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Raising kids takes a lot of time, patience, love, and of course, money. Life as a single parent is a great deal of work, and you play multiple roles in the rearing and nurturing of your children. Budgeting and financial planning is a challenge for numerous people regardless of their marital or income statuses. As a single parent, however, you don’t have much wiggle room for mistakes. Your children are completely dependent on you for their well-being. Whether you’ve become a single parent because of the death of a spouse or partner or divorce, it’s understandable you might be completely overwhelmed. While there’s so much going on day-to-day it’s vital you don’t let your finances slip.

Here are six ways to always make sure you are a step ahead and generate a stable financial future.

Develop a Budget

A budget is a list of money coming in and money going out. Budgets only have one rule – do not spend more than you earn. When there’s only one source of income for a family, it’s essential that you develop a budget and stick to it. If you are newly single, you may have to make a lot of adjustments being that you are now only working with one income. Even if you have been a single parent for a while, you still need to take a look at your finances and see where you can cut back. Be sure to factor in your household income, mortgage or rent, utilities, childcare, and insurance.

A good place to start when creating a budget is knowing how much you earn every month and how much you spend every month. If your expenses are exceeding your income, you will need to make some adjustments. Transitioning from two incomes to one can have a dramatic effect on your spending ability so you should reevaluate your budget to account for this change in cash flow.

Have a System

Setting up a routine to check your finances will help you stay financially healthy. Whether you use a budgeting app or handwrite your expenses, you will be able to better stay on top of your expenditures. Also be sure to check your credit reports and credit score from time to time. Being able to continually track and stay on top of your finances will help enable you to be more financially aware and reign in your spending.

Don’t Be Afraid to Say no to Your Children

It’s important to be aware of what you can realistically afford and communicate that to your children. Of course, you want to give your kids as much as you can, but you have to know where your limits are and stay within those limits. Children are a blessing, but they can also test you in many ways including your finances. They have many wants which cost a lot of money; there is a balance between making them happy and spoiling them while draining your wallet.

If you are strapped for cash but your kids need help or want that new video game you might feel it’s alright to put that purchase on a credit card. However, if you spend more than you pay off on your card each month, that debt will only continue to grow exponentially. Having the ability to tell your kids no is important. Driving yourself into debt for their benefit will only prevent you from being able to help them more in the future, which is when they could potentially need it. The same goes for when you are struggling to pay your bills; no matter how much you love your kids, you have to put the necessities over their wants. You can even use these opportunities to teach them about being financially literate.

Plan for the Unexpected

Being a sole wage earner, you have to ensure you’re ready for any unforeseen circumstance. Having one income means you have to be ready for whatever comes your way. Whether your kids need braces, you lost your job, or your car needs an expensive repair, it’s always a good idea to have a solid “what if” fund. Depending on how much room you have in your budget, the amount of money you can contribute to your emergency fund may vary. You may want to consider having at least six months of living expenses stashed away.

Be sure to keep your savings in a separate account, so you are not dipping into it. If you find that you’re the forgetful type, you may want to look into automatic transfers with your bank. That way you’ll be able to build your emergency fund every paycheck without even thinking about it. You may want to consider taking advantage of any benefits your employer may offer, such as wellness plans or flexible spending accounts. While the main point of having an emergency fund it to avoid having to use a credit card it’s still important to have a healthy credit score in case you suddenly become unemployed and need to use revolving credit as a crutch. You want using a credit card to be the last resort; this is why it’s essential to have an emergency savings plan in place and a stable budget plan.

Have I saved for retirement?

Though your kids will no doubt become your priority in life, it is still important to ensure you take care of yourself as well. It’s essential you have a retirement fund and that you make a plan to continue to make contributions on a monthly basis. Retirement should come before your children’s college. It’s never too early to start saving for your children’s college education, but it should not be at the expense of saving for retirement. Grants, scholarships, and loans are always available for students, while no such options exist for retirement savings. If possible, actively save for both, but make sure retirement is the priority. Neglecting your financial future will only hurt both you and your family down the road.

Do you have a will?

Should something should happen to you, you’ll want to ensure you have a plan for your assets and that your family will not face financial hardship. A will determines who receives your assets and who will be appointed the sole caregiver of your kids. Should you become incapacitated, naming a trusted individual as Power of Attorney in your will gives someone the authority to take care of financial affairs when you can’t. They will be able to pay the bills that are needed for the continued care of you and your children.

If you’re concerned about your credit, you can check your three credit reports for free once a year. To track your credit more regularly, Credit.com’s free Credit Report Card is an easy-to-understand breakdown of your credit report information that uses letter grades—plus you get two free credit scores updated each month.

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