How to Survive Financially as a Single Mom or Dad
Being a single parent is rewarding, but it can also be stressful — especially when it comes to your finances. Use these tactics to improve your situation.
December 9, 2021
No matter how much you love your kids, there’s no shame in admitting that looking after them can get tough sometimes — and doing it alone is like parenting on “hard” mode. Not only do you have to keep your kids clothed and fed with minimal outside support — you also have to foot the bills all by yourself. If you’re in this position, you’re probably wondering how to survive financially as a single mom or dad.
Achieving stability isn’t necessarily easy, but you can get there by taking the right steps. Here are a few important financial tips for raising your family solo.
How to survive financially as a single mom or dad
There are many ways you could potentially improve your financial situation as a single parent, but when you have kids to care for, you don’t necessarily have all day. That’s why we’ve included a convenient list of effective and helpful guidance below.
Stick to a budget
One obvious way to boost your finances is to save money. But, as many single mothers and fathers know, it can be tricky enough to make ends meet in the first place. Having extra money to put aside can feel far from a feasible reality.
If this sounds familiar, try to focus on what you can do. Even if you’re not confident that you’ll be able to put a single dollar aside each month, the first step to financial planning is simply monitoring where you are now. Take note of exactly where your money goes over the course of a week or month, either by using a manual productivity tool like Excel or Google Sheets, or by automatically connecting your bank accounts to an app like Mint.
From there, you can assess your economic situation and find out if you have any wiggle room. Are there any subscription services you can cancel? Are you spending more on groceries than you’d like? At this point, you can think about how much of your income you want to allocate to different spending categories (e.g., electric bills vs. groceries).
There are a few budgeting methods you can opt for, such as the 80/20 budget (spending 80% and saving 20%) or the 50/30/20 budget (50% on needs, 30% on wants and 20% on savings). Feel free to come up with your own numbers, but try to shift things around so you can still afford to save something.
Have an emergency fund
When you’re the sole caregiver and breadwinner in your household, ensuring you’ll be able to provide for your family is probably one of your top financial goals. You don’t have to be a millionaire for this (though it would help!), but you do need a moderate pool of money you can dip into when times get tough.
This is known as an emergency fund: Money that helps you get through unforeseen circumstances, like losing your main income source or facing significant home repair costs.
The goal is to save between three and twelve months’ worth of expenses, so you can afford to go without income for long enough to find work again. If that seems out-of-reach, save whatever you can.
Apps like Acorns will even round up spare change from your purchases to help you save up cent by cent (i.e., you spend $3.70 on a latte, and $0.30 is automatically put into savings). You might be surprised to find you don’t even notice the extra money has left your account.
Develop an extra income source
You might not be able to handle full-time (or even part-time) work alongside single parenthood, but we’re living in the era of side hustles.
There are plenty of work-from-home jobs you could try out to boost your income, from freelancing as a social media manager to working as a live chat support agent for Amazon.
If you don’t enjoy working online, consider adding a flexible job you can do from your own home. For instance, you could try babysitting or walking dogs — both options have the perks of letting you choose a schedule that works around your domestic duties, and you won’t have to arrange for childcare because you can bring your little one along.
Even if you don’t have time for a job that requires a long-term commitment, you could still let your social circle know you’re willing to take on odd jobs like cleaning to bring in a little extra money here and there.
Take advantage of government programs
Fortunately for single parents, there are a few state, federal and nonprofit initiatives aimed at helping low-income families stay afloat:
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is a program all state governments run. It gives financial assistance and other means of help to U.S. residents with dependent children. However, since the eligibility requirements and available assistance vary slightly from state to state, it’s wise to contact your local TANF program for further information.
The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program is targeted at a similar demographic but provides help with paying energy costs. Again, you’ll need to contact the office from your state for more information.
If you’d like to go out to work part-time but can’t because you don’t have enough money for childcare, you might be able to access a federal or state program to help with the costs. Various programs offer subsidies for low-income families or state-funded pre-k programs.
Keep debt at bay
The more money you have to spend paying off debts, the less you have to meet your weekly expenses. It’s a vicious cycle — the harder it is for you to cover your expenses, the more likely it is that you’ll get into credit card debt in the first place. So, what’s the solution?
Your first move is following the steps we’ve outlined already, like budgeting and trying to increase your income. Then, you can figure out which debt to tackle first. Strive to make your minimum payments for each of your debts, but once you’ve covered them, consider following the debt avalanche method: paying off the debt with the highest interest rates first.
For instance, if you had one credit card bill with an APR of 15%, another with an APR of 22% and a personal loan with an APR of 17%, you’d focus on the credit card with the 22% APR first — even if it has the lowest balance.
Alternatively, you could opt for the debt snowball method by focusing on the smallest debts first to build momentum. However, while this might feel satisfying, ignoring interest rates could cost you more in the long run.
Depending on your preferences, you might even want to focus on paying off debt before working on your emergency fund.
Don’t just survive, thrive
The tips above won’t just teach you how to survive financially as a single mom or dad — they’ll also allow you to thrive. Remember to cut yourself some slack along the way. You have plenty on your plate already as a single parent, so there’s no need to pressure yourself to be perfect.
If you can only choose one thing to prioritize throughout your journey to financial success, getting out of debt (and avoiding taking it on if you're currently debt-free) is key. This won’t just help you avoid costly interest, it can also prevent the monthly repayments from destabilizing you if you fall on hard times.
Struggling with credit card debt? Consider using Tally†. Tally can help you consolidate your high-interest debt into one lower-interest line of credit, so you can save money and meet your financial goals. You can even automate your bill payments along the way.
†To get the benefits of a Tally line of credit, you must qualify for and accept a Tally line of credit. The APR (which is the same as your interest rate) will be between 7.90% and 29.99% per year and will be based on your credit history. The APR will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Annual fees range from $0 - $300.