Money tips for single moms: ‘It can be very challenging to raise kids on one income,’ advisor says

Personal finance

A mother carrying her young son and looking down a suburban road in spring sunlight.
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Single mothers face high rates of financial insecurity.

Between 2021 and 2022, as pandemic-era aid dried up, the poverty rate for families headed by one woman soared to nearly 27% from 12%, according to the National Women’s Law Center. More than 33% of single mother-led households reported food insecurity in 2022, the U.S. Department of Agriculture found.

“It can be very challenging to raise kids on one income,” said Cathy Curtis, founder and CEO of Curtis Financial Planning in Oakland, California.

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Experts shared these 3 financial tips for single mothers.

1. Make budgeting and saving automatic

It may be helpful for single mothers with young children and high childcare costs to keep in mind that “the years go by fast and those expenses will taper off over time,” said Curtis, who is also a member of the CNBC FA Council.

Make a list of all your fixed expenses, including a mortgage payment, rent, insurance, debt obligations and utilities. Then, to save yourself stress and time, Curtis recommends setting up automatic payments for these expenses. That’ll be one less thing you have to do each month, she said.

After accounting for fixed expenses, Curtis said, “closely monitor and budget for variable and miscellaneous expenses.”

“Keeping a tight rein on these expenses helps in preventing overspending,” she said.

You also want to make sure you’re preparing for your future, said Jennifer Bush, a certified financial planner with Mainstreet Financial Planning in San Jose, California.

“It would be great if they paid themselves first out of each paycheck,” Bush said. Ideally, that would include putting aside money in a rainy-day fund and saving for old age.

Don’t despair if you can’t salt away much, experts say. Research shows even a small increase in your retirement savings rate can be powerful.

For someone age 35 who is making $60,000 a year, boosting their retirement saving contribution by 1% (or less than $12 a week), could generate an additional $110,000 by retirement, assuming a 7% annual return, according to an example provided by Fidelity Investments.

2. Don’t hold back with your work

Too often, single mothers carry around guilt or anxiety about going to work, said Emma Johnson, a financial journalist who runs the popular blog

“Kids actually thrive when they have parents work outside the home,” Johnson said. “Girls achieve more academically and professionally.”

Keep pursuing a big job or promotion, even if it means you’ll be home a bit less, Johnson said. Don’t rule out going back to school, either, if a degree or training might result in better career prospects.

A layoff, of course, would hit a single-parent household especially hard. To manage fears and be prepared for such a scenario, Curtis recommends single mothers take some additional precautions.

You can enhance job security, she said, “by continuously updating  skills and maintaining a solid professional network.”

You may also want to have some other ideas for generating money in case of a period of unemployment, Curtis said, such as freelancing or part-time work. Even if you’re happy at your job, it can’t hurt to look for these alternative sources of income now.

3. Learn to lean on others

“If you’re a single parent, ask for help,” Johnson said. Consider turning to relatives, friends, other parents or neighbors for support with picking up or dropping off your children from school or different activities, babysitting, cooking and more, she said.

Single mothers may find relief and support in joining a group for women in a similar position, Curtis added.

Meanwhile, she also recommended a number of financial blogs, including Johnson’s, NYC Single Mom, the Single Mom Blog and For podcasts, Curtis pointed to Single Moms on the Money and Like a Mother.

Those who are really struggling should see if they qualify for any federal, state or local benefits, Johnson said.

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