Money Talks, So Should You

Q&A: How can single parents make ends meet?

Mechel Glass
by Mechel Glass, Dimespring Contributor  (@CredAbility)

Parents accustomed to managing expenses in a two-income household need to take important steps if they become the sole provider for the children.

As a newly single parent sets up a budget and spending plan, the top priority should be to create a financial safety net to provide the security a second income once offered.

If you don’t have disability insurance, make that a top priority. You’ll need enough coverage to pay for the basics if you can’t work for an extended time period.

You’ll also need to build a significant emergency fund as a hedge against the unexpected. And with children, you can just about count on unplanned expenses, from visits to the emergency room to hiring a plumber to pull a toy out of a clogged drain.

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I realize setting money aside for insurance and emergency savings is difficult during a time when financial pressures are likely already causing stress. But it’s important to get a handle on the household budget in this situation, especially because someone who is suddenly solely responsible for it might feel a sense of chaos in other aspects of their lives.

When rebuilding a household spending plan from the ground up, it’s important to realign your lifestyle to the reality of your new income. One approach I like is to plan to live off 70 cents of every dollar of income.

Start by defining income as money you can count on every month. If you recently began living apart from a spouse and you aren’t sure if you can count on a financial contribution from them, don’t count that as money you will have to spend.

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Why 70 cents? Because that allows you to set aside 10 percent for savings, 10 percent for retirement and 10 percent for some specific savings goal. Many people in tough financial circumstances think they don’t make enough money to save in this way. But setting aside money for your future should be the building block you start with at any income level.

Now with the monthly income you have left, calculate whether you have enough to pay for the things you and your children need. That should be a short list, including shelter, water and electricity, food and transportation.

A parent in this situation may be disciplined about cutting back on their own expenses, but resist cutting back on things their child enjoys, but can live without. Your children need to learn to share in the reality of the family’s financial situation.

You may need to downsize your home and have your children share a room for the first time. During the holidays you may need to manage expectations and let children know that gifts do not equate to love. You can find inexpensive experiences to share with your children, like day trips to a park or the beach.

When a two-income household suddenly shrinks to one, it’s a time to become more focused on preparing for the future. Avoid the temptation to deplete resources, trying to hold on to an unsustainable lifestyle.

Slowly growing “house poor” is no fun. It’s much better to be a single parent in a modest house where everyone shares a TV room, but also occasionally go to movies and out to dinner.

Mechel Glass is vice president of community outreach for CredAbility. She is responsible for coordinating community outreach and financial education activities across the agency’s regions and developing new education programs for both classroom settings and online. Glass, a U.S. Army veteran, is also co-author of “The Veteran’s Money Book,” scheduled for publication in April 2014 by Career Press. The book can now be ordered on Amazon.com.