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Can You Prosper as a Single Parent?

Saturday, 08 February 2014

single parent budgetIt's funny how many stereotypes exist about single parents. The news media and entertainment industries would have you believe that single parents, particularly single moms, are always struggling, bitter, stressed and looking for a spouse to come rescue them. While some aspects of this perception are rooted in reality, there are plenty of single parents who do quite well. Sometimes all it takes is a realistic budgeting strategy and a disciplined approach to money.

Budgeting tips for single parents

When you are staring down at a mountain of bills it can be hard to remain positive, but there is something quite liberating about making your own money decisions. Without a partner to bicker with, single parents are able to decide for themselves how their money is spent, making it easier to stick with a budget.

One of the most important things for single parents to have is patience. Even the best budgeting strategies won't fix everything overnight. It might take years to make significant progress so it's important to stick with it.

According to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it costs an estimated $241,080 to raise a child from birth to their 18th birthday, and this doesn't even include college costs! With all the everyday expenses of life being thrust upon a single parent, it might seem impossible to put money away.

Your budget needs to be your own

It's easy to let the bill-paying responsibilities overwhelm you. If your partner was the one who paid the bills and handled the budget, you may find this process daunting at first. Some single parents will look to a credit counselor or financial advisor to help them get the bills under control, but eventually you will develop your own financial style.

Formulate a plan to pay your bills on time

Everyone has a different approach to bill paying, but some work better than others. Some single parents will total their monthly bills and expenses, then divide them up by paycheck. This can make the bills more manageable while helping the parent keep tabs on their money. As tempting as it may be, do not rely on child support to pay bills. Child support may come and go throughout your child's life. If your ex-spouse loses a job, it could be reduced dramatically overnight. The best budgeting techniques leave child support out of the equation. Instead, why not use it to catch up on bills or as a supplemental savings account?

Pay bills first and buy food last

This might sound counterintuitive, but it actually makes sense, as long as you ensure some money is allocated for food. Paying bills first keeps other spending in line, because you can't spend what you don't have. Think about how many times your best-laid budgeting plans have been upended by an unplanned trip to Target. Poorly planned and impulsive grocery shopping is a common downfall among women, who tend to associate grocery purchases with nurturing their families.

It is much easier to overspend in the supermarket than in any other store, mainly because we look at everything as a "necessity." This explains why many budget-savvy single parents plan out meals based on what they already have in stock, then just shop for missing ingredients. It may take more time to plan this way, but it's also worth clipping coupons and comparing the weekly sale circulars from area supermarkets.

Beware of teenage expenses

As a single parent, your budget might be "humming along" just fine until your kids reach their teenage years. Then suddenly they want smartphones, car insurance, gas money, date money, and more clothes than they can fit in their closets. It is easy to indulge these desires when they tell you all their friends have the same things, but this is a time to remind them that you are a single parent.

Your kids might need to make sacrifices, but that is a part of life. They might need to delay getting a driver's license until they can pay for their own insurance, or stick with a regular cell phone until they can help pay the monthly bill. Your daughter might not be able to get that $400 prom dress or have a lavish Sweet 16, but you are better off being realistic about your budget. Kids don't need to have everything in order to be happy; in fact, this is a great opportunity to teach your children about the dangers of overspending. There's no shame in explaining your household economics to your kids if they're old enough to understand.

There is no doubt that single parenthood is not for the faint of heart. It can be daunting to stay on top of finances and keep it all together, but with a strategy and some discipline it is more doable than you think.

Photo Courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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MPatMarrisonFor over a quarter century, we have helped people during what is often the darkest time in their lives. Divorce is not easy even under the best of circumstances. For most people, family is central. Having something go wrong in the family can have a ripple effect that extends beyond the home and into other areas.

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