One of my long-time best friends recently became a single mom. The hardest part of her journey through divorce has been facing that she put her career on hold when her (now three-year-old) daughter came along, so she had to reinvent her income-earning potential on the fly when she and her husband separated. Talking with her about budgeting is always enlightening. Here are some tips she recently shared with me that can lighten any single parent's financial load!

1. Total your bills, then divide (your paycheck) and conquer

If you’re like most working parents, you probably get paid twice monthly. Here’s how to use your paycheck to conquer your bills.

Here’s what to do:

  • Select a budgeting tool (two of my favorites are Pear Budget and Mint) and plot out basic expenses.
  • Using your calendar, star key dates when bills fall due.
  • As best your bill payment schedule permits, plan to use half of each semi-monthly paycheck for bills and the other half for essentials (including savings).

2. Give your (older) kid(s) a weekly allowance

There is no doubt that two incomes are better than one. But if you only have one income, everyone needs to be on a budget/allowance—and this includes the kid(s)—at least ages 12+.

Here’s what to do:

  • Work with each child to identify major expense categories (i.e., lunch money, bus fare or gas money, entertainment).
  • Give each child a weekly allowance and task them to manage it with your help—paying essentials first, and then using what is left for fun and savings.

Example:

Q: Each child's allowance will depend on expenses, but what if their expenses are more than you can afford?

A: USA Today offers a possible solution— when setting a child's weekly allowance, budget $0.50 to $1 for each year of a child's age.

So a 10-year-old would get $5 – $10/week, and a 16-year-old would get $8 – $16 per week.

Here, if one child's expenses overlap with another's (for instance, if the 16-year-old buys gas that is also used to drive the 10-year-old to school, a workable option is to increase the former's allowance by decreasing the latter's allowance accordingly.)

Note: This is also a great opportunity to teach your kids about budgeting—and couponing!

3. Make your own household cleaning products

Even with coupons, cleaning supplies can get expensive. But you can use coupons to buy the core supplies you need and make many of your own cleaning supplies on the cheap!

  • Core ingredients you need: Ammonia, white vinegar, baking soda, water, rubbing alcohol, olive oil, fresh lemon

Four Basic Recipes:

  • Furniture polish: one part olive oil to one-half part fresh lemon juice—just rub on and wipe off with a soft cloth (only make a bit at a time since this is a perishable recipe).
  • Surface cleaner: one part white vinegar plus one part water (pour into a spray bottle).
  • Glass cleaner: one part alcohol plus one part water plus one Tbsp vinegar (pour into a spray bottle).
  • Tub and tile cleaner: one part warm water plus one-fourth part baking soda (scrub with a sponge and rinse).

Note: Yes, these are cheap to make and that is great news, but even better—they are much safer to use than most commercial products, especially with pets and young kids around!

4. Ask billing companies for a break

Statistics support success when it comes to simply calling up creditors and asking for a rate reduction. But this only works if you do it.

Here’s what to do:

  • Make a list of each company you pay monthly (utilities, rent, credit cards, etc.)
  • Highlight the bills you consider "optional" (i.e. not rent or food, but cable and data)
  • Call each creditor and explain there has been a change in your situation and you now need to pay your bills with a greatly reduced single parent income.
  • Mention canceling the service (if this is possible—see your highlighted list).
  • Ask what can be done to achieve a lower rate and then wait for good news!

5. Don't stop saving

Financial experts emphasize the importance of continuing to save into an emergency fund—even if you can only save $5 or $10 per month.

Here’s what to do:

  • Compare the savings account interest rate at your bank or credit union against these online high interest savings accounts recommended by Forbes.
  • Select the savings account with the highest interest rate yield.
  • Set up your savings account and designate it "for emergency use only."
  • Set up an auto-draft, timed with your semi-monthly paycheck deposits (so you are least likely to miss the money funneled into savings).
  • If possible, try to forget that account is there and just let it accrue over time.

6. As soon as you can, jumpstart your kids' saving strategy and save yourself some taxes

There can be tax advantages for parents who start saving early towards a child's education. Here are two savings funds to consider.

  • ESA (Education Savings Account): You can deposit up to $2,000 per year per child. Deposited funds and dividends remain free from federal tax as long as a) the child uses the funds only for qualified education expenses, and b) all funds are used before the child turns 30.
  • 529 College Savings Plan: 529 plans are state-sponsored education funds. As such, terms differ from state to state. Typically you can invest up to a set amount annually per student, and the funds remain free from federal taxes as long as they are used for qualified education expenses. 

7. Cost-share with other single-parent families

Current statistics show that single-parent households represent nearly 30% of American families. Luckily there are lots of resources being developed to serve the specific needs of households headed up by one parent.

Try these resources: