Budgeting for Single Moms: 10 Essential Budgeting Tips

Single mom budget

Being a single mom is not only physically and emotionally demanding, but also financially challenging. Balancing your everyday expenses with long-term financial security, all while raising your children, can be tough. But understanding the key principles of budgeting for single moms, combined with the right strategies and resources, can make it more manageable. These 10 essential budgeting tips for single moms are your blueprint to achieving all of your financial goals.


The Importance and Basics of Budgeting for Single Moms

At its core, budgeting is not about limiting your financial freedoms but maximizing them. It’s about harnessing control over your money, dictating its direction instead of wondering where it’s disappeared. As motivational speaker and author John Maxwell, once said “A budget is telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went.”

Your budget is your financial compass and is essential in guiding you towards fiscal security. Your budget, in essence, provides an overview of your income and expenses. This enables you to make informed decisions about saving and spending your money so you can provide for your family and achieve your goals.

Looking further than the financial benefits, a study into the effects of budgeting on health found people who create a budget have less anxiety than people without a budget. Remarkably, this was even true for people who’s budget didn’t improve their financial situation! Just the act of getting across your finances can be a win even before your budget starts improving your financial situation.

There are many different types of budgeting strategies you can follow, like the 50/30/20 budget strategy, or you can just start with your own simple goal of saving a small set amount every month. Whichever you decide, if you’re serious about budgeting you should set aside 30 minutes once a month to review and update your monthly budget. It’s one of the most important activities can do to keep on top of your finances and reduce your finance-stress.


Determine Your Total Monthly Income

The first step in budgeting for single moms, or for any single parent, is formulating your budget is gaining a clear picture of your total monthly income. Your income is the foundation upon which your budget is built. It includes your salary, child support, alimony, government benefits, or any other sources of revenue you have.

Having a comprehensive and accurate understanding of your total monthly income is crucial as it sets the limits for your spending and savings goals. And although it sounds obvious, it’s essential to budget based on the money you have, not the money you wish you had.


Outline All Your Expenses

The next step in creating your budget is to list out all of your expenses. These can be divided into three categories: fixed, variable, and periodic.

  • Fixed expenses include costs that remain constant from month to month. These often include rent or mortgage payments, car loans, insurance premiums (including health insurance), and other similar costs.
  • Variable expenses, as the name suggests, fluctuate from month to month. Examples include grocery bills, utilities, childcare costs, and personal care expenses. This category has the most of opportunity for reducing your expenses.
  • Periodic expenses are costs that don’t occur every month but need to be accounted for. These could include annual insurance premiums, back-to-school supplies, holiday gifts, birthday parties, or maintenance costs for your home or car.

An easy way to understand where you’re spending your money is to review your credit card statement and checking account statement, or other bank statements every month, categorizing each and every entry as Fixed, Variable, or Periodic. These days most credit cards have their own expense tracking reports that make tracking expenses easy.


Pay-off Your Debts First

cut up credit card

A big reason why you’re not left with extra money at the end of each month could be because you’re paying high interest costs on credit card debt. The debt avalanche method of reducing debt recommends that you pay off high-interest debt before focusing heavily on other financial goals. This doesn’t mean you should ignore other important aspects of your financial life – it’s still crucial to pay for necessities, make minimum debt payments, and try to contribute something towards savings if you can.

Debt repayment is a crucial element of budgeting for single moms and financial planning in general. Here’s why it’s so important:

  • Interest Costs: Debt often comes with interest, which means the longer you take to pay it off, the more you’ll end up paying in the long run. This is particularly true for high-interest debt like credit cards which can add-up to thousands of dollars. By prioritizing debt repayment in your budget, you can minimize the total interest you pay.
  • Financial Freedom: Every dollar you’re paying towards debt is a dollar you’re not able to use elsewhere. Debt can restrict your financial flexibility, making it harder to reach other financial goals like saving for retirement, building up emergency savings, or planning for your children’s education. Paying off debt can free up more of your income over time, reducing financial stress and making room for other goals.
  • Credit Score: Consistently paying off your debts on time can have a positive impact on your credit score. A higher credit score can lead to better financial opportunities, like qualifying for lower interest rates on future loans or better terms on credit cards.

By prioritizing debt repayment, you can work towards a future where more of your money is working for you, rather than going towards interest payments. It’s all about balancing the immediate needs with the long-term benefits, and a well-crafted budget can help you do just that.

If you’d prefer to see quick wins and pay off small debts before tackling large high-interest debts, you might want to take a look at the debt snowball method for debt reduction. This method encourages you to chalk-up some wins by paying off small debts first, while still continuing to pay the minimum payments on your high- interest debts.


Set Realistic Financial Goals

budgeting goals buying a house

Whether you’re building an emergency fund, saving for your child’s education, or planning for a down payment on a house, having clear, specific goals can provide direction and motivation in your budgeting efforts.

When setting your goals ensure they’re achievable and measurable. For instance, instead of setting a vague goal like ‘save more money’, aim for something more concrete such as ‘save $200 per month for the emergency fund’.

If you’ve got a student loan hanging over your head, and your main goal is to get rid of it, your budget is going to look like a roadmap to becoming debt-free. You’ll cover your basics, like rent and groceries, then put as much money as you can towards paying off that loan. This might mean cutting back on things like eating out or going to the movies, but remember, it’s temporary and for a good cause.

If you’re saving to buy your first home a big part of your budget will be about saving money for a down payment. This could mean setting up an automatic savings plan where a part of your paycheck goes straight into a savings account with a decent APY (annual percentage yield). Cutting back on latte’s and takeout might be necessary, but keep your eyes on the prize – your own home.

Maybe you’re hoping to take your kids on a vacation or buy a new car. Your budget can help with this too. By setting aside a little bit of money every month in a separate savings account, you can slowly but surely reach your goal. This might mean cutting back on little luxuries, but remember the thrill of achieving your goal will be worth it.

These are just a few examples, and your goals may be different. The main point is that your budget is unique to you, helping you manage your money in a way that makes sense for your situation. You’re in control of your money, telling it where to go instead of wondering where it went. And always remember to adjust your budget as your life changes and evolves.


Prioritize Your Spending

Distinguishing between your ‘needs’ and ‘wants’ is an integral part of effective budgeting. Needs are the bare essentials – things like mortgage, rent, food, utilities – the costs that are necessary for survival. Wants, on the other hand, are the nice-to-haves. That pair of designer shoes you’ve been eyeing, your gym membership, a dinner at a fancy restaurant – these fall under wants. It’s important to cover your needs first and then see what’s left for your wants. But remember, there’s no harm in an occasional treat!

Understanding and prioritizing your needs over wants is crucial in maintaining a balanced budget. This doesn’t mean you can never spend money on your wants. But make sure your essential needs are met first before allocating money to discretionary spending.

After you have reviewed your credit card and checking account statements every month, go ahead and categorize each expense as a need or a want. It should soon become obvious how much you can divert from your ‘wants’ to your kid’s college fund, or your first home deposit.


Involve Your Kids in the Budgeting Process

Single mom icecream

Budgeting for single moms is not just for you as the mom. Involve your children in the budgeting process – it’s an excellent opportunity to teach them valuable money management skills and give them an understanding of why certain financial decisions are made. This transparency can also foster a sense of unity and mutual understanding within your family.

Start by explaining the basic concept of budgeting and the difference between needs and wants. From there, you can introduce more complex ideas like saving, investing, and financial planning. For your younger kids, consider giving them a small allowance and guiding them on how to save and spend wisely. Not only will this prepare them for their financial future, but it may also help them understand the family’s financial choices and constraints better.


Prepare for Unexpected Expenses

Life can be unpredictable, and unexpected expenses can throw your budget off track. A sudden car repair, an unplanned medical bill, or a home appliance breaking down can all lead to significant costs. It’s essential to incorporate an ’emergency fund’ into your budget to cover these unanticipated expenses.

While experts generally recommend saving three to six months’ worth of living expenses, the Urban Institute conducted a study into family security which found that families with a savings cushion as little as $250 to $749 are less likely to be evicted, or miss a housing or utility payment. Remember that every little bit helps, and it’s more important to start saving and build momentum than to wait until you can save large amounts. You can start small and gradually increase your savings as your financial situation allows.


Utilize Modern Budgeting Tools and Seek Professional Help

budgeting app

Automation is a powerful tool for managing your budget. By setting up automatic transfers from your checking account to your savings account or toward your debts, you ensure these important budget items aren’t overlooked. Plus, it’s much easier to save money or pay off debt when the process is automated.

Managing your budget can feel overwhelming at times, but the process of creating it and monitoring it doesn’t have to be. There are some great free budgeting apps like Mint and YNAB that can help you track your income and expenses, manage your bills, and even provide spending reports. These top 6 budgeting apps are the highest rated and most recommended apps.

Or, if you prefer a spreadsheet, Spreadsheet.com has this great free personal budgeting spreadsheet. Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets also have free personal budgeting spreadsheets.

Websites like The Office of Family Assistance offer a wealth of information and resources specifically tailored for single moms. These resources can make managing your finances more straightforward and less time-consuming.

Don’t hesitate to reach out for professional help either. A financial advisor can offer valuable insights and advice on budgeting and money management. Renowned experts like Suze Orman also provide a wealth of resources on personal finance that you may find useful.

TIP 10

Seek Out Free Activities for Your Kids

When you have kids, entertainment expenses can quickly add up, especially with younger kids. But being on a tight budget doesn’t mean you and your kids can’t have fun. There are plenty of free or low-cost activities you can enjoy together. These not only save you money but can also create priceless memories.

A good starting point is to look within your community. Libraries, community centers, and your local schools will often host free or inexpensive events. Think storytelling hours, craft days, movie nights, or festivals. Likewise, lots of museums and zoos have free or cheaper admission days that you can take advantage of.

The great outdoors is another great resource for free activities. Go for a hike in a local park, have a picnic, or explore a nearby beach. These outdoor activities can be great opportunities to teach your kids about nature, get some exercise, and spend quality time together. And all without breaking the bank.

If you’re more of a homebody, consider activities like baking, arts and crafts, or a family movie night. These can all be done with materials you likely already have and can provide hours of entertainment for you and your kids.

And don’t forget the internet is a treasure trove of free ideas and resources. The “free” section in Craigslist can be great for finding free events or even free stuff in your local area.

Whatever you decide to do, the aim is to have fun and spend time together, not to spend money. The best memories with you and your kids often come from simple shared experiences rather than expensive outings or activities.

Wrapping Up

Budgeting for single mothers can be a challenge, but it’s entirely achievable. A well thought out budget is your roadmap to financial stability. It guides and empowers you to make the best and most informed decisions, allowing you to secure a great future for you and your kids. With a sound budgeting strategy, you are working towards financial independence, and setting a strong example for your kids

Budgeting helps you make informed decisions about your money, ensuring your family is brought up with the financial stability they deserve. Effective budgeting has never been more important, with the Brookings Institution estimating a family will spend $310,605 to raise a child born in 2015 up to age 17.

Every small step you take in managing your money is a significant stride towards your financial security. Be patient with yourself, and celebrate your victories, no matter how small. Keep going, you’re on the right track.

Frequently Asked Questions


  • Amber Aldridge

    Amber Aldridge is a Lead Writer at MoneyMaver covering personal finance, budgeting, and debt management. Amber passionately champions the cause of individuals who feel excluded or overlooked in the present-day economy. She is deeply committed to supporting and empowering those who face challenges in today’s economic landscape. With her background as a teacher, she adeptly shares practical advice that truly benefits families striving to manage their finances. “Learning about and making the most of budgeting and debt management has profoundly transformed my life. Being a single mom of 2 kids, I draw from my real-life experiences, and love passing that knowledge onto my readers”.

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