This post will provide a simple to follow checklist of steps you can take to finally take control of your money and your life as a single mother.
Being a single mother is difficult for so many reasons. But financial stress is often at the top of the list.
How do we juggle it all and make ends meet?
It took me quite a few years as a single mother to really figure out my finances. I made a lot of money mistakes along the way that I regret. I was working 40 hours a week, wasting an additional 15 hours just commuting to work and back, and living paycheck to paycheck. I realized this type of schedule just wasn’t sustainable and my son was suffering because I wasn’t there for him enough.
But how else would I cover all the expenses? The sports, the tutoring, the private school, rent, car payments and food. And as stress levels became overwhelming, I had additional healthcare expenses. As a full-time single mother I was responsible for everything. That’s a really tough burden to carry.
But I eventually learned that it really didn’t have to be that bad. There was a better way to manage my finances, and my life, such that I could work less and still live well.
These are the steps I went through to take back control of my finances and live a better life. The very steps that I took to ensure that not only could I cover all my expenses but that I could actually work less and maintain an emergency fund for unexpected bills, save for a secure future and even invest to build generational wealth.
13 Steps to take control of your money
Step 1: Evaluate your earning potential
The first step is to evaluate how much you earn now and what your future earning potential is. If you aren’t happy with what you can realistically expect to be earning a few years from now, think about what options you have to change this.
If you need to look ahead to a few promotions within your company, what steps can you make now to ensure that you are on the right path?
Step 2: Determine if a career change is appropriate
Network, train, go back to school, do that math whether the cost of additional schooling will be worthwhile. See if family can provide a personal loan to cover the cost rather than a student loan.
If you need to consider a career change, investigate just what that will entail and how you can make it happen. If this means going back to school for a little bit, weigh the cost to benefit of taking student loans and time off of work. Will your new income enable you to easily pay off your loans?
Look into the possibility of taking a loan or some type of financial assistance from a close family member if school is your best option.
I personally realized pretty quickly that I needed to go back to school if I wanted any hope of financial stability later on. After a lot of research I found a FREE accelerated program for something that I qualified for, I would enjoy doing and would only take one year to complete. While it was free, I still had to cover all my expenses for a full year without working. It was a private program and student loans weren’t an option. So, I moved in with my parents, rent free, and lived very frugally for that year. I borrowed money from other family members just to make ends meet.
Thankfully, after one year I was able to start working full time at a yearly income four times what I was able to make before. And that was just a starting salary. I was able to easily pay off the loans within the first year of working.
Step 3: Seek the help you need
It takes a village to raise a child
We’ve all heard this African proverb before. As single parents this is so very fitting and true.
Do NOT try to do everything yourself. You don’t have to! You might feel alone or ostracized because of your unique situation. But it’s okay to lean on others and ask for help. You deserve it. Your child deserves it.
Additionally, as unique and alone as you may feel, there are so many other single moms that can relate. Find those single moms by joining local meet-up groups. I struggled with this because I am very introverted and shy. But as soon as I stared speaking up and sharing my story, I found many others that had similar situations and could relate. These moms became my closest friends and network.
If you have friends and family around, take advantage of that! Just remember to be open and honest. You’d be surprised to find how many supporters you have once they know you need their support.
Similarly, you will want to surround yourself with like-minded people.
Right after I became a full time single mother I made the choice to go back to school. Right when I finished I was able to start working in my field. My new network of friends and colleagues made significantly more money than I did. Often they didn’t have kids and had no concept of the expenses I was trying to manage on my own. There were dinners out, weekend trips and so many reasons to feel pressured into overspending.
Find your right tribe. Find the folks that will understand your unique situation and be there with you. Don’t ever feel like you need to keep up with the Joneses. It’s just not realistic and you will be working for years to undo the damage of debt. At best, you will be left scrambling to improve your savings after a period of overspending.
Having the right tribe can make all the difference.
Step 4: Evaluate your Health insurance options
If your work doesn’t cover health insurance, be sure you have a plan in place in case of emergencies. There’s nothing like some emergency medical bills to drive you into debt that will take years to work your way out of. The added cost now is well worth the peace of mind and protection.
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Step 5: Consider therapy
Don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed to seek professional help for yourself and your family. This is a very difficult time in your life. Help ease that burden by taking care of you and your child’s mental health. It is every bit as important as your physical health, and can even begin to greatly impact your physical health if ignored.
Step 6: Find a sitter before you need one
Aside from friends and family, be sure you also have backup sitting in place in case you ever need it. I found two babysitters that I could afford, then I scheduled them occasionally so that we were all familiar with each other and our routines, (and it was a good excuse to schedule some much needed me time!). This way I had a backup plan in the event that I really needed it and for when I couldn’t or wouldn’t rely on friends and family. This took some of the burden of guild off my shoulders.
Step 7: Track your finances
Now that the basic life planning and support systems are in place, it’s time to start focusing on your finances.
The first step is tracking your finances. There’s no way to really know and understand where your money goes every month until you start consistently tracking your income and expenses.
Even if you read this step and immediately start shaking your head and want to skip to the next one, this is the cornerstone step which all other steps will rely upon. Do Not Skip It!
To begin tracking your finances, and find additional worksheets to help this process, visit How To: Track Your Personal Finances.
Step 8: Establish a budget
Once you have a good understanding of where your money goes, you will be able to give that money a purpose by defining your budget.
This is where you will evaluate your spending categories and determine how to prioritize spending and uncover areas you are overspending.
To create your budget, visit The Beginner’s Guide To Creating a Budget You Can Stick To. You can also download my helpful budget forms in my free resource library.
Step 9: Pay yourself first
The number one key to saving for a secure future and building wealth is this.
Pay yourself first.
Shoot for a minimum of 10% that goes right into an emergency savings account and then a retirement investment account. After that 10% of your income is set aside (and out of easy reach), use your budget to determine how much you have to apply towards debt pay down and additional savings.
Step 10: Put your debt payoff and savings on autopilot
Because you track your finances and have a budget, you know how your dollars are being distributed each month. Put that on autopilot so you don’t fall behind when life gets in the way.
Missed bills result in a lower credit score. That credit score is so important. Maybe not now when you have so many other things to think about, but it will want a high credit score later. This is why it is so much better to just put everything on autopilot. You can even have everything set to the absolute minimum and then make additional payments or transfers when you have the opportunity. There’s nothing wrong with making extra payments. But missing a payment can come back to haunt you for many years.
There are a number of resources to help you put your savings and bill pay on autopilot. Check out your bank’s website first as that is often the easiest to set up. You can add bill accounts to your own account and schedule future payments. If the amount is often different, you can at least set up auto-alerts to notify you when a bill is due.
Also, most utility companies have an option to link a checking account and set up automatic payments. They prefer it and so will you.
Your own bank provider should also allow for automatic transfers of money from your checking account into a savings or investing account. This way you won’t have to see the money, it simply moves over to another account after income deposits.
Step 11: Educate yourself
Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.
– Chinese Proverb
Just reading through these 13 steps is a sign that you are willing and ready to learn new skills. These skills will continue moving you forward in life.
Important areas to read up on include:
- Personal finance
- Personal growth
- Goal setting and growth mindset
Whether you love reading, listen to audiobooks in the car or on walks or prefer to find insightful and educational podcasts, learning will move you forward. You are only stuck in life if you refuse to learn and embrace change.
This entire blog is the result of all the information I devoured when life was at an all time low for me. I knew that something needed to change. I just needed to learn what to do.
Step 12: Have a savings goal
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”
“I don’t much care where –”
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Without a goal for your money, you have no direction on how to save it or spend it. You really have no reason to save it. This is when living paycheck-to-paycheck and jumping on the latest department store sale will get the best of you and your finances.
But if you have a goal, and that goal is super important and meaningful to you, you won’t be tempted or led astray.
Step 13: Have a long term goal
Perhaps you want to save for your child’s college, or maybe you want to buy your first home. Maybe you want to go back to school and become a nurse practitioner or real estate agent. Regardless of the goal, dream big and then map out what actions you need to take and what money you need to save now to make it happen. Break your goal down into short term goals and adjust your budget to accommodate each step.
This is a life changing step. Visit 10-Year Goals: Why You Need Them Today to learn more about the importance of long term goals. You can also download a workbook and printable from my free resource library!
Life as a single mother is often challenging and overwhelming. Managing finances doesn’t have to be stressful and it really shouldn’t add to your overwhelm. Here are 13 steps that you can take to eliminate the burden of money management so you can focus on what really matters – you and your family.
- Evaluate your earning potential
- Determine if a career change is appropriate
- Seek the help you need
- Evaluate your health insurance options
- Consider therapy
- Find a sitter before you need one
- Track your finances
- Establish a budget
- Pay yourself first
- Put your debt payoff and savings on autopilot
- Educate yourself
- Have a savings goal
- Have a long term goal to strive for
Make life even easier for yourself by downloading a free checklist printable in my free resource library. This will help you stay on track and motivated to work your way through all of the steps.
- Download the checklist in the free resource library or create your own. See below to learn how to access the library and many other free resources.
- Review all the steps listed and determine which steps need your attention most. Work your way through the checklist.
- Let me know how it goes! Leave a comment or email me at email@example.com.
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