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- Single parents have it especially rough right now, between the demands of work (or being out of work) and helping kids learn remotely.
- Financial planner Marie Thomasson, herself a single parent, has some tips for any single parents looking to save more right now.
- She suggests requesting for more child support as a start, then saving any money you’re not spending on expenses like entertainment or travel.
- Meal planning and enlisting your kids to help with food prep can help cut down on food waste.
- Ultimately, any money you’re able to save should go into a high-yield savings account.
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Being a single parent can certainly make you feel stretched thin financially. As someone who was raised by a single mom who worked two full-time jobs to care for my brother and me, I experienced firsthand how much my mom sacrificed to make sure her kids had a roof over their heads and food on the table. And that was during a time when parents could send their kids off to school and not have to worry about hiring a babysitter.
Fast forward to the present, and I’m amazed at how some of these parents are juggling it all during the COVID-19 era, working from home while their kids are learning remotely. Due to these drastic shifts in our daily lives, there might be more expenses involved — equipment needed for school and increased childcare costs, for a start.
In these circumstances, it may feel impossible to eke out savings for your rainy-day fund or another big expense. But financial planner Marie Thomasson, founder of the values-based financial planning firm Modern Assets, has a few tips.
Request more child support
If your income or circumstances have changed, the most important thing a single parent can do to improve their financial situation is to ask for more child support. It might seem like an exhausting endeavor to deal with the court system, but it might not be as time-intensive as you think. A big part of being able to save is having more money coming in, so boosting how much you’re getting in child support can certainly help.
A silver COVID lining: Thomasson says that because of COVID, some courts are accepting filings online for now, at least in California. (You’ll want to check how things are being handled in your state.) “So it’s actually never been easier to deal with child support modifications,” says Thomasson, who is a single mother to twin boys.
Save money you aren’t spending on certain expenses
While some expenses might have gone up, others might have actually gone down because of the pandemic, such as after-school activities, birthday parties, and weekend bowling trips. “Unless you have at least six months in savings, [extra] money should be put toward emergency savings or basic necessities,” says Thomasson. “No, Zoom camps and guilt trips from the kids — or yourself — don’t count as emergencies.”
Along the same lines, look for less-expensive alternatives. For example, while Zoom camps can cost nearly as much as the in-person versions, it’s just not worth it, says Thomasson. “This is the new normal, and if kids are looking at screens, Netflix will do.”
Enlist the help of your kids around the house
Instead of relying on lunch-box-sized snacks and treats that cost a small fortune, invest the time to teach kids to help around the house with chores and meal prepping, suggests Thomasson.
Thomasson herself is working toward a goal of setting aside an hour a day during the week to teach her boys basic skills to be more helpful around the house. “This also gives me more time to earn money, and be less stressed for whatever comes,” she says.
Create a menu for the week
Thomasson is a big fan of meals and has created a Google sheet that lists her menu with easy-to-make meals for the week. She’ll then print it out and stick it on the fridge where the entire family can see it in clear view. That way, the kids can look at the menu and help prepare the snacks and their lunches accordingly.
To up the fun factor, you can create themes for each day. In Thomasson’s case, Meatless Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, Fun Fridays, and Simply Sundays. “It saves you about 30 minutes a day from the kids asking what they’re allowed to eat, and when,” she says. “And, for some crazy reason, they don’t question it. If it’s Eggs and Toast day, that’s what they make!”
Keep your money in a high-yield savings account
Money you save from not having to pay for summer camps and helping your kids make their own snacks at home can be put toward savings. Plus, many people are already saving because so much of our discretionary income is being diverted from shopping, travel, restaurants, and entertainment to our bank accounts.
Says Thomasson, “If you can afford it, take all that money and stick it in an Ally account. That way it’s out of reach.” Once you’ve set up a savings account, create a system that makes it easy for you to save.
“Creating systems for saving is critical. Whether you’ve been furloughed, let go, or still have a job, you should prepare as if you’ve lost your job, particularly in this environment,” she says.
This might mean a “set it and forget it” rule, where you auto-save a set amount each week. For employed folks, Thomasson’s favorite system is having money from each paycheck directly deposited into a separate savings account. “Otherwise, transferring from your checking to savings works just fine,” she says.
For self-employed people or those with irregular cash flows, Thomasson suggests figuring out a budget and automatically sending, say, 25% to a separate tax account and 50% to basic living expenses. The remaining 25% can be sent to another account that can be a pot for savings or annual expenses. “Even if it’s not exact, it’s easy to remember, and you just follow the rules,” says Thomasson.
Tucking away money into savings when you’re a single parent dealing with the impact that the pandemic has had on our finances is no easy task. But by minding your expenses, finding clever ways to save a buck, and creating systems to save, it’s definitely doable.