How can a single mom save for the future when I can barely make ends meet today?

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I’m a single mother of three who has had very little financial support from their father. I have student loans from trying to obtain education to get a better job to support my family. I haven’t been able to secure a job that provides the income for us to survive on. I’m not talking “vacations around the world,”, “living in lavish housing” or “driving luxury cars”—just the basics! With the cost of living expenses increasing, I was forced to live off of credit cards to maintain. Now I am in debt and trying to play catch up games, which seems impossible. I keep hearing people say “save for the future.” I am barely making it today, how do I save for the future? What advice could you give me on making my money work better?
Signed—Single mom trying to make it!

DamonCarrBox

Damon Says:

I grew up in a house headed by a single mother. I thought I understood how difficult it was for single moms. It wasn’t until I had my third son that I truly began to comprehend how challenging it was being a parent—particularly a single parent.

I had my first son when I was just a “pup”—senior in high school. I’d show up on occasion bearing gifts and thought that I was doing something. It was his mom, his stepfather, and my mom who did the day-to-day work associated with raising my son. Although I had my second son at a more mature age, I was still naïve to the day-to-day work associated with raising a child. It was my wife who worked a full-time job then came home and did the majority of the work associated with raising our son.

Then it happened—my third son came into this world. When I began to analyze the cost of child support for my oldest son and full-time daycare for my other two sons, I started speaking like Whitney Houston, “hell to the nall!” To get the cost down, I changed the daycare schedule for my younger sons from 12-hours per day, 5-days per week to 5-hours per day, 4-days per week. At the time, we managed to save approximately $700 per month with this adjustment.

Since I was a “work from home dad” this adjustment forced me to be more hands on with my sons. I’ll go on record saying, “dealing with kids is more draining than running a business.” As a single parent, you’re drained beyond measure. You get up early in the morning, get yourself ready for work, and get the kids ready for school. You return home from work to prepare meals, help the children with homework and see to it that the kids are able to get to and from various activities. In between time, you have to maintain the house and wash the dirty laundry. If you’re a single mother reading this, I want to give you a hug! Hold me—sigh—release. I feel your pain!

In today’s economy, with good paying jobs being replaced with automation and/or moving overseas, shrinking wages, rising unemployment, recession, and hints of inflation (rising prices)—two income households promote more income security than one. Nearly 52 percent of all single mothers live below the poverty level. It’s not easy out here whether you’re a single parent or a two-parent household! I understand your plight.

I also understand that for most people, their expenses parallel their income. Without seeing the numbers it’s hard for me to comprehend you working a full-time job—yet using credit cards to supplement your income in an attempt to cover the basics. It would make more sense if you were out of work for some time, if you experienced a major reduction in income or if you were recently divorced and half of the household income left with your ex.

The basics are food, basic clothing, shelter, utilities, and basic transportation. I come across very few people who are gainfully employed who cannot afford the basics.

I recently received a call from a single mother of two. Her household income qualified her for Section 8 (supplemental housing) as well as childcare partnership (little to no daycare expense). She did what she had to do. She used the system as a crutch to get on her feet. She went on to college and graduated with a professional degree. She landed a job with a respectable salary. All of a sudden, no more Section 8 and no more childcare partnership. The system didn’t give her a weaning off period. They took away the assistance cold turkey.

Obviously shocked and perturbed, she called me with a similar dilemma. She felt that she didn’t have enough to pay for the basics. The reality was she had enough for the basics. It was the extras that she refused to let go of that made it hard for her to make ends meet.

My advice to anyone seeking to get ahead financially regardless of their income level is this: “Your ‘financial freedom lever’ is in the margin between your income and your expenses.” You cannot pay off debt, save or invest if there’s no margin between your income and expenses. With no margin, you’ll forever live, paycheck to paycheck—crisis to crisis. The bigger the margin, the faster you’ll reach your financial goals. When there’s a margin between your income and expenses, you’ll have more control of your money and your life.

You create margin one of four ways—oftentimes a combination of all four: increase income, reduce expenses, good money management, and/or sound financial plan. Here’s some advice to increasing margin between your income and expenses—Pursue child support TODAY!

(Mortgage and Money Coach Damon Carr is the owner of ACE Financial. He can be reached at 412-856-1183.)

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