How to Start Your Money Over as a Single Parent

In January 2018, I unexpectedly found myself raising four kids by myself after more than 20 years of marriage. To top it off, I had been a stay-at-home, home-schooling mom.

My husband provided the majority of the financial support for our family while I took care of the house and taught and cared for the kids. I worked a bit doing some freelance writing on the side, but I didn’t make nearly enough money to support a household.

When my (now ex) husband moved out, my first thought was “How will I provide for these kids?”

He left his paycheck going into our joint account at first but eventually rerouted the direct deposits to his own checking account.

I was frustrated and scared. I grew up as a child of a single mom and vowed I would never be in that same situation myself. However, when my ex’s years of on and off abuse and addiction issues accelerated to a life-threatening level, I knew I had to end the marriage in order to keep my kids and myself safe.

Starting Your Money Over as a Single Parent

Whether you’re a single parent because you planned on it or because of an unexpected change in your partnership, raising kids on your own is tough.

And along with having to nurture, discipline, and care for your child(ren) on your own, you’ve got to provide for them financially.

I’m going to share some things I’ve learned about starting your money over as a single parent. My hope is that these tips will help you establish a solid financial future for yourself and your children.

Start by Assessing Your Situation

The very first thing you should do when you find yourself to be a single parent is to assess your financial situation. Ask yourself:

  • What is my monthly after-tax income from all sources?
  • What are my monthly bills (in detail including all expenses)?
  • How much money do I have in savings?
  • How much money do I have saved for retirement?

I realize that once you have the answers to these questions you may feel even more overwhelmed than you did before. This is where it’s important to keep a positive attitude and not allow yourself to stay overwhelmed for too long.

Remind yourself that knowing the details about your current financial situation provides two powerful benefits: It shows you exactly where you’re starting, and it shows you where you need to go.

Knowledge is power, my friends. Once you know the answers to these questions, you’ll be able to prepare to answer some follow up questions. And here are the questions you should be asking.

Do I Have Enough Income to Support My Family?

Once you’ve written out your monthly budget, you’ll be able to compare that with your current income and determine if you’re in the black (money left over) or in the red (needing more income).

If you're in the red (and even if you're in the black), it won't hurt to assess your budget to see if there are unnecessary expenses you can cut, at least temporarily.

If I Don’t Have Enough, How Much More Income Do I Need?

If you’ve cut unnecessary expenses and you’re still in the red, it’s time to find some more income. Ask yourself:

  • Are you working currently? If not, can you get a job?
  • Can you ask your boss for a raise, promotion or overtime work?
  • Can you pick up a second, part-time job?
  • Do you have skills you can use to make money freelancing?
  • Are there items you can sell to earn money?
  • Can you find a cheaper living situation?

Make a list of your financial needs and goals to determine how much more income you need each month. Then, figure out which income-earning ideas will work best for you as you find a path to a higher income.

What Are Some Ways I Can Earn More Income?

Finding additional income can be a good idea even if you’re not short on cash. More money coming in can mean additional savings or funds to reach other financial goals.

As you work to find additional income, make a list of your skills and interests so you can see if you might be able to use them to earn more income. The right side hustle ideas can bring in some serious cash. And you can find ideas that fit in with your family dynamics, too.

As I navigated through my separation and divorce, I knew that I wanted to continue to be a (primarily) stay-at-home mom and home-school my kids. However, I also knew that I needed money.

I needed to pay off a massive amount of debt I’d accumulated from the divorce and from raising the kids on my own while I waited for divorce and child support arrangements to be finalized. I needed money to cover living expenses. And I needed money to put toward savings and in retirement.

So I made a few moves that I knew would work to help me meet those goals and continue to be home with my kids a lot:

  • I obtained my real estate license so I could choose my hours and make good money working as a realtor.
  • I ramped up my freelance writing work and sought out more clients.
  • I searched for other ways to earn extra cash.

Today, nearly three years after my separation, I own two businesses and work two part-time jobs. I write in the morning before the kids get up. And I try to schedule my other work responsibilities around my children’s needs.

Is it tough? Yes. Most days it’s crazy busy. Other days it feels unbearable.

Between working to earn enough money to cover our bills, needs and dreams, and making time to nurture and care for the kids, it can get pretty crazy around here sometimes. But we’re making it work. And we’re still home-schooling and attending a one-day-a-week home-schooling co-op as well.

Starting over as a single parent isn’t easy. Surviving and thriving financially as a single parent isn’t easy. But it is doable.

And part of doing it well is knowing how much you need in savings and retirement to ensure financial security.

How Much Do I Need in My Emergency Savings Account?

If you’re lucky enough to start your journey as a single parent being financially secure, that’s great news! However, many single parents go through at least some period of financial struggle.

Having an emergency savings account can help cushion against those struggles. Money expert Clark Howard recommends having three to six months' worth of expenses in your emergency account.

Your emergency savings account should be used for income-related life changes like a job layoff or other loss of income occurrence. You should budget in and build up separate savings accounts for things like car replacement, car repairs, home repairs and medical expenses.

How Much More Do I Need to Save for Retirement?

You might also need to save more money for retirement, especially if you're in a situation where that got put on the back burner or if you had to split your retirement funds with an ex-spouse or partner.

Start by checking out online articles or talking with a trusted financial advisor to learn how much you need to be saving for retirement.

Then make a plan for increasing your retirement income. Write a monthly deposit amount into your budget just like you do with any other expense. Oh, and remember to pay yourself first.

Just Get Started

While saving for retirement, emergencies, and other financial goals can seem like a daunting task — especially if you’re behind — don’t let yourself get discouraged.

As Clark says, just start. Start by saving 1% of your income for emergencies and 1% for retirement, or whatever percentage you're comfortable with. After you do that for six months, raise those amounts by adding another percent of your income into each account.

Keep raising the amount until you’re saving what you need to in order reach your emergency and retirement account goals. And be sure to invest at a risk level that fits both your age and personal risk tolerance level.

Continue Regular Budgeting and Goal Planning

Probably the most important part of my journey as a single mom has been to continue to make and review my budgets regularly and to make and review my financial goals.

As a (largely) self-employed person, my income fluctuates. So I'm regularly having to adjust my budget in a way that works for the current month. That means in higher-income months I save more, and in lower-income months I tighten up the budget even further.

I encourage you to review your budget regularly — and your goals too. And consider adding a plan for tracking your spending so you know exactly how much you're spending and what you're spending it on.

These tips may seem a bit overzealous. However, as a single parent, you face different risks than two-parent families do. As the sole income earner for yourself and your child, a loss of income could be much more devastating than it would be for a two-income, two-parent family.

For that reason, I find meticulous budgeting, goal setting, and spend tracking very important.

Balance Your Expectations With Your Reality

If you’re not used to living on a tighter budget, you may need to change your expectations. For example, my older model SUV has fallen so far into disrepair that it isn’t worth fixing. While it would be nice to replace my 15-year-old vehicle with a newer model, I know that isn’t the best choice for our family.

We’ve got some lofty financial goals we want to reach, including building our dream home: a modest rambler on some land we’ve purchased. And purchasing a newer vehicle would set us behind in achieving that goal.

Luckily, I found a 15-year-old SUV that is similar to our old one, and it had been meticulously taken care of by its former owners. It’s beautiful and super clean inside and out.

I worked hard and raised $7,500 in cash to pay for the purchase, tax, title, and licensing costs. Is it new and fancy? Nope. But it’s wonderfully adequate, it’s mine and it’s paid for!

Don’t Give Up

Supporting children as a single parent is tough, no doubt about it. But you simply have to make a commitment to work hard and not give up. Be there for your children, emotionally and physically, while you support them and yourself financially.

Also, make self-care a top priority. Eat well, exercise, and take time to relax and have fun. Single parenting is tough, but it doesn’t have to mean that financial failure will be your family’s destiny.

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