How Can I Make It as a Single Parent?

A reader recently sent in the following question:

“I’m going to be a single Mom and I’m completely freaked out about finances with the new baby on the way. My medical expenses are covered by insurance, but there’s so much to provide for once the child is born. What can I do to plan? What I’ve read on your site already is amazing and I have a pretty good idea of what to expect, but I’m still afraid I’m not at the best place in my life to be having a child.” – Beth

I am not a single parent, nor can I truly imagine or appreciate being one. Raising even one child is hard enough with two at the helm. So cudos to those of you fighting the good fight as single parents.

Having said that, I need to throw in my two cents, since your fellow reader is obviously reaching out for help. I encourage you to leave comments with your best advice as well!

While the question deals specifically with pre-planning, that’s a topic I’m going to tackle in an upcoming post. Today, I’d like to put Beth’s mind at ease about what’s coming after the baby’s born.

You Are Not Alone

Unfortunately, this situation is far from unique. The percentage of single parents is rising as family and social dynamics in the world change quickly.

I recently heard a new report on the radio that this statistic now stands at 40%. 4 out of 10 families are single-parent households. That’s bordering on a majority, and it’s really a really scary indication of where we’re headed.

Some people choose the lifestyle, and some end up there without a choice. But as common as it is becoming, single parenthood is far from an easy road.

My mother was a single parent for a good chunk of my life, so I saw some of those challenges, though she never made them out to be anything more than “part of her job” as a parent. So cudos to her as well.


To come up with some constructive tips, I had to make several assumptions about the constraints single parents face. I hope you can help me fill in the blanks in the comments with the few I may have missed!

  • Less Income. One person means one income, and if that income is not significant, it adds even more pressure to the situation. It’s also a risky proposition–if the single parent loses their job, there’s no one else to pick up the slack.
  • More Expenses. It seems like single parenting would be simpler, but as a result of time and logistic constraints, I think it’s actually more expensive. Daycare is a necessity, not an option. Babysitters are a must if you need to go anywhere. Grocery shopping might be a much bigger hassle than simply ordering in.
  • Less Time. A lack of time is one of the hallmarks of any parenting adventure. It can be a challenge to avoid spending when you’re always in a hurry. Bills might get missed, dinner is usually take-out, and it’s been a very long time since you looked at your investments.

What other challenges do you think single parents face?

The Good News

The good news is that the cost of raising a child can be managed with some effort. We don’t have to face the issues of childcare, but we’ve only spent $1,000 on our baby in the first four months.

More importantly, we’re not being exceptionally frugal about it. Yes, we’re not making stupid decisions and buying unnecessary things, but if push came to shove, we could chip away at our expenses with more effort.

How? I’ll give you a few tips in a minute, but first let’s look at the income side of things.

Breaking Even

If you play your cards right, I think you can break even on your child expenses. Seriously?

Let’s look at some of the “freebies” you get from Uncle Sam when you have a baby:

  • Claim your baby as a dependent.
  • Claim tax credits. Some can refund portions of your child care costs, while some are simple cold, hard cash back in your wallet.

Between those two alone, I think some prudent spending habits could get your through the year without spending a dime more than in years past.

But if you’re still coming up short, the last resort might be a second job. If you think this means giving up on precious baby time, think again.

The Internet has changed the game forever. Sites like Elance offer anyone the ability to pick from many available freelance jobs and complete them at your own leisure, even with baby in hand. This can be the perfect solution for single parents looking to stay home while earning a second income.

Tips for Cutting Costs

There are a lot of two-parent families out there that choose to live on a single income. So why does it seem so much easier for them to function well?

The key is managing your time and expenses, the other challenges on my list. It’s not going to be easy, but here are a few considerations:

  • Research all the ways of saving on a newborn, even if you don’t intend to use them all. Learn everything you can about breastfeeding, cloth diapers, and other similar strategies.
  • Spend your money wisely. See what we thought was useful, and stick to the bare essentials. Kids are surprisingly easy to entertain with only a few well-chosen toys. The same goes for eating, bathing, changing, and the other basic activities.
  • Use the Internet to your advantage. Craigslist, baby exchange sites, and other resources are available to make cost-cutting faster and easier.
  • Understand your insurance coverage and know what you can expect after birth. Doctor’s visits and prescriptions may be frequent, so understand how to cut those costs now.
  • Find a way to manage your time in a better way. Eliminate non-priorities, like watching American Idol every Tuesday night or even hobbies you’ve taken on during the years.

Have Faith

There is an old saying in my wife’s family that she constantly reminded me of during our own pregnancy: “kids always come with some bread under their arms.” Yes, it obviously sounds better in Spanish, but the meaning is clear: things work out for the better.

A baby is the ultimate motivator. You will do whatever it takes to make it work, even if you don’t know what that is right now. So to our worried reader: have faith, and enjoy the experience as much as possible. Most of all, don’t panic. Attack your money issues with a clear head and leave the emotions at the door. You’ll do just fine. 🙂

Photo by singleparentspecials

6 thoughts on “How Can I Make It as a Single Parent?

  1. No one should have to be a single parent but it happens and it is good to see people wanting to plan for how to deal with it. Even if you are happily married it can be helpful to think about how you would handle things as a single parent. Would you be able to survive on your own if something happened to your spouse? It is scary to think about but important.
    .-= Kyle C.´s last post: Holy Crap, I Suck… Or Not =-.

  2. I’m a single parent, although my kids aren’t babes anymore. I don’t think they’re any less expensive!

    If you haven’t created a budget, now’s the time to do it.
    1. Write down your fixed expenses, the one’s you can’t do much about, like rent/mortgage, heat, hydro, water, home phone, insurance, etc.
    2. Remind yourself, if you’re not rock solid confident, what your take home pay is. Not your gross, your net. Let’s only worry about what you bring home and can spend rather than your before tax income.
    3. Once you’re reasonably confident you’ve got that nailed down, create a second budget which is the post-baby budget. Presumably your income will change in the downward direction. Can you still balance your budget?
    4. I don’t know your financial situation, but are you prepared to make tough decisions about the “nice to haves” in order to have stable “must haves”? If you have cell phone(s), cable TV, subscriptions, memberships.
    5. Friends and family will want to be helpful, create a list of what you need for the babe, and pass it around. There truly are great deals out there on Craigslist as well as at second-hand baby/kid shops. Babies don’t use stuff for long enough to wear it out, it’s almost a waste to buy some stuff new!
    6. If you have bills that are due semi-annually and are budget cripplers, try and deal with them monthly so it spreads it out a bit (house or car insurance?)

    Bottom line is this – I don’t think anybody is ever really ready to have a child. Still, the children come. They are a blessing. From here on in, likely every decision you make, whether it’s financial or otherwise, will be in consideration of that wee babe. Good for you for starting to plan now.

    If you need help crafting a budget, or getting started. Feel free to email me. I have a soft spot for single moms.

  3. Being a single parent and coping with all those challenges can be trying. A good friend of mine just had a baby up in DC by herself. She wants to move down closer to her support network, but that is compounded by all the challenges you mention.

    Remember also that the cost of a child includes a larger, safer car, a roomier house in a better school district, and more. In her situation, it necessitates paying for child care and more miles commuting because no one else can help her out with that.

  4. I’ve been a single parent for 22 years – 2 boys (9 and 22 y.o.). Tracy above has some great tips and I would follow every one of them.

    A couple of things that I think are essential too:

    Get child support help from the father if you can. I didn’t for both of my kids for a long time and when I did receive some years later with my oldest, it was a paltry amount but still something.

    Go as bare bones as you can in the beginning. Kids grow so fast and they really don’t need all the things we think they do – or the things that friends have that we can’t afford. I think I spent less than $50 in the first four months after both my kids were born because I had no choice at the time.

    In my experience, going back to University four months after my oldest son was born (I was 22) was the best thing I could have done. It offered a lot more flexibility in my schedule than working full time would have afforded.

    Above all, don’t be afraid to ask for and get support in ways that are non-monetary as well as monetary. Whether that’s babysitting, hand-me-downs, a place to live, community support centers or just advice. I tried to DIY too much of it and it was just exhausting.

    I know it’s hard to believe right now, but when you look back at this time, you’ll be so proud of how strong you’ve had to become to raise a little one on your own. I often wonder if I would have made the smart decision to go back to school if I wouldn’t have become pregnant. Being responsible for another human being pushes you to think of the future and how you want to raise that child. Focus on the positives if you can.
    .-= jacqjolie´s last post: Posts I liked from Yakezie people #2 =-.

  5. Yes, the financial aspect is scary. But remember that of all the things you kid needs, love is number one. The rest, just do the best you can.

    1. This is awesome advice. It’s amazing what kids really “need” compared to what society thinks they need. Love and security is way more important than anything you can buy them.

      I’m not a single parent, but I’ve been supporting a family of four on my income for more than 20 years. It was really hard starting out, but we made it work on very little. I just went to garage sales and bought a crib and a high chair for $20. Fancy isn’t necessary to raise a child.

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