Single parenting and the money basics

Being a single parent can be financially challenging but there are some tips to help you get back to basics without going backwards.

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When asked to write about financial tips for single mums, I thought that’s a great idea and what might they be? The truth is, you often have to get back to the money basics.

The same principles of responsible money management that apply to all families as well as single people – Mums and Dads – but the difference is they arguably matter more for singles.

I believe, they matter more because as a single mother, you often have more responsibility, less of a safety net and have to somehow make money stretch further.

Of course it’s important to acknowledge that there are a range of single mothers living in a range of financial situations.

Some receive financial support and others might not receive anything at all.

Some single mothers have professional careers and employ people to assist with their family responsibilities whilst others hold part-time jobs in school hours or are out of the workforce all together.

There is certainly diversity within this ever growing group of women. I have a professional career and a family network that supports me, so I’m a very fortunate single mother.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics there are close to 1 million single parent families with over 80 per cent of them led by single mothers. But there are few special provisions or policies for single parents and virtually none at the workplace level.

The cost of childcare and difficulties with managing family budgets are undoubtedly felt more acutely by single parents but their voice is rarely heard.

And of course, there’s the delicate balance of highlighting the difficulties whilst respecting the other parent and attempting to maintain our dignity and social standing – perhaps it’s no surprise we’re not often heard from.

As I’ve faced single parenthood, which was an unexpected and at the time devastating reality, ensuring my finances are in order has been an important part of ‘keeping it together’.

I’ve had to pare back to the basics in terms of my finances and hold myself vigilantly to three basic principles of responsible money management.

1. Don’t spend what you don’t have
Not spending what you don’t have sounds basic and seems obvious, however with an average credit card debt of $4,300 per card holder and with the average adult actually having more than one card, it would seem this basic principle is no longer en vogue.

2. Save
Saving may be one of the most important life skills we can teach our children.

We are influenced by our parents’ relationship with money and often replicate attitudes and behaviours.

In fact, an official British advice service claims our financial habits are formed by age seven and thus they urge parents not to underestimate the effect their own good (and bad) money habits will have on their children.

I learnt early that saving, however small the amount, should be a life-long practice that hopefully becomes a habit and eventually second-nature.

My parents, the children of depression-era parents, have a certain frugality that was instilled in me, they have never understood how anyone could possibly take a holiday they can’t afford.

3. Be insured
Perhaps the single most crucial piece of advice I received (and took) from an accountant friend, when I became a single parent was to make sure I had good insurance.

In fact, the insurance advisor I used was passionate about insurance because her single mother didn’t have any and when she died young, the children were separated as there was no financial provision to help keep them together.

So I have the lot – health, home, car, income and life insurance and its good comprehensive cover, meaning my daughter can be well cared for and live the life I want for her even if something happens to me. Yes, it is another expense however some of the costs can be packaged within super so it’s worth getting expert advice. The peace of mind far outweighs any financial sacrifice.

A Google search of ‘single mother’ would have you believe we’re all poor, but it’s not an inevitable state, especially considering many of us are educated and have good earning capacity. In reality we are going through earlier what many will go through later.

Whilst the system has yet to properly recognise and support us – there is one thing we can definitely control and that’s our own money – and that’s something previous generations of women could only have dreamed.

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