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Tips for Single Mothers: How to Survive Living Paycheck to Paycheck


Growing up I didn’t realize how hard my mother really had it. Raising three girls on her own, my mother faced many of the same challenges single mothers still face today. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, single mothers head about 10 million U.S. families and that number is growing at an alarming rate. A recent report stated that the number of single parent households has actually tripled in just the last twenty years. So as you can imagine there are many single mothers who live in a world full of stress and face unique challenges. These challenges are largely due to the attempt to survive from one paycheck to another, which is a burden many single mothers must carry. Many times single mothers find themselves in a catch 22 situation, they may earn just enough to carry them over the threshold for qualifying for welfare, but not enough to help them provide their families with basic needs such as, housing, medical coverage, utilities, food and childcare. With a limited amount of income and resources single mothers are overwhelmed and exhausted making them high risk for depression. From finding adequate childcare, dealing with child support issues, handling a recent divorce the list could go on and on; single mothers have multiple problems, including some that they cannot solve alone.

The most important thing for a single mother to realize is that there are other single mothers like themselves working full-time jobs and being full-time parents. That’s quite a load to say the least. However, single mothers must remember that they do not have to take this journey of single motherhood without support. Fortunately, there are many resources available to single parents to help them along their journey. It is essential for single mothers not allow pride to keep them from reaching out to these valuable resources.

A Single Mother’s Survival Guide-

1. Begin a monthly budget. Managing the finances for your family is important even on a limited income. You probably know how much you made last month, but do you know how much money you spent? Or do you know how much money you will have left for spending this month? Preparing this monthly plan will allow you to begin to understand money management. Renting a couple of movies on a friday night or stopping in the morning for a bagel before work doesn’t seem like much, but every expense adds up. Get a small writing pad and write down every penny you spend for a few weeks, start recognizing your spending habits. Give it a few months to really start working and you will be on your way to experiencing financial freedom.

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2. Start saving. This may seem impossible if you find it hard to pay the bills every month but it can be done, even it’s just a little bit. You will find that having a small amount of money in savings will help you to feel a lot better and provide you with a new sense of security. Whether it’s $100.00 dollars a month or $5.00 dollars a week. Be sure to also put away that change you’ve accumulated throughout the day in a jar. The quarters, nickels and dimes can add up quickly, and before you know it you will have enough money for that washer and dryer. Give saving a priority, you will find that there’s more money in that savings account before you know it.

3. Go back to school. Whether it’s to complete your GED, going back to college, or taking some courses at a local community college. Education will open the door to new opportunities. Education is the gateway to women’s empowerment and freedom. Education can help a single mother win the battle against poverty. With education you begin to realize you don’t have to settle for that minimum wage job, you can make better choices for your family. Go to your local library and pick up the Directory of Financial Aids for Women 2005-2007 by Gail A. Schlachter and R. David Weber. This directory identifies billions of dollars of financial aid and funding programs that has been set-aside specifically for women. Some examples:

$5,000 for high school women athletes to go to college

Up to $5,000 for older women to start or go back to school

$14,000 per year to women for graduate study in the biological sciences

$18,000 for Hispanic-American women to work on a PhD dissertation

4. Use your God given talent. God has blessed each and every one of us with a special talent to share with others. Begin to ask yourself, what do I like to do? What do others say I’m good at? How much time do I have? What technical abilities have I learned or developed? Once you’ve answered these questions, began brainstorming a list of moneymaking ideas. Here are some suggestions to help you get started:

If you enjoy cooking start a catering business. Catering services are used for conferences, birthdays, anniversaries, fund-raising events and weddings. You can specialize only in wedding catering to grow your clientele for that market. To become more creative and exotic, you may want to consider on taking cooking classes at a local community college and read plenty of books. Remember people always need catering services.

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If you love nurturing children start a child-care service. There are government programs that can assist you with getting started. Please contact the National Child Care Information Center at (800) 616-2242 or visit www.nccic.org to find out about starting and funding a childcare service.

Make gift baskets or begin doing floral arrangements. As a florist you can help people with custom-designed bouquets and baskets for various celebrations and holidays. You can also market your business to local churches, funeral homes and hospitals. There is no special education or experience necessary to break into this career and succeed.

Supplement your income by starting a home-based sewing business. You can turn your focus to doing alterations, sewing custom-made clothes, curtains, quilts and draperies. You can concentrate on sewing bridal clothes or dresses for prom as your specialty.

What about housekeeping? If you don’t mind cleaning and you appreciate perfection, then a cleaning service might just be your perfect opportunity. Many look to hire people to clean. Clientele can consist on residential and businesses. This can be a very profitable business and generate extra income really quick. Begin to market your services to family and friends. Word of mouth will become your best friend in this business.

Begin a moneymaking venture and become a personal shopper. You can specialize in shopping for gifts, clothing, groceries, jewelry, toys or anything else a client might want. Buying groceries picking up prescriptions and other items for the elderly or disabled could be your niche. You could advertise this service to local “senior citizen homes” and post flyers around nursing homes. Shopping for wealthy people with busy lives could be your target. You can become a personal shopper immediately. You can charge by the hour or the effort.

If writing is your passion become a freelance writer. You can start by submitting to local community newspapers, non-profit organizations and churches as a way of establishing credibility as a published writer. You can also find work on various websites such as www.freelancewriting.com. It will be important for you to learn how to write a query letter. Visit www.ehow.com and type in freelance writer to find tips on how to become a freelance writer. Take a writing workshop online or at local community college could very well be a wise choice.

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If you are creative and well organized you could start a business as an event planner. Events are about people; so successful event planners must have excellent interpersonal skills and must be able to effectively listen to what clients want. All events have common factors such as some type of food or refreshment, form of entertainment, invitations or registrations, etc. As an event planner you put all the pieces together. If you are interested in breaking into this career you can do it without a formal education, by reading books and attending workshops. The easiest way to learn would be to get hands-on experience such as planning events for family and friends. Non-profit organizations are always looking for help with their fundraisers.

Marketing your services will be important. Be sure to inform the community of what you have to offer. If you are working with little or no money to begin, remember word of mouth will become your best friend, so be sure to ask for referrals. You can also find resources for women business owners by visiting

More valuable resources:


Habit for Humanity – (800)422-4828 ext. 2551 or visit www.habit.org (assist families based on their level of needs with affordable housing)

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – (202)708-1455 or visit www.hud.gov (can answer questions regarding home buying, rental assistance programs, refinancing and much more)
Family resources:

Contact the Administration for Children & Families for information regarding, child care, head start programs, child support and much more. – visit www.acf.hhs.gov

If you need help with high energy help you can get assistance with the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). This program is designed to help low income households pay for winter energy services.

Emergency assistance may also be available. To inquire about LIHEAP assistance visit http://www.acf.dhhs.gov/programs/liheap/grantees/states.html to find the number for your state.