(A prologue to yesterday’s post, Working and Motherhood)
To me, the scales are pretty evenly matched when it comes to staying home full time for the kids vs. continuing your career and helping with the financial contributions of the household. But what of the single mother? Life happens, and it doesn’t always fit in a neat little box. Sometimes it’s just the mom. Sometimes the dad is gone before the baby is even born. And that baby is coming, no matter what the situation is. And those kids need. There is no real choice, there’s just the fight of survival. There has to be an income, and so a single mother must work. But the way daycare costs, well, it can wipe out a lot of low income salaries.
The hardest part about being in this situation is not knowing where to turn. It is far easier to stick your head in the sand and hope it gets better. This is a rough ride, the kind of ride our mothers never wished upon us, but where we have now found ourselves. We are suddenly inundated with fears and questions.
A baby is coming.
A BABY is coming.
That baby needs a place to sleep. He needs clothes to wear. He needs diapers. He may need formula. And then there’s the money to pay for this. How? Where will the money come from? I’ll have to find a job. But who will hire me? How will I even go out to find a job when I have a baby with me at all times? And where will he go if I do get a job? How did I get into this mess? How am I going to do all this alone? What can I do?
What can a single mother do?
1. Rely on family and friends. Now is not the time to be too proud to ask for help. When they say it takes a village to raise a child, they weren’t kidding. Ask friends for childcare trades, take turns eating meals at each other’s homes, and accept any hand-me-down clothing that comes your way. Move in with your parents, share a home with another single mother, or find a (safe!) roommate situation so that the rent will not be too steep.
2. Plan your meals out for the week. Then plan your shopping list accordingly. This will not only save you time, but it will save you a bundle of money. It will prevent you from grabbing frivolous items that you “might” use for meals, and will curb spending money on meals out since you already have dinner planned out at home. Not only that, it’s healthier for you and your child. And remember, a lot of generic brands are actually name-brand items in disguise.
3. Budget, budget, budget! Write down all your expenses for the month. Those are your first priorities. Before each paycheck hits your account, sit down with the bills and write a check out for each one that is due before the following pay period. Make sure your checkbook is accurately balanced every week to ensure that no surprises come your way. For every charge that goes against a negative balance, an additional $35 or more will be subtracted. If you bounce 4 items, that is over $100 in charges. That is money being thrown away. Avoid going in the red at all costs! I find that the best way to do this is to leave a little cushion in there that is untouched, and that I vow to never go under. And beyond that, put a little in your savings every chance you get. Even better, plan a savings deposit in your monthly budget. Christmas will be here before you know it, birthday season is around the corner, your kid just shot up a foot overnight and needs new pants, your insurance only covers 80% of the bill and you need oral surgery at the same time your daughter needs braces (maybe I’m speaking from experience on that one….). You never know when an emergency might arise, and it is always better to be prepared for it. This money could even become a new car to replace your battered vehicle, college tuition for your bright child, even a down payment on a new house one day.
4. Utilize the Freebies section in the newspaper, Craigslist, garage sales, Salvation Army, and Goodwill for deals on gently used clothing, furniture, and anything else you might need. Avoid buying new if you can help it. You might get a better deal getting a used item than you can getting something new! Put the word out to your friends that you are looking for certain items so that they can ask around. My whole condo is furnished with donated items thanks to a bunch of my friends who gathered items from their friends. As a single mom moving into my own place for the first time, I had nothing. They ensured that my house did not remain empty, and that it became a home.
5. Think about what you want to do with your life, and start making it a reality. It is never too late. Look into scholarships and Federal aid for college, and start taking courses that will bring you closer to that goal. Furthering your education will open more doors for you than anything else, will ensure your future, and will provide your child with a lasting example to live by.
6. In the meantime, what are you good at? Make a list of your talents and interests, and begin brainstorming ways to make more money for the household. Whether it be babysitting, housecleaning, sewing alterations, canning, jewelry making, painting, freelance writing, catering parties, becoming a personal shopper for the elderly, or walking the dogs in your neighborhood, there are many ways to create a little extra income.
7. Connect with other moms, especially single moms. And then ask them how YOU can help. Why am I telling you this? You are the one who needs help. So why are you to look for someone else to help? Because of this – for some reason, helping someone else brings you up further than you were before. Helping others connects you with people who can help you in turn. And giving your time and energy to bring up someone else who desperately needs it, even just needs it a little, feels amazing.
But what if, after all this….
What if after you’ve tried everything…..
What if the situation is just too bleak….
What if it still isn’t enough?
To be continued……