I have historically been awful at budgeting. Even when I had a reasonably well paid job, I often ended up getting jobs on the side that were weekly paid because I could never figure out how to make my monthly pay last the full 30 days! That changed a fair bit when I had S, but what really changed it was moving into this house. Because we had always relied heavily on housing benefit, and our last landlord was extremely flexible with the rent, this is the first time in a long while that I’ve had to make sure my rent money is paid on the 1st of the month, in full, every single month, without fail. And it’s more rent than I’ve ever had to pay before.
A lot of single parents are in the same boat as me; we only have one income to support us, and there’s rarely a fallback option. With that in mind, here are five things I’ve found useful along the way:
- Open a second current account. Before we moved here, I went to my bank and opened a second account. This is the one I use not only for paying the rent, but for all of my direct debits – internet, utilities, insurance, the lot. I keep a list in the back of the diary of how much my monthly bills adds up to, and I know each month that as my invoices are paid, I need to make sure X amount is transferred over to the second account. Once that’s done, I know that the money in my account is mine, and save for the odd check on the second account to avoid disasters, I don’t need to worry. Much easier than looking at my bank balance and trying to remember “ok, I have X amount, but then I’ve got this much coming out next week, and this is due on this day…” I was always rubbish at that!
- Open a savings account. Even if you can’t afford to save money! I have two which are both linked to my main account. I have standing orders set up to transfer just 5p per day to each account and whenever an invoice is paid I try to transfer a percentage of that over to my savings accounts. One of them is also a monthly saver, so there’s a regular lump sum that’s paid into it. I might end up transferring some of that cash back over to my main account if I need to, but it puts that extra layer of “do I really need to buy this” in place before I go ahead and spend. I try to keep the bare minimum of cash in my current account to avoid those impulse purchases I’m so good at.
- Use cashback sites like TopCashback and KidStart. I used to think these were a waste of time, but I’ve downloaded plugins for both of them, so any time I go to a website where I could get cashback, it tells me. You might not think of this as budgeting, and I suppose strictly it’s not; it’s saving. I try really hard, whenever I buy something online, to go through one of these sites. I even booked our removals through TopCashback when we moved. I saved up my cashback with all my purchases – including Christmas gifts for S and nieces and nephews – and ended up with a nice little lump sum I had paid out for myself. My KidStart savings automatically go into S’s savings account once they hit a certain threshold so I’m saving money for her too.
- Always reassess things like insurance and utilities. These days companies are always changing their offer, and it’s rarely a good idea to just stick with the same company year on year. You can save a significant amount by changing provider when your renewal period rolls around. Even better, go through TopCashback or KidStart to do so, and you can get cash back from moving as well!
- Try to have some sort of backup plan. When you’re a single parent, unexpected expenses always pop up and they can really throw you off course. Remember I told you about that second current account I set up? I also applied for an overdraft on it, of an amount high enough to cover my rent if I don’t manage to transfer cash over in time. I am very strict with myself that this facility is only to be used to pay the rent in a dire emergency, and it gives me peace of mind that even if a client is late paying an invoice or I forget to transfer funds, we won’t be in trouble. An agreed overdraft can be too much temptation for some though, in which case you might want to use a company like Northcash Online Loans in the event of a cash flow issue.
Cash flow and budgeting can be really tricky for anyone, single parent or not – but when you’re a single parent, there is the added worry that you’re the only person providing for your family. When it was just me, it was fine for me to run out of money mid month and spend 2 weeks living off instant noodles but that’s not fine for my child!