How to budget if you’re a single parent

Parenting on a budget

Work out how much you’re spending

If you’re adjusting to life as a single parent, it can be tough to work with one income and raise a family at the same time. However, with some forward planning, it’s possible to make it work.

The first thing you should do is draw up a budget – and bear in mind that you may have to set money aside for extra expenses, such as holidays, Christmas gifts, birthday presents and school equipment. Start with your mortgage or rent payments – your largest outgoings - then look at bills, childcare costs, transport costs, and food.

Keep track of what you’re spending

Try to get a clear idea of the money which comes into your account, and then leaves it. Lots of banks now offer mobile banking apps, which let you see your balance, standing orders and direct debits in real time.

Several banking apps also let you see what your money is being spent on – for example, how much you’re spending on train travel, food shopping or clothes. If you need to, you can then try to adjust how much you’re spending on certain items in order to make your money go further.

When you assess your spending, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are you spending money on which you could cut back on?
  • What do you normally buy which you could get cheaper?
  • Are you spending money on things you don’t use – such as a gym membership or a magazine subscription?
  • Could you supplement your income? For example, could you sell any unwanted items online?

Saving money while you’re raising a family

Depending on how old your children are, you can all work together to help save money.

  • To cut the cost of your electricity bill, turn off lights and radiators in rooms you’re not using
  • Air-dry your clothes
  • Take showers, not baths, and pop on a jumper if you’re feeling a bit chilly
  • Visit the library to borrow books, films and music

There’s plenty that parents can do to cut costs, too:

  • Make sure you take advantage of any income support you’re entitled to
  • If you’re planning a day out, a cinema trip or a family meal, look online for vouchers and deals
  • If you travel by train frequently, a Family & Friends railcard can cut kids’ travel costs by up to 60%
  • Eat at home as often as you can and make packed lunches for the family
  • Stock up on post-Christmas deals – plenty of shops offer hugely-discounted deals which you can then use as birthday presents throughout the year

Planning for the future

Even if you’re feeling confident about your finances, it’s a good idea to try and save as much money as you comfortably can. If your family’s wellbeing is your responsibility, you may need to do some planning to secure your future.

Try to save enough money to cover your family outgoings for three months, just in case something unexpected happens – such as being made redundant. This amount should include the normal amount you spend on rent/mortgage, bills, food and travel.

Don’t give up on saving money – even if you can only set aside a few pounds a week. Over time, you’ll be able to build an emergency fund which will reduce your stress levels if you suddenly need some extra income.

Talk to your ex-partner about money

Depending on your circumstances, you could set some time aside to speak to your ex-partner about the shared cost of raising your family and ask them if they would feel comfortable with contributing towards bills or rent/mortgage payments.

This is called Child Maintenance and it’s possible for you and your ex-partner to set up your own arrangement if you’re on good terms.

However, if you can’t agree, impartial bodies such as Child Maintenance Options can give you support and guidance.

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