6 Money-Saving Secrets of Single Parents
We asked solo moms and dads to share their hard-won strategies. Two-parent households benefit, too!
Raising children in a two-parent household can put a squeeze on your finances. In a one-parent household? It’s a vice grip. The key to making it work is to budget your money as best you can. But you know that. What else can you do to meet the day-to-day needs of your children (and get them onboard with your financial thinking)? Three insiders — two moms and a dad managing households on their own with five kids among them — provide six field-tested tricks that work for them.
Pal up with Parents of Older Children
Michael Guillen, a single father living in Bayonne, NJ, says he hardly purchases any new clothing for his 3-year-old daughter, thanks to the generosity of a colleague who has two slightly older girls. “I’ve been lucky,” Guillen says. You too may find a buddy for hand-me-downs (clothes, sports gear, toys, etc.) by advertising at your child’s school or office bulletin board. What to offer in return? Just ask! The best way to repay your pal may be to help her plant spring bulbs, fix her DVR, or deliver a pan or two of lasagna for an anytime freezer meal.
Try to establish the idea that every family member contributes to the household, without the promise of a payout for completing chores. From a young age, Susan Stenfors’s three children — now 13, 11, and 9 — have helped out with doing the laundry, cooking family meals, and keeping their rooms clean. Allowance is not part of the deal. The Saint Paul, MN, mom says she started her kids when they were young with easy tasks such as sorting and matching up socks. Now it’s understood that pitching in is expected, and the kids don’t equate chores with monetary rewards.
Shop Online — With Your Kids
We all know you can save by comparison shopping online. Inviting your kids to join you occasionally helps them learn about household costs and strengthens the budgeting message. “We’ll look at a page on Amazon with, say, 10 things, and talk about what each one costs,” says Anne Trubek, mother of a 10-year-old boy in Shaker Heights, OH. You can start with younger kids by simply showing them the price of a favorite toy or snack and then counting out the sum together using real money. An added bonus of online shopping? No crowds or cranky kids. “We also avoid going to stores where we end up buying things we didn’t intend to purchase,” adds Trubek.
Join a Support Group
The members of Guillen’s divorce support group have assisted one another in finding roommates, lawyers, and even mechanics. Some members have corporate discounts to local museums and attractions, making it cheaper for others to take their kids on a special outing. Guillen found his group on Meetup.com, a website that helps connect locals with similar interests — whether it’s gardening, chess, or parenting on your own. “I’d recommend it for any hobby you have,” says Guillen.
When one of her kids picks up a new toy or gadget in a store, Stenfors likes to ask, “Why should we get it — is that a want or a need?” She’s taught her kids that the “wants” go on a wish list for birthdays and holidays, so they usually respond, “I’ll put it on my wish list.” “Funny enough,” adds Stenfors, “when I pick something up, I’ve started asking myself the same question. It’s helped me to save a lot of money.”
Declutter Your Life
Adjusting to single parenting on a budget can take time, says Trubek. She recommends starting small. Post the DVDs your kids have outgrown on eBay. Drop the dance class your daughter never really loved anyway. In time, managing your money as a single may become second nature.
Save Dinner Out for Yourself
Everyone needs a night away from the kitchen once in a while. But while your kids are young and their favorites are chicken fingers and pizza, save restaurants for times when your children are with a babysitter, friends, or other family members. “A pizza or hamburger always seems so overpriced,” says Trubek. “And it’s not something my son loves, anyway.” On most evenings, Trubek cooks at home. To cut down on prep time, she makes enough for two nights and occasionally splurges on grocery store shortcuts like rotisserie chickens and frozen meals. “It’s still cheaper than going out,” says Trubek. “And on the nights my son is with his dad, I go out and don’t worry as much about the cost.”
Make Lunches Together
You probably know that brown-bagging it saves money, but when you’re trying to get your children up and out the door, packing lunches can fall to the bottom of the list. That’s why Susan Stenfors handed over the responsibility to her kids, who, with her guidance, each day assemble their own leftovers or a sandwich. “They actually like this better than the hot meals at school,” Stenfors says, and the kids are never disappointed by what’s in their lunch boxes. Plus, packing lunch together offers a natural opportunity to discuss the need for a wide variety of foods to keep our bodies healthy and strong. To simplify the routine, store fruit in one section of your refrigerator, cut-up vegetables in another, and healthy snacks and drinks in a kid-accessible area of your pantry or kitchen. Then invite children to choose one item from each area to accompany their sandwich or leftovers.
Hannah Trierweiler Hudson is the senior contributing editor of Scholastic Instructor.