A Single Mom’s Guide to Frugal Living

Living paycheck to paycheck without any extra income in your monthly budget is difficult. You are not alone, according to statistics 78% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck and are struggling to save for a rainy day. 

As a frugal single Mom, I started focusing on my personal finance and elevated a simple living plan to improve my financial situation. A family living on a single income can benefit from these specific steps I have used to help overcome my fears of having enough money to meet family needs. Let me give you some of my top frugal living tips.

Create A Budget

In my opinion, budgeting is essential. Regardless of how much money you do or do not have, I feel that budgeting is important. A single mom budget can be more accurate because you alone are managing the finances. Saving money is easier if you alone make all of the purchasing decisions. At the same time, the single mom budget is lonely. I am solely responsible for saying “no” to the impulse purchase from the kid at the checkout counter.

For me, stress is reduced when I know how I am going to spend my money each month. I know, budgeting isn’t fun or maybe you feel it is unnecessary. Let me ask you this, would you go on a cross-country multi-day trip without planning? No, you would not jump in the car and start driving without a plan, map, and destination. You would take time to plan your location, trip route, and pack the appropriate clothing. Budgeting is the same way; it is a way to create a plan for your monthly money.

Do you know how much you spend on various items each month? I certainly didn’t until I sat down and wrote it all out. Creating a budget is the first step to take on frugal living. 

It’s okay if you’ve never created a budget, I did it by following these steps. 

  • Write down all monthly expenses: rent, utilities, vehicle, food loans, credit cards, insurance, cell phone, and internet subscriptions
    • Write down all monthly income: salary and tips
    • Subtract total expenses from your total income
    • What was the difference?

After completing that budgeting exercise what did you learn? Perhaps you have money remaining yet each month on paper, but you rarely have anything left in your bank account at the end of the month. Chances are your paper budget and real spending are not exact. 

I realized that I failed to include the coffee I picked up two times this week for a “pick-me-up” and I missed the small gift I purchased for a work colleague’s birthday. Until I created my budget, I did not realize how many subscriptions I have to binge watch various programs. When you are budgeting, it is important to go back at the end of the month to compare the budget to the actual expenses. Reviewing expenses at the end of the month is a critical part of the budgeting process. It will help you learn where your money goes. Let me explain further.

To be successful with budgeting, I have to be real and capture every expense regardless of the size. There are several online tools to help with smart money management. Here’s a frugal tip, find a free budget app. I personally use the Every Dollar app to track every dollar coming and going. It is a free app and helps me track daily life expenses. Today, most banks offer great tools to see your spending habits. You can use those tools or find a favorite program online to use. For some, paper and pencils are all you need to capture the budget details. Here is another frugal mom tip, teach your kids.

Communicating parts of the budget with kids helps them participate in the process. It is a great learning tool for them to become wise with money. I keep a change jar in the entryway and place spare change there. It is amazing how quickly those pennies can add up to create enough money for a treat like pizza.

Perhaps after budgeting, you find that the money is not lasting because of the many financial obligations you have. When creating my budget, I have categories, home, auto, grocery budget, I realized how important it is to stretch every dollar and frugal living can help you; just like it helped me. Let me share another aspect of my frugal lifestyle.

Smart Grocery Shopping Makes For Smart Spending

Grocery shopping is the first place you can positively impact your grocery budget. First, before I open the grocery store door, I create a list of the meals to make, the items needed to purchase and stick to the list when you get in the store. Grocery shopping with a focused intent will make a difference. Look for bulk items or sale purchases that can be frozen or shelved for future use. A big package of ground beef can be divided and frozen. Peanut butter can serve multiple purposes to include peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, peanut butter, and cracker snacks, or peanut butter cookies. I have the best peanut butter cookie recipes if you are interested!

Online Tools Can Save Time

Creating a great grocery list and meal planning is time-consuming; however, creating a list that I use over and over is most helpful. At my house, we eat the same things and although I occasionally try new recipes, the old standards are easiest to replicate and everyone is happy. I use the notes app on my phone and just put an “X” by the items that I need. I also download a coupon on my phone for specific items before I go to the grocery store. Scanning a coupon at the cash register can reduce your grocery bill.

Eating Out Is A Budget Buster

Creating a weekly meal plan is another step in frugal living. After a long workday, scrambling to make dinner becomes stopping off at a pick-up and go location for me. Not only do meals like this cost more, but fast-food meals might not be as healthy for you, either. When I make a meal, I know the amount of salt that was added when I eat out, I do not. Healthy recipes can be quick and easy to make and delicious too.

Here is a great tip, I make a meal main dish once but use it twice. For example, ground beef can be browned for tacos one night and eaten as chili the next night. Tacos are a quick meal to create and the leftover meat goes in the crockpot for chili the next morning before I go to work. Not only is that easy to make but we do not get burned out eating leftovers because the meal is completely different the next day. Another great idea is to share the decision-making with the family.

Meal planning can be a fun activity for the kids. Ask everyone to pick a favorite meal for one night of the week. If you have 8 or 10 go-to meals everyone likes, one child can pick Monday and another child can pick Wednesday. This way the stress of “what is for dinner” on school nights is removed and everyone has participated in the choice. Repurposed leftovers can be dinner for Tuesday and Thursday nights.

I involve the entire family in meal prep. Kids love to help in the kitchen and can either grate cheese or set the table or fill glasses with ice for drinks. Some of the best chats about the day’s activities have occurred in my kitchen during meal prep. As a working single mom, my biggest budget buster is my next topic.

Clothing Is Expensive

I rarely visit the department stores for clothing and when I do, I have sticker shock. I will only purchase an item on sale and I also purchase items that can be worn for many years. I have one item in my closet that is 20 years old – really! It is a classic black blazer that goes with everything. I have replaced the buttons, but the item is well-made, so it just keeps working. 

We love thrift store shopping. Finding great deals on new or practically new clothing at the Thrift Store is a great way to add to your wardrobe. Many of these items still have the original price tags and I pay pennies compared to the original cost. Some clothing can be given a new life with some basic alterations. Many places sell well-maintained second-hand clothing, and I would recommend a visit, especially when you have children that outgrow clothes frequently. Does anyone need to know that you purchased that great item at the thrift store instead of the item’s original location? Nope. I learned a long time ago when someone compliments an item of clothing a simple “thank you” is enough. Next, I have a few additional saving tips.

Subscription Services

These days many people are dropping various services in favor of streaming services. When I had cable service, I realized I did not watch most of the channels, and the costs continued to rise each month. For me, it was not worth it, and I switched to a streaming service. I would recommend being careful to ensure you do not add so many streaming services that you elevate your bill again. I try to evaluate my family’s screening habits every six-months to ensure we still need that particular subscription. 

Price Shop

I was surprised that after I saw an advertisement for a new deal on a product or services and called my current provider to ask for a price match and got it. Heavily competitive items like cell phone plans, insurance providers, and internet subscription services want to keep existing customers. It is important to ensure your current price is as good, if not better than the advertised service. If you find it is not, call the company, they will likely adjust your bill to keep you as a customer.

Reduce Debt

As mentioned earlier, living paycheck to paycheck is stressful. For me, I felt like I was on an endless hamster wheel. To make a real difference, I focused on my credit card debt and took every extra penny I had to reduce and finally pay off my credit card. It is true that this takes discipline. Just like it takes discipline to say “no” to the pie on the counter or “no” to the unbudgeted dinner with friends. Consumer debt is stressfully and controlling my money instead of it controlling me meant I made a decision to only pay for items in my budget that I had the money to pay for at that time. I worked hard to remove my credit card debt from my life and I’m less stressed as a result which meant I was a better Mom.

Saving for Tomorrow

I try to put something in my savings account every month to have extra money to fund a long weekend trip or a special celebration dinner. Teaching the kids about saving for the future is important too. Being a frugal person does not mean you have to live a boring life. Planning for a vacation gives me something to look forward to while also allowing me to save the money for the upcoming trip. 

In addition to fun times, for me, having a savings account is true self care because it reduces stress. A savings account allows me to build an emergency fund to help pay for unplanned expenses. Recently my car air-conditioner stopped working but I was not concerned about getting it repaired because I had an emergency fund. 

Making saving a priority allows this single mom to teach her kid important life lessons. 

Pandemic Living

The pandemic has taught us so much, we definitely need an extra package of toilet paper in the house, good handwashing is important, and we can have fun without spending lots of money. During the lockdown of the pandemic, we have played games and learned new recipes (I’ve got a great banana bread recipe for past ripe bananas). I do not need to see a movie when it first comes out because the cost of popcorn and movies at home provides significant savings.   

You Can Do It

These are just a few ideas for living frugally and on a budget based on your paycheck. You owe it to yourself to enjoy money and not be burdened by it. Being financially wise reduces just one of the many stressors each Mom faces. 

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