Financial Literacy - Families and Finance
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7 strategies for single parents

It's probably the hardest job in America and it doesn't pay a salary, but millions do it anyway. The job is single parenting. About 13 million one-parent households were counted in 2006, the last time the U.S. Census Bureau tallied them.

Adjusting to life as a single parent involves facing numerous energy-sapping challenges that may not have existed before your divorce or your spouse's death.

If you're a newly single parent, you'll have to come up with a balanced strategy that meets the emotional and financial needs of yourself and your family.

It's no easy task, but these tips may help you avoid burnout and realize your future goals.

Survival guide
  1. Create a roadmap for your new life
  2. Control spending and have fun
  3. Reevaluate financial documents
  4. Set up an emergency fund
  5. Take advantage of tax breaks
  6. Consider a new career
  7. Don't be afraid to ask for help

Create a road map for your new life

If you're co-parenting with an ex-spouse, you'll have to cultivate a relationship that is more organized than when you were married.

This can be difficult when one parent finds the divorce hard to accept, but it's a critical step in transitioning to something akin to a business partnership, especially when children are involved.

"It requires a certain conscious planning ahead in terms of how you're going to communicate with each other and what kind of schedules you're going to have," says Carolyn Ellis, author of "The 7 Pitfalls of Single Parenting."

In her book, Ellis advocates an even-keeled style of communication devoid of hostility or even negative nonverbal social cues, particularly when the children are present or within earshot. "Parents who demean the other parent to their children typically do it to foster a greater sense of loyalty to them. This strategy can backfire in the long run," she writes. "Making children choose a side between Mom and Dad is unhealthy for their long-term happiness and success."

Cultivating a business-like relationship with a former spouse is a good start, but it's also critical for you to develop a forward-looking self-image.

Ellis, a certified divorce coach based in Toronto, says it's very easy to remain emotionally stuck if you don't have a new vision of your post-married life.

"Without that new vision, it's like trying to drive a car, but you're only looking in the rearview mirror," she says. "The most amazing opportunities could be right outside in front of you."

Control spending and have fun

More than likely, you'll be on a leaner budget, which means you'll need to keep tight tabs on where your money goes.

"Work on the spending plan," says Ellie Kay, an author and financial adviser based in Palmdale, Calif. "It's the most important thing for a single parent because they are carrying the emotional load and oftentimes the financial load of the whole family."

Sometimes single parents lack financial accountability, Kay says, so it's important to find a "money buddy."

This person is a mentor who knows how to set up and stay on a budget and with whom you can discuss financial ideas. Your money mentor may also be able to advise you on how to pay down debt.

However, if you're in serious debt trouble, you may need to seek professional help from an outside organization.

"I recommend that single families in great financial stress run, not walk, to an organization like the National Foundation for Credit Counseling," Kay says.

The NFCC offers free or low-cost help from certified counselors.

If you're co-parenting with an ex-spouse and you're the custodial guardian, you'll likely be spending most of the time with your children. Even though you may be on a tight budget, that doesn't mean you can't find ways to have fun with the kids.

Shop the sales, clip coupons and buy generic when you can.

Take your kids out for cheap dates when there are special deals. Oftentimes, chain restaurants and pizzerias have two-for-one or children-eat-free nights that will help stretch your budget.

Public libraries are another no-cost resource for books, movies and music.

Kay says single parents can also pare down their health-care bills by taking advantage of the many community and state-based programs that provide checkups and low-cost immunizations for minor children.

Reevaluate financial documents

As a single parent, it's important that your children be provided for should something happen to you or your ex-spouse. Life insurance is an inexpensive way to take care of this.

Ensure that your ex-spouse has life insurance and that he or she doesn't allow it to lapse, says Steve Stanganelli, a Certified Financial Planner with Focus Capital Wealth Management in Bedford, N.H.


"Unfortunately what happens is the paying spouse lets the insurance policy lapse because they don't want to pay the premium," he says. "If something unfortunate happens, that could leave the recipient spouse in no position to take care of the household if there is no other insurance."

Stanganelli suggests negotiating a provision into your divorce settlement that allows you, if you are the custodial parent, to be the owner of the policy paid for by your ex-spouse.

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