Smart money management is always important, but it can take on more urgency for those who are without a partner. Whether you’re divorced, widowed, or single by choice, single parenting brings unique budgeting challenges.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that it costs almost $250,000 for a middle-income couple to raise a child to age 18 — and many single parents shoulder that responsibility alone. Even with adequate child support, it’s smart to be proactive about financial matters as a single mom or dad.
Estate planning should be your first priority. It’s essential to make arrangements for your children should you become incapacitated. Draw up a will, designating a guardian for your children, and a “power of attorney,” giving someone the legal right to make decisions on your behalf.
Consider setting up a trust — a legal structure that is overseen by a trustee, in which your assets can be held for your children. Also, ask your employer about disability benefits. Generally, you will receive a smaller income when you claim disability, however, ensuring even partial income is crucial for single parents who don’t have another source of income to cover a gap.
Taking out a life insurance policy is equally important. The policy you purchase will depend on your finances; a term policy is most economical because it offers a straightforward death benefit.
Health insurance is essential. Premiums may be sky-high, but if you’re uninsured, a serious medical procedure can be financially crippling. Comparison-shop for policies at your state’s marketplace or at HealthCare.gov.
Don’t forget about tax breaks! If you’re a single parent, file as head of household. You’ll pay less and claim a higher standard deduction. You can claim exemptions for yourself and each qualifying child. You also might qualify for the earned income tax credit, the child and dependent care credit, and the child tax credit.
Here are a few more tips for daily financial decisions:
While credit cards may seem like the obvious solution for filling the gap created by a second income, they’re also the number one way to spiral into a life of debt.
Single parenting is tough. While retail therapy may be a tempting salve to pull yourself out of a funk, the added debt you’ll incur will make you feel worse. Plan all shopping carefully and avoid impulse purchases.
Guilt causes many single parents to spoil their children, even when they can’t afford to. This is especially true during the holidays and for birthdays. Set designated amounts for gifts, and keep within the budget.
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Emergencies happen. Whatever your income, it’s important to give yourself a safety net. Put aside a bit of money from each paycheck to set up an emergency fund for car repairs, broken refrigerators and other unexpected expenses. It’s best to have six months’ worth of non-discretionary expenses saved up for emergencies.