By Miriam Neff and Valerie Neff Hogan, Crosswalk.com
As a mother-daughter team, we want to applaud you for all you do. Yes, you are single, and yes, you are significant.
Many women lack confidence in financial matters. It's possible that you do as well. Research states that the three greatest struggles of single moms are finances, time crunch, and child-rearing concerns. You likely have too little finances and time and too much concern about raising your children alone.
While we have not lived your experience, we have developed tools to help you with financial struggles. We'll tackle two areas: how to establish and live within a spending plan and budget busters you may face that wreck your success.
What determines your success? What strong motivation won't let you quit when progress is hard? Know your 'Why.' Why the time, why delay gratification, why say 'no' when it's hard to say 'no?'
Here's why. You are a steward of all God has entrusted to you. His resources are on loan to steward wisely. Matthew 25. He has entrusted you with children. You are significant in their lives. And you are significant to God. He designed you, Psalm 139: 31—16, and knew each day of your life. Yes, He knew you'd be a single mom. And He equipped you for each day.
All resources and income from any source are entrusted to you to use wisely. And He will help you do so. Your 'Why' is solid. A good steward and a single mom.
Spending Plan: Know it, Own it, Like it, Change It
You have a spending plan. Do you know what it is? Did you decide on the plan based on your values?
First step: Know what's coming in. Your real income: earnings, child support, everything.
Second step: Keep track of everything you are spending. Write down everything: drive-through coffee, groceries, school fees, utilities, rent.
Pick a method that works for you. Notebook and ledger? Spreadsheet? App? What works? Take time daily to record everything each day. Small spiral notebook, notes on your phone. At the end of a week, much will be a blur. This record-keeping time is vital, a good investment, and a must-have in the path to financial freedom and contentment. After a few months of record-keeping, your spending plan will be looking back at you. Now you know it.
This next step is important. Own it. Embrace that it's your reality. This is your behavior speaking through your credit card swipes; auto deducts for some expenses, check writing, or cash. This exercise alone will raise your awareness each time you spend, large amounts or small. Ask yourself this question: is that category as important as what I'm spending? (smartphone, internet, movie access, eating out) What do I value? What is something important for your children or yourself that you have not been able to include? Educational classes or tutoring, music lessons, joining a sports team that requires shoes or a uniform? Take time to think about what is important to you. What reflects your values? Do I like this?
Obvious conclusion: Now you know it, you've owned it, and decided if you like it. If not, change it to reflect what you value. Besides creating a recording method, and keeping track regularly, here's your next activity. It's actually somewhat fun.
Third step: Take a piece of paper and fold it in half longwise. Open and draw a large T. On one side, write Discretionary; on the other, Non-discretionary.
Discretionary spending is areas you shrink or change, maybe even delete. Discretionary spending is typically clothing, fast food, entertainment, hobbies, travel for leisure, gifts, and more. Yes, there is some level of minimal requirements for some, but not all. Non-discretionary: typically, housing, taxes, transportation for work and essentials, and utilities are examples of non-discretionary spending. They are required for living. Yes, you can shrink or grow them. But not easily or quickly.
Creating this visual T helps you see what you are spending and evaluate how necessary is each item and what you can trim so you can LIKE your spending plan. Since you know everything that's coming in and what's going out, you can determine where you can make immediate changes. Even taking those small steps to reduce something feels empowering.
While non-discretionary spending may take time to change, financial stability and freedom may require changes going forward. Hopefully, you can look at the hard work you've done and come to this recognition: You control this! You know it, own it, like or do not like it, and are working to change it.
Worth mentioning is that some may qualify for assistance, such as food stamps. Public assistance is a temporary crutch during a struggle, not a permanent leg. One young widow with four children was able to plan wisely with limited years of social security help. She remained debt-free and says it was worth the struggle. Another, when she got off food stamps, had learned to feed her family well on $300.00 a month. She treasured the lessons of financial frugality learned of necessity.
Let's pause and consider the hurdles ahead. We call them budget busters. We'll list three.
- Children and comparisons: also known as heartstring tugs
Consider debt. You may be making minimum payments on some credit card debts. Rolling debt forward is like hoping a snowball will roll uphill and shrink. Consider tackling the credit card with the smallest owed. Determine to pay that down. Use auto-pay if possible for discipline. The psychological contentment of success will boost your "Why" actions to a new level.
Self-pity. It is normal and natural to feel that this is not the ideal life you wished for. But remember, you are single, and you are significant. No self-pity is needed. Feeling sorry for circumstances opens the door for 'retail therapy' to feel better. That doesn't work. You'll only gain more debt, usually for something with very temporary satisfaction. Yes, you feel a void. Whether it's loneliness, sadness, or even anger at some realities, filling that void with counterproductive, even destructive habits, people, or actions will bust your budget and not fill the void.
Remember you are created by God and important to Him. He gives contentment when you are trusting Him to help you. He generously gives us grace and mercy. Give yourself grace and mercy as well. Perfect is impossible. Forgiveness is priceless. Self-pity has no space in your life as a single and significant mom. Our culture specializes in comparisons. Biggest living space, clothes brands, smartest phones, and entertainment gadgets. Moms are often willing to reduce what they spend on themselves. But it's hard for children, especially teens. When parents divorce, it's not uncommon for one to want to be the 'fun' parent. Go places, buy what that child desires to gain favored parent status.
Children are intuitive and learn from watching actions. To the extent you can, let them know that your spending plan provides what's possible and necessary, not necessarily what they wish for. Consider that you are teaching them by example that living within your means is wise. Consider that you are teaching them that their value is not in their 'stuff' but who they are. When they are able to get a job that does not interfere with their academic progress, they will value that earned money. Experiencing the freedom to choose what's important to them is a lesson well learned. Guard your heart and know you are giving them an important gift. They are learning by watching how to live and spend wisely.
Now let's get back to that spending plan.
Allow Yourself to Dream
As you see progress in living within your income and reducing debt, take time to dream a bit. We mentioned this earlier, looking at your spending categories and asking, "Is that category that important to me? Is that what I value?" Now dream a bit. What matters to you? Education, traveling and seeing new things, participating in an activity, generously giving? It's natural to think of children first. Does one need tutoring? Would mister bouncy benefit from a park district program or sport?
Set aside funds, even a tiny bit at a time. It might be that you can include your children in this discussion. Let's eat out less, help cook together, and save for a trip to a park, beach, or some other fun day' vacation.' Explore free days at museums. With the little time margin you have, make it count. Your location may have events you'd enjoy. Engage your children in the search for what they'd like to explore. Putting away that screen may be a whine at first. But remember what you value. You'll be building meaningful memories.
Find Like-Minded Moms
One single mom found like-minded moms. Their combined adventures for beach days and other experiences built bonds of friendship. Yes, it's old-fashioned, but you can bring your lunch. Share and swap. These like-minded moms became a support group that lasted beyond their children launching. They agreed to cancel subscriptions many families felt 'necessary.' Out came the old chess sets, Chinese marbles, and Uno cards. Collecting for game night became more fun than solo movie watching. They discovered a church that provided free car repair and some home maintenance. These moms realized they needed mentoring for sons or daughters when their dad was not engaging positively. Public library storytimes were shared experiences as well. Finding like-minded single moms is time well spent.
So significant single mom, you are creative. More than you imagined. Shrinking that spending plan to allow for what is most important is time well spent—maximizing the time you have for parenting is a good thing. Connecting with like-minded moms reinforces your efforts. While finances coming in might not have changed, and there are still only 24 hours in a day, you've made some changes to reduce stress. You are realizing that child-rearing concerns are shrinking. You are giving it your best, and you are not alone. Remember God created you, knew each day, and loves you and your children.
Single, significant mom, you are well on your way to financial confidence and financial freedom. Treasures indeed.
A book by women, for women, about money management. More women than ever have control of capital and are making financial decisions. Yet not every woman has command of the lingo, the underlying principles, or the big-picture perspective of money management. If that describes you, Wise Women Managing Money is here to help. Written by a mother-daughter team, this book is uniquely positioned to come alongside you and provide the financial overview you need. Miriam, the mother in the duo, has enough real-world experience to give her a vintage outlook on life. As a long-time counselor, she understands human needs. And as a widow, she knows what it means to be thrust unexpectedly into money matters. Valerie, the daughter, is an attorney, certified financial planner, and an expert in Christian philanthropy. Together, Miriam and Valerie combine their skillsets to answer pressing questions.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/DrazenZigic
Miriam Neff is the founder and president of Widow Connection (a not-for-profit ministry) and the author of eleven books, including From One Widow to Another: Conversations on the New You and Women and Their Emotions. She is a counselor by profession, Bible study teacher, seminar and conference speaker, mother, and grandmother. She sponsors sewing projects and bakery training for widows in Africa and Albania. Her one-minute features, New Beginnings and Wise Women Managing Money are heard on many outlets, and she is a frequent radio guest on Moody Broadcasting and other networks. She is the co-creator of a video series with her daughter Valerie Neff Hogan, Wise Women Managing Money. For more information, visit www.widowconnection.com.
Valerie Neff Hogan holds a law degree and the Certified Financial Planner designation. She works with National Christian Foundation, Orchard Ministry Development, and Widow Connection. Since 2000 Valerie has served at church leading groups and individuals toward good stewardship with Christian Financial Concepts, Crown Financial, and Financial Peace University. She loves to help people overcome financial obstacles to achieve freedom, become more generous, and do more ministry. She is married, has three adopted children, and one fabulous rescue dog.