Budgeting Tips for Single Parents
It's the first of the month, the rent is due, the car payment is looming -- and your son or daughter has just told you that the money for the class trip is due tomorrow. It may not seem possible, but there's no need to panic. Single parents travel a rough financial road sometimes, but with proper planning, a workable budget is doable.
Although it's often easier said than done, try setting aside a portion of each paycheck, as much as you can conceivably squeeze out. This can give you a jump on the rent or mortgage payment on the first of the month. MSN Money suggests opening a separate bank account, such as savings, for a psychological edge. If the money is out of sight, it may be out of mind as well, so you won't be as tempted to use it. If you receive child support, you can use this money for things like the class trip. "Child support is supposed to cover a child's necessary expenses," says Erika A. Appenzeller, a family law practitioner in Margate, New Jersey. "These typically include food, clothing, transportation, uninsured health care -- and yes, entertainment and miscellaneous items."
MSN Money readers who have shared their tips and tricks for single parent budgets recommend paying fixed expenses and bills first, then living on what's left of each paycheck. This includes buying groceries. The last thing you need is to start accruing late fees on must-pay bills -- that's just money tossed down the drain.
Your Kids Are Your Allies
Kids, particularly younger ones, can't always grasp the big picture -- that you're not living on two incomes anymore, so life is necessarily a bit leaner. But they can understand the value of a dollar, even when they're little. Try enlisting their help, keeping their contributions commensurate with their ages. Yes, your teenager can have a new sweater -- if she can find one on sale. If your 10-year-old swears that he absolutely cannot eat peanut butter and jelly, introduce him to the art of coupon clipping so he can have what he wants for less. Kids get a kick out of finding bargains, too.
Uncle Sam Can Help
Visit the Internal Revenue Service website the next time you're online, and search for tax breaks for single parents. Depending on your income, you'll likely hit a mother lode. If you're paying for more than half the upkeep on your home -- and you don't have a roommate -- you probably qualify as head of household. This means you'll get a larger standard deduction at tax time. Check to see if you're eligible for the child tax credit, the dependent care credit or the earned income credit. All these breaks can put money in your pocket at tax time, allowing for a few splurges to compensate for all that discipline you've shown with your budget the rest of the year.
Collecting Child Support
Every state offers child support services -- all you have to do is sign up. If you're not receiving child support because you don't know where your ex is, state services will look for him. If you don't have a child support order, the state can help you get one. If you have an order but your ex isn't paying, the state will enforce its terms -- the government can seize his assets, garnish his paychecks or even intercept his tax refund. If you already have an order, keep in mind that it's not set in stone. Most states allow you to ask for an administrative review through child support services every three years without having to go back to court -- this helps your order keep up with inflation, your incomes and with your children's increased needs as they grow older.
If circumstances change, such as because your ex experiences a sudden windfall or you're out of work, you don't have to wait three years for an administrative review. You can take him back to court to have your support amount adjusted immediately. "The court can also adjust if you or your child develop special needs," says Appenzeller. "This can include increased child care costs or predictable and recurring health insurance expenses. Child support guidelines are supposed to take into consideration the marginal cost of raising your children -- anything you spend above what you would spend if you didn't have kids."