If you are a single mom, I know the burden of being the only breadwinner weighs heavily on your shoulders. Unless you receive a huge amount of child support, most single moms have to make things work on one income, often an income that is significantly less than that of their male counterparts. Ugh. It is stressful enough raising kids alone! And to have to do the money thing alone sucks as well. No question.
What can you do? As a working single mom myself, I know what it is like to feel despair, rage, and fear about my money. I have been downright terrified. And yet, through steady practice of these 4 things, I have managed to build my business, claw my way out of $20,000 in debt, and build a good nest egg. The days of feeling close to living on the edge are over. I still don't live extravagantly, but we live and eat very well, are able to take vacations now, and can actually plan for big goals like home ownership and a rich retirement. Life is good! Here's what I've learned:
1. First things first. Get a job. This may seem like a no-brainer, but many single moms I meet do not have much income beyond state assistance or child support, and are living so close to the edge that they cannot begin to dream of the future. Steady income brings stability to your situation, and self-esteem. Even if you have to pay for some childcare, move closer to family, be creative with arranging playdates, or work at home with the little ones, working is empowering. A woman who works is a woman who has choices! When I moved to a new town, and my business took a hit, I also got a side job. That extra $500 a month helped tremendously as I was rebuilding self-employment.
If you are making a decent income, but still have little margin in your budget, you might consider going back to school, or doing some strategic planning to up your career track. One of my money mentors Mikelann Valterra of The Women's Earning Institute says if you are a consultant or contractor and have not raised your rates in 2 years, you need to! Your working also demonstrates work ethic for your children. I put my kids to work, and pay them "commissions" instead of an allowance. Working gets you out of the "poor me" victim mentality, and into action towards a future.
2. Give some money away. This may seem strange, since the first tip is to make money. Why give some away? Wouldn't that take food out of my kids' mouths, you might wonder? Well, I'm not talking about giving it all away, just 10%. My coach Toni Stone taught me the practice of tithing, or giving 10% of income, to your local church and place of spiritual inspiration. This keeps you on a path with your higher power, and helps you know you are always guided. I have been a tither for 10 years, and I have found it increases my trust and my faith tremendously! Miracles, bonuses, and blessings seem to show up more often in my life. And really, 10% is not a big deal. If you can't live on 90% of your income, you are not a good money manager anyway.
3. Which leads us to tip #3: Spend wisely. This means, spend according to your means, not the way you wish you were living, or the way you lived when you were married. This one was pretty brutal for me, and I did a lot of "emotional" spending. You know, the spending where you are exhausted from working so hard and you buy that $100 dress because you feel you "deserve" it, or you buy $800 of food at the fancy gourmet store, because you are too tired to bargain shop. Eventually I learned the magic of budgeting, and also to release my grief in healthy ways, so I didn't need to shop addictively. So find healthy outlets for your feelings, and do a written budget every month. A good start for your first budget is to focus on the 4 walls: food, housing, transportation and utilities. Once those are covered, you can add in your giving, saving, debt repayment, and personal spending. For more info on spending wisely, check out my blog below, The Budget Is Your Friend.
4. And finally: Save some money. Saving can be short term or long term, but most importantly, it helps protect you. For me the most revolutionary thing was to build an emergency fund. It has given me the most amazing peace of mind, and ability to cover unexpected expenses without stress. Not only have I been able to cover random car repairs with ease, but I find emergencies actually happen less often! So put a percentage of your income in savings. 10% is a good place to start, though you may want to up that over time as you are building your nest egg for yourself and your children's future. If you have debt, Dave Ramsey recommends you start with a "starter" emergency fund of $500-$1000, and then attack the debt til you get rid of it. Later you can build a "fully funded" emergency fund of 3-6 months of expenses in savings.
I promise you, if you do these 4 things consistently over time: work, give, spend, and save in balance, you will go from stressed to blessed. We single moms do a huge job, we deserve lots of help and praise. Please let me know what kind of money stress YOU might be dealing with, and ask any questions you might have. I'm here for you!