As a single mom, there is one question that seems to pop up over and over again.
Why is this so hard?
Having a child is nothing new and unique, families all around seem to be doing just fine.
But as single moms, we are doing much or all of the earning and parenting on our own. Sometimes with the added assistance of child and spousal support, an ex that steps in for a percentage of the time or family members that can help out, but not always. And even with financial assistance, there are so many increased expenses when a relationship or marriage fails.
Less time, more stress and increased expenses make it difficult to properly set goals, plan ahead, track expenses and save money. Our personal finances suffer and it becomes difficult to catch up, let alone get ahead.
With all the obstacles that single moms face, I think there are four unique challenges that have a the most negative and lasting impact on our personal finances. Each of these challenges contributes to the difficulty of properly managing money and setting financial goals. Additionally, without the benefit of a financial clean house, each challenge becomes worse. We become stuck in the cycle of fighting these day-to-day challenges and falling behind financially.
But there is a way out of this vicious cycle.
You can be a single mom and pay off debt, build up secure savings and establish a solid financial plan.
The first step is to recognize these unique and major challenges of being a single mom, and realize just how much of an impact they have on your life. Then, with awareness and solutions to help tackle and overcome each challenge, you can take back control of your finances, and so many other areas of your life.
Contents and Quick Links
The four main challenges of being a single mom
Challenge #1: Time
In all honesty, it’s hard to be home taking care of your kids when you are busy working your ass off to make ends meet.
Being married is a partnership. This means that someone else has your back. When the school calls that your child just threw up all over the classroom and needs to be picked up immediately, you have a partner you can work with and decide who can drop everything and run to the school.
Single moms don’t often have this option.
You’re dropping what you are doing, whether you can afford to or not.
At one time I was working 1.5 hours away from my son’s school. This was the job that paid the best and offered the growth opportunities I needed for a secure career. But my son was having a monumentally bad year. The school was calling me constantly. And what was I to do about it?
There are only so many times you can drop everything and take the day or afternoon off. There are only so many “sick” days you can take when it’s your child that is sick. And then what happens when you are the one that is sick?
There’s the saying “it takes a village” and this is so true. But when you are so busy just keeping everything together, who has time to build a village?
We simply have less time to fit everything in. We try. But rarely with any success.
So how do we overcome this?
I think this is the biggest challenge and requires the most dramatic action. But the key word here is action. You must change something. You must change your job, change your living arrangements, or change your support network. Strategically change something.
The first step is determining where the majority of your time is spent. Do you have a super long commute? Are you spending too much time driving your child from activity to activity? Are you working too many hours?
What is the one area of your life that if you were to take time away from that activity, you would open up much more time in your day?
For me it was my commute. I was living close to a top rated school for my son, but then I was spending 3 hours or more every day commuting to my work.
When the school was calling me all the time, I tried hiring a sitter to be on call to pick him up. That helped, but didn’t change the fact that I wasn’t home enough. The underlying issue resulting in my son acting up was that I wasn’t home with him enough. So I made the very difficult decision to leave my work and take a part time position for much less pay, but more time with my son.
It was one of the best decisions I’d ever made. Yes, my boss hated me for it. Yes, I missed out on some potential career and income growth opportunities. No, I wouldn’t change my decision.
The benefit to my son was remarkable. He just needed me home with him more. And my finances didn’t actually suffer as I thought they would. It’s true that I was earning less, but I was also spending significantly less. I wasn’t driving as much, I had time to plan meals and shop smarter, I was paying less for sitting and before/after school care. And I had time to work on my finances and make smarter spending decisions all around.
Challenge #2: Expenses
First, there are the typical expenses that all parents face. Except now, you may have to manage them on a single salary. Or, if you have help, there are still the added costs of separating housing and living expenses.
Then, there is the cost of more food because you can’t combine and efficiently plan meals. Add to this, separate health insurance costs. And the need to work more hours to cover these added expenses and therefore the need to increase childcare hours. More time working is more stress. More stress is increasing health costs and the need for convenience food and services.
The cycle continues.
The best way to manage expenses is to be aware of them. Track spending and know where every dollar is going. Make a budget and strive to both stick with it and continue improving it over time. Once you become aware, you can start making small savings that quickly add up.
Action Steps: If you need to save more money or payoff debt, visit my FREE Resource Library to download printable pdf workbooks and worksheets on debt payoff, expense tracking and budgeting. The following posts will get you started:
Challenge #3: Stress
This one is obvious, right? With a shortage of time and money comes stress. This is the silent killer that led to the downfall of my immune system.
Seriously, I was sick all the time. So often that my doctor told me it was stress induced and I had to take time off of work to relax and take care of myself.
I laughed at her. Time off? Impossible.
So I kept getting sick and missing work and my stress level just continued to get worse.
The hard part is that I was often entirely unaware of just how bad it was. I was harried and easily frustrated, but I had my blinders on to everything except what needed to be done. I was in one-foot-in-front-of-the-other survival mode.
It was during these times when I felt the most alone. Who in the world could understand what I’m experiencing?
But the answer is easier than you may think: Lot’s of other single moms!
Please, do yourself a monumental favor. Find other single moms that you can relate to. Look for local single mom groups. I found my tribe through Meetup.com. If there isn’t a local group, start one!
When you can put your stress and your life in perspective and know that you aren’t the only one going through this, a heavy weight is lifted.
I finally broke free from my building stress levels when my doctor ordered me to take one month of paid medical leave. She contacted my employer and told them it was necessary, and gave me the option of extending my leave an additional month if needed.
This wasn’t easy to do. I wasn’t thrilled with dropping my workload onto my coworker. As moms we try to do it all.
But we have to take care of ourselves, too.
My month off was transformative. I think there are few times in life where you get to say that. This was truly one of those times.
I lowered my stress by exercising more and moving closer to my work. Then, I decreased the amount of activities that my son was in and spent more time with him at home. Finally, I focused on the people and activities in my life that provided the most happiness. I also created a financial plan and set my 10-Year Goals, which was liberating and motivating. This helped me shift my focus to not just day-to-day survival, but to the future and what I needed to do now in order to ensure a happy and financially secure tomorrow.
And then I stopped getting sick.
That was three years ago. Life has been so much better since I made these changes. I just wish I had done them sooner.
To read more about creating 10-Year Goals and why I believe they are so important, visit 10-Year Goals: Why You Need Them Today.
Challenge #4: Guilt
The last major challenge we face as single moms is the accumulation of guilt over time.
When finances are tight, we have to say no a lot. And we feel terrible for it. We say no to eating out, or buying certain toys/electronics, no to big birthday parties, no to after school activities or sports. No to quality time with our children.
With our lack of time and high stress levels we miss out on school performances, we are late picking our kids up from day care, we forget about birthday parties and play dates, we can’t participate in the classroom or drive for the class field trip.
Every time we say no, or miss an activity, or aren’t there when our child needs us, we feel guilty for it. And the guilt just keeps building up over time.
I was somewhat lucky; my son gained an early understanding of what I was trying to manage and never expressed his disappointment when I couldn’t be there for him.
But this just made me feel even worse!
This is where you tribe is so important. Find other single moms that can help you out. They understand that sometimes you really need the help. Then, when you are available to help them in return, it feels extra satisfying and healing to know that you can be there and repay the favor.
We all know that raising a child as a single parent is challenging.
But when lack of time, lack of money, high stress levels and feelings of guilt add to each other and build, we get caught in a cycle that is so hard to break free of. I honestly didn’t realize just how vicious this cycle was until I was trapped in the middle of it, with seemingly no way out.
With blinders on, I was taking one day at a time and not thinking about the insanity of it all. I thought that this was just what I had to do.
What other options were there?
But there are options. It might mean that you have to take a hard look at your life and evaluate what aspects are working for you and your kids. And then think about what honestly isn’t and requires adjusting.
Review these four major challenges that we face as single moms and think about what you could change.
- Being a single mom often means working more to make ends meet.
- What takes up the most time in your life?
- It could be your commute, long hours at a low paying job, driving your child long distance for private school or sports, or living too far away for lower housing costs.
- How could you make some changes to improve this?
- Research other job opportunities, explore a change in career that will have better hours and better pay, or cut back on your child’s activities and spend more time at home.
- Making more time in your life is often the most challenging thing to accomplish. It means making a dramatic change.
- Take some time to think outside the box, outside your comfort zone, and explore some changes you can make to save time in your life.
- Then, take the leap and make those changes. Little changes or big changes, find a way to create some extra time. It will be uncomfortable, maybe even financially challenging at first, but map out your options and take action. You won’t regret it later.
- The best way to control expenses is to track them and establish a budget.
- Check out these posts to step through this process:
- Stress has an amazing way of creeping up on you unannounced and building silently until it’s overwhelming and difficult to control.
- Don’t let this happen!
- In order to be the best mom you can be, you have to take care of yourself.
- Make sure you have some time to yourself when you need it.
- Read, exercise, make time to visit old friends.
- Look for other single mom groups or form one of your own and start building a tribe of women that understand your life and the unique challenges you face every day.
- Make more time in your life. Cut back your expenses and clean up your finances. You will feel healthier, happier and better able to manage the every day challenges.
- It’s hard to not feel bad when time, expenses or stress interfere with our ability to be available for our kids.
- You will miss events and you will have to work late sometimes.
- Your child will have to adjust to day care or before / after school care.
- But it’s okay.
- Be kind to yourself and realize that your kids will be okay. It’s a good thing that you are raising your child to understand and appreciate hard work.
- It’s okay that they learn the sacrifices you make for them, and the little disappointments they feel as you work hard.
- Your children will learn drive, motivation and perseverance. They will appreciate what they have and how hard you work for them.
Now ask yourself, how is each of these challenges affecting your life, your ability to parent, and your child?
Remember, when you aren’t happy, your child probably isn’t either.
If you feel like you are caught in this cycle just like I was, it’s time to make some changes in your life. Create more time, lower your stress level, review your finances and create a budget. You will be healthier, your family will be happier and you will be financially prepared for the future because of it.
- Review your own challenges. Which ones are harder than others? What steps could you make to improve your stress, manage time better and map out financial goals? What could you do today to better take care of yourself?
- Read through the linked posts in this article for tips on paying off debt, tracking finances, cutting expenses to save more money every month and creating a budget that you can stick to. These posts will help you take control of finances and create lasting habits to stay on track.