Tips and tricks to make it on one income with only one parent

Single Parent One-Income Living

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Single Parent Living

I always see articles on one income living but never on one parent living. I barely get by with my two children. I was wondering if anyone out there has some tips. I can't stay home since I provide the only income. I really need some suggestions on how to make ends meet using my limited energy resources that I have after working all day.

Get the Kids Involved

The easiest tip I can offer is to train your children to help around the house, and relax if they don't do a perfect job all the time. I am a single mom with four children. Our family motto is "I'll do what I can do, and you do what you can do, and it will all get done!" I can do the dishes and cook and clean, but if I'm the only one doing these tasks after a full day's work, we don't eat until 8:30 at night. If I assign one child to do the dishes and one child to begin preparing the evening meal, we eat at a decent time.

The littlest children do what chores they are able to do, with supervision and instruction until they can complete the task by themselves. My five-year-old can assemble a salad and butter garlic bread while the eight-year-old sets the table and gets the drinks ready while I am putting the spaghetti and meatballs together. Utilizing this method, we can put a nice dinner together in less than 30 minutes. If I do everything while the kids are playing (staying out of my way), it takes an hour and a half, and I'm so stressed over having to rush around that I don't enjoy the meal. The time we spend working together is precious!

Barter if Possible

Here are a couple of ways I saved money as a single parent:

  1. Try to find a baby sitter, not a daycare. Usually someone that watches children in their home charges less than a daycare.
  2. Get on the budget program for your utility bills. Most companies offer this and then you have consistent bills year round.
  3. Shop clearance. Buying clothes off season is a huge money saver. Buy one to two sizes larger depending on the age of your kids.
  4. Find a friend or family member that you can buy clothes from. I never bought my son's clothes at a store until he started wearing underwear.
  5. See if you can barter. I don't like to cook so I used to barter with another single friend of mine. I would take her grocery list (she hated to shop) and do both of our shopping and she would cook dinner most nights. Not only did I not have to cook, but also I had company!

These are just a couple ideas. Bottom line is be creative. If you think it might work, try it. Just because the neighbors aren't doing it might mean they didn't think of it!
Sara in Wisconsin

Chore Buster

One thing you can do to help relieve some of the exhaustion factor that single parenting involves is to use a nifty website called to help your kids stay on track with chores. The website lets you enter your family names and all the chores, with variables based on who is able to do which jobs, how frequently they need to be done, how difficult they are to do, etc. Once a week, the website sorts out all the jobs so the work is evenly divided. My kids have been much more willing to do their jobs without prompting or nagging because "the computer told them what was fair" rather than Mom trying to sort it all out. The jobs shuffle from day to day and week to week, so it really does feel fair to everyone.

Apply for All Eligible Benefits

Here are several things you can do to gain extra cash and reserves:

  1. Sell books, videos, DVDs, etc. on . It is easier than eBay, and you don't have to track anything. They alert you when you have a sale. Once you sell a few items and get used to the process, you can scour garage sales and thrift stores for cheap books to sell at a profit.
  2. Make sure that you have applied for every eligible benefit you can. Check for grants, loans, etc. Local agencies can also be of assistance.
  3. If possible, tutor or baby-sit on the weekends for extra cash.

Good luck and stay positive for yourself and your children!

From One Single Parent to Another

As a full-time single parent for the past six and a half years, who hasn't seen child support in over five years, I know the same dilemma. After working corporate for the past six years, I decided things had to change. Here are some things that I do:

  1. Discover what your talents are and use them to make money, if possible. I started working at home doing small business marketing and actualization. I no longer have the large income, but I have time with my daughter, and for the first time ever, I was able to make it to field day!
  2. Since I no longer have health insurance and can't afford private health insurance, I looked at what the State had to offer. I'm now getting health insurance for free for myself and my children.
  3. When it comes to buying new clothes, I go to the consignment shops and get almost new designer clothes for a fraction of the cost.
  4. I've worked out a babysitting club with some of the mom's of my daughter's friends. I can't afford a babysitter, but we will swap off a day per weekend so that each of us gets time to run errands and go grocery shopping two times per month.
  5. I called my local town Social Services to see how they could help me with after-school care, summer camp and any services in town. I am now paying 50% of what I used to pay simply by making a phone call. I'll also be getting a free pass to the local pond for the entire summer (a $100 savings on that alone).
  6. If your kids are old enough to work, have them work a part-time job and use their money to buy their wants, not their needs.

Most important, remember the years go by quickly and determine your priorities. If you stick with those, you won't go wrong.
Mary in CT

Related: A Survival Guide for Single Parents

Saving Time and Sanity

I'm the single parent of a 10-year-old daughter and have been since the day she was born. Many financial tips apply to all families, no matter how many incomes they have (track your expenses, see where you can cut back, don't go to restaurants so much, etc.) I would like to address the part of your question that asks "how to make ends meet using my limited energy resources I have after worked all day." Without knowing the ages of your children, it's hard to tell if some of this will apply or not, but these are ideas that have worked for me.

  1. Meet with your children and let them know how you're feeling and that you want to change a few things so that you (and they) can feel less stressed and happier.
  2. Ask your children to help and then let them. They won't do things perfectly at first, but that's okay. If you teach them how to do it, kids as young as three can set the table, sort the laundry by color, line a cupcake pan with the paper liners, even snap the ends off the green beans. If your children are older, they can and should do more. Yes, they have homework and want to play (don't we all), but many hands make light work. If they help you, they free up your time to help them with homework when needed and to play with them. Yes, it takes more energy in the beginning, but they can be taught and it will pay off in a couple of months when they are truly helping you.
  3. Bulk cooking is a great time and money saver. Make batches of food that can easily be used to prepare meals, such as meatballs, cooked ground beef for casseroles, muffins for breakfast, etc. I do my advance cooking on the weekends, and it saves me time in the evening and money when I don't have to throw out packages of meat or veggies that were only half-used or, worse yet, went bad before I got around to making anything. My intentions in the store are always great, but I need to follow through with them when I get the groceries home. Again, kids can help and it's a great way to both teach them a skill and talk to them about what's going on in your lives.
  4. Use the crock pot. You can buy one for $15 or less brand new and you can get loads of cookbooks from your local library. Using it just once or twice a week, especially on nights when the kids have sports practice or games, can really take the pressure off.
  5. You don't need to fix a cooked meal every day. When my daughter was little, I found that "appetizer" meals were very useful. An ounce or two of cheese, some cut-up fruit, some fresh veggies with a bit of dip, a glass of milk, and maybe a dessert were more than enough for her. These were quick to prepare, kept the kitchen cool in summer, and she ate them because she liked them.
  6. Do the dishes! I have so much more energy when I know I can cook dinner without having to do last night's dishes first! It's also easier to prepare breakfast and our "take from home" lunches when we don't have to clear off the counter first. I never feel like doing them, but I'm always so happy when I've finished that I just keep my eyes on that prize. Fifteen minutes is all it takes.
  7. Once you've done the dishes, determine what you'll have for dinner tomorrow night and make sure you defrost the meat, if needed, and have everything on hand that you need for that meal. If it takes more than 20 minutes to prepare, fix some veggies or have fruit on hand so that you and the kids can have a little appetizer the next night while dinner is cooking. It takes the edge off the appetite and the pressure off the cook when you don't have "starving" children begging you for a treat to tide them over to dinner. My daughter will always finish her veggies when she gets them first thing when she's really hungry.
  8. The FlyLady website is a great resource for those of us who are cluttered, overwhelmed, etc. Use the baby steps to get your life back under your control. You don't have to do it all today, just do a little bit.
  9. My daughter receives an allowance of $32 every 4 weeks. $16 is divided evenly between long-term savings, church, vacation money, and short-term savings for bigger items that she wants to buy. The remaining $16 is for toys, treats at the pool, extra clothes (once I've bought what I think is enough for that season), etc. She knows to not even bother asking me for something since I simply ask her if she has the money for it. I can afford this amount; if you can't, maybe you can still give your kids $1 a week or so to let them have some money of their own. They may spend it on candy or they may save it up to buy a toy. Either way, you can use it to start teaching them about handling money, delaying spending for a larger goal, etc.
  10. Most importantly, enjoy your children! Spend time with them, talk to them to see what's going on in their lives, play games, etc. Find some free or really cheap activities and give them chunks of your time, especially on the weekends. Take a couple of hours on Saturday morning to have everyone pitch in doing what needs to be done, so you can spend the afternoon doing fun things. If they aren't helping now, I think that you'll see a difference in their level of cooperation when you start doing this.


Related: Money-Saving for a Single Working Mom

Three Golden Rules of Single Parenting

Over 10 years of single parenthood has taught me the "Three Golden Rules of Single Parenting."

  1. Use what you have. The local library is truly a wealth of knowledge that will carry your children and you through life. They offer much more than books with online access, DVDs, music and special activities for all at no cost. State parks, free concerts, etc. can fill the entertainment gap for little or no money.
  2. Reach out. You are not alone. Don't isolate yourself because you are too tired to have a "social" life. Talk to parents in your neighborhood or at school. Whether single or not, they can offer you experience and support. If your children are young enough, they won't mind hand me downs or thrift store clothes.
  3. Plan ahead. Buy a crock pot and use it. It can be a life saver by eliminating pre-dinner chaos, and you'll save money. There are hundreds of thrifty recipes online and at the library. Also, try planning your meals before shopping. This avoids having a pantry full of "nothing to eat" and eliminates the "What's for dinner?" dilemma.


Reviewed June 2017

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