Read these 34 Finances Tips tips to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. Each tip is approved by our Editors and created by expert writers so great we call them Gurus. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about Single Parent tips and hundreds of other topics.
Taking a cold hard look at finances is something no one likes to do or talk about, but it's a reality we all have to face. If you are living on half of your former income (or less in many cases), you have a challenge ahead of you. You may need to realign some of your activities. How about packing some sandwiches for an outdoor meal at the park or picnic in your own backyard instead of a trip to McDonalds. Look for ways to cut out the extras. You'll be surprised as to how much you can save.
If you are to receive a substantial amount of money from an income tax refund this year, start making plans now on how to spend it wisely. While you may be tempted to go on a shopping spree and splurge it shamelessly, resist that urge. Instead consider putting it aside in a savings account for something special. If you are unwise with your use of credit cards, use the money to pay off those credit card bills. You will save a lot of money on interest if you do not carry a balance over each month. Or maybe you need to replace a major appliance or use it as a down payment on a newer vehicle. Consider your refund as a bonus and use it to purchase some big ticket item that you cannot afford otherwise. You may want to treat your family to a nice vacation this summer. Consider everything carefully and decide what is the best decision for you. Taking a vacation or going on a shopping spree when your credit cards are maxed out, however, is not the right choice!
No matter how thinly stretched your finances may feel, you need to set aside some money for longer-term objectives. Without a goal to work toward, saving feels like deprivation without purpose. The first step is to establish a target and put a price tag on it. Next, analyze your spending habits, looking for some fat to trim, such as that weekly $3 bag of chips being wasted on your hips. Small amounts add up. A reasonable goal is 10% of your monthly income. Adhere to the financial concept of "paying yourself first." That means that when you get your paycheck, set aside your savings before you start worrying about your spending. It takes discipline, but you can do it.
When seriously considering buying a home, it is important to know how much you can afford to pay monthly in mortgage payments. It is up to you to make sure you can afford monthly house payments, child care, medical bills, and household expenses. Track your spending for several months so you will know how much house really fits in your budget. Remember to consider funds for long-term goals such as your retirement and college tuition for your children.
Always be on the lookout for good bargains. If you come across a “blue-light” special on kids' items, take advantage of it. If your kids already have it, how about saving it for the inevitable birthday parties your kids are invited to attend. Keep a stash of ready gifts on hand. It'll save you more money in the long run. Be sure to make wise purchases though. There's no sense in wasting money on something nobody wants.
Check out the consignment shops or garage sales for some really good clothing for your children. They outgrow their clothes so fast, many times the clothes have hardly been worn, if at all. You can also get great bargains at end-of-season clearance sales. You can all look like a million bucks and no one will know the difference. After all, it is what inside that counts, not what you wear. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!
Set aside time to compile the following items on all family members: birth certificates, social security cards, marriage license, divorce papers, and dates of any military service. Keep a detailed list of insurance identification numbers and contact information. Also prepare a list of each of your financial advisers and any accounts you have at financial institutions, such as your checking, savings, brokerage, and mutual-fund accounts, as well as the names of any employers from whom you expect to collect a pension. Store these papers in a fireproof safe or a locked filing cabinet. It is also advisable to keep copies in a safety-deposit box
Tax time—that time of year adults have learned to dread. If you recently became a single parent, you may be pleasantly surprised, when you file your income tax return. If you have children living in your home, you can qualify as Head of Household and are entitled a large deduction than you would if you were filing single. You may also qualify for Child Care Credit for children under 17. And, do not forget to check out the Earned Income Credit given to individuals with low incomes (for 2002, up to $29,00 for one dependent child or $33,000 with two dependent children.) You may get more money back than you paid in.
Baby-sitting. I can't afford to pay a babysitter when I need a night out. Check with your network of friends. Set up a kid swap system—take turns watching each other's children to give the other parent a much needed “time out.” Make the night you are watching the kids a fun time—rent movies, plan a slumber party, or turn your home into a fun pizza parlor and let the kids make their own pizzas. Be imaginative and creative. Not only will mom get a night out, but the kids will look forward to their night out too.
When grocery shopping, keep an eye open for bargains and specials, and stock up on canned items that have a long shelf life. Cereals, pasta, rice, and beans will also keep for several months. Take advantage of the buy 1, get 1 free, and 2 for 1 specials. You will save money and will spend less time running to the store to pick up needed items.
Mortgage lenders typically use three tests: 1) The monthly house payment including property taxes and insurance should not exceed 26% of gross monthly income; 2) All monthly debt payments plus the house payment should be less than 38% of gross monthly income; 3) The home buyer should have two to three months' worth of payments in an emergency fund.
Many of today's snack foods are not only nutrient deficient, but they are also quite expensive. Since kids like to munch and dip, try fixing fresh veggies or fruit with a nutritious dip, rather than chips and dip. Keep junk food out of the house and when they get hungry, they will raid the refrigerator looking for something to munch on. Have the veggies and fruit already prepared for them, and see how fast it disappears. Carrots, celery, and apples are all good dippers. And peanut butter on celery is much healthier than peanut butter and jelly on bread. Save money and have healthier kids.
Cut back on the amount of meat used in your meals by substituting part of the meat with grains or beans. Oats and crumbled wheat bread are great ways to extend a meatloaf or meatballs. Use an extra can of beans and less meat in your chili. Experiment with some meatless meals such as spaghetti with meatless sauce, or some other hearty pasta or grain dish. They probably will not even notice the meat is missing.
Check out garage sales. You can pick up some great games and toys for practically nothing. Or check the clearance sales. As soon as Christmas is over, go shopping! Plan to be at your favorite store when the doors open and head straight for the toy section. Many stores mark items down 50% or more after Christmas to make room for spring inventory. Be sure to hide the items from your kids though and stash them away for birthdays or next Christmas.
Let's face it, it is easier and less time-consuming to stop by a fast-food drive-thru restaurants or convenience stores to pick up something for lunch or your evening meal than it is to cook at home. Try this experiment. Designate a typical week and record the amount you spend every time you purchase ready-made food to eat, whether you eat it at the restaurant, home, work, or on the road. You will be surprised at how much it adds up to each week. Multiply that cost by 4.5 and see how much money you are giving to others to feed you.
If you have children, you need to plan for what is going to happen after you are gone. Among the provisions you should make: Appoint an executor, the person who will handle your estate as well as someone with power of attorney, and decide who will care for your kids if they are still minors and how you want them to receive money from your estate if something should happen to you.
If you have taken your family to the movies lately, you know how expensive this venture has become. Rather than take the whole family to see a movie, consider waiting until it comes out on video and buy it. You can usually buy it for what it would cost for 2 or 3 people to see it one time. If you own the movie you can watch it numerous times but only have to pay for it once. Pop your own popcorn in the microwave, open a 2-liter bottle of soda, and enjoy a night out on the town at home. After you have watched the movie until you never want to see it again, turn around and sell it at a garage sale, or better yet, sell it on the Internet. Many times you can get more money for it than you would by selling it at a garage sale.
You don't have to eat out every day. Several days a week you can brown bag it. When you begin preparing meals at home in the evenings, prepare extra for leftovers and package it away in single serving sizes for lunch. If your place of employment has a refrigerator, you can store your lunch there until you are ready to eat. If no refrigerator is available, buy an insulated lunch bag and a reusable ice pack. These work very well in keeping foods cool for several hours. You can also try freezing your sandwich and it should be sufficiently thawed by lunch.
The amount of Earned Income Credit (EIC) you receive depends on how much money you earned last year and whether you have qualifying children. You must have worked full or part-time during the year. You can receive this tax credit regardless of whether you owe any federal income tax or had income tax withheld from your paychecks. You must file a Schedule EIC along with your tax return (Form 1040A or 1040). Example for the year 2000: If your income was under $15,000, you could qualify for a credit of $1988 for one child or $3407 for two children. Makes a nice refund check to spend on those big ticket items you cannot afford otherwise.
Be sure to check into obtaining government assistance if you are considering buying a home. Do some research on the Internet and find out all you can about government programs that might be available. There should be government-subsidized loans available for new homebuyers, as well as HUD and FHA homes available for low-income families. Unless the laws have changed, FHA homes are generally in small towns and not available in metropolitan areas. Check some resources listed on this website such as Consumer Education Resources, Divorce Source, and Divorce Support. These three sites might have some information or links to assist in your search. If you can find a good real estate agent who will work with you in finding a home, that should be your best bet as they should know more about what is available in helping clients purchase homes.
The next time a salesclerk tells you that you can save 10 percent on your purchase by signing up for a store credit card, try this answer: "No thanks." Sure, that savings is a temptation—but having the credit card will be an even bigger one. Making matters worse, department-store cards often come with sky-high interest rates. Your best strategy for handling plastic: Have one or two no-fee, low-interest major cards on hand for convenience sake, and be sure to pay the full amount you owe on your cards each month.
Take advantage of in-store specials and buy meat in large quantities. When you get home, package it according to the serving size for your family and freeze it. It is much cheaper to buy 5-10 pounds of ground meat and a pound of meat can easily be packaged in a pint-size zip-lock bag. Mark the contents and date on the package, and place in freezer. Chicken is another great meat to buy in bulk and package in smaller sizes.
Buy cheese in blocks and shred your own. It is cheaper than buying it already shredded. Instead of buying sodas and bottled drinks, try buying the mixes in canisters that you fix up yourself. The lemonade and punch flavors are very good. And the less colas and carbonated sodas your kids drink, the better.
Once you identify how much you are spending each month eating out, set a goal to cut that amount by at least half. Sure it takes more time and effort to cook meals at home and prepare foods from scratch. But you will be rewarded by eating healthier, spending more time with your children (assuming you encourage them to help you in the kitchen), and you will have saved money each month that can be spent on doing something you want but never could seem to find the money. It's hidden in your convenience eating food bill! After you discover the joy of saving money by not buying convenience foods, you may want to consider cutting that budget even more.
Cut back and even cut out extra frills where you can. For years I discontinued cable TV and saved $25 a month by hooking up the old antennae and just watched the major TV networks. Rent movies and pop your own popcorn in the microwave at home instead of taking everyone out to the movies. Discover new and inexpensive ways of having fun.
Do you or the kids have a favorite movie you like to watch again and again? Rather than renting it over and over, consider purchasing the video. Check out the prices on previously-viewed videos at your local video rental store, or even garage sales. Many times people purchase movies they haven't seen because it gets great reviews and it sounds like a good movie. However, everyone's tastes are different and they discovered they didn't enjoy it enough to watch it again. Or perhaps it is a classic children's movie the kids have outgrown. Rummage sale time. Someone else's junk can be your treasure.
Being able to participate in extracurricular activities is important to your child in developing self esteem. However, the cost of these activities can be prohibitive to single parent families. Before you write off placing your child in an activity, especially one with a local or national organization (Little League, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, etc.) check with the organizer in your area or the area office. In many cases there are funds set aside to provide assistance for lower-income children.
James Hunt, insurance expert at the nonprofit Consumer Federation of America, recommends that a breadwinner carry life insurance equal to at least six to eight times his or her salary. Use the bigger multiplier if you do not have group life insurance through your employer. Use the smaller multiplier if you have group life insurance equal to at least two times your salary.
Save the leftover packages of ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise you get at fast-food restaurants and include that if you wish. Purchase the larger bags of chips and snack crackers and package them in individual plastic packages. It will be cheaper than buying them already prepackaged. Add some prepackaged baby carrots or cut up vegetables. These can be prepared several days in advance and kept in the refrigerator. Throw in a small snack-size candy bar (the size given out on Halloween, not the full-size candy bar) occasionally for an extra treat. These come in 1-2 pound bags so they will last a long time.
On weekends, prepare ingredients for sandwiches in single serving sizes and place in freezer. Buy a loaf of bread and package it for the freezer by placing two slices of bread in a plastic sandwich bag. After all bread is packaged, place packaged bread back in the bread wrapper and use twist-tie to seal again and freeze package. Purchase a variety of lunch meats and package them in plastic sandwich bags in single serving sizes and place packages in freezer. Each morning when you are packing lunch bags, grab a package of bread and a package of meat for each lunch bag and you are ready to go. It should be thawed by lunch and ready to eat.
Get price quotes from different insurance companies before buying any insurance policy. You can get quotes in person, over the Internet, or by phone. Some insurance companies that sell policies over the Internet provide quotes online; others will mail them to you after you answer a series of questions online. Most also give quotes over the phone.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|