“I keep to a budget and save money by buying in bulk and on sale — yet some months, I can’t make ends meet. How do I cut down the costs of being a mom on one income?”
Single adoptive parents are usually resourceful in managing their finances. After all, they have succeeded at saving for a major goal (the adoption of a child!), and have thought through the implications of caring for a family on one income. But once your longed-for child is in your arms, how can you keep at it when your inclination is to shower him with love and create happy, plentiful memories? As Chris, the mother of two teenagers, says, “Know your priorities, stay organized, and teach your children the value of money.” To be money-savvy, you must think about your day-to-day financial choices, as well as saving for goals, both big — summer camp, college, a new car or home — and small — school supplies, clothes, giving to those in need.
Pointers for a Money Pinch
While all parents should make a budget and stick to it, there are special (and costly) concerns to address when you’re getting by on a single paycheck. Most parents of younger children need to find and pay for child care — and some have found ingenious ways of stretching their daycare dollars. Single moms and dads may come together to form a “babysitting co-op,” and take turns watching each other’s children. In other cases, parents split the cost of hiring a nanny who will look after all the children.
When children approach school age, there are new concerns. Sara, a financial planner, says that one of the best decisions she made was relocating to a community that met her family’s needs. “My son is a great kid, with athletic talent, but he needs help academically,” she says. Sara researched her options and chose a school system that offers excellent resources for students with learning disabilities, including after-school homework assistance. “These resources have been a godsend. I knew that, as a sole provider, I couldn’t afford a private school or pay for a lot of extra services,” she says.
Is someone in your family considering college? A child from a single-parent household may be more likely to qualify for scholarships or loans offered by some universities, the government, and private organizations. Research online, or ask your local family services office or college financial aid department. They can help you find appropriate sources of aid.
How else to save on items that you and your child will need now and in years to come? Beth, a teacher, says she shops for second-hand items whenever possible. “Refurbished computers and other gadgets can often be purchased, at hundreds of dollars below retail price, on the manufacturers’ websites,” she explains. Though the warranty on refurbished goods — items that have been brought up to brand-new standards set by the maker — may be shorter, many penny-pinching parents feel that the savings are worth it. And, as Beth discovered when she purchased a used Toyota, for an extra cost, you can usually extend your warranty.
In for the Long Haul
To be sure, many single mothers and fathers (and two-parent households!) are making difficult decisions amid the country’s economic downturn — everything from cutting back on meals with friends and family to saying no when their child asks for the latest video game. It’s crucial to stay in control of your personal finances, so if you need help, check out mymoney.gov, which has tips on budgeting, taxes, credit, and financing an education.
Many single parents are creative, and a bit unconventional, in spending discretionary income. Carrie, who adopted a sibling group, says she has no qualms about asking for scholarships, financial aid, and discounts on everything from school and camp to theater classes and swim instruction. “If you ask, people are often willing to negotiate,” she says.
While you’re reining in your spending, think about the financial sacrifices you’re not willing to make. Brenda, the mother of a teenage son, says that, even when finances are limited, she gives to her church and favorite charity. “It’s important to remember that we are the primary role models for our kids,” she adds. “We must teach them financial literacy, especially as they enter their young adult years.”
Finally, it may be hard to put yourself first, but make it a priority to set aside money for your retirement — even ahead of saving for your child’s college tuition. Remember, there are loans and scholarships for college, but none for retirement. In the long run, smart financial planning will let your child know that you are thinking carefully about your future — and his.