First a disclaimer: I am not a single parent. However, I was raised by one, my dear grandmother, who had already been a widow for more than a decade when she took me under her precious wings. And I’ve counseled dozens and dozens of single moms and single dads, all trying to make the best possible life for their kids on one income or no income at all.
I’ve lived that life and have experienced first-hand the blessings God pours on His most vulnerable children. I didn’t have a lot of things that my peers had growing up, but I witnessed miracle upon miracle of God’s divine provision. I wouldn’t trade that for all the vacations, video games and trampolines in the world.
I’m blessed to have a wonderful husband and two incomes in our home, but I stand in awe of the single parents and everything they do to help their kids become all God designed them to be. It’s not easy, but the rewards are immeasurable, and I’m committed to help every single parent I encounter be as financially healthy as possible.
Single parents don’t have much room for error. You have to get the budget down right and you have to stick to it or the consequences will come quickly. Here are some tips to help.
1. Forgive, Release and Move On
There are no doubt many things that happened to you – things beyond your control – that caused the situation you are in now. You can’t move ahead into your future until you’ve forgiven the transgressions of the past. Forgive your spouse (or former spouse). Forgive the people who judged you if you ended your marriage. Forgive the friends and relatives who did not come to your aid when you were in need. Let those things go. You can’t do anything to change the past, and hanging on to it will only impede your future. If you’re still angry, that’s okay. Just ask God to help you forgive and to show you how to let it go. He will do just that.
Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good tho those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you. —Matthew 5:44
2. Live on Less than You Earn
There’s probably no one out there to pick up your slack. If you run out of money, there isn’t another paycheck to count on and for most single parents, there isn’t someone you can go to for extra money. Therefore you must live on less than you earn. Aim for rent or a mortgage payment that is no more than 25 percent of your take-home pay. Avoid monthly obligations for things like expensive mobile phone packages, satellite TV contracts, installment payment plans for furniture purchases and other optional items.
Single parents need enough margin in their income (the difference between what you earn every month and your monthly mandatory obligations) to be able to cover unexpected car repairs, medical bills and other “uh-oh” moments, especially while you are working to establish an emergency fund. If you make $3,000 a month and your expenses are $3,000 a month, you have no wiggle room if something unexpected happens. (And in case you haven’t noticed, something unexpected always happens.)
A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences. —Proverbs 27:12, NLT
3. Save, Save, Save
The last thing you want is to have to go into debt to handle an unexpected car repair, medical bill, veterinarian bill or other financial emergency. Lots of clinics, auto repair shops, dental offices, even vet clinics will gladly offer you on-the-spot financing to cover such expenses, but those loans are some of the worst financial products on the market today, charging interest at 30 percent and higher. Expect the unexpected and save as much money as you possibly can. Squirrel away $5 here, $10 there and keep going until you have at least $1,000 in ready cash. Then go for $2,500. You’ll sleep easier and won’t have to go into debt to handle life’s little inconveniences.
Some tips to generate cash on a tight budget:
1. The “Target Tax” – fine yourself a set amount every time you go to one of your favorite stores. For me, it’s Target. I fine myself a $20 “Target Tax” every time I go there. When I swipe my debit card, I get $20 cash back, and that goes into my Squirrel Fund. You can do $5 if you like or whatever you can afford.
2. Cash out your coupon savings. If you’re not using coupons, start! Then take whatever amount you saved with your coupons as cash, and put that in your emergency fund.
3. Have a garage sale or put stuff on Craigslist.
4. Ask for cash or grocery store gift cards in lieu of gifts for your birthday, Christmas, etc.
5. Return stuff! I bet you can find at least $25 worth of stuff around your house that still has the tags on it. Return that unneeded clutter and jump-start your emergency fund.
6. Babysit, house sit, pet sit, water plants, walk dogs. Think like a teenager! Find creative ways to generate extra income in ways that will still allow you to spend that time with your kiddos.
In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has. —Proverbs 21:20, NIV
4. Cut Expenses Any Way You Can
Never, ever pay retail. Look for clearance sales on clothing. Search Craigslist for needed household items or post needs on Facebook. Trade with friends. Borrow things that don’t need to always be on hand. Use coupons and match those with store sales to get groceries and household items at rock-bottom prices- then stock up! Adjust your thermostat. Don’t speed and improve your gas mileage. Look for ways to save on everything you spend money on. It may only be a dime here and a nickel there, but those nickels and dimes add up quickly for big savings!
Go to the ant, sluggard; consider her ways and be wise; who having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provides her food in the summer and gathers her food in the harvest. —Proverbs 6:6-8
5. Never Ever Count on Child Support as Part of Your Monthly Budget
I know this is a toughie. If you have court-ordered child support, you should be able to count on that money. The thing is, often you can’t. And if you budget as if that money is a sure thing, you’re going to end up short when the check doesn’t arrive. Your former spouse could lose his or her job, or just decide not to pay. Establish your budget without that income factored in, but have a plan for it when it does. Use that money for doctor bills, the kids’ clothes and other irregular expenses that may not be reflected in a tight monthly budget.
Do not be an island unto yourself. You need community. Be active in your local church and have a circle of strong, healthy friends that you can lean on for advice and support. Mentor newly divorced parents if you can, providing help and encouragement to others will do more for you than it does for them. Work with other single parents to pool resources. Can you share a lawn mower with neighbors? Share baby-sitting? Have one mom clip the coupons and cook while the other does the shopping for both families? Get creative and build the community yourself if you have to. If you decide to be bold, ask for help and start forging relationships, you’ll likely encounter plenty of other folks who are looking for the same things you are.
All who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. —Acts 2:44-47
7. Have Faith
Don’t succumb to fear. God knows what you need before you need it. He will sustain you and your kids. You’re going to be fine. You’re going to flourish. Yes, there will be hard times, but blessings will flow from those hard times with such consistency that you’ll actually be grateful for temporary hardship. If you ask for it, God has His hand on you and He will never remove it. So go forward in confidence and know that you can do this. You’re not alone. It’s going to be okay.
Read God’s word daily. Know what His promises are for you and your family. Isaiah 55:11 says, “My word that goes forth from My mouth shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” If you pray to God daily and speak His word over your life, God has promised that it will accomplish His will for your life. But you can’t pray God’s promises over your life if you don’t know what they are!
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. —Philippians 4:6-7
So, single parents and others living on a shoestring, how do you manage? What tips and resources do you have for others who are trying to make do with less?