I’ve been a single mom now longer than I was a married mom. Since I didn’t choose this gig, that reality cuts deep into my heart. It carries with it reminders of all the pain, but also reminders of the financial fear I faced in those early days. You know the kind I’m talking about…
Fear of not being able to pay the rent.
Fear of not being able to feed my kids.
Fear of forever being haunted by a mountain of bills bigger than a measly paycheck.
For some, the fear is simply a fear of the unknown or uncertain. For me, it was a fear of the KNOWN. I grew up with a single mom. I knew EXACTLY what I was getting into. In our house, the words “we can’t afford that” were as frequent as the visits to the church’s food bank. New clothing was laughable… unless of course you count the thrift store as “new.” We lived in a manufactured home (yep, that’s fancy talk for trailer), drove old beat up cars, had no idea what a vacation was, and became latchkey kids by age 8 (since mama was always working).
If I’m being honest, the fear of going back there was greater than the pain of him leaving me alone with 4 kids.
I wanted so much more for my life. I wanted security, stability, and financial peace. I didn’t want my children to wake up late one night and see me crying over a stack of bills. I didn’t want them to go to school embarrassed over rips in their old ratty jeans or the fact that they didn’t have the money to participate in the field trip. Most of all, I wanted to be there for them and not work myself into the ground just to get by.
In fact, I wanted those things so badly that it motivated even my high school years. I worked super hard, got straight A’s from 8th grade until I graduated college, and was willing to sacrifice any kind of fun in the pursuit of a “guarantee” for my future. You can imagine how I felt when I found myself suddenly single, without a job, without a certificate that I needed to get a job, and without the possibility of being able to afford day care to get said job.
The situation was grim and most people were honest enough to tell me they thought so too.
I’ve learned a lot in these years as a single mom. God has been so gracious to patiently teach me and guide me through what could have been a fatal blow. Here I am on the other side with great peace financially. I have no fear of tomorrow, we don’t rely on food banks, and vacation is actually something we enjoy a few times a year.
As I was sitting with a sweet friend (and newly single mom) recently, she was asking me to share tips for overcoming the hurdle of potential devastation single moms face and finding the keys to the financial peace we all long for. I thought long and hard about this question and realized that a large part of my success has come from avoiding the pit falls and mistakes that I saw growing up, in my marriage, and in others around me. I guess you could say I became a student of failure and I learned to avoid those things. Let me share these financial mistakes single moms make with you (and yes, these apply to married moms, too).
5 financial mistakes single moms make
1. Fail to trust the Lord
This is first and foremost on purpose. I don’t have to tell you that it seems impossible for most single moms to make it financially. The stats show as much as 50% living in poverty. That’s a grim reality. But God is bigger than the numbers and the impossibility. He’s bigger than the circumstances. And He’s bigger than all the rest of our failures.
The biggest key to my personal financial peace has been to trust the Lord with my finances. I stayed on my knees, refused to worry or fret, and I tithed on every single penny that came my way. God has always provided and that will never change. My friend, believe God. Trust Him with the most important part of your life. Like I said, even if you fail at all the rest of these, trusting God will keep you safe.
For further reading: Money, Possessions, and Eternity.
2. Live paycheck to paycheck
Sadly, most Americans are making this mistake. We make money or receive it in some fashion, only to spend every single dime before we reach the next expectation of being paid. I don’t need to tell you this is the worst idea ever. So instead, let me tell you how important it is that single moms NOT be among the masses that practice this fatal behavior.
One word: homeless. Would you like to be on the street with your kids, living in a cardboard box hoping the shelter won’t be full tonight? I know you don’t. But we need to face the reality that living paycheck to paycheck is putting us in constant danger of being homeless. We are literally one major problem or one lost job from the streets. Our kids deserve better. Start saving money today and get ahead. Even if you make $3/hr. you can do this.
For additional resources learn about creating an emergency fund.
3. Fake it till you make it
In some cases, this is a great policy. In finances, it’s the worst idea ever. Don’t fake it. Get educated. Take classes. Read books. Hire a financial advisor even. Whatever you do, don’t pretend to know something about managing your finances if you don’t. We may have our qualms with the internet, but we have no excuses not to sit down and learn something. It’s all there and most of it is free. Go get yourself some training. Google will help.
My favorite: Give yourself a Total Money Makeover.
4. Buy things on credit
Rich people don’t use credit; poor people do. Let that reality sink in. The first time I heard it, the whole financial picture began to make sense. If you meet a truly “rich” person, ask them what their first car was like. Most of the time, they will share with you the details of a beat-up, run down car that has enough stories to make anyone laugh. Financially wise people know never to go into debt. You simply lose too much money to interest and you run the risk of not being able to pay for it.
I’ve always had this policy: I will sell absolutely everything I own before I’m willing to go into debt. I know that’s a little extreme, but it has to be that way. I’ve seen first hand the destruction of debt and I want to avoid it NO MATTER what. As a single mom the only debt I possess is my house. I refused to buy a car unless it was paid for in cash. I have no small loans, no credit cards, nothing. Trust me, it can be done. You might have to sacrifice for a period of time (and I totally did). But it will be worth it.
Also, a word on the mortgage… it’s generally considered to be acceptable by financial experts (such as Dave Ramsey) to hold a mortgage if you have to. One goal I had when I bought my house was to put at least 35% down and buy something that was only 15% of my approved amount. This allowed me two things. First, I have great security in knowing my house payment is so low. If child support stops or something else happens, I can still make the payment without panic. Second, having a super low payment gives me extra funds to compound payments so I can pay the house off faster.
Tip: Use a budgeting program or app to help you manage your money, pay things off, and save big! Every Dollar is my favorite. The basic version is free and it comes with lots of free resources.
5. Confuse the real meaning of NEED
Kids have an incredibly difficult time discerning needs from wants. When they walk down the candy aisle and proclaim “I NEED this Snickers bar” we moms are quick to correct them. “No son, you don’t need it. You want it.” The funny thing is, we then turn around and “need” a bunch of things ourselves. Trust me, I’m as guilty as you are.
I’ve walked down the aisle and NEEDED chocolate or a new purse. I’ve justified it with helping my sanity (aka not killing the kids) and I’ve justified it by claiming I deserve something nice. Both of those things are lies. This is what the enemy does to keep us in bondage to him. And if we are not careful, these little “needs” will spin us into financial ruin before we even get started.
My friend, you NEED very little in this life. It’s easy for me to say right now, sitting here in front of my computer with a full belly, air conditioning, glasses that help me see clearly, and clothes that don’t have holes. But I can promise you I’ve been in less fortunate situations many times in my life. When money is tight, hunker down and refuse to buy the extras. In the long run, you’ll find yourself out of the slump much faster this way! (You’ll also find yourself much more joyful about your situation.)
I hope these suggestions were basic to you and you’ve got the bases already covered. If you are one of the masses in the other camp, I’m praying for you. Take these simple steps and get started towards more financial peace in your home. The legacy you leave your children in this process will be priceless.
Got any other suggestions? Go ahead and share them in the comments. Let’s help one another succeed!
P.S. My mama is the bravest, smartest, most beautifully sacrificial woman alive. I always feel the need to make sure my readers understand this truth on the occasion that I imply learning from her mistakes. I pray that my children will learn from my mistakes as I have from hers and could not be more thankful for all she has given me.