I’ve been single again for 16 years. My husband died on Mother’s Day 1999 and it’s been just me and my boys since then. I can tell you that being a single parent presents a lot of extra challenges in overcoming financial difficulties. It really doesn’t matter if you’re a single parent due to divorce or death or just by choice of having a child on your own. There’s no option of saving one spouse’s salary and living off the other’s paycheck. It’s difficult to work overtime or get a second job if you don’t have anyone at home to watch the kids or to pick them up from school or sports. If you lose your job or are in an accident and can’t work for a few weeks then things don’t get tough, they get impossible. If a kid gets sick then you have to worry about being a good parent or saving your job if you have an unsympathetic boss.
I’ve been extremely lucky. I’ve had lots of help between family and friends as backup babysitters with my kids. I’ve had sympathetic and flexible employers for those times I have needed to take off work for my kids. I was also fortunate to have some help with Social Security payments to help offset the loss of my husband’s salary. I know there are many people that don’t have these advantages and I really feel for them because even with these advantages I just mentioned, I know how hard it’s been on me financially and how hard it continues to be.
I certainly don’t have any magic solutions but there are some tips I’ve used that have helped:
- I bought used clothes at consignment stores or shop places like Target, especially when my boys were younger and very rough on clothes.
- We’re pretty simple when it comes to food and tend to have a few meals that we rotate out each week and I’ve learned what are good prices on those items and stock up when they’re on sale.
- I love to read and I had to learn to get my books either at the library or our used book store.
- My younger son has always played sports, most recently lacrosse, which is very expensive. Equipment can sometimes be purchased used. Also, take advantage of community leagues that might be less expensive then private teams, especially in the beginning when you’re not sure if this is something your kid will want to continue.
- Coupons can be found for just about everything but don’t get caught up in buying every Groupon you find. Our local grocery store often runs promotions on gift cards. You can buy a gift card for somewhere you generally shop and get fuel points to use at their gas station.
- Shop around for pharmacy prices. My oldest son is diabetic and insulin and test strips and insulin pump supplies are astronomical, even with insurance. Also be sure to take advantage of an HSA plan if that’s something offered to you.
You want to give your kids everything, believe me, I know that. But honestly, you shouldn’t do that anyway because more times then not that creates entitled kids. I certainly haven’t been able to give my kids half what I wish I could have but they have never made me feel like they’ve gone without. They both have part-time jobs, they work hard at school, they pay for their cars and most of their extracurricular activities. I help out when I can but I couldn’t tell you the last time either one asked me for extra money because I’ve also helped them to create their own budgets. I had to bug the crap out of them to tell me something I could get them for Christmas. Both of them insisted they didn’t need anything. I’ve made many financial mistakes in my life (get life insurance people–as much as you can afford) but while I hope my kids avoid the mistakes I’ve made, hopefully they’ve also learned a couple of things from me also.