Financial Strategies for Single Parents

Kids can be costly, especially for single parents. These tips can help you provide effectively without facing debt problems.

The average cost of raising a child to their 18th birthday is $241,080. Children do not come cheap and many single parents have to bear the financial responsibility without any help. Still, while raising kids on your own can be overwhelming, there are strategies that can make the process easier.

Single parents face unique budgeting challenges. It can be frustrating, expensive, and at times draining. What’s more, if you find yourself as a single parent because of a messy divorce or death in the family, emotions can run high and hinder your ability to make the right decisions for your future.

Tips to help single parents get ahead

Have a plan: Create a spending plan and set money aside for emergencies. Following and sticking to a budget will help you make the most of what you bring in.

Let the kids help: Do not shield your children problems or comfort them with presents in the hopes of making them (or you!) feel better. Include them in the budgeting process be it clipping coupons or helping to create a grocery list. When your kids are old enough to get a part-time job to earn money, let them. In addition to helping out, they will gain valuable money lessons and experience to give them structure and responsibility. Here are some tips on how to talk to your kids about money.

Get a handle on debts: If you have debt that is difficult for you to pay, talk with Consolidated Credit Counseling Inc. about a repayment plan with your creditors. We’ve helped thousands of parents across the country get back on track financially.

Check your credit: It’s a good idea to check your credit report at least once a year, and more often if you are experiencing debt problems. Make sure the information about your debts is accurate, and dispute any mistakes to repair your credit.

Find good childcare: Paying for childcare, whether it’s full-time care for a young child, or afterschool care for older ones, can quickly become expensive. Still, there are creative ways to handle the expense. Check out the YMCA or the Boys and Girls Clubs for inexpensive and sometimes free school programs in your area. For sick days, see if there are any sick child daycare programs available in your community. You may also want to look into a babysitting coop to exchange babysitting with other single parents.

Investigate flexible work hours: Find out whether your employer offers flexible work hours, or will allow you to do some of your work from home. This will help you avoid problems at work and ensure you can care for your child on your own if they get sick.

Warning! Be very careful about money-making ventures aimed at stay-at-home parents. While some of these home-based businesses may be legitimate, there are many scams as well.

Ask! Many daycares, summer camp programs, and after care programs offer scholarships or may be willing to extend discounts to parents who can’t afford the full fee. If there’s a service you can provide in exchange for a discount (cleaning, publicity, typing, or maintenance are just a few examples), don’t be shy about suggesting a trade.

Take free advice: If hiring a financial planner is out of reach right now, research a local financial planning class. Local community colleges, extension offices and women’s resource centers may offer very inexpensive courses with expert instructors.

Get what you’re owed: If your ex owes you child or spousal support, don’t assume you’ll never see the money. If you’ve tried to collect through your attorney and/or local child support enforcement agency, your next step may be to contact a private child support enforcement agency. Child Support Collectors Inc. www.supportcollectors.com, for example, has been very successful in collecting past due support when other methods have failed. Best of all, you don’t have to pay them unless they are successful on your behalf.

You also don’t want to let pride or other emotions get in the way of seeking support for your child. It’s fine if you’re on your own and you don’t want to take anything from your ex, but when a child is involved, they deserve the support of both parents.

Get the best for your children: Also don’t be embarrassed or afraid to seek out public assistance programs that can help you and your children through tough times. Navigating the maze of social services can be frustrating and difficult and may seem overwhelming if you are trying to juggle work and parenthood but it’s also important to get the help you need. Dianne Hadaway in About.com’s Single Parents Forum recommends you keep a notebook recording everyone you’ve talked with at government agencies for assistance. She also recommends you ask before your appointments what kind of paperwork you need and suggests you keep the following documents in a brightly colored, large (9″x12″) envelope (so you can always locate it):

Be polite but persistent, and ask for advice when you run into roadblocks. Above all, don’t procrastinate. Many of these programs require you apply well in advance.

Planning for the worst: It is vitally important that all parents, especially single parents who may be the main or only provider for their children, have adequate life insurance, a will or estate plan, and guardianship documents. This is even more urgent if an ex-spouse represents a physical threat to you (but it’s important nonetheless).

Take care of yourself: We all need a little “me time” sometimes so don’t feel guilty about scheduling some time for yourself. You’ll be a better parent if you give yourself a break once in a while. Look for single parent networking clubs in your area. If you can’t find one, start one! In addition to emotional support, single parent clubs can offer referrals to helpful services, clothing and toy swaps, babysitting coops, and even house sharing arrangements. While it may take some work to get one up and running, the payoff may be well worth it.

Let Consolidated Credit be a source of help

If you’re a single parent going through financial difficulties, a financial professional can help you navigate through your challenging financial situation. In over 20 years, Consolidated Credit has helped more than 5 million people overcome debt problems. For a free consultation call to speak to a certified credit counselors or request a free Debt & Budget Analysis online.

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