I’m a single mom getting ready to move out with my kid — care to share your family budgeting tips?

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ada I am a single mother with a rapidly evolving career. My three-year-old and I have been living with my parents for almost two-and-a-half years now, and it’s time to leave. I found a decent (read: not dangerous) apartment complex, and we will be moving in about a month.

I’m excited, but it’s been a long time since I’ve had to budget for myself — and now I’m throwing childcare and car payments into the mix. Have any of you had to make the transition from living with family to flying solo with your kid, and do you have advice? — NaturallyChic

Comments on I’m a single mom getting ready to move out with my kid — care to share your family budgeting tips?

  1. Live the life you can afford at your lowest income so that every penny over that is a bonus for enjoyment or savings. It’s so easy to inflate to higher and higher spending with higher and higher income.

  2. Save ALL your receipts for a couple of months to get an accurate idea of where you are spending so you can make a realistic budget. You can’t figure out where you need to go if you don’t know where you are at. It doesn’t have to be complicated. A simple envelope or box for receipts and a spreadsheet to write it all down a couple of times a month should be sufficient. Once you know what you’re spending, you can make changes to bring it inline with where you need it to be.

      • I second Mint. If you buy everything with your debit card, like I do, it links directly to your bank accounts. You can add transactions when you pay with cash. It breaks all your spending down into categories with nifty graphs. I love it because it showed me just HOW MUCH MONIEZ I was spending on fast food, giving me a solid direction for how, exactly, to reign in my spending. It also helps you set budgets and goals, and you can see month-to-month how your spending matches up with your budgets. I know you can do all this with receipts and Excel, but realistically I would never do all that work. Mint.com does it for you.

  3. I use mint.com to track my spending. You can give yourself a budget, and it will tell you if you go over. It’s not perfect, so I use that in conjunction with an old-fashioned book I keep notes in (when bills are due, when my payday is, etc) , but it definitely helps, especially when you see a RED bar telling you you’ve gone over ๐Ÿ˜‰
    I think the thing that helped me most was paying all bills on a certain day of the week. For example, I pay all bills on Friday, when I (or my husband) get paid. Even if a bill isn’t due til the week after on a Wednesday, it gets paid that Friday. I’ve found that it really helps me keep track of things.

    So, let’s say I get my paycheck of (example here) 700$ on Friday. I have my electric bill due and a credit card payment. Let’s say that adds up to 200$. That leaves 500$ leftover. I mentally subtract what I need for gas and food for the week (I do a week’s worth of grocery shopping at a time, another good budgeting tip!), let’s say 150$, leaving 350$ leftover. Then (and you this will take some trial and error) I subtract my fun money for the week, say 50$. That leaves 300$ to get me to the next paycheck (which if you get paid every 2 weeks, means this has to cover food, bills, and gas for the next week as well), and since I’ve already paid all bills due in that time on the day I got my check, I don’t have to worry about that.

    This got long, but it’s just an example of one way to do things. Basically, it’ll take some time to figure out what you can and can’t afford, but once you do, stick to it!!

  4. When I became a single mom of my 2 kids, it was under different circumstances. However, the result is the same: now what?!
    I have managed to keep our food budget about $70/week by shopping at Aldi’s or other low-cost, quality stores. I shop once a week and I don’t vary the menu often which means I can predict how much I will pay each time. I tried to buy real food (not packaged which is $$) and cook fast-easy meals.
    I use online banking and set-up auto payments for the big things: car, rent, insurance, daycare. Then I only use cash for everything else. Once the cash is gone, it’s gone till I get paid again. It helps me stop bouncing checks or over drawing my account.
    I threw away the credit cards.
    I shopped for things at consignment shops.
    I learned to be happy with less.
    Good luck!

  5. 1. Figure out your budgeting style. Some people allocate cash for rent, groceries, clothes, etc. in envelopes and then when it’s spent, it’s spent. Some people use an online tool to track spending and make a budget. Some people need to write everything down with pen/paper. None of these is inherently better than the other. Your personality and lifestyle may make one of these obviously better or worse for you (for example, I use Mint , to track stuff online because I am terrible with cash, and lose receipts.)
    2. Generic is good. I buy the store brand of just about everything. With few exceptions, it’s as good, and significantly cheaper. Usually even cheaper than fancy brand + coupon.
    3. Mind your credit. Pay on time, don’t open store cards to save x%, don’t charge on a credit card what you can’t afford to pay off that same month.
    4. Save. Money. Every. Month. Make a budget that allows you to put away a little money for life’s little surprises. Surprise! You sat on your glasses and now they’re in two pieces! Surprise! A giant nail on the highway found your tire! These things happen all the time, and having a little extra put away for such an event can keep an inconvenience from becoming an emergency.
    5. If you pay your own utilities, check out Budget Billing. After you’ve been somewhere a few months (here it’s 6) you call up your local power company and ask to go on budget billing. They add up your last 6 bills, average them, and charge you that rate for 6 months, on the assumption that your low bills in mild months will offset your high bills in mid-winter/summer. If they don’t, you may owe for the difference when your budget billing “readjusts” every 6 months, but you might also have a credit. Check with your utility co for details, obviously, but it can take a little guesswork out of your monthly budget to know what you’re going to pay ahead.

    It’s a little long-winded, but I’ve spent a lot of time crawling back out from under the poor financial decisions of my youth, so it’s something I’ve spent a lot of time and effort working on. Best of luck!
    TL:DR–Find what works for you. Pay on time. Save money. Minimize surprises.

  6. Having money automatically taken out on payday and put into savings is the easiest way to build up your rainy day fun quickly.
    I also really like having a household account separate from my regular checking that I deposit x each paycheck to that account and then pay bills from it. Divide your monthly bills by your pay interval and add a little extra to build up a cushion. Then the bill money is already there when they are due. It helps avoid having the week rent is due where you have $20 left over for gas and groceries.

  7. Pay the rent first and foremost, and then anything that affects your credit. (And try to get rid of debt while you’re at it.) The last thing you want is a poor rental history or bad credit, because that will cost you bigtime in the long run.

  8. We had to learn to budget quickly due to an overwhelming medical debt issue. I have some first hand advice for you- and my heartfelt wishes that you can keep in mind that you’re not alone ๐Ÿ™‚
    Most of my advice is about “a penny saved is a penny earned” type of thing- budgeting is very important, but a few people have already covered that info, and it is great advice. While you’re budgeting, you don’t want to be in “full crisis” mode. That is where saving comes in.
    First: don’t read the articles on money saving tops- they are all saying things like “Get your coffee at a 7-11 instead of Starbucks”, while my husband & I would look at each other, laughing, and say “maybe YOU can afford 7-11, Mr. Trump”. Make your own whenever you can- even packing food, etc for trips so that you won’t have to stop.
    #2 Invest in a large chest freezer & buy things in season & at buying clubs (if you’re a co-op/ organic type of person) or price clubs (if not). We save so much on our grocery budget through this & growing our own veggies (I even learned to can because of the abundance in the summer)
    #3 Don’t get the “extras” at first. We cut out cable & a few other luxuries, and now, 8 years later, we can’t believe we ever justified the bill. If, after a few months or year with your new budget, you decide you can’t live without something, get it back. But it is easier to add that later than trying to buy out of contracts, etc. Make your child a part of the decision process. It is teaching him or her about budgeting, which is good. Resist the urge to buy the new technology when it comes out… am I still one of the few people who doesn’t have a smart phone? Yes. Do I want to die because of that? Not at all…. it isn’t that big of a deal ๐Ÿ™‚
    #4 learn to combine your trips- instead of running out every night for one errand, take on weekend morning & do all of your running around- depending on where you live, this can be an extraordinary savings on gas & mileage.
    #5 if you’re even close to a large town, they have free & cheap things to do with your child. We found out there are free days at the museums, and discount days at the zoo, and parks, etc. Not to mention things like free classes & events- google “free things to do in YOUR TOWN’S NAME”, go on craigslist under events. You don’t have to stay home all of the time if you’re on a budget. You just have to work a little harder to find the right time to go.

  9. Advice from an older Millennial with a doomsday complex, apparently:

    Reframing what “necessities” are is important if you want to budget well (especially on a single income). Middle American values say that a smart phone contract, cable TV, Starbucks, and restuarant food are normal and necessary. Picking even one of those (or something like them) to treat as an occasional luxury can make a difference to your monthly bottom line. Choosing instead to meet basic needs well — safe shelter, healthy food, heat, transportation to work, health insurance, etc. — means that as your income increases you’ll have a wider margin for saving. And if your income decreases, you’ll hopefully then have money put away to get you through, and the lifestyle change won’t be so hard.

    Prioritize your spending and your saving. As a renter, I’d focus on saving a future deposit (first/last/security) for your next place, just in case you have to move without a lot of notice. Once that’s saved up, channel savings into other future living costs. Consider what your costs would be if you lost your job tomorrow and couldn’t find another one for 3 or 6 months. Emergency or rainy-day funds make it possible for you to eat and care for your kid and look for work. About equal with that, reduce or eliminate debt. Get a month ahead on your credit card(s) if you can, so that if your last paycheck comes tomorrow, you don’t owe any of it to creditors. Start saving for retirement as early as you can, even if it’s just a little per paycheck. Get up to 10% of your income or more for that. Then you can start saving for fun stuff. Earmarking funds for specific purposes works for me: I know that if it’s in the grad school account, it will NOT come out except for grad school costs. If it’s in the vacation fund, but I or my wife or the cats have a medical emergency that uses up other savings, our priorities say that we’ll be paying the hospital bills with that money instead of going on vacation.

    This is kinda cheesy, but I really like the philosophy behind it: “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” It’s gotten me through a wedding and grad school without debt, and I’ve met many savings goals (including about 8 months of basic living costs in an emergency fund) along the way. I admit that I’m still occasionally wasteful, but my wife and I live on rather less than many of our peers, and we save the rest. We’ve got a long way to go, but it’s a good start. I hope you’ll have similar results!

  10. Cook your own meals and make sure you take a packed lunch. Seriously.
    Yes, you will be tired and tempted but when you are on a tight budget saving that $10 here and there REALLY makes a difference. I hate cooking, but I do it anyway because life ALWAYS throws the unexpected at you and you need to have a cushion just in case.

    Apart from that, I second what has already been said. Track your spending, alocate bill/daycare/gas/food money as soon as you are paid and only touch the balance, buy generic.

    Good luck! When I finally was able to move out of my parent’s house with my daughter it was scary but SO worth it to feel like an adult again.

  11. All good advice here!
    On the entertainment side of things, our library offers lots of free day passes- the museum of science, aquariums etc. Check with yours to see if they offer anything.

    I was alone with my boys for years. Sometimes there was NO money. You learn how to be resourceful, and what you used to consider “necessities” become frivolous. We haven’t had cable in years! We get used DVDS on crazy sale, and VCR movies for like .25ยข. We play board games and read.

    It’s not easy, but you’ll make it!

  12. I don’t have kids, but some things that help me survive on my graduate student stipend include:
    I don’t use my car much; I try to walk, bike or take the bus when I can.
    I cook a lot at a time and freeze leftovers.
    I make my own laundry soap (it’s easy, there are tons of recipes online, and it’s waaaay cheaper than buying laundry soap.)
    I only buy second hand clothing.
    I make good use of thrift stores.
    I don’t have a TV (so no cable bill either).
    I have a garden (not sure how much that really helps, but I do get some free produce.)
    I budget very carefully using an ap called “money owl.”

  13. Agree about cooking at home and bringing a lunch. Those little things add up. As a single mom, I make sure to cook at home because 1. we eat healthier and 2. saves money.

    I also coupon. ALL coupons are not for junk. We eat mostly veggies and chicken and we do get treats sometimes, but not often. I’m losing weight and I just never gave her junk like that. Aldi’s is REALLY good for produce. I swear, Aldi’s has helped me lose the 27lbs I’ve lost.LOL

    Good luck! you’ll do well.

  14. I’m a single Mom and we don’t have a car or TV as not using those frees up cash. Libraries are great. In nice weather so are play parks, pack a pic nic lunch or dinner and bring your refillable water bottle and your meal is sorted. Cook food from scratch, it’s cheaper, healthier and your child will grow up with survival skills. Taking transit to local events on weekends is cheap and entertaining for kids – bring some small toys and books, sing songs along the way, play “I spy”. Entertaining kids on weekends is not hard or expensive- they love people watching and attention from Mom.
    Pay your bills for rent, utilities etc on time, use only 1 credit care and pay the balance every month, track food and diaper expenses – meals with brown rice, pasta or other grains are cheap and filling- fresh veggie stir fries, sandwiches with hearty grain bread, eggs, veggie stews – you don’t need much meat, most little kids don’t like it – consider fruit and raisins and nuts to be a treat.

    All the best! ๐Ÿ™‚

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