When the Child Support Check is Late

by Sandra Ray

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The New York Times recently reported that a full one-third of parents who are entitled to child support do not receive it. These same parents must still run a household, regardless of whether or not the check comes in the mail.

Andrea Williams* of Texas has two fathers who are supposed to pay child support. One of them seldom pays, and then only when tracked down through an employer. The second one pays some each month, but hardly ever the full amount. She supports three children on her above minimum wage job at a fast food restaurant.

Jennifer VanSchoyck of Ohio supports twins with her income as a writer. For the first eighteen months, she received no assistance at all. She recently began receiving child support each month.

Each of these has interesting tidbits to offer single parents who receive little or no child support. Some of the areas discussed are ways to finance holiday and birthday gifts, grocery shopping tips, school supplies, and how to make clothes last longer.

Special Occasions

VanSchoyck used her savings and income tax checks to support her household during the first year and a half. When it came time for special occasions, she would do odd jobs and babysitting to earn extra cash.

Williams, on the other hand, had few opportunities to earn extra money. "I would put things on lay-a-way at Kmart or Wal-Mart so my kids could have nice gifts. Each time I got paid at work, I would pay some on the lay-a-way."

Other suggestions for holiday gift giving include making cookies or candy to give to friends and family members. Let grandparents buy some of the "big" gifts.

Birthday parties at the park cost less than renting a party room. Also, saving decorations and wrapping paper from one year to the next cuts costs.

Grocery Shopping

Both VanSchoyck and Williams receive Food Stamps to buy groceries. Both of them pinched pennies to make them last longer.

Williams waits until the ads come out each week and then picks her most needed items from the sales. Also, she finds someone to watch her children so she can shop without the added distraction. "It's a big help to not have to take all three kids to the store. Plus, I think I spend less without them asking me for this or that."

VanSchoyck said, "I received enough diapers at my baby shower that I didn't have to buy any for close to four months. And that's with twins!" She also did odd jobs to supplement her income to get other household necessities that Food Stamps would not buy.

Other ideas for making those grocery dollars last longer are buying in bulk and growing a small vegetable garden. Williams shares a chest freezer with her mother and sister. "Between the three of us, we keep enough food in there to feed a small army! I never have to worry about running out," she said.

If you're adept at gardening, look into freezing or canning food for the winter months. The Agriculture Extension Agent in your area can offer tips and brochures on how to do this safely.


For back-to-school items, buy quantities of what's on sale. Just because your child doesn't need ten packs of notebook paper at the beginning of the year, doesn't mean they won't need it at some other time. Plus, if it's only ten cents a package, that dollar really works hard!

Williams' mother often buys the school supplies for her, using the above- mentioned strategy. "She knows I can't really afford the extra supplies."

Other ideas mentioned were saving supplies left over at the end of the previous year, like pencils, rules, paper, and pens. Also, some teachers ignore the list printed by the school and substitute their own items. Start the school year with the basics and buy the rest after the teacher sends home the list. This way, there are no unnecessary supplies bought that the child won't be able to use.

Shopping for clothes at back-to-school time can be a hardship. Williams waits until "Tax Free" day offered in Texas. "It's only eight dollars out of one hundred, but I can really use that eight dollars somewhere else," she said.

Making Clothes Last Longer

Once those clothes are bought, they need to last as long as possible. VanSchoyck treats stains as soon as possible. Also, she said "We use a lot of hand-me-downs and go to consignment shops." Williams rarely uses the dryer for jeans. "It wears them out faster, plus they shrink."

Cleaning the washing machine can help soap from wearing on clothing fibers. To do this, fill the washing machine with hot water and add two gallons of vinegar. Let it sit for about thirty minutes and then wash a normal cycle. The vinegar pulls out excess soap and dirt that doesn't rinse away. After several rinses, the water should be clear again. Doing this once every two months adds more life to clothes, as well as eliminates any excess odors caused by the build-up.

There are many ways to stretch those dollars when the child support check is late, or doesn't come at all. With a little creativity, each household can run efficiently, despite the loss of income.

*Name changed for privacy

Additional Resources

Child-Support Enforcement Hotline   (877) 696-6775
For single moms due child support, contact the US Department of Health and Human Services to receive a free handbook complete with excellent advice and local numbers to contact for help.

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