks or less before your expected week of giving birth
  • you’ve had a baby in the last 15 weeks.

Universal Credit – how much will you get?

Universal Credit is made up of a basic standard allowance:

If you’re single and aged under 25 … £251.77 a month

If you’re single and aged over 25 … £317.82 a month

You may then receive extra amounts, depending on your circumstances: for example, you can claim money towards your housing costs and for the number of children you have as follows:

Extra monthly amount for your first child … £277.08 (born before 6 April 2017) or £231.67 (born on or after 6 April 2017).

Extra monthly amount for your second child (and other eligible children)… £231.67 per child.

Extra monthly amount if your child is disabled or severely disabled… £126.11 or £392.08.

If you need help with childcare costs, you may be able to claim up to 85% of your costs (up to £646.35 for one child and £1,108.04 for two or more children).

The amount you’ll get reduces as your income from employment increases.

You can apply for Universal Credit online, although you might also have to attend an interview at a Jobcentre Plus.

2 Child Benefit

Every parent with responsibility for a child under 16 (or under 20 and in full-time education or training) can claim child benefit. The amount you’ll get is as follows:

For your eldest child, or if you only have one child … £20.70 per week

For additional children … £13.70 per child, per week

If you’re a single parent you can ask for the payment to be made weekly, rather than monthly.

If you earn more than £50,000, you may be taxed on the benefit.

You can apply for Child Benefit even if you’re already receiving legacy benefits.

3 Healthy Start vouchers

The Healthy Start scheme is to help pregnant women and those with children under the age of four to buy basic foods, promoting healthy eating.

To qualify, you’ll need to be claiming certain other benefits such as Income Support, JSA, Child Tax Credit or Universal Credit.

The vouchers are worth £3.10 each and can be used for milk, fruit, veg and infant formula. You can also claim free vitamin supplements.

4 NHS Low Income Scheme (LIS)

If you claim benefits or are on a low income, you may be eligible for help with healthcare costs, including prescriptions, dental and eye care.

Depending on your circumstances, you might be entitled to an HC2 certificate (full help) or an HC3 certificate (partial help).

If you’re claiming certain benefits, including Income Support, Universal Credit and JSA, you don’t need to apply for a certificate, as you’ll automatically qualify for full help with health costs.

You can also apply for the NHS Low Income Scheme if you’re already receiving legacy benefits.

5 Free school meals

Your child might be able to get free school meals if you get any of the following:

  • Income Support
  • Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
  • The guaranteed element of Pension Credit
  • Child Tax Credit (provided you’re not also entitled to Working Tax Credit and have an annual gross income of no more than £16,190)
  • Working Tax Credit run-on – paid for 4 weeks after you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit
  • Universal Credit.
6 Council tax reduction

As a single parent, you may be able to get a discount on your council tax.

Local councils decide their own qualifying criteria, so you’ll need to ask your local housing authority for more information: you can find their contact details online.

You can also apply for council tax reduction if you’re already receiving legacy benefits.

7 Widowed Parent’s Allowance

If you’ve become a single parent through bereavement, you may be eligible for Widowed Parent’s Allowance (WPA).

The maximum is £113.70 per week and it is based on how much your partner paid in National Insurance. You must apply within three months of the date of death to avoid losing out on any money.

Apply by phone by calling the Bereavement Service helpline on 0800 731 0469.

You can also apply for Widowed Parents Allowance if you’re already receiving legacy benefits.

So, what are you thinking about? Are the above tips hard to follow?

I hope they aren’t! Because following these tips asap will help you stretch your budget to save more money. And eventually, as a single parent, it will help you to manage your finances in a better way!

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