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Q: As a single mom, how do I start to get control of my finances?

A:  As a single mom, you have plenty on your plate; finances can sometimes be put on autopilot.  Finances (and financial success) are more about behavior and less about money–more about a plan and less about impulse.  I love it when I hear Dave Ramsay say, “Children do what feels good, adults devise a plan and stick to it!”

While individual financial circumstances vary, there are some good steps to follow when starting to control finances. Take a look:

1. Start tracking your spending habits over a period of time (minimum of a month).  Document every expense no matter how small.  I know that can be very hard when you are trying to balance all your other responsibilities.  I just started asking for a receipt whenever I purchased something; I’d put it in my wallet then transfer the receipt to a specific place at home.  This will also be a great tool for the next step, developing your priorities into a plan.

2. The financial plan!  I have tried to avoid the word “budget” because many of us would rather stub our toe on the business end of a chainsaw than have to deal with a budget.  If I’ve lost some of you with the use of the word BUDGET, let me hurry and say that a budget can be easy or complex; I do not expect you to do anything overwhelming or burdensome.  For my family, so far, we have remembered the K.I.S.S. rule, Keep It Simple, Silly (or fill in your own favorite “S” word).  Our budget is on a simple spreadsheet with income on one side and a list of basic expenses on the other.  Housing payments, car payments, utilities, donations and insurance are easy to figure out because they happen every month.  Many of those expenses are consistent, so I know month to month what to expect.  The real headache (or toe ache) starts when I try to figure out categories that vary month to month.  Gas, food/grocery, and miscellaneous amounts may also vary because of how much we earn in a month.  In our spreadsheet I have a formula set up to do all the math when I start adding amounts into the categories.  That makes it better than buying a chainsaw.

3.  If expenses are larger than income, hard decisions need to be made regarding wants and needs.  Seek counsel from friends, family, financial blogs, or even your own children about where the family should spend money.  We cut our food/grocery buget way back because of the tips and advice from “The Krazy Coupon Lady”.  Some months we had to pass over a “Krazy” deal, but our needs were always met.