Smart financial moves for single parents

One of the biggest challenges for single parents is learning how to manage a “family” budget on one income. Trying to maintain and make ends meet is difficult with two parents working, but today’s economic pressures can be even more difficult for single parents. Most single parents are mothers who are struggling to live paycheck to paycheck. Many of them work long hours for low wages while still trying to maintain their parenting role – cleaning house, cooking meals, keeping up the yard, paying the bills, keeping an eye on the kids and all of the other parental responsibilities.

According to the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University, 84% of single mothers do not have a college degree, and only 22% earn more than $30,000 a year. The bulk of their money is going toward housing, child care, health insurance, food, clothing and gasoline, which leaves no room for wiggle, and no bother to even consider creating a savings cushion.

While it is wise for single parents to be concerned with the uncertainty of our national economy, it is even more important that they empower themselves to take good care of their personal finances and those things they can control. Although its easier said than done, the reality is that you can work with one income and make money stretch farther than ever imagined through responsible spending and planning. The following are few helpful tips to help single parents recession-proof their family budget:

Monitor your current spending. Examine where your money is going and determine which areas can be cut back or simplified to create surplus. Track your spending over a period of two to three months; you’ll be surprised to see how much money is being spent on items that could be easily sacrificed.

Be up front with your children. Have an honest and open discussion with them about the family’s finances. Involve older children in the budgeting process so they feel responsible for helping the family meet financial goals. By showing them the details now, you’re teaching them good money management habits that will help them develop the skills necessary to become wise consumers later.

Pay yourself first. The question is not what if an emergency occurs, but when an emergency occurs. The reality is “things will happen,” and the best thing you can do is be prepared. Saving is one of the most important financial obligations; especially for single parents. Setting money aside for emergencies could make the difference between a minor financial setback and major financial crisis. Consider having a portion of your paycheck automatically deducted and placed into a savings account. As they say – “out of site, out of mind.” You may not miss it if you never see it.

Shop wisely for clothes. Consider basic, durable clothing, which will stretch your dollars significantly and never go out of style. Buy interchangeable items in basic colors such as black, tan, gray and blue, and try to stick to wash-and-wear items that don’t have to be dry-cleaned. For older children that may feel pressured to wear certain brands and the latest fashion trends, consider setting a personal clothing budget. Inform your child of his/her limits before entering a store—they may realize that it’s better to have more options than the latest fads.

Take advantage of tax breaks. There are a number of tax credits and deductions for parents with dependent children. For example, If you pay daycare expenses for your children, you may be able to reduce your federal income tax by claiming the credit for Child and Dependent Care. Some credits are refundable – taxes could be reduced to the point that you would receive a refund rather than owing any taxes. Visit to learn more about tax credits and benefits.

Finally, make sure you have adequate insurance coverage. Medical bills for an accident when you lack coverage can be a serious blow to your family’s budget. Also, be sure you have enough disability and life insurance to cover your income in case you become disabled or die before your children reach adulthood.

We are so exicted to one of the sponsors for the upcoming Mom 2.0 Summit in Houston. In honor of the event, this week's Blogging For Change posts will be by moms and for moms (& dads too)!


Tanisha (Warner) Smith is a former communications manager at MMI.

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