Whether you are a single parent or not, you probably know how hard it can be to make ends meet in this country while earning an income that is below the national average. Single moms face the challenge of only having one income to rely on while most other households have at least two incomes, making them more likely to earn less than the median income level required to makes ends meet.
To shed some light on what it takes to survive as a single parent in today’s society, I’ve comprised a list of some of the most important elements of a budget that need to be carefully planned out in order to make ends meet. Here are 6 things single moms can do to lower expenses and provide basic needs for their families.
Keep Your Housing Expenses Low
This is crucial. I know that housing costs are remarkably high in certain parts of the country, but it’s important to try your best to secure quality and safe housing that is affordable and won’t overrun your budget. Major cities have the most expensive housing prices, so it’s best to look in suburbs that are further away from the city.
I live in Illinois and while it’s typically an expensive state to reside in, I steered clear from large cities like Chicago and moved to a slightly rural town near my college when my son was 2 years old. First, I rented a one-bedroom apartment for about $579/month. Then two years later, I upgraded to a 2-bedroom for $630/month. I loved the apartment, plus it was simple, manageable and affordable so I could focus on other areas of my budget.
Housing should be at the top of your list, but you can’t spend all your money in this area because there are still other important expenses to consider as well.
Create a Budget That Allows You to Save
Creating a budget is the best way to control your spending and give it a solid purpose. List out all your expenses that you need to survive and lower your fixed and variable expenses by cutting all the dead weight and things you don’t necessarily need.
Most people who are on a tight budget or just don’t want to waste money on excessive expenses cut things like their phone bill, cable, dining out spending, morning coffee and transportation costs just to name a few.
By eliminating some of your expenses, it should free up a little extra money to allow you to save something each month. Even if it’s just $25 each pay period, putting money aside to build an emergency fund can come in handy when you are faced with unexpected and urgent expenses and your budget is already tight enough to begin with.
Manage Utility Costs
If you are renting, you might want to consider living in an apartment since most of your utilities will be covered in the rent leaving less for you to worry about. Electricity is hardly ever covered in the rent rate though, but you can manage those costs if you try to be energy efficient.
Turn lights off in the morning and when you leave for the day. Unplug things each night and try to postpone running the air conditioning in the early spring and the heat in the late fall unless you really need to.
Depending on your income level, you may qualify for energy assistance or the LIHEAP program which helps you pay for your electricity costs by offering you a stipend based on your needs. LIHEAP is available in all 50 states and it is first-come, first-served so you’ll need to apply early but the funds can make a huge difference to your electric bill.
Shop wisely for needs first, and purchase food items that you can stretch. Discount stores like Aldi will allow you to get a ton of food for your money. Avoid quick meals and processed foods because they are the most expensive and they lack nutritional value.
You can also price match meats and produce to get a better deal and use coupons on household items and toiletries. I still shop at Dollar General for toiletries because while they offer some quality name brands and their prices are usually the lowest compared to other retailers. On select Saturdays, Dollar General has a coupon for shoppers that allows you to spend $25 in the store and receive $5 off. I usually stock up on those days.
Weigh Your Childcare Options
Childcare is expensive, but it’s something that parents rely on heavily to be able to work. If you don’t have a family member that can help babysit, you may be subject high rates and fees at daycare centers. With the U.S. national average cost for full-time day care hovering around $611 per month, this much needed service is extremely hard for single moms to afford with no help.
You may qualify for your state’s child care assistance funding depending on your income and household size. If you receive assistance, the state will pick up the larger portion of your child care fees and you will only be responsible for paying a small copay each month. The child care assistance program helps thousands of single moms each year.
However, if you don’t qualify for funding for whatever reason, you still have some options to help lower your child care costs. You can try a home day care or a babysitter which will most likely be much cheaper options. You can also find a friend or another parent that you trust who can alternate schedules with you so you both can provide babysitting services for each other. Try to set up an arrangement that is mutually beneficial whether it involves carpooling, after school care etc.
Check out our big list of financial assistance resources for single moms for more help.
Medical insurance is a must, but again it’s a costly expense. If you or your child gets sick or needs medical care for any reason, it’s important to have the proper insurance coverage to avoid having to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars out of pocket.
If your employer doesn’t offer reasonable medical insurance that you can use, you may qualify for a subsidy through the Affordable Care Act to lower your premium or you can see if you and your child qualify for Medicaid. If anything, your child may qualify for Medicaid if you can’t afford a health insurance plan and you can find a different coverage option for yourself.
This year, I opted out of Obamacare by going with a health sharing ministry. What I have isn’t typical health insurance but it is coverage since members share medical costs so they get paid and I don’t get penalized around tax time for not having insurance. It’s a little bit cheaper that plans offered through the marketplace so I decided to try it out this year.
Making it by as a single mom is certainly not easy, but with a solid budget, a strategy for success and a little creativity, it’s very possible.
Are you currently struggling with any of these areas of your budget? What other tips could you add to this list?