Five mind-set shifts Solo Moms can make while tackling financial debt
These past couple of months have been hard—very hard. On top of my usual expenses, there was the first-semester bill for the MFA program I will begin in the fall, several of my “side hustle” business expenses needed to be paid, and an unanticipated personal crisis left me feeling like I was drowning in financial obligations. I was unable to sleep restfully at night, easily irritated by just about anything and anyone, and felt myself slowly descending into a gripping depression.
Financial strain is difficult for anyone, but it can be especially crushing for Solo Moms. When it comes to financially supporting our families, we are often the first, last, and backup plan. Even for those of us who receive child support, expenses such as the mortgage or rent, utilities, car note and insurance, and credit-card bills are all on us. And the list goes on. Solo Moms “are Davids against financial, social, and political Goliaths without the biblical results.” Shouldering financial obligations, planning for the future, and worrying about how we will keep ourselves and our children not only afloat but also thriving are enough to trap us in a perpetual state of overwhelm and stress.
Here are five positive mind-set shifts Solo Moms can make while tackling debt and working toward financial solvency:
1. Be honest about where you are financially and how you got there. You cannot begin the process of financial recovery until you take an honest inventory of your financial circumstances. When I became a Solo Mom, I had to accept that my days of reckless spending were over. No more could I toss hundreds of dollars at a time on clothes, shoes, bags, and dinners. I had to begin cleaning up the financial mess that habit left in its wake. It was not easy and still isn’t. Moving toward financial wellness required me to first get to the root of what was behind all those irresponsible behaviors. I finally recognized that much of my outrageous spending practices were linked to deep insecurities and a desire to impress others. It wasn’t until the failure of my marriage and my embarkment on motherhood that I was forced to assess every area of my life.
I looked at the mounds of credit debt I had amassed and decided that change was required immediately—for my and my son’s sake. With time, those same people I so desperately tried to impress either remained in my life because of their genuine love for me (regardless of what I had) or left because I was no longer who they perceived me to be. And although I am still working on the financial ties that bind me, it is my goal of financial freedom that gives me every ounce of motivation I need to continue working on debt elimination. Get to the emotional root of your spending habits, work on healing those wounds, and financial growth is sure to follow.
2. Commit to eliminating your debt and building up savings. Because of the gender and wage discrimination women commonly face in the workplace, many Solo Moms are one crisis away from financial ruin; therefore, it is vital that we carry no more debt than we must and that we build up our savings. When it is nearly impossible to make ends meet, saving may seem impossible, but it can be done. First, commit to yourself that unnecessary spending will stop. My biggest indulgences were designer clothes, shoes, bags, and eating out. Although I cannot claim that I never eat out or buy clothes (total deprivation has never been my way), I no longer do so with reckless abandon. Nor do I pour my money into Starbucks as fast as the baristas pour coffee into a cup. Now, I enjoy all non-necessities rarely and only as a treat to myself once I have satisfied a goal tied to debt elimination and saving—no matter how small. It took one day when I had to scrounge for a few loose dollars to buy a half-gallon of orange juice that I was forced to admit to myself that I was staring financial devastation straight in the face. In that very moment, I committed to changing my self-abusing spending habits. Although I am not yet totally debt free, I am a far cry from where I used to be.
3. Get your “by any means” on. Once I committed to getting out of debt, I had to begin the process of doing the work. My salary alone certainly could not cover all the debt I had accumulated, so I needed to find ways to generate additional income. One of my favorite Jay Z lyrics is “I get my ‘by any means’ on whenever there’s a drought.” Certainly a drought for Jay Z is nowhere near what a drought is for me and countless other Solo Moms, but the sentiment behind the lyrics can be a great motivator for all of us. What he is saying is when times are financially hard, find a way to generate income—by any means. And side-hustling is certainly one option that should not be ignored. Sell unwanted items hanging in your closet or sitting around your house on eBay. Pet sit for neighbors and friends. Bake delicious treats that people can’t resist. Brainstorm the many ways in which you can generate additional income that can go toward meeting your financial goals. Think about what your “thing” is and monetize it. For me, it’s writing, so I freelance and teach writing classes as much as I can. Perhaps you draw or craft amazing natural hairstyles or successfully lost weight by creating and sticking to a meal and exercise plan that you swear by. If so, stop giving your talent away for free. Sell it.
4. Cultivate a spirit of gratitude. Being in the thick of financial struggle can feel suffocating. It is often hard to see past the mounds of bills stacked on your desk or dining-room table. While battling the debt, it is important to remind yourself of all the ways in which you are fortunate—whether it is your and your children’s good health, the job you have, the food in your refrigerator, or even the peace that dwells in your heart and home that didn’t always. Don’t allow financial circumstances to define or steal your appreciation and joy. Remain grateful for all that is good in your life.
5. Get outdoors. I recall one day in particular when my anxiety about where money would come from was at a fever pitch. I sat in my living room feeling like the walls were closing in on me as I calculated all my monthly bills. With tears in my eyes, I threw on some leggings, a shirt, and sneakers; got in my car; and drove to my favorite park. Stories of hardship and resilience of successful women poured through my earbuds and lifted my spirit as I listened to inspirational podcasts while circling a pond. With each lap, my stress lightened and a feeling that somehow everything would be all right enveloped me. By the time I returned home, calm had returned. I felt renewed and refreshed. I still did not know where all the money would come from, but I had the clarity of mind to think and strategize. There is something restorative about being outside and walking in the fresh air. Make it a practice to get outside and get moving, especially when you feel like financial stress and pressure are pulling you under.
Don’t let finances take you down. Lift yourself mentally and emotionally while doing the necessary work to get where you want to be financially. Remember, you have the entire ESME community cheering you on. Join one of our Communities for additional support and information to help you through financial stress and strain.
Terri Linton, ESME’s Incarceration Resource Guide, is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, where she is currently pursuing a master of fine arts degree in creative nonfiction writing, and a graduate of Rutgers School of Law-Newark. Terri is a freelance writer and professor of criminal justice. She hosts and produces the podcast She Roads with Terri Linton, where she interviews women about their journeys of endurance and resilience. Terri’s writing has appeared in Ninth Letter, HuffPost, Motherly, and Mamamia. You can connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.