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Living on a single mom budget isn’t always easy.
In fact, it can really suck sometimes.
You want to make every penny count and stretch your dollars as far as possible, right? But living on one income can be tough to do when you’ve got growing kids.
I get it.
My kids and I have been a one-income family since 2014 and I know what it’s like to live on a tight budget. Our finances have changed a lot over the years but one thing is still true: we continue to use a family budget to make our money situation work.
If you’re raising one or more kids solo, you’ve probably felt the financial pinch a time or two. And trying to stay on top of your money without a plan for spending and paying bills can make like a heck of a lot harder.
And as a single mom, you’ve probably got enough to handle without money stress bringing you down. That’s where having a budget can make your life easier.
You don’t need to be a finance expert to get it right either. Money is just a tool, not some scary thing to be afraid of.
I want to make this budgeting thing as simple for you as possible. So here are my best tips for getting your single mom financial plan in shape.
At my house, I’m the sole breadwinner. All of our income comes from my freelance writing business and blogging. But your income might include:
- Full-time employment
- A part-time job
- Money earned from side hustles or an online business
- Child support
- Government assistance
- Financial help from parents or grandparents
Regardless of where your money comes from each month, you need to know how much is coming in. And more importantly, how much of that money you can count on regularly.
Because having court-ordered child support or alimony isn’t a guarantee that your ex-spouse or partner is going to pay it. That’s just a hard truth of being a single parent.
So as you’re working on your single mom budget, consider basing your monthly income only on the money you know you’ll get regularly. That way, you can treat child support or alimony as “extra” when planning out your spending.
2. Start Tracking Expenses
If you’re not tracking your spending yet you’re probably letting money slip through the cracks. And when you’re trying to make a single mom budget work, that’s something you can’t afford.
So get a system for tracking your expenses in place.
For example, you could:
- Use a budgeting app like Mint or Personal Capital
- Write it down in a notebook
- Use a simple expense tracking spreadsheet
- Try the cash envelope budget method
It doesn’t matter which system you use at this point. What’s important is making sure you know where your money goes every month.
If you’ve never tried to make a single mom budget before, then I suggest tracking your expenses for one full month to get a sense of how you spend. From there, you can work on cutting out anything your family doesn’t really need.
3. Keep Your Single Mom Budget Simple
A budget is a breakdown of what you spend versus what you earn for the month. When making a budget as a single mom, less is almost always more when it comes to the spending side.
As you work out what to include in your budget, try to keep it as pared-down as possible to start. Stick with the major budget categories that cover the expenses you and your kids need to live each month.
So for example, that might mean:
- Basic clothing
The goal is to make sure your most important expenses are covered first.
If you’ve assigned money in your budget to those expenses, then you can start adding in other things. For example, you could add in extracurricular activities or the occasional dinner out, depending on how much money you have to work with.
That also includes debt if you’re paying off credit cards, student loans, a car loan or other loans.
Being in debt as a single mom can suck because the more money you have going out, the less you might have to save. Not to mention, letting debt hang around can hurt your credit score.
So make sure you have a plan to pay down debt that works with your budget. And if you need help making those payments more affordable, you might want to consider debt consolidation.
That can help lower your interest rate and monthly payment. Take a look at what Credible has to offer if you’re looking for a debt consolidation loan.
4. Work on Getting One Month Ahead on Bills
Trying to make a single mom budget work can feel a lot like being a hamster on a nonstop wheel if you’re constantly struggling to stay on top of bills. And just when you get one paid, it seems like the next one is due.
Getting paid up a month ahead can help relieve some of the pressure to make your budget work and not feel overstretched.
But how, exactly, do you do that?
This is where you might have to get a little creative. Because if you’ve already cut your budget down as low as it can go, you might not be able to do this with just your paychecks alone.
One smart way to get ahead is to use windfalls to pay up your bills in advance.
For example, the average taxpayer got almost a $3,000 refund in 2019. If you’re expecting a few thousand back from Uncle Sam this year, that could help you get ahead.
You could use the money to pay up an extra month on the rent or utilities, knock out a chunk of debt or cover several months’ worth of insurance premiums.
The same trick works with other unexpected amounts of money that might come your way. For example, you might get a bonus at work or receive a rebate in the mail that you forgot about.
That’s all money that could help you get ahead on bills. Remember, when you’ve got a tight single mom budget, no windfall is too small or insignificant.
5. Make Saving a Budget Item
Saving money as a single mom can feel impossible at times.
When I first became a single mom, I thought I’d never be able to save a dime. But in that first year, I managed to save $6,000 while making about $36,000.
There were two things I did to make that happen.
First, I treated any child support I received as “extra” in my budget. Instead of spending that money, I saved it and paid all our bills out of the money I was making as a newbie freelancer.
And second, I made living as cheaply as possible a priority because I wasn’t making a lot of money yet. So that meant doing things like:
- Planning out meals and sticking to a strict $75 a week grocery budget
- Only doing fun things with my kids if they were 100% free
- Clipping coupons for any and everything
- Buying used instead of new and only when we absolutely needed something
- Swapping cable for Hulu and Amazon Prime instead
- Getting a prepaid cell phone, which saved me about $60 a month
These are just some of the things I did (and still do) to save money. So as you plan your single mom budget, add in a line for saving.
It doesn’t have to be a lot of money in the beginning. Even $25 or $50 can add up over time when you’re trying to build emergency savings or save for another goal.
The point is to commit to saving it every payday or every month. That’s the real secret to getting ahead as a single parent: consistency.
And remember to park your savings somewhere that it can grow with interest.
6. Try a Money-Saving Challenge
Saving money is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your kids as a single mom. But it can also be one of the hardest.
Trying a money-saving challenge can help you find the motivation to save. And sometimes, challenging yourself to save can be fun.
One of the simplest money-saving challenges you can try is a no-spend challenge. This just means you commit to not spending money unnecessarily for a set period of time. What you don’t spend, you save instead.
Other challenges you could try include:
- Saving all your spare change
- $5 bill savings challenge
- 52-week savings challenge
- Penny savings challenges
The great thing about challenges like this is that you can get your kids involved. For example, with the spare change challenge, you can take turns dumping change in and then counting it out together.
It’s a fun and simple way to get kids interested in the idea of saving money. Plus, you might be surprised at just how much you can save as a family by trying a money challenge.
7. Find Ways to Make More Money
I couldn’t write a post about making a single mom budget without mentioning this tip. Hands-down, the most important thing that’s helped me get ahead financially is growing my business and income.
(And if you’re interested in learning how to make money freelance writing, take a look at this ultimate guide!)
Now, do you have to start a business as a single mom to make more money? Not at all. And being a self-employed single parent isn’t right for everyone.
But there are plenty of other ways to pile up extra money on the income side of your budget every month. Here are some of my favorite ways to make money as a single mom:
- Sell your clutter
- Get paid to lose weight
- Become a virtual assistant
- Earn extra cash taking surveys
- Use cash back apps like Swagbucks, Ibotta and Rakuten to save when you shop
- Learn how to proofread or transcribe for money
- Get money back when eating out with the Dosh app
- Get paid to pet sit or babysit
You can try some of these ideas or all of them. And of course, don’t overlook other ways to make more money.
For example, you could ask for a raise at work or take on more hours. You might get a traditional part-time job or decide to go back to school to boost your earning potential.
As your income grows, there’s one money trap you don’t want to fall into: lifestyle creep.
Lifestyle creep can be a budget killer for single moms. This means that as your income goes up, you spend more money.
It’s happened to me, even though I try to stick to keeping my single mom budget as lean as possible. And it’s kind of like working against yourself because even though you have more money coming in, it’s canceled out by the extra spending you’re doing.
So my last piece of advice is to watch out for lifestyle creep and keep your money goals in sight.
The more intentional you are with your money and budget as a single mom, the more solid a financial foundation you can build for your family. And at the end of the day, having financial security as a single parent is priceless.
Do you have a single mom budget tip to share? Tell me about it in the comments!
And please pin and share this post with another single mom who could use it!