Overlooked Ways for Single Parents to Save Money

When you’re a single parent, every dollar counts. Here’s how to make those dollars stretch a little farther.

When you’re raising children on your own, it’s not easy. In fact, it can be downright overwhelming to make ends meet even for the most budget-conscious parents. These money-saving tips could help make your path as a single parent a little easier.

Automate Your Bills

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While it might not seem like a money-saving tip at first, automating your bills will save you from fees in the long run. As a single parent, you’ve got a lot on your mind—and sometimes, those pesky due dates slip through the mental cracks. Setting up automatic bill payment means that you won’t have to pay late fees (or worse, reconnection fees). Just make sure that your bank account has enough in it to cover your bills, or else you might end up trading late fees for overdraft fees. Consider setting up a separate account and depositing the right amount to pay your monthly expenses.

Make Use of Your Local Library

With Netflix raising prices and cracking down on password sharing, now might be the right time to pull the plug on your entertainment subscription. However, that doesn’t mean you and your kids are doomed to boredom. Many library systems across the country have expanded their offerings way beyond books. (Although books are great, too.) Check with your local branch to find out what they offer. You might be surprised at how much you can check out!

It’s likely that you’ll be able to check out DVDs and audiobooks, as well as access more movies, TV shows, eBooks, and audiobooks online. Your branch may also offer storytimes for younger kids and activities for older ones. Seed library programs are growing in popularity, and you may be able to take home free seeds to start a garden—or just grow some flowers—at home. Some libraries even have craft supplies and cake pans that you can check out and use at home.

Let Your Kids Be Bored Sometimes

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It’s not a bad thing to let your kids be bored from time to time. In fact, researchers have found that boredom can actually lead to more creative thinking and problem-solving skills. Sure, it’s easier to hand a bored, whining kid an iPad, a smartphone, or a Switch, but those are expensive. Rather than trying to make sure that your children don’t suffer a moment of boredom, help them learn to make their own fun. Ultimately, you’ll be helping them to become more independent, creative individuals.

Prioritize an Emergency Fund

An emergency fund should be an essential part of every single parent’s financial plan. Having a little money set aside for a rainy day doesn’t just give you peace of mind. It ensures that you can take care of problems as they arise instead of waiting for things to go critical. According to Sahrineys Pierce, the financial brain behind the website Poised, an emergency fund also gives you options.

“Although emergency funds do help during unexpected emergencies and help you avoid going into debt. They touch a deeper part of financial security, it creates the flexibility to have more options,” Pierce writes. “By having an emergency fund you have more than one solution to any problem that runs upon you.”

While you should aim to have three to six months of living expenses saved in your emergency fund, it’s okay to start with more modest goals. You can’t save $1000 overnight, but you can find a way to put back $10 this week.

Read More: Saving Money Doesn’t Have to be Miserable

Make Meal-Planning a Family Activity

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Food waste is a significant issue—and when you’re a single parent, it’s an issue for your wallet, too. Studies have revealed that American families waste more than 30% of their food every year. If you’re already on a tight budget, that kind of waste could be catastrophic.

Careful meal planning and prep can help cut down on waste. Better yet, if you get your kids involved in the process, they’ll learn valuable skills at the kitchen table. Children who are engaged in planning the family’s menu are often less picky and more willing to try new things. You can get started by writing down a list of your family’s favorite meals together, encouraging kids to search grocery store circulars for ingredients, and deputizing them to manage the weekly shopping list.

Be Smart About Your Taxes

Nobody likes filing taxes, but single parents are usually eligible for a number of tax credits that can make life easier. Talking to a tax prep specialist can help you find every possible credit, but here are a few ways to maximize your tax refund:

  • File as head of household, not single. You’ll be able to apply a higher standard deduction to your income, while will lower your tax burden. There are a few criteria you’ll have to meet to qualify as head of household, so be sure to read the fine print.
  • Claim the child tax credit. If you’re a single parent with a child or children under the age of 17, you could reduce your taxes by up to $2000 per child. That’s a huge tax break! Just make sure that the child’s other parent isn’t also trying to claim this credit, as that can cause serious problems with the IRS.
  • The Earned Income Credit exists to help low-income parents during tax time. The amount ranges from about $1500 up to almost $7000 depending on your circumstances.
  • Reduce the burden of college expenses with the American Opportunity Tax Credit or Lifetime learning credit. Single parents who are paying for their children’s college could earn a tax credit of $2000 to $2500 per student who qualifies. You can also start saving for college with a 529 plan, which is a special savings account with tax benefits.

Consider a Discount Club Membership

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Joining a discount club such as Costco or Sam’s involves paying a yearly fee, but you may find that the savings these clubs offer make the membership worth your while. That’s especially true if you factor in the savings at the gas pump; discount clubs often have gas stations where fuel costs less per gallon than anywhere else in town.

One trick to saving money at these clubs is to come prepared with a list—and stick to it. It’s very easy to be tempted by limited-time buys on things you didn’t plan to purchase. Also, you might consider investing in a chest freezer to maximize your bulk buy savings.

Use Cashback Savings Apps

Who wouldn’t want to get paid to shop? By using cashback and coupon apps strategically, you can game the system and reap the financial rewards. Stores will literally pay you to shop there! The key is to be proactive, not reactive, about how you use these apps. Rather than letting yourself be lured in by a sale, keep a running list of things you need and watch out for price drops, coupons, and discounts.

Read More: The Best Coupon Sites for the Biggest Savings

Get Thrifty with It

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Did you know that thrift stores are cool now? Okay, that might be a little bit of a stretch, especially for kids who face potential judgment and bullying at school. However, buying clothes, toys, and housewares at thrift stores and yard sales is a great way to save money and keep consumer goods out of the landfill.

Older kids can get into the thrill of bargain hunting—and if they get any pushback from their peers, they can point out that their secondhand denim is vintage. Younger kids can get into the spirit by giving them a couple of dollars and letting them pick out as many toys or books as they can while sticking to their budget.

Teach Your Kids Delayed Gratification

Delayed gratification is a skill that will benefit children all through their lives, but it’s not achieved without patience. Every parent has experienced the nightmare of a child having a meltdown over wanting something they can’t have.

One genius trick is to take a photo of the toy they just can’t live without, accompanied by the promise that the item will be added to their wish list. By the time the next holiday or birthday rolls around, chances are very good that your child will have forgotten all about the must-have toy. If not, then you’ve got a visual reference of the item to make shopping for their gift much easier.

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Another way to teach delayed gratification to older kids is to provide them with a savings account. Any time they receive money—whether it’s from doing odd jobs or as a gift from family—they should deposit it as soon as possible. Encourage them to plan for something they really want—a game system, for example. Every time they’re tempted to blow their money on something else, remind them about their savings goal. To be fair, that’s a lesson that many parents can learn alongside their kids!

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