5 Budgeting Tips for the Single Parent

One of the most significant adjustments to make post-divorce is living on a single income and supporting a family. Things can get tough.

Financial problems are stressful. They can lead to depression and contribute to anxiety. I have walked this road before, and it is not a fun journey to be on.

8 months ago, I was about to declare bankruptcy.

Today, my finances are under control, and I have savings in the bank. I’ve put together a few handy tips that have helped me reach financial freedom post-divorce that you can put into practice now!

RELATED READING: Reality Bites ~ Life as a Single Mum

Never rely on Child Support

This was my biggest mistake, it meant I wasn’t 100% in control of my finances. Once I removed child support from my monthly budget, I was able to take steps towards financial freedom.

I know, I know, why shouldn’t you rely on Child Support. It is a legal and moral obligation of the other parent. And most do the right thing and pay on time. But what happens when their circumstances change? Or, if they can’t make a payment one month? Or there’s a mix up through the Child Support Agency? Or, they just don’t pay at all.

For you to reach financial freedom, YOU need to be 100% in control of your finances. Only include income in your budget that is steady, and you are in control of. Then if/when you do receive child support, it is a bonus you can use to get further ahead on your finances.

When child support does arrive, I divide it up in percentages. A certain percentage goes to utilities, a portion goes to the kid’s clothes and school expenses, a part to their health expenses, a percentage to their entertainment and a percentage to their savings account. All of these percentages are IN ADDITION to what I allow for in my monthly budget. So, if child support arrives, I know I’m getting ahead. If it doesn’t, I don’t have to worry about getting behind.

Create a strict budget

I guess I am lucky, my best friend walked this path before me and is a budgeting pro. So, she helped me with a stringent budget. All of my financial obligations are met with my own personal income which I know is steady. There are no fancy spreadsheets or budgeting programs here. What worked for her and what is working for me now is a handwritten notebook.

Before creating your budget, get a handle on where you are financially. Write out all of your debts – how much you owe and what the monthly commitments are.

What is your rent or mortgage repayment? Write this in your budget.

Grab your utility bills, ideally the last 12 months worth. Work out your average yearly cost for utilities and divide this by 12 (or 24 or 52, depending on if your budget will be monthly, fortnightly or yearly) and then write this in your budget. If you have money owing on utilities, contact them and enquire about financial hardship programs. Most are more than willing to negotiate payment plans to suit your budget.

What insurance do you have? Write all of these out and work out your monthly cost.

Next work out your expenses – food, petrol, entertainment, clothing and anything else. Write down what you’d ideally like to spend on these.

Next work out your income, remember only to include income you have control over.

And then take all of your monthly commitments and expenses out of your income.

If there is a shortfall, work out where you might be able to save money. If there is no shortfall, arrange for excess to be automatically transferred to a savings account.

Stick to your budget. Every month, write out what your income and expenses will be, note when everything will be paid and cross it off your list when it has been paid.

A few months or at worst years of living on a strict budget will get you ahead very quickly. It is worth the commitment.

Find out what discounts and government rebates you might be entitled to

As a single parent, you may be entitled to government payments, rebates and discounts. In Australia, if you hold a concession card (pension card), this will give you a range of discounts and rebates on utilities, medicines and other services.

Also in Australia, it can be tricky to find out precisely what you are entitled to (I’m sure we’ve ALL spent countless hours on the phone to Centrelink) so do some research online first, then if you’re still not convinced – telephone Centrelink. Most rebates you can apply for online.

Lean on community services

From time to time, money might be tight.

Find out what free services are available through your local community. Many churches and community organisations will have food packages, and some can assist you with money towards utilities.

Some churches and community organisations host morning tea’s, lunches or dinners, which allows you to pop in, grab a free meal and some additional food packages to take home. This is also a great way to meet other people and members of the organisations.

All communities offer plenty of free activities for kids. Most are accessible via public transport. Check out your local library and have a look at your local council website to see what is available. And if there’s nothing scheduled, heading to the library to read books or to the local park are great alternatives.

Lose the pride

This ties in with the tip above. Lose the pride. There is no shame in asking for help. Many have done it before you, many will do it after you. This is not your life forever. Trust me. I know it can feel that way when you are up to your eyeballs in debt, but by taking steps to bring everything under control, you will feel much much better. And the feeling when you finally get ahead financially, knowing that you did it all on your own – without a partner – is like no other!

There will come a time when you can give back. Ride out the next few years, and you will eventually reach financial freedom.

What have I missed? Do you have any other tips for the single parent facing financial difficulties?

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