Get creative, be proactive, and build your network
As a former divorced mom and now the founder of ESME, I know the challenges of raising children on your own. Every day I hear from Solo Moms who are struggling and working around the clock to do best by their children. As a sociologist, I’ve studied the impact of single parenthood on financial security, health, and well-being. And, honestly, I’m awed that despite the overwhelming odds against them, many single moms are doing so well on behalf of their families.
Yet the fact remains that single motherhood is harder than it should be, and single moms deserve better. As a community, ESME Sisters and allies can advocate for policies, such as increased minimum wage and paid family leave, but single moms need immediate strategies that they can adopt right away—especially given the threat to universal health care and the promise of more punitive taxes for single parents.
ESME’s Public Assistance Resource section offers resources and information about housing and food and energy assistance, while our Lifestyle section provides tips, hacks, and advice to keep costs down. ESME articles also highlight how to find affordable counseling services, get medications for less, plan birthday parties on a budget, practice inexpensive self-care tips, and pursue Solo Mom side hustles, to name a few.
I’ve had the good fortune of benefiting from a community of wisdom, and it’s become clear that developing a mindset for saving money is just as important as gathering information. I’ve noticed three fundamental strategies that come up again and again: get creative, be proactive, and build your network.
1. Get creative. Solo Moms’ creativity is positively inspiring. Historically, single moms have had to use every ounce of ingenuity to provide for their children. The same holds true today. I encourage all Solo Moms to think outside the box and get creative when it comes to problem solving and strategizing to make ends meet. Here are a couple of examples to inspire you. Single mom Stephanie Land shares how to avoid gym fees and work out with a child literally on your back, while Julia Liu suggests scouring second-hand shops in wealthier neighborhoods. Another Solo Mom shared with me that she uses her paid vacation time to babysit for other moms during the holidays and earn money to pay for her holiday gifts. When my two kids were young, I repeatedly went to the Dominican Republic in August for summer vacation. I didn’t care that it was very hot and only a smattering of guests were at the resort. Traveling off-season was great fun for the three of us: prices were low, and the ocean was divine! Similarly, a theme park may not be within financial reach, but try a camping adventure, and let nature’s beauty be the source of family thrills.
2. Be proactive. When it comes to providing for your family, it pays to advocate for yourself and ask for financial assistance and scholarships. Most schools, camps, after-school programs, and other organizations that serve kids have money earmarked for families in need or are willing to give a hardworking mom a discount. It’s worth asking, even though sometimes it’s hard to do. A strong example of being proactive comes from an ESME article by Solo Mom Andrea Guevara about beating car dealers at their own game. Be informed, she advises, and be willing to walk away if you don’t get the price you want—great advice that can be applied to any significant purchase. I’ve heard too many stories of Solo Moms getting ripped off because they didn’t know the true value of what they were buying. Whether it’s a car, an apartment rental, or a dishwasher, do some research on prices and then make sure you are not overpaying. Better yet, ask for an additional discount.
3. Build your network. Throughout history, women have come together to make do and problem-solve on behalf of their families. Network building and weaving a web of support offers many social benefits and can also help Solo Moms juggle a tight budget. Janelle Hardy’s superhelpful article “Living Well on Very Little Money” demonstrates the advantages of growing your network. Hardy suggests that Solo Moms throw clothing swaps, barter services, trade child care, and host potlucks. All of these tips are based on the strength of your network. So, the next time you meet another fabulous mom, be sure to exchange phone numbers or friend her on Facebook. You can even start a closed Facebook group dedicated to bartering and trading gently used sports equipment, clothes, toys, and anything else your kids need. Why spend money on stuff they will outgrow or have no use for in a couple of months? Build and use your network to your financial advantage.
There are millions of Solo Moms making it work every day. By getting creative, being proactive, and—most important—coming together, my hope is that single moms can get some financial relief.
In terms of the larger social and political reality of Solo Moms in the United States, we’ve got our work cut out for us! At ESME, we will continue to advocate for you on both fronts. We are dedicated to making your day-to-day struggles easier and will continue to push for policies that support rather than punish the single moms currently raising 23 million American children.
We’d love to hear some of your money-saving ideas! In the comments section, please share ways in which you were creative, got proactive, or networked to lower your expenses.
Dr. Marika Lindholm founded ESME.com to ignite a social movement of Solo Moms. A trained sociologist, Marika taught courses on inequality, diversity, and gender at Northwestern University for over a decade. After a divorce left her parenting two children on her own, she realized Solo Moms lacked much-needed resources, support, and connection. She built her social platform, Empowering Solo Moms Everywhere, out of this combination of academic and personal experience. Marika is also the coeditor of We Got This: Solo Mom Stories of Grit, Heart, and Humor, a frank, funny, and unflinchingly honest anthology—written by 75 Solo Mom writers, including Amy Poehler, Anne Lamott, and Elizabeth Alexander—that celebrates Solo Moms: their tenacity, courage, and fierce love for their children. Marika can be reached at email@example.com.
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