Budgeting for Single Moms – 12 Ways to Succeed

As a single mom or parent, all budgeting responsibilities fall on your shoulders. There’s no one to help you make decisions or handle the bills and budgeting – it’s just you.

In addition to the responsibility, making the income and making it last falls on your shoulders too. Being a single parent is a big responsibility, but with the right steps, you can succeed at budgeting for single moms. 

Setting up a Single Mom Budget

As a single mom, dad, or parent, setting up a budget is the key to succeeding. Whether you make a little or a lot, a single parent budgeting is the only way to track your spending, know how much you bring in, and where changes are necessary.

Count all income when you set up your single parent budget including your employment wages, child support, alimony, and side hustle income.

Also, count all expenses including shared expenses for the kids that the court-ordered. If you come up short each month, here are the top X ways to cut back and succeed at single-parent budgeting. 

12 Ways to Win at Budgeting for Single Moms

We’ve gathered 12 practical way to help you create a responsible budget as a single parent and save money:

1. Look at your expenses

Before you can set up and use a budget, you need to know your expenses. If you’re starting from scratch, pull out your last 6 – 12 months of bank and credit card statements. Write down each expense and categorize it. Average your expenses out over the year (divide by 12), and you have your average monthly expenses.

Compare this number to your net monthly income. Do your expenses exceed your income or vice versa?

Ideally, you should spend 50% of your income on necessary expenses, 30% on variable expenses (wants), and 20% on savings and/or debt payoff. It’s called the 50/30/20 budget and it works for millions of people. 

2. Create an emergency fund

An emergency fund covers unexpected (emergency) expenses. Everyone should have one with at least 3 to 6 months of expenses in it. If you track your expenses, you know how much you need to get through an average month.

Creating an emergency fund from scratch can seem overwhelming though. Start with a smaller goal, such as saving $1,000. According to a Bankrate survey, 40% of adults couldn’t withstand even a $1,000 emergency.

Make room in your budget for saving and make the contributions automatic. Open an online high-yield savings account and let your money grow. Only use it in extreme circumstances, such as losing your job, a hospitalization, or a major car accident. An emergency fund is the key to single-parent budgeting. 

3. Create a rainy day fund

Single parents must cover every one of their child’s expenses. Even if you split the costs 50/50 or any other split the court determines is right, you hold some level of responsibility to cover things like back-to-school clothes, school trips, summer camps, and extracurricular activities.

A rainy day fund differs from an emergency fund. You should use the funds to cover one-time or annual expenses, such as gifts, summer camp registration, or school registration.

List your less frequent expenses and divide the total by 12. This gives you an average of what you should save each month so you have enough to cover these expenses.  

4. Cut down on grocery expenses

Food is a necessity but it could also ruin the most carefully planned budget. While you must feed your kids, you don’t have to go over budget, especially during times of inflation when prices increase.

Save on grocery spending with these tips:

  • Shop grocery store sales, only buying what’s on sale
  • Stock up on essentials when they are on sale
  • Look for coupons online or using your store’s loyalty program
  • Shop your pantry and refrigerator first, using up what’s there before shopping again

5. Cut down on utility expenses

Like food, utilities are essential. You need electricity, gas, and water, but you shouldn’t overpay for utilities.

Save on utilities with these simple tips:

  • Unplug appliances you aren’t using
  • Shut lights off in rooms no one is using
  • Install a programmable thermostat and ease up on heating or air when no one is home or at night
  • Run major appliances, such as the shower, dishwasher, washing machine, or dryer during off-peak hours, which are usually early in the morning or late at night
  • Work out a budget plan with your utility company

6. Make eating at home fun

Kids seem programmed to want McDonald’s and other fast food items, but that doesn’t mean you have to give in. If you want to budget one day a week or two days a month to eat out, fit it into your budget, but for the other days, make eating at home fun.

  • Have themed dinners
  • Make restaurant copycat recipes
  • Make double the batch and have leftovers the next day
  • Have a ‘fend for yourself’ night letting everyone pick their favorites from what you have in the house.

7. Use the library

Reading, watching movies, and doing puzzles or other entertaining activities are great for kids. They help improve a child’s literacy skills, provide entertainment, and work on gross-motor and critical thinking skills, but they all cost money.

Rather than blowing money on expensive movie tickets or buying movies to keep at home, use your local library. Most libraries have many helpful resources that allow single parents to entertain and educate their children for free. 

8. Plan your taxes

Preparing taxes gets more complicated when you’re divorced. Only one parent can claim the children as dependents. Even if you don’t get to claim your child, but you receive child support, you won’t pay taxes on it. Alimony is taxable income, though.

Talk to a tax advisor about the best way to file your taxes and maximizing your deductions using your court-ordered child support or custody agreement as a guide.

Even though you must split the deductions and write-offs, you can still save money on your taxes by:

9. Find free ways to entertain your children

Being the ‘fun’ parent isn’t easy when you are on a budget. The 50/30/20 budget leaves room for wants, which include entertainment, but you can also take advantage of free entertainment options including:

  • Free museum days
  • Check out what your local library offers
  • Take a picnic
  • Visit parks around your house or travel to farther parks
  • Host Zoom game nights with family or friends
  • Host a Netflix watch party
  • Go on a hike
  • Create a scavenger hunt for your city or even your house

10. Cut back on expenses

Cutting back on expenses may feel like a sacrifice, but it’s for the greater good of you and your children. Think of your ‘why’ when you cut back on any of the expenses below. It may make it easier to cut back.

Here are some top places to cut back:

  • Stop paying expensive cable prices and stream Netflix instead
  • Shop around for cheaper car, home, or health insurance (if your employer doesn’t provide it)
  • Use coupons when you shop
  • Shop clearance sales or shop at the end of the season for clothes and seasonal household items
  • Cut out gym memberships or any online memberships you no longer use/need
  • Shop for cheaper cellphone or internet service

11. Splurge on experiences rather than material items

It’s easy to fall into the ‘keeping up with the Jones’ mentality especially when kids face peer pressure of doing what others do, but you can set the precedence at home, focusing on experiences and saving on other items.

For example, buying memberships to a museum or zoo as a birthday or Christmas present will create more memories than buying brand-name clothing or the latest toy that will get thrown in the corner of a room. 

12. Save for the future

It’s easy to focus on the present, but the future will be here faster than you think. Saving for your emergency fund and rainy day fund are great ways to protect your future self but don’t forget about saving for college for your kids and retirement for yourself.

In your 50/30/20 budget, make room for savings and split the amount you save up among your various goals including:

  • Emergency fund
  • Rainy day fund
  • College costs
  • Vacation costs
  • Retirement
  • Buying a car
  • Buying a home
  • Home maintenance/repairs

The Most Common Questions about Budgeting for Single Moms

How do single moms survive financially?

At first, it seems scary to make it as a single mom, but with the right steps budgeting for single moms, you can do more than survive, you can succeed.
It all comes down to tracking your income and expenses, being honest with yourself about what you can and cannot afford, and putting the steps into action. Talking about it won’t do any good – you must put the steps in place to survive financially.

How can a single-parent budget?

Single parents budget the same as everyone else. A budget means comparing your income and expenses and making sure you spend less than you make.
The 50/30/20 budget works for many, but if that’s not right for you, play around with different budgeting methods to see which one suits your needs.

How much should a single parent spend on groceries?

Grocery costs can take up a large portion of your budget. According to the USDA, a single parent up to age 50 with one child spends an average of $112 a week on groceries with each child adding approximately $29 per week to the costs.

Budgeting for Single Moms – It’s the Most Powerful Thing you can Do

Parents have a lot of responsibilities on their shoulders, and finances top the list. When you budget according to what you can afford/handle, you’ll have a greater sense of peace and happiness in your home.

Fortunately, budgeting for single moms isn’t as difficult as it seems. Break it down, see where you can save, and always be thinking about the future and not just today.

Kim Pinnelli is a personal finance freelance writer and koopy.com contributor. She lives in the Chicago suburbs, writing from home for the last 13 years. Kim enjoys helping people understand personal finances and writes on topics about saving money, investing, planning for retirement, and ways to increase income. In her free time, Kim enjoys hanging out with her 3 children, reading, crocheting, and spending time outdoors.

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