Raising children is expensive, and it can be especially challenging to get ahead when circumstances have the entire family surviving on a single salary rather than on dual incomes. As a single parent, you need to carefully budget and save for emergencies and significant expenses such as putting the kids through college, but you also need to allow room for fun, such as taking family vacations. Your kids will also learn how to spend and save according to what you teach them, so you also need to be mindful of your relationship with money.
Whatever your savings goals, your ability to be disciplined enough to stick to a budget while being prepared for the unexpected is imperative.
Start with these practical ways to save, and put the money into a separate dedicated bank account so you won’t impulsively spend it on day-to-day expenses.
1. Create a Monthly Budget and Balance Your Checkbook
The 50/20/30 rule means dividing your monthly budget into three distinct categories of expenses.
Should go towards basic essentials such as a mortgage or rent payment (usually the highest monthly payment), electricity, and groceries
Should go towards lifestyle and entertainment items, such as streaming subscriptions, internet, cell phones, etc.
Should go towards “financial priorities,” which includes savings, debt payments, emergencies, and retirement contributions.
Since these percentages are divisions of your net pay—the after-tax income that you bring home—someone who makes $65,000 a year, for example, should try to set aside at least about $13,000 for savings. Somewhere within these categories, you need to allot money for health insurance and/or emergency medical costs. If your necessary expenses are higher than 50%, the culprit is likely a rent or mortgage payment that’s too high for your income, and you may want to consider moving to alleviate that burden.
It’s also important to balance your checkbook to make sure you don’t bounce any checks and incur unnecessary penalty fees, and there are several Apps that you can sync with your accounts if you prefer to keep track of your finances that way. You should also put due date reminders for bills on your monthly calendar and pay them on time to minimize interest, or set up automatic payments with each credit card. Aim for paying the minimum balance plus an additional $50-$100, if possible.
2. Compare Prices Online and Avoid Extraneous Expenses
It’s an excellent habit to shop around for the best price online before you make any purchases. For example, sometimes buying essentials from Amazon will cost less than with another retailer. For some items, you can do additional research to see if there are coupon codes that will save an extra 10—20%.
Dinners out should be limited according to what your budget allows, but remember that the convenience of delivery is another trap that’s easy to fall into. You can have almost anything your heart desires at your door within the hour, but the convenience of ordering groceries or from restaurants online often comes with a $5 to $10 delivery charge, which is in addition to a tip for your driver. Instead, try to force yourself to pick up dinner “to-go” and delay grocery shopping for days when you are more up to it.
The same goes for city dwellers who fall into the “cab habit” instead of taking the metro. Will taking a $20 taxi during rush hour get you to work that much faster than taking public transportation for $3? It’s true that sometimes you need to take a cab because it’s a safer option late at night, but you need to allow for this splurge in your budget rather than doing it spontaneously.
3. Be Creative With Your Purchases and Learn to Live With Less
When you’re getting ready to buy something, check eBay for designer clothes and jewelry that are new-with-tags. You can also find a consignment shop in your area that meshes with your style, and get into the habit of buying a lot of your clothing there, while also selling items that you no longer wear. This will help stretch your clothing budget and allow for things like your children’s sudden growth spurts. Check sites like Freecycle or CraigsList before you purchase household items or sporting goods because someone else may be giving away the very things you want to buy for next to nothing.
When you are ready to make a significant purchase, take a step back and give yourself a few days to think about whether you need it. There’s no reason to suffer through buyer’s remorse and try to justify things that you really can’t afford. Also, make those purchases with cash or debit whenever possible, rather than using a credit card.
Finally, you may tell your kids that they can’t have everything they want, but do you live by the same principle? Force yourself to go without a luxury you can spare—like cable TV or a landline—for a fixed amount of time to save money. You will be surprised by what you can live without.
It’s true that there are often more expenses than your income can handle, especially when you’re the sole provider. But by taking a realistic look at your expenses and being conscientious and disciplined, good habits will become ingrained into your routine, and you will be amazed by how much you’ll be able to save for that proverbial rainy day.
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