Are you a single mom who wants to prepare for your future and take care of your kids? Here are the best single mom budget tips!
Single moms are going it alone and this means they must have budget, a plan for their money, and a way to build wealth. It might seem hard, but you can do it!
When I first became a single mom, I felt overwhelmed by everything in my life, most especially my not-so-great financial situation. I felt ashamed at my previous poor financial choices and scared of the future because I kept telling myself I was not good with money.
Still, I wanted to make sure that I would be a good example to my daughters (in all areas, but especially managing money) so I was determined to get my financial life in order. And I made small changes and kept planning forward and not giving up.
Now, I am completely debt-free, have an emergency fund (which would cover 6-8 months of living expenses), and have a good chunk of money in investments and retirement (IRA and 401K).
If I can do this, anyone can!
Follow these single mom budget tips to set up a financially secure future for yourself and your kids. Set yourself up for success!
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The Best Single Mom Budget Tips
Tips to get your single mom finances in order:
Get a Real Budget
Budget is simply income vs. expenses.
As a single mom, you must know how much money is coming in and how much is going out. You also need to make sure to include your kids in your budget.
Keep it simple and start by listing your very basic needs:
Next, make sure to include any other expenses for yourself and your kids (factoring in what you are now going to be fully responsible for as a single mom):
- Child care
- Health insurance needs for kids
- School activites
- Weekend activities
- Extracurricular/sports costs
Finally, add up your all of your income:
- Full-time job
- Side hustles
- Government assistance
- Child support
- Other financial assistance
I suggest that you focus on the money you know you will receive (like income from a job) and everything else will be an added extra surprise. For example, my ex died suddenly right after our divorce and that meant all of the child support and alimony was abruptly cut-off. This is just one small example of why it’s very important for single moms to find a way to make it on their own financially.
Then, make a plan for your money by creating a budget.
Two popular methods are the 50/30/20 and zero budget plan.
This book gives a great, simple breakdown of the 50/30/20 budget plan, which is basically as follows:
- 50% for needs (rent, food, utilities, transportation, etc.)
- 30% for wants (entertainment, eating out, extracurricular activities)
- 20% for savings (to build up your emergency fund, retirement, etc.)
The zero-based budget is simply making sure that your income minus expenses equal zero. This does not mean that you spend every single dollar, but that you make sure that every dollar has a place to go.
If, after you subtract your expenses from your income, you find that you have money left over, then that excess would go towards paying off debt or building up savings (emergency fund, retirement fund, etc.).
As a single mom, you need to know where your money is going each month. You can’t afford to spend recklessly. Keeping track of a budget can seem hard, but you can make it easier by:
- using an app, like Mint
- setting up a simple spreadsheet
- getting a regular notebook and writing monthly expenses down
- using a cash envelope system
Review your Finances Regularly
You also want to keep an eye on your account balances. Check all of your accounts regularly (at least once a month):
- debt – credit cards, loans, etc.
This will help you know how much you still owe, how much you have, and alert you to any possible fraudulent activity.
If, as a newly single mom, you find that you need help to get on your feet, don’t be embarrassed!
That is why there are state and federal programs to help!
Contact local community centers, libraries, churches, and non-profits to see what is available.
When I first became a single mom, I made SO many phone calls to see what I would qualify for and what help was available to get me on my feet and help my kids. I am so grateful for the assistance that I received at that time when I needed it most.
I can’t stress enough the importance of having a special savings account for an “emergency fund.”
This would be a place where you would keep at least 3-6 months of basic living expenses (housing, food, etc.) that you could easily access in the event of an unexpected emergency (like a job loss, medical emergency/hospitalization, etc.) Don’t forget to factor in your children’s needs as well.
I think that the recent events of 2020 show us all why it is so important to have an emergency fund. Many people lost their jobs and many Americans wiped out their emergency savings because of it.
Related: How to set up (and fund) an emergency fund
Focus on Building Memories with your Kids
Making memories and building relationships with your kids are more important than spending lots of money on them.
Although vacations and outings can cost a lot, there are many free or low cost activities:
- library or community center events
- many useums offer free days
Related: Fun activities to connect with kids
Pay Off Debt
I think that there are two top financial priorities for single moms:
- Pay off debt
- Build savings and wealth
Yes, it might seem impossible to pay off debt as a single mom! But you absolutely can do this!
It’s very important to know how much you owe and have a plan to pay it off.
Focus on the highest interest debt and pay more than the minimum (if you can) each month. The faster you pay it off, the quicker you will be debt-free!
Make your goal financial freedom and work hard to pay off debt now, even if it might be difficult to cut expenses.
The sooner you get out of debt, the sooner you can save a lot of money in interest which can be put toward savings, building wealth, or something fun like a vacation!
Related: Tips to Pay off Debt Fast
Related: Habits of Debt-Free People
Once you pay off debt, don’t go into more debt! Avoid credit cards and their high interest rate!
Related: How to get a month ahead on your bills
No Spend Challenge
If you are struggling financially, try a single mom no-spend challenge.
Set a time (one month, for example) and only spend money on absolute necessities (food, rent, utilities, etc.)
This is a great way to curb extraneous spending and impulse purchases! Then, whatever money you have left from your budget at the end of the challenge will go toward paying off debt or building up savings.
Short and Long-Term Savings and Goals
Setting goals is very important. If you don’t have a goal, you won’t get where you want to go.
Make a plan for your money and set some short and long-term financial goals for yourself and your kids.
Save ahead for your children:
- school needs – trips, extracurricular activites, clubs, clothing and supplies
- money for college
Save ahead for yourself:
- emergency fund
- saving account
- buying a home
- buying a car
- start/buy a business
- travel (take a special vacation)
One of the most important things to do is to start saving for retirement. Be sure to max out any employer 401K matching plan at work and max out your yearly IRA contributions.
Make a goal to save something each month and increase it whenever you can.
The Simple Path to Wealth is one of my favorite financial books that helped me to set a clear path and goal for my finances:
Keep your already full mental load to a minimum by automating your finances. Focus on having your basic bills automated:
- house/rent payment
- cell phone
- car payment
- school fees
Don’t forget to automate saving! Pay yourself first each month. Have money transfer directly into your savings every month.
Do the same with regular bills so that you can have that off your already busy plate and avoid any late fees that would pop up if you forget to pay.
If money is super tight, even after working on your budget and cutting expenses, then look for ways to increase your income.
- ask for a raise or work overtime if possible
- get a side hustle
- sell your clutter on Ebay, Craigslist, OfferUp
- earn extra by taking surveys: Survey Junkie, Swagbucks
Related: Great side gigs for single moms
Save on Daycare
If you want to save money on daycare, look for subsidized daycare costs. Government assistance is available if you qualify.
If you don’t, try one of these options:
- Nanny share/childcare swap
- Before or after school care
- Family member or teen who can do it at a reduced cost
You can also look for ways to work at home – at odd hours or while your kids sleeping or napping. Many moms teach English overseas through companies like VipKid. I work as a virtual assistant for a company in another time zone so I do a lot of work while my kids are in bed.
Avoid Single Mom Guilt
In other words, don’t buy your kids everything they want.
First, you need to stick to your budget.
Second, you won’t teach your kids financial skills if you get them whatever they want.
One way to help is to set your kids up with a budget/allowance system and have them pay for things by themselves.
One day I went shopping with my 2 daughters (4 and 6) and my 6 year old begged me for a game at the store, and I said, “If you want it, you can use the money in your money jar to buy it.”
And she said, “I don’t want to waste my money on that!” So she’s learning!
I talk about spending, saving all the time with my girls. I tell them that I choose not to buy something (a toy, for example) because I want to use the money for something else (like their coveted horse riding lessons). Plus, I am trying to be a good example and I know that the lessons will stick in at some point.
Live Frugally (don’t worry about the “Joneses”)
Teach your kids by example that happiness doesn’t lie in what you own, how much you have, or how fancy your vacations are, but you can be truly happy by focusing on what you do have: a loving family, a safe place to live, food to eat, etc.
Plus, frugal living is better for the planet because you learn how to reduce waste and reuse items.
Try these tips to live more frugally:
- ask on free sites like Freecycle or local Buy Nothing Facebook Groups before buying something
- check Ebay, Craigslist, OfferUp
- buy used clothes from thrift shops
- cut your kids hair (it’s not that hard! YouTube has lots of tutorials!)
- eat leftovers
- have a pantry “clean-out day” at the end of the month
- grow your own veggies (a great learning experience!)
- meal plan (to avoid wasting food)
- buy sale items to stock up
- don’t compare!
- apply the 24 hour rule (before making a big purchase wait at least 24 hours – even better to wait a week)
Related: Frugal-Living Tips
Conserve and reduce energy
Save money and energy by:
- keeping your thermostat at a set temperature (wear a sweater if chilly)
- unplug applicances and turn off lights you aren’t using
- change air filters and clean vents regularly
- use energy-efficient lights
- adjust your water heater temperature
- get water/energy efficient appliances
- contact your power company for more ideas
Buy in Bulk and Meal Plan
Buy in bulk and save money. This is great if you have a big family or you know you will use an item.
Meal planning can also help you save time (because you’re not scrambling to figure out what to cook) and money (because you plan your purchases). One tip that helped me is that you do not need to plan every single meal for the entire week. I plan 2-3 dinners a week and we eat simple quick and healthy breakfasts and have easy lunches (sandwiches, for example).
Related: Meal planning for families
Use Apps to Save Money
There are SO many apps out there! You can also find lots of apps to help you save money:
- Ibotta – grocery rebates (like coupons but without the clipping)
- Honey – get cash back/save money on online purchases
- Rakuten – get cash back/save money on online purchases
- RetailMeNot – coupons and promo codes
- Kidizen – buy and sell kid’s clothes
Teach your Kids Personal Finance
Don’t forget to help your kids learn about personal finance (and hopefully avoid the mistakes you’ve made!). Start young, and help them learn how to budget, save money, and plan for the future.
Related: Best financial books for kids
Finally, even though this isn’t exactly a single mom budget tip, here are two little tips I learned from my therapist.
- Find 3 things to be grateful for each day (it’s amazing how much this helps improve my attitude!)
- Focus on What is not What if?
What is true in my life?
We have a safe place to live.
We have food to eat.
I have wonderful kids who love me.
Related: Teach Kids to be Grateful
Focus on positive thoughts and your attitude will improve and you will be setting a GREAT example for your kids. Check out my Positive Affirmations Cards for Moms!
Millions of single moms made it (including me!) and you can too!
What are your best single mom budget tips?