It’s hard being a single parent. If you’re the only one bringing in money to support your family, you find yourself trying to balance your responsibilities on the job with all of the things you want and need to do for your children. That can be difficult when you have to make the choice between putting in overtime and earning more, or spending time at home with your family. If you really need money, sometimes that’s not a choice at all, and you have to give up that valuable time with your growing children.
It’s not always easy to find enough money for everything in your budget each month, is it? But think a minute – have you really looked at your monthly budget to make sure that you’re not spending more than you need to on things? It’s not always obvious where you can make cuts, and some bargains are hidden under layers of fine print, so many people just take the first thing they’re offered without trying to negotiate a better price. While it’s true that time is money, if a little bit of your time can save you a lot of money down the road, it’s worth it to sit down and review what your budget looks like now, and where you might be able to cut back or save money.
(Note: If you get through the money-saving tips below and find that you still need extra money each month, think about using your typing skills and parenting skills to bring in some money from part-time or freelance work.)
A cell phone is an essential part of modern life, and not many people rely just on land lines these days. In fact, many people don’t even have a telephone installed in their house or apartment. Because you’ll need a mobile phone to keep in touch with your employer, your friends and family, your kids, and your child’s school and doctor’s office, you’ve got to make room for telephone charges in your monthly budget. There are ways to get the best deal possible, if you know where to look.
- Learn to negotiate. A lot of companies offer discounts on cell phone contracts to new customers, but there’s no reason why you can’t take advantage of better rates, too. You might need to switch your phone plan to a new company, but you can also try talking to your current telephone company’s customer service department. Ask for someone in the area of “customer retention” – in other words, the people who want to make it worth your while to stay with them and continue to send them money every month. Read through your current contract, and look at the other offers. Then let your current company know that unless you can match the competition, you’ll be leaving them when your contract is over. They’ll usually be willing to discuss a better rate for your new contract.
- See if you qualify for a discount. Some companies offer discounts for low-income working parents, or people who are (or used to be) in the military, or adults who are going back to college. Even a few dollars saved each month can be put to a better use in your budget.
- Use family plans. You need a cell phone, but so do your kids. Make sure you get the most savings by using a family plan. It might not give your kids the latest in mobile or smartphone technology, but as long as you can keep in touch, that’s all that matters.
- Choose prepaid plans instead of contracts. There are some advantages to getting a mobile phone contract, but there are disadvantages as well. For one thing, you generally can’t end the contract early without paying a large penalty of $100 or more. If you’re currently signed up with a phone service that has good coverage where you’re living now, that’s not a problem, but what if you have to move – and your phone company doesn’t move with you? You’ll be stuck with a penalty fee PLUS the charges for setting up a new contract in your new location. A lot of service providers promise nation-wide coverage, so check that first if you think you’ll be moving soon. On the other hand, when you’re using a prepaid plan, the service “piggybacks” on top of local providers, so you should have coverage almost anywhere. Prepaid plans can be as cheap, or cheaper than, two-year contracts.
- Make sure you’re not paying for minutes you don’t need. It might sound like a great deal to get unlimited texts and 4 gigabytes of data downloads every month, but if you only use your phone for making calls and sending a few texts, you might be paying for extras that you can’t use. You can use your monthly phone billing statements to review what you and your kids are actually using your phones for each month, and if you can switch to a cheaper plan that offers less service, go ahead and make the change – you weren’t using those extra services anyway.
- Look for package deals. These might be ones that offer multiple phone lines for one price, or a package that bundles together internet charges, telephone service, and even satellite television. (Note: Before you decide to include satellite TV, read our tips under “Entertainment” below.) Using the same provider for both your internet and your telephone service can save money, as well as being less complicated on your billing.
- Save phone costs by using free online calls. If you’ve got a plan with limited minutes each month, but no restrictions on internet use, you can call people using your computer. Free software like Skype will let you talk to people around the country and even around the world, face to face, for no extra charge. Since most telephone companies charge more for international calls, this is the best way to stay in touch with people who are overseas, like your cousin in the Army or your niece who’s spending a college semester abroad.
Like a mobile phone, a car is one of today’s job market essentials for many people. It’s also one of the budget items that really takes up a lot of space, whether that’s due to car payments, repairs, or just filling up the tank. Unfortunately, car payments aren’t really something that can be negotiated down, so you’ll have to find other ways of reducing transportation expenses in your daily routine. Which of these suggestions you can use will depend on where you live, where your children go to school, and whether or not you work outside the home.
- Use your car as little as possible. You might have to drive to work, but you might also be able to leave the car in the parking lot instead of driving around doing errands on your lunch break. If there’s a shopping center within walking distance, look for post office outlets, clothing stores, or supermarkets in that shopping center and plan to do as many errands as possible there. You’ll need to plan on places to store things like larger items and perishables, but most offices have some refrigerator space available. You can also buy an inexpensive picnic cooler and some freezer packs to store things for a few hours before you go home at the end of the afternoon. Look for a fold-up shopping basket with wheels and a rain cover to help you move things from store to office to car and home again.
- Look for people to carpool with. This might be someone you work with, or someone you know who works nearby. Most people have cars that can fit four people comfortably and safely, and even five people if the back seat has a seatbelt in the middle. With a five-person carpool, you’ll only have to drive your own car to and from work once a week. You might not be able to do your lunchtime shopping, however, unless you check with the driver to make sure there will be enough room in the trunk. If you have kids at school and they can’t walk or take the bus, look for other parents with children at that school, and try to set up a schedule with them. The school’s administration secretary may be able to connect you with other families in your area.
- Try to use public transportation. For some people, this isn’t an option at all. Either there’s no good public transportation service in their area, or it doesn’t go when and where they need. For other people, especially those who live in larger cities, it’s sometimes possible to do without a car completely. While riding the bus won’t lower your car payment, it will definitely cut down on repair and gasoline costs. It’s also an option for older children to use to get to school, and most transit organizations offer discounted monthly passes for kids under 18. Since they can use their passes to go places other than to and from school, this might be a good way to cut down on your driving time for their after-school and weekend activities as well.
Things you can put in the “just for fun” category are usually the easiest to cut out of the budget, but they’re the ones that can be the hardest to do without – and you don’t have to do without fun entirely! Remember, just because you’re trying to cut costs, it doesn’t mean that you and your kids have to sacrifice everything. You will, however, want to consider free and low-cost alternatives to things you might be paying a lot of money for right now. Here are some things to think about:
- Get rid of cable TV. Most people these days assume that it’s impossible to even tune in to a television channel without using a satellite or cable TV service, but that’s just not true. Although in some rural areas it’s difficult (or impossible) to pick up local television stations. You won’t have access to 50 different sports channels or the latest movies, but you’ll be able to get the news and watch many popular TV series. Local stations and children’s networks like PBS have fun and educational shows for the kids, so they won’t be missing out either.
- Go to the library. There are more things than books at today’s modern library, and once you sign up to get a library card (which is usually free) then you’ll be able to borrow books, magazines, music CDs, and DVDs with movies and television shows. Return them when you’re done, and get a new set. Many libraries are networked, so if your local library doesn’t carry the DVD that you’re looking for, they might be able to get it for you from another location.
- Choose your games wisely. Video and electronic games makers get a lot of money every year by coming out with new equipment and new games to play on that equipment. However, many kids get bored with the games quickly, and the game cartridges or video disks are tossed onto a shelf and forgotten. Instead of spending a lot of money on the latest version of a game, look for them at the library. You can also go to stores that specialize in games and find used cartridges and DVDs. See if you can trade in or sell the ones that your kids don’t play with any more.
- Network with friends and family. Instead of getting rid of a movie DVD or a game cartridge that your family is done with, see if you know someone who would like to borrow it. They’ll probably have movies and CDs and game cartridges they can offer in return.
- Make movie night an event. Another way to share movies with friends is to have a regular movie night. In fact, you can have two at the same time, if you have two separate televisions. Set the kids up in one space with their movie, and have the adults in another room where they can enjoy their movie. Or find a family-friendly film that everyone wants to watch, and have each family bring something to eat or drink. Movie potluck nights are easy ways to have fun and get out of the house, even if it’s just to someone else’s house!