If you’re a single mom, you certainly don’t need us to tell you that you have a big, demanding, important, rewarding job — on top of what you do for a living. Seriously, you’re amazing.
You probably also don’t need us to tell you that taking control of your finances is key to helping those mini-humans become healthy, successful, full-sized humans. So instead, we’ll skip straight to our advice on how to make it happen.
It’s a tough money world out there for single moms
Researchers have found that being the primary caregiver of children not only gets in the way of a woman’s earning power (another thing that makes people pay us less???), it also increases her household costs. On top of that, getting a divorce can affect your finances, too.
And it can be even harder for the single moms who don’t have anyone to help out, either financially or with parenting — those who lost their partner or never had one to begin with. That’s not uncommon: By their early 40s, more than half of never-married women have had a baby. That could mean half as many grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. to help.
So, single moms, it’s not just you — this is hard stuff. But that doesn’t mean you can’t take steps to take control of your financial future. Here are some smart money moves you can get started on today.
1. Update your paperwork
First things first, if you haven’t done this already: If you have an ex who used to be a designated beneficiary, it’s time to erase that name from your bank accounts, retirement accounts, and any other place you have financial assets. If something happens to you, you’re going to want your assets to go to your kids, not your ex — minors can’t legally inherit property, though, so ask an attorney or estate planning professional to help you make a plan for that now. Then update your will and power of attorney. And if you don’t have those yet, now’s a great time.
(And if you just got divorced, here are some other good steps to take after the split.)
2. Get covered
Your kids see you as a superhero. Because that’s exactly what you are — the one who takes care of them, who keeps them safe, who provides what they need. If something were to happen to you or your ability to make a living, they need to have a safety net to fall back on.
3. Build your financial foundation
OK, technically, this step has three sub-steps:
Make a spending plan
Sit down and take a look at how much money you have coming in, and how much is going out. Then you can make a plan for your spending going forward.
There are two different budgeting approaches that we like to recommend — you can pick the one that works for you. First is the one-number approach, which gives you (you guessed it) one number to keep in mind on a week-to-week basis: The amount you can spend on flexible costs, like groceries and shopping. Then there’s the 50/30/20 rule — although it’s more of a guideline than a rule. 50% of your take-home pay would go to needs, 30% to wants, and 20% to Future You — that’s debt payments above the minimums, saving, and investing.
If that breakdown sounds unrealistic for you right now, that’s 100% OK. Meet yourself where you are today, and do what you can as you go — a trimmed cost here, a little bit extra money coming in there, maybe a side hustle? — to get to where you want to be.
Start saving for emergencies
Financial emergencies are a matter of when, not if. So try to get to three to six months’ worth of take-home pay, saved in cash (aka an FDIC-insured bank account). Since your family only has your income to rely on, we’d probably recommend aiming for closer to six months than three. But right now, any high-interest debt you have is racking up interest, so we recommend starting smaller — just to get you a little bit of a cash buffer in the interim. Start by saving one month’s worth of take-home pay.
Pay off high-interest debt
OK, so now — if you have credit card debt or loans with high interest rates, the next thing to do is to get them paid off. What counts as a “high” interest rate? We usually draw the line at 10%, because that’s when it starts to cost you more than you’d have historically earned by investing.
Here’s some more info on how to make a plan to pay off debt.
Finish that emergency fund
Once you’ve gotten those high-interest balances off your plate, you can get back to your emergency fund and build the rest of that three- to six-month savings goal. Here’s some more info on what we recommend when it comes to emergency funds.
4. Set goals, but don’t rob your retirement
This is that “put on your own oxygen mask before helping others” thing. Once you have your financial basics in place, you’re probably going to find yourself with several, possibly conflicting, financial goals.
A big one we often hear from single moms is retirement vs saving for college. While helping our kids with the cost of higher education someday is an excellent goal, this is the truth: Student loans and scholarships exist. Retirement loans and scholarships do not.
So your biggest long-term investing priority should almost always be your own retirement. If you haven’t started yet, no big. No day like today. And if you have started, see whether you’re on track to have enough saved up by the time you retire.
Then, once you’re on track for retirement, you can turn your focus to other goals, like opening a 529 college savings plan. These allow you to invest toward future education expenses. Here’s a calculator that could help you understand how much you might want to save.
5. Model good money habits
Some studies show that kids’ financial habits solidify as early as age seven. It’s also been shown that parents tend to (subconsciously, we’re sure) teach sons and daughters different things about money. Sons are taught to build wealth, and daughters are taught to be “responsible” with their money. (How about … radical idea … teaching both to everyone?)
So the time to start teaching kids about money management, the power of money, and how to overcome the biases that could hold them back? It’s now. Here are some techniques to help raise your kids to be financial feminists.
6. Don’t let “work-life balance” hang over your head
Do we really need to hold another unachievably high standard over our own heads? No, we dare say that we do not.
Your kids will see that you’re working hard, and they’ll know that you’re doing it for them. So instead of aiming for fictitious balance, Ellevest CEO Sallie Krawcheck makes an effort to talk to her kids about why she does what she does instead. Here’s what she's learned about it.
7. Build your village
All parents know that raising kids is easier when you have a support network. Having a professional network is also super helpful when it comes to moving forward in your career. Put those things together, and it could be magic.
There’s research out there that shows that when women network traditionally (aka like men), it doesn’t help them as much as it helps men. But when women network traditionally and have a close circle of friends, it can help them find new, better jobs. Because women help connect their friends with one other and the opportunities they know about. And that’s true beyond just our careers.
Money isn’t everything, but that said: Having good control of your finances can make everything else — from dealing with your kids’ day-to-day to planning for their future — a lot easier.
Ellevest's Build Wealth goal is available for all Ellevest members. Access to the Retirement On My Terms goal requires a Plus or Executive membership, and all other goals require an Executive membership.
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You may have noticed that we linked to wealthysinglemommy.com for information about side hustles. FYI, Wealthy Single Mommy (“Solicitor”) serves as a solicitor for Ellevest, Inc. (“Ellevest”). Solicitor will receive compensation for referring you to Ellevest. Compensation to the Solicitor will be paid $3 for each email registration and up to $1,000 when an individual becomes a client. You will not be charged any fee or incur any additional costs for being referred to Ellevest by the Solicitor. The Solicitor may promote and/or may advertise Ellevest’s investment adviser services. Ellevest and the Solicitor are not under common ownership or otherwise related entities.
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