Saving money when you have limited time as a working mom

Money-Saving for a Single Mom, Working Mom

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As a working mom (I am employed full-time, going to undergraduate school full-time and have an 11-year-old son) that does not have the time to cut coupons, search for deals, make from-scratch meals, what tips do you have?

Shop Discount Grocer

I now shop at low price supermarkets that do not take coupons nor bag my groceries. A typical box of raisin and bran flake cereal is $1.89 versus the national brand at about $3. My favorite is Price Rite, but Aldi, Save-A-Lot, and others exist nationally. I don't bother to bag my groceries in the store most of the time but take the cart to my car and bag them as I put them in the trunk for more time savings. I also use cloth bags for further savings, since Price-Rite charges for bags. I get all my staples and much of my produce and some meat there. My typical weekly cost for one person is about $25. The SNAP (formerly Food Stamps) program estimates $200 a month for one person, so this is quite a savings. The deals change depending on what they can purchase inexpensively, so it is a bit like a treasure hunt, but the store is clean and the staff is friendly and knowledgeable. Occasionally I fill in with items from Wal-Mart or a local supermarket chain, if I can't find them at Price-Rite.
Barbara in CT

Slow Cook Your Way to Savings

As a working mom of four, I discovered the joys of slow cooking many years ago. Go to a thrift store and get a slow cooker and look up recipes online. I got one recently for $8 to accompany my other two, since I cook in batches and freeze meals. It takes five minutes or less to put everything into the pot. I often put things together the night before and then turn it on when I leave in the morning for work. I make stews, soups, casseroles and anything else that sounds good. It amazes me that more people do not use these great tools. Besides saving money, this provides nourishing meals for my family. I see them in thrift stores, often brand new (unappreciated wedding presents?). Give me a $6 pot roast, some gravy mix and some frozen mixed veggies, and I can give you four or five good meals.

Get Children Involved in Savings

Your 11-year-old is just the right age to clip coupons, circle best prices in the circulars, and comparison shop. This is great practice for the future! In just a few years, that child will be a college student on scholarship, a studio apartment dweller with entry-level income, or a young parent on a budget, so teach now!

Basis of a Quick Meal

The best single advice I have is to brown five pounds of ground beef. Then divide it and freeze in small packages. Plan on 1/4 cup per person. That way you have the basis of a quick meal for any night. You can add frozen veggies for a stir-fry, make a casserole with mashed potatoes, put over frozen French fries topped with cheese, etc. This saves time and doesn't require much in the way of time investment on a day off.

Savings for the Working Mom with No Time

Check out or Amazon for textbooks. Ask your professor which editions you can use for his/her class. Oftentimes it doesn't have to be the current edition. Or try the public library. They can interlibrary loan a lot of books.

Need clothes? Thrift stores aren't just for the homeless! My son, who is 12, prefers jeans from Goodwill. He says that they're already "soft." At $4 a pair, the price can't be beat!

Barter or trade your skills for those of your friends, co-workers, neighbors, and family. Who can trim your son's hair? Sew? Mow your lawn? Type your papers?

Make lots of soups, stews, or casseroles. Have meatless meals like red beans and rice. Have breakfast (scrambled eggs or omelets) for supper. Skip the fast food; that's a money pit for sure! Do you have a slow cooker? Learn to use it! Borrow some cookbooks from the library and get some recipes. Get some bread and your son's favorite lunchmeat and let him make his lunch. Buy a big bag of chips and some resealable bags. Make your own individual baggies to drop in lunches. Make enough for supper that you have leftovers for lunch the next day. Take your own bottled water from home in a little bottle you refill each day.

Check out the dollar stores. They carry all sorts of food now. Check expiration dates. You'll find name brand sandwich meat, cheese, frozen dinners, etc.

Do work "pot lucks." Four of us got together at my work and we bring lunch for all four one day per week. Our lunches include sandwiches, salads, fajita fixings, casseroles, etc. We cook once and eat lunch all four days. Everybody loves it!

These are just a few of the things I can think of that you can do with no time to clip coupons!

Teach Your Child to Help His Working Mom

I have several tips for you:

  1. Keep the after-school activities to one or two in order to keep organized with them and keep them under control financially and at home.
  2. Don't allow your child to "drive the bus." In other words, make your home policy and keep it. This will allow your child to be safe and keep you in control of what's happening in your house, especially if you aren't there all the time. (This might seem elementary to you, but as your child grows and gets confident, he's going to try the rules. Better these be in concrete early as trying to get control later.)
  3. Have firm rules about who is allowed in your house (if anyone) when you aren't there. Food disappears fast as well as other things like batteries, small appliances and your clothes if there aren't firm fast rules about this. Your child's friends do not have his mom. Remember this.
  4. Prepare to eat at home and plan daily meals. Remember that you plan meals every day now. It's just on the spur of the moment. Keeping track of these meals in a plan is all there is to it. Nutrition is easy too. A protein (meat), a complex carb (potato, rice or noodle) and a simple carb (salad or vegetable, not dessert) and you have it made. Nutrition is not fast food.
  5. Plan grocery shopping once or twice a month. Meal planning allows you to know exactly what food you need to buy.
  6. Have a regular wash day. If you iron, plan to do it once a week. If you must take out your laundry, be sure to plan for your number of washes and dries.
  7. Learn how to cook. This skill will save you the most money and time. If you are relying on fast food, you are packing on pounds and not addressing your biggest problem, which is the inability to manage your kitchen properly. This takes some learning, but it is a skill that is easily acquired and pays off in time, money, weight management and nutrition.
  8. Plan to pay bills as many times as you have pay dates. If that's once a month, pay bills once a month on the day you are paid. If that's twice a month, pay bills twice a month. Pay bills before you take anything out for you except savings. Always pay yourself first into your savings account.

The main key here is organization. You don't get to delegate much, but delegate what is age appropriate to your 11-year-old. He will thank you when he's ready to leave home that he knows how to cook, how to clean and how to do laundry. Too many children and young adults don't know the basics. Why is this important as a child? It's simple. What if you get seriously ill, and you need your child to help?

The more your child knows about the basics, the further you both are going to go. If your child knows about taking care of himself, he'll be more confident going out into the real world. Isn't that what parenting is all about?

Join Local Freecycle

I would suggest finding your local and searching for things you don't mind getting second hand.

Take the Next Step:

  • Get cash back on the groceries you buy. Checkout 51 can show you how!
  • Continue to trim food costs by visiting our food & groceries section to get tips and tools for keeping more of your hard-earned dollars in your pocket.
  • For more money and time-saving ideas for single parents, please visit The Dollar Stretcher Library.

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