Being a single parent is not easy, and worrying about money can make life even more challenging. Budgeting is a necessary skill for all parents, but especially single parents, as you may be surviving on a single income. It is easy to plan out your spending, but harder to stick to a plan when unexpected expenses occur, so budgeting to give yourself an emergency fund is very important. These tips may help you see where you could save some extra cash.
Prioritizing the essentials, like rent, food, bills, clothing and transport to school and work, is easy enough. But for other non-essential items, you need to be aware of the cost of each, compared to your income and your other needs. Whenever I am making a purchase, I find it useful to calculate my hourly paycheck, and decide, based on how long I had to work to earn the money, whether the purchase is worthwhile.
For example, ordering takeaway for dinner might be the equivalent of three or four hours of work, or a new pair of school shoes. I find looking at things from this perspective really helpful. Is being too tired or lazy to make dinner worth 3-4 hours of my work life? Sometimes the answer is yes! But often, just the thought is enough to get me off the couch and into the kitchen.
Another technique I employ, is ‘how much do I want it?’ If I or the kids see something while out shopping, or on TV, or online, and I’m on the fence about whether to buy it, I will leave it, but if I keep thinking about it, or the kids are still asking about it after a week or more, I’ll know it is not a passing fancy. It’s amazing how often I walk away from something I thought I had to have, only to never think about it again.
Take Care with Food
Food is an essential of everyday life, and grocery shopping can be one of the major expenses from your paycheck. Thankfully, food shopping is an area where it is possible to save a fair amount of money. Stores often put out discount produce in the afternoon, so this is a good time to shop. Go to the discount sections of the store first, and see if you can find something to build the rest of your meal around. Being a reasonable cook, buying fresh products and cooking in large batches can save money over store bought items.
There are many cookbooks aimed at single parents or people on a budget, and one of these can be a great investment. Once you can cook a few things, keep your eyes open for the ingredients on sale, and then you can buy in large amounts, and make food for the freezer.
Teach your children that food has value, so they should take only as much food as they need, and clear their plates. This will not only mean you have leftovers which can be reused, saving money, but also helps your kids to learn the size of their own stomach and develop a good knowledge of portion size, which can help to prevent future weight issues.
Simply avoiding eating out or having takeaways can save days worth of shopping in one meal. If there is ever a month when I need to save a little more, or get an unexpected bill, eating out is the first thing to go from my budget.
Choose Entertainment Carefully
It is important to keep children entertained and stimulated, but this can be difficult on a budget. Free activities should be used as much as possible, and if you live in a larger town or city, there is probably more available than you realize. Local parks, libraries, or museums get kids out of the house and clubs after school can be free or cheap, and most provide some sort of educational skill, as well as time for your kids to spend with their friends.
Entertainment at home can be trickier, and it’s important to make the most of your options. Getting the kids involved with cooking, or chores takes a load off you too, and there are ways to make it fun. With 6 people in the house, laundry was the bane of my mother’s life, so she used to set challenges for who could get the laundry hung on the line the fastest, or hold sock folding tournaments between the four of us.
Technology can be some kids main form of entertainment at home nowadays, and it can be expensive. There are also ways some type of technology can save money in the long term. If you have Wi-Fi and a Netflix or other streaming service account, then you do not need to spend money on DVDs, or cable television, which can be a significant saving overall.
As a single parent, you are likely making sacrifices every day for your kids, but it is also important to take care of yourself, even just for half an hour a day, and do something you enjoy, be it watching some TV or reading a book. If you are going out, try to exchange babysitting with the parents of your children’s friends rather than paying a babysitter.
Keep an Eye on Bills
You should know around how much your household bills will be each month, and if one is higher than expected, it is important to try and find out why. It could be your rates have increased, or it could also be that something you, or one of the kids have done has raised the bill. Teaching your children to conserve water and energy is good for both the planet and your pocket. When I was a teen, leaving your bedroom light on when you left the house was an offense punishable by the loss of your light bulb for a week. Lighting the room via desk lamp for a while drove home the importance of turning off a light as you left the room. Simple things like this, and turning off the tap while you brush your teeth can make an impact on your bills.
Saving can be the hardest part of a budget to stick to, as there is always something to spend money on. I use a direct debit to move around 10% of my paycheck into a savings account as soon as it is deposited. Though it is not a large amount, it builds up, and unexpected bills such as school trips, new coats, or car repairs can be paid for using this money. Ideally over time you will build up a significant rainy day fund. You can also save directly for bigger expenses such as Christmas or a holiday.
Having a reliable budget that works for you and your family can be a huge stress reliever for a single parent. Though budgets can be tricky to plan out and difficult to stick to, in the long term they are an essential part of life for a one parent family.