I really don’t like those stereotypes that claim most single moms are low income and struggling to make ends meet. As a former single mom myself, it seemed super discouraging.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard to be a single mom. You have the only income coming into the household plus, you have to provide for your child and maintain the household. This load of responsibilities often does cause some single moms to not earn enough to meet their potential.
Still, you can pay off debt and get ahead if you’re a single mom with a low or average income.
The Key is to Budget
I started budgeting in 2014 when I got fed up with being broke and avoiding from my financial hardships. I used to always tell myself that I never made enough money to budget. I saw budgeting as a dreadful experience that I knew I wouldn’t be successful at.
After using the avoidance method to no avail, I finally decided to give budgeting a try as a last resort. What I learned was life-changing.
I learned that budgeting is not about limiting your lifestyle, it’s about planning how to avoid the life you want. I realized that my budget wasn’t the enemy, it’s actually a tool to help me plan my spending and eliminate stress around money.
Budgeting as a single mom helped me not only survive day-to-day, but it helped me thrive and pay down debt. Below, I’m sharing my very first single mom budget from when I first started my debt payoff journey. I was only making around $32,000 per year, but I still managed to live on less than I earned, save money, and pay off debt. I was even able to be generous and help pay my younger sister’s phone bill.
Here’s My Monthly Single Mom Budget Explained
Rent: $315 – The benefits of living in a small town 🙂 Rent for my 800 sq. ft. apartment was already pretty cheap, but I split it down the middle so I’d highly recommend choosing affordable housing or getting a roommate.
Fuel: $230 – This expense was more on the expensive side for gas. I worked 40-50 minutes away from my home and spent about $70/week in gas due to the commute.
Household/toiletries: $35 – This includes items like toilet paper, toothpaste, soap, etc. I stockpiled a lot since I had a Sam’s Club membership and also shopped at the dollar store when I could. In addition, I couponed occasionally but was never extreme about it as I didn’t want it to take up too much of my time.
Eating out: $30 – Yes, this is super low, but it’s something and allowed me the freedom to grab takeout to eat with friends during the month if I wanted to.
Credit Cards: $100 – I was in the process of building my credit so I had a CC and set a goal not to spend more than $100/month on it for miscellaneous purchases. I set this limit because it seemed like a reasonable amount for me to pay so I could pay the balance off in full each month and build my credit.
Clothes: $30 – Some months I didn’t even spend this money as I already had a ton of clothes.
Entertainment: $50 – Most of the time, I found free activities and entertainment for my son and I but it was nice to have this small amount available I ever wanted to do things like go see a movie, go bowling, or attend a festival.
Gym: $14- I received a discount on my gym membership with the YMCA.
Car Insurance: $107
Daycare: $151 – I did receive a subsidy from the state to help me pay for my son’s daycare at the time so this was my monthly copay.
Phone: $10- I used to have a service called Republic Wireless and at the time they have very cheap smartphone plans starting at just $10/month
Sister’s Phone: $50 –I was happy to help my teenage sister out with her monthly phone bill and looking back I’m super proud of myself for being able to do this despite my low income.
Car note/Student Loans/Savings (minimum):$700 – At the time, I had a minimum student loan payment of $150 per month and a minimum car loan payment of $233. As you can see, I had extra money leftover so this went to extra car payments and some went to savings.
Side note: These were my baseline expenses. Sometimes I got bonuses at work which increased my income but it wasn’t a guarantee. If I ever had any extra money, it usually went toward savings or debt. That way, I could cover myself if I ever slipped up with spending or was faced with an unexpected expense. Also, health insurance is not included here because my low income allowed my son and I to qualify for Medicaid. When I no longer qualified I started using Liberty Healthshare which is a Christian health sharing ministry.
How I Made It Work
There were quite a few things I did to help my single mom budget work.
Focus On the Big 3
When trying to live below your means, I always recommend people focus on their top 3-5 highest expenses. They are usually housing, transportation, and food. Childcare and insurance are other expenses that may make up a large portion of your budget.
For my situation, I made sure I found a basic but safe affordable apartment. Having such a low rent payment freed up a ton of money. I also did most of my cooking at home and brought my lunch to work each day. There wasn’t much I could do to lower my fuel costs since I had to commute to work. I did however, focus on paying off my car loan by making extra debt payments. By doing this, I was able to pay my 5-year loan off in 1.5 years while saving myself thousands of dollars in interest.
Find Ways to Save on Non-Negotiables
During this time in my life, I tried not to tell myself that I couldn’t afford something that was a basic necessity. If I couldn’t afford to pay full price, I always found a way to get a discount or save somehow. I was able to keep household expenses low because I was willing to stockpile and check sales ads for coupons and deals.
I didn’t want to pay for cable, but I still used Hulu to stream TV shows and movies for cheap. Having a smartphone and staying connected was important to me, so I found out about Republic Wireless and was able to get on a phone plan that fit my budget.
When it came to shopping for clothes, I’d already had plenty of clothes and my son would always receive outfits and hand-me-downs from friends and family. I shopped at Goodwill and utilized gift cards. For example, I love this accessories store called Charming Charlie.
Each year around Christmas, I’d get a gift card to the store and I’d go during their sale season. I’d shop the clearance section so I’d save on my purchase and get the most out of my gift card. This was a fun way to treat myself while sticking to my budget.
Realize Debt Is Not Worth It
You may feel tempted to overuse credit cards or take out loans if you’re struggling to make ends meet, but realize it’s not worth it. If you can’t use credit cards wisely, you should just avoid them altogether for the time being.
It may seem like a relief to pay for expenses with a credit card or loan, but it will only come back to bite you at the end of the day. You’ll be expected to pay for the purchase over time plus interest which means you’ll likely spend more money than what the item was worth.
When it comes down to it, single moms and consumers alike can’t really afford to get into debt. It’s expensive to pay back loans. You’d be better off by just sticking to a budget and saying no to something. It may seem like a challenge in the beginning but pay attention to my next point…
Remember It’s Only Temporary
You don’t have to live on a low budget forever. Over the years my income has increased and so has my spending as a result. I still save and pay more than the minimum on debt, but I can be so much more flexible now.
Use your first budget to help you make ends meet and get ahead, but realize that you can always take steps to enhance your life whether that means going back to school, starting a business, or growing your family.
My financial breakthrough happened when I started to improve my mindset and starting landing work online as a freelance writer. Now, I’m on a mission to help other people do the same to get more out of their money and their lives. It all starts with a solid budget that makes you feel liberated.
How do you budget each month? What are your favorite strategies that help you stick to your budget?
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