It could go without saying that single parents are in a particularly difficult financial situation. The statistics should be alarming, given that children of single mothers are four times more likely to live in poverty than children of married parents1. Of course, this is not to say that all children of single parents grow up in poverty. However, as a group, their challenges are significant.
The most obvious financial challenge to single parents is finding affordable childcare. When grandparents or other family members are not available to care for the children while the single parent is at work, these costs can skyrocket. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the cost of child care can vary by state from as little as $333 a month (Mississippi) to over $1,400 a month (DC and Massachusetts). However, as a percentage of income, DC (36%), New York (21%) and Oregon (20%) win the unwelcomed prize. In 18 states, the typical cost of childcare for one four-year old is equal to or greater than the average household’s rent.
Another financial challenge faced by single parents, and one that households with one spouse who care for the children may not deal with to the same extent, has to do with meals and the single parent’s time and energy. Single parents usually have less time to prepare meals and more demands on their time by their children, which leads to a tendency to eat out, order carry out, or order food to be delivered at dinnertime. Obviously, such options hit the household budget pretty hard.
Most single parents who are entitled to child support already know that barely half of child support payments are actually made regularly. This alone is enough to send even die-hard budget lovers into a conniption fit. The question is a valid one: how can you plan your monthly spending if the arrival of the money (child support) is unreliable?
Finally, because single parents spend less time during the day and evening with their child(ren), they might try to compensate for this purchasing the children gifts and toys or by taking expensive vacations.
Debt Reduction Services Solutions
If you or someone you love and care about is a single parent, here are some resources and steps to consider using:
- When it comes to childcare, take advantage of as many resources as possible. State assistance varies widely but is a major source of help to many single parents. At tax time, make sure you are maximizing your child tax credit. Use the IRS locator tool to find a free Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program near you. At work, ask your employer about a Flex savings plan (pre-tax dollars you can use for dependent care) and to see if they offer child care benefits (subsidies). You can even ask your child care provider if they offer sliding fee scale rates based upon your income. Local nonprofits such as the YMCA or an area church may offer affordable care as well.
- Debt Reduction Services Inc has counselors available throughout the day to help you put together a budget that works with your income. If you are dealing with debt, they also have a fee-based program that will minimize that amount of time required of you to pay bills each month.
- Plan your meals a week at a time to minimize the likelihood of eating out or ordering carry out. A menu planner will save you time at the store, energy in the kitchen and money in the wallet.
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- Bankrate.com: 7 Strategies for Single Parents
- Care.com: 7 Sources to Help Pay for Child Care
- Forbes.com: Save on Child Care with these Six Tips
- Fox Business: Financial Tips for Single Parents
- Mint.com: Budgeting Tips for Single Parents
- Parenthood.com: Time-Management Tips for Single Parents
- Parents.com: 15 Time-Management Tips
- US News & World Report: The Best Budgeting Strategies for Single Parents
- Vespa, J., Lewis, J. M., and Kreider, R. M. (2013, Aug). America’s Families and Living Arrangements: 2012. gov. Retrieved from www.census.gov/prod/2013pubs/p20-570.pdf
The Cost of Child Care (2016, Apr). Economic Policy Institute. Retrieved from http://www.epi.org/child-care-costs-in-the-united-states.