Being a single parent demands so much of a person’s time and energy that taking care of longer-term financial concerns often take a back seat. So many single parents face financial restrictions that make it seem they are constantly on a financial tightrope. Getting off that tightrope and onto solid financial ground should be a priority for every single parent. Finding solid financial ground starts with determining your financial goals and monthly cash flow. Determine your financial goals The first step on the path to a more secure financial future is to determine your financial goals. Your financial goals should include short-term, medium-term and long-term goals. Short-term goals may be to reduce spending and not rely on credit cards to make it to the next paycheck. Medium-term goals could be paying off your credit card(s) and creating an emergency fund. Long-term goals may be saving for your children’s college expenses and retirement. Figure out your cash flow All of your financial goals require one thing – saving money. To do so, you need to figure out how much you spend and then create a budget that incorporates saving. Tracking your spending can be pretty easy these days with online account aggregators like Mint.com. To better understand your spending habits when using credit cards, you may need to go old school and save the receipts to review your purchases. This is particularly helpful if much of your shopping happens at Walmart, Target or Costco, where your shopping cart could include groceries, video games and clothes. One way or another, figure out how much of your spending is essential and how much is unnecessary spur of the moment buys. Create a budget that accurately matches your essential spending and replaces most of your unnecessary spending with savings. Be mindful of not only what you buy, but also how you buy it. Using high interest credit cards are an impediment to meeting your financial goals. Paying off high interest credit cards is a financial goal that improves the odds of meeting your other financial goals. Save the tax-free way Tax-deferred investment accounts such as Investment Retirement Accounts (IRAs) for retirement and college-funding accounts, such as 529 accounts, are a good way to meet those long-term goals. These accounts often can be opened with a couple hundred dollars. Setting up automatic monthly contributions from your bank account to these accounts can be done for amounts as low as $25. Both types of accounts grow without being taxed until the money is withdrawn. For 529 accounts, there will be no taxes if the withdrawals are spent on qualifying college expenses. Figuring out your budget shouldn’t be a chore done after the kids are in bed. It should be a family project. Developing good financial habits that lead to meeting financial goals is an essential skill that all parents should share with their children.
All of us want to be the best parents we can be. We want our children to feel loved and supported. We want to share with them their disappointments as well as their successes. When parents divorce, the family faces new challenges. Parents can feel overwhelmed by seemingly insurmountable emotional and financial issues needing resolution. However, divorce does not excuse you from performing the most important job of your life: parenting your children. Much of the advice about co-parenting deals with your relationship with your former spouse. However, you alone can powerfully influence your children’s divorce experience. Here are three important actions you can take to help your children adjust to the transition from one household to two:
- Realize that it’s not about you. This is so critical that it bears repeating … it’s not about you! Your children need your love and support, especially during times of change. It’s your job to provide that love and support. If possible, choose a divorce process that keeps your children out of the middle. Do whatever is necessary to get over the reasons for the divorce. You will be a healthier person if you can find a way to let go of past resentments. If you need help doing so, find a good therapist and do the work. If you’re reluctant to do it for yourself, do it for your kids!
- Set a positive tone. Your attitude toward life is contagious and your children will “catch it.” Tune out our culture’s message that divorce is always bad for kids. Tune out the negativity expressed by well-meaning friends and family, who may be more than eager to share their stories. Work on reducing your reactivity to everyday situations through relaxation, mediation or yoga. Your kids are watching you to gauge how things are going. Show them that you’re all right. This doesn’t mean pretending that all is perfect. Life presents many challenges. Divorce can be an opportunity for you to model resiliency.
- Listen. Make time each day to be fully available to each of your children. It’s easy to get caught up in the busy-ness of normal, everyday life. This is especially true when you’re in the process of redefining “normal.” Turn off the TV and cellphones for a few minutes each day so that you have each other’s undivided attention. Encourage your child to share her feelings and experiences. Ask open-ended questions, which invite sharing without pressuring them. Regular check-ins will make it more natural for your children to express themselves when they experience problems.