Learning how to budget is hugely important for anyone. However, as a single parent juggling all the household bills on one income, it is a necessity.
A personal budget, in basic terms, is a finance plan that allocates future personal income towards expenses, savings and debt repayment. This comes with some challenges, including knowing what your budget amounts should be so you can reach your financial goals, and actually keeping within the goals you have set.
Running a household, especially one with children, comes with unexpected financial surprises. For this reason, becoming a brilliant budgeter will not only keep you on track financially, but it will give you peace of mind that you are not over-spending, as well as satisfaction that you are saving too.
Sounds impossible? Well, it’s not really. Learning to budget is a life-long skill that you will always be grateful for. Here are our steps for successful budgeting as a single parent.
1. USE A SPREADSHEET
Stick with us here … even if you’re not the spreadsheet type! You need to record your figures somewhere and using a spreadsheet is the easiest way. Head to MoneySmart and download their brilliant template, or make one from scratch if that’s your thing.
A budget is simply a record of your incomings and outgoings. You can ascertain these figures from past reoccurring bills and current wages and benefits.
2. PHONE AROUND … OR NOT
While you are digging out paperwork for your spreadsheet, this is a great time to save money on some of those pesky utility bills that seem to keep going up and up.
Don’t worry, you’re a busy single parent so we don’t expect you to call and compare, or to go through the tiresome task of changing providers. Instead, just call your current provider. Tell them that you have been a loyal customer for many years but have decided to shop around. Most providers are only too happy to knock a percentage off your bill to encourage you to stay. Voila … an instant saving for your budget.
3. CONSIDER USING CASH
As wonderful as our bank cards are, they are very distracting when trying to stick to a budget. With the ability to wipe large amounts from a bank account on an impulse purchase which take seconds to process, is it any wonder so many people have personal debt?
As a single parent with a million other things to think about, it is impossible to track your spending on a bank card.
A solution is to work out how much you have for general spending each week. And take it out of the bank as cash (yes CASH!) at the beginning of the week. If you run out, you run out, but you can’t overspend, and you will be more aware of your spending habits too.
4. INCLUDE BENEFITS BUT DON’T RELY ON THEM
If you are a single parent on benefits, include them in your budget as they are projected incomings. However, it is important not to rely on Centrelink benefits or Child Support, as the amounts can change at any time depending on your circumstances, and in many cases, the circumstances of your ex-partner.
Make sure you keep all government services up-to-date with any changes. This will avoid unforeseen debts at tax time which can destroy your carefully planned budget.
5. GET THE KIDS INVOLVED
Whatever your money goals are, kids usually love to be involved. Even if they are very young, explaining ‘why’ they can’t have something is better than just saying ‘no’. If your child understands that the reason they can’t have a toy is because you are saving to take them on an overseas holiday, they will be more compliant!
“Children as young as three years old can grasp financial concepts like saving and spending. And a report by researchers at the University of Cambridge commissioned by the United Kingdom’s Money Advice Service revealed that kids’ money habits are formed by age seven.”
Making it a team effort, as well as explaining and encouraging your children to budget with you teaches them life skills … and will make your life easier!
6. CHECK FOR OVERSPENDING
A great outcome from doing a personal budget is that you discover your spending habits quickly. You might notice you have been spending large amounts on take-aways, but until you kept a record of it, you had no idea how much. Once you know what these are, you can act to spend less. And, spending less means saving more, simple.
Work out areas that you are overspending in and create new habits to spend less. Even very simple and small changes can have a positive and pleasing affect on your budget over a period of time.
7. ONLINE GROCERY SHOPPING
One of the biggest expenses for householders is grocery shopping. If you have kids with bottomless stomachs and just one income, grabbing the groceries is a constant drain.
A really handy way to save money and stay on budget is with online grocery shopping. Not only can you view all the specials super-fast, you can see exactly what you are spending as you go. If you come in over budget, head back to your online trolley and remove items which are not 100% necessary.
Online grocery shopping is not available in all areas, but if you can access it, it is one of the best budgeting opportunities available to households.
8. FIND A BUDGETING BUDDY
Budgeting as a single parent is good because you have total control of your money. On the other hand, it can be hard doing it alone, without the support and encouragement of another person.
If you have friend or family member who is in a similar financial space as you, then join forces to help and support each other. Share your goals and hold one another accountable. You can also share ideas and tips. Having a budgeting buddy will make budgeting easier … and maybe even fun!
9. KEEP ON TOP OF YOUR BUDGET
Life is ever-changing as are our incomings and outgoings. You might get a work promotion your benefits alter or your mortgage decreases. Whatever happens, make sure you adjust it in your budget so everything is up-to-date.
A budget should not be a huge amount of work. Perhaps set a reminder to check and update your budget every three months. This is also a good opportunity to update your savings goals and make sure everything is tracking along nicely.
10. GET MORE SUPPORT
We all have different skills and you might find that budgeting is not one of yours. Don’t panic as there is help out there.
The brilliant MoneySmart website has free advice for all areas of personal savings, along-side templates and handy calculators.
You might be eligible for SaverPlus which is a free ten-month program that provides financial education to help build essential skills for managing money and becoming a regular saver.
Or, for instant support, there are lots of Facebook groups which you can join to get budgeting tips and encouragement along the way.