Becoming a suddenly single mom ushers in an onslaught of change. Chief among them are the financial changes that affect income, housing, savings, and retirement. In a sea of change, managing finances can get pushed to the bottom of a long to-do list and it’s often hard to know who to turn to for solid advice.
I know what it is to stare at a drastically changed financial present and future. I’m a Type B who doesn’t enjoy dealing with the Type A administrivia of paying bills and balancing accounts. But I’ve come to appreciate the peace of mind that comes with managing my money and avoiding financial problems. So, let’s tackle these 5 financial mistakes single moms make.
1. Wasting money you don’t have.
As moms, we often want to shelter our children from the hard. We don’t want our kids to feel the financial pinch or a changed lifestyle. But spending money we don’t have won’t help us or our children in the long run. It will just add to your financial problems.
Solution: Create a budget.
Making a budget sounds limiting when it’s actually freeing. For example, I usually roll over my clothing allowance for several months, knowing I’ll use it for back-to-school shopping. Having your own monthly fun money, even a little, frees you from guilt for a latte or new shoes knowing you can afford it.
2. Ignoring where your money is going.
How many of us have gone through a wallet of cash wondering where it all went? Whether handing cash to kids or swiping the debit card, it’s easy to nickel and dime money away. Regardless of how much we make, we need to be the boss of it.
Solution: Track your spending.
Tracking your spending helps you realize real needs and stay within budget. There are three ways to track spending. First, use pen and paper to record by category each month. Second, use an app like Mint or Dollarbird. Finally, use real envelopes filled with cash for the categories not paid online.
3. Borrowing for unplanned emergencies.
Nothing can undo well-planned finances like an unplanned emergency. Things like a broken water heater or backed up septic don’t fit into a monthly category. Using a credit card for emergency expenses can undermine all the hard work of staying on budget.
Solution: Create an emergency fund.
Creating an emergency fund keeps you on track with unplanned expenses. Most experts suggest starting a $1000 emergency fund and increasing it to equal 3 – 6 months of income. In my own experience, an emergency fund is invaluable. When my husband passed away unexpectedly, I was able to use ours for funeral expenses and the first months without his income.
4. Postponing financial decisions.
Decision overwhelm and analysis paralysis often accompanies all the financial change that comes with becoming a single parent. But not doing anything is a decision and can affect your finances for years.
Solution: Find outside help.
Find a trusted family member or elder in your church who has managed his money well and ask them to help advise you. Compass Financial is a ministry with free counselors and resources for budgeting and managing your money.
5. Oversharing finances with your kids.
While children need to know we’re on top of our finances, oversharing can overburden them. Don’t share frustrations about bills or an ex-spouse and don’t relay worries about future finances. Be careful not to make them feel guilty for asking for money or expressing wants.
Solution: Shield your kids from financial pressure.
The second night after my husband died, my kids came to me worried about our finances. I shared enough to let them know it would look a little different but that we would be okay. I let them know that I was capable and employable. Nowadays, when I need to vent fear and worry about finances, I scratch it out in my journal. I can pour out my heart and pray over it alone, and then go back to parenting my kids.
Tell us! What part of managing your finances as a single mom is most difficult?