We want the best for our kids. We try to raise them with more than we had as children and give them every opportunity possible to have a good life. That’s why it’s frustrating when financial mistakes from our past get in the way of how we provide for our kids. If we are a single parent, the challenge only amplifies.
Let’s look at a few ways single parents can rise above the odds to beat debt.
Student Loan Deferment
Student loan debt, as much of an epidemic as it’s become in the U.S., isn’t the worst kind of debt to have because of its low interest rates. However, balancing a hefty student loan payment on top of smaller, but high-interest credit card balances can stretch a challenging situation to the breaking point. Thankfully, student loans can be deferred, assuming you have federal, not private, loans.
Under economic hardship, you can defer payments for up to a year, and you can renew for up to three years. Unemployment deferment lasts up to six months, and can be renewed for a maximum of three years. If you’re still in school and need to delay payments until you have more reliable income, discretionary forbearance covers you for 12 months, but can be renewed unlimitedly as long as you’re enrolled as a half-time student.
Budgeting ties all your efforts together. It’s the financial bible of how you’ll climb out of the hole. But not just any ole budget will do. With only one source of income, every dollar’s destination is crucial. That’s why you need to adopt a zero-sum budget, meaning your account for every dollar you’ll spend in a month by using last month’s income. You’ll need to track a few months of expenses to start zero-sum budgeting, in addition to having a month-plus cushion in savings. To make a zero-sum budget work, track your spending on a weekly basis, overestimate fluctuating expenses, prepare for setbacks and account for every last spending item.
Ask for Help from Family
The thought of living with family or borrowing money might hurt your pride, but it’s healthy to ask for help once in a while. Chances are the people in your life would love to help you through a rough patch and get you on your feet. Every family dynamic is different, but if you have someone in your life with the ability to help, asking could prove to be all the difference. Think of the money you could save in interest by setting up a repayment plan with a family member who doesn’t immediately need the money or by moving in with a relative for a short period of time.
Settle Debts for a Lump Sum
If you’ve been struggling with debt for a while and have fallen behind on your credit payments, all may not be lost. Once your payments have lapsed by more than six months, you might be able to settle your debts at a significant reduction. You can do this on your own or through a debt settlement company. If you can save up a reasonable sum to offer a creditor, let’s say $500 for a $1,300 debt, they might cut their losses and accept. Be sure to get the agreement in writing before you pay, though. As far as working with debt relief companies, reviews on Freedom Debt Relief indicate that the process can take as long as four years to resolve, but other debtor experiences detail quicker resolution timelines.
Minimize Your Possessions
Your items. Not your kids’ items. Maximize the effect of your zero-sum budget by ridding your life of all unnecessary possessions in exchange for progress on your debt. Adopt a capsule wardrobe, learn to love free or inexpensive hobbies, get acquainted with Craigslist and Facebook marketplace to unload your items — whatever you have to do to free up more money while cleansing your life of clutter.
Food expenses are easily one of the most adjustable budget items. While everybody needs food, the difference between a rice-and-beans dinner four nights a week and eating relatively modestly at McDonalds with your kid ends up being $50–60 a week, aside from the vast disparity in nutrition the two choices provide.
You’re probably thinking, I can’t eat rice and beans four times a week, let alone my kid. You both don’t have to. Significantly reduce your food bill and keep kids happy by meal prepping together. Kids don’t have as big of appetites and they usually prefer simpler meals, which helps keep your grocery bill in line. Check out these 25 meal prep ideas for kids and try a few out.
Focus on Earning Power
Because you’re a single parent, the time you spend at work is vital to the household’s economic health. Even if you follow through with other areas in this article, you’ll have a tough go at paying back your debt without increasing your earning power. Focus on your short-term earning power by getting a part-time job, maybe something you can do while you’re taking care of your kid, like a remote role from home. Even without schooling or prior expertise, you might be able to find an administrative or data entry job. For long-term earning potential, think about how you can heighten your engagement in your role to earn a promotion, or learn a skill set that boosts your salary demand for future positions.
As a single parent, getting ahead can feel impossible. But with the right choices, hard work, and attitude, you can overcome your debt and provide for your children with more freedom.