Saving money as a single parent

Single Parent Finances

by Teresa Randall

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Saving money out of necessity is no different than saving money for a vacation, newer car, or home. You must simply spend less than you bring in each month. As a former single mom for more than six years, I have much experience with saving money out of necessity.

First, list all your monthly income from all sources. Next, list your monthly outgo or expenses. For many people, this will demonstrate just how much money is being wasted each month, usually adding to credit card debt.

Circle your three largest expenses. For most of us, they are housing (rent or mortgage), food, and auto expenses. As a single mom, I had to cut back to the barest necessities in order to support my children alone, which meant moving across country to a cheaper area, near grandparents for moral support. I moved into an older, but well-kept apartment, and refused to buy a car. I would have had to go into more debt to finance one, and my main goal at that point was to survive and pay down my credit card debt.

Related: Extra Income for Single Moms

Moving to a cheaper geographical area, moving to an older apartment (without a heated pool or tennis courts), and walking rather than driving immediately freed up hundreds of dollars per month, money that I wouldn't have to earn by working two jobs. I was able to support my kids and myself by working 50 hours per week at home, and pay over $200 per month in credit card debt (from former day care bills, medical bills, and car repairs). I opened an in-home day care, a move that allowed me to be home with my kids until they entered school, which was a block away! By staying home with my kids, I eliminated $600 per month in childcare expenses that I had been paying out.

I saved hundreds of dollars by learning to cook. Skip fast food; if you can read, you can learn to cook. Borrow cookbooks from the library. Make four to six meatless meals each week for dinner, but make sure you have enough protein. Scrambled eggs, peanut butter on crackers or toast, cheese and fruit, yogurt, lentil chili, and bean quesadillas (canned beans and cheese between two flour tortillas, melted) are all good sources of protein. Do not skimp on your health! I made nutritious whole-grain cookies, muffins, soups, and tuna sandwiches. Tuna is cheap and great tasting. An 89-cent can and six slices of bread are a quick main course lunch menu. Add vegetable sticks and juice and your lunch is nutritionally complete.

Related: 8 essential money-saving grocery shopping techniques

Also, in order to save money on food, it is vital that you decide for yourself what you will and won't do. For example, my father and mother eat nutritious and great-tasting food, but they rarely buy generics. My father keeps a price sheet of everything they repeatedly buy, and updates it when the grocery store ads come out. He buys the best food at the cheapest prices at the cheapest source each week. That is key! He does buy generic paper goods, but not soap or laundry detergent.

I, however, buy more generic foods than my father does. I am brand loyal for only a few items, when the taste and quality matter, such as chocolate protein mix, organic eggs, and cheese. Either way, both my parents and I save money. You decide what really matters to you and if you're willing to pay extra for it.

I rarely used coupons, unless they were for an item I would pay full price for anyway. In the towns where I have lived, not one store doubled or tripled coupons. As a single working mother, my time was more valuable than a 25 cent off coupon.

I bought most of my clothes and the kids' clothes at two local thrift stores. I also bought furniture and household tools there. Paint and elbow grease are cheap and can transform many pieces into useful, attractive furnishings. I didn't skimp on shoes, however. I would buy used shoes if they looked brand new. Otherwise, I bought them new for under $20 per pair.

My entire budget for supporting my two (at the time) kids and myself was just over $1000 per month. That included a major medical Blue Cross insurance policy and debt repayment. I didn't live in subsidized housing, and I received no child support.

You can save money for your goals, whatever they be, if you're willing to trade that expensive car for a pair of walking shoes or a bus pass, if you're willing to forgo the five-bedroom house for a more modest three-bedroom older home or apartment, and if you cut your food bill by cooking at home, buying generic brands, and skipping the steak. If a single mom can do this, you can too.

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