If you’re also a single parent, it can be particularly hard to balance your household’s needs and wants, especially if you (and your kids) are used to living on two incomes.
Parents don’t tend to view their kids as just an expense, but that doesn’t change the fact that raising a child takes some serious coin. The USDA says parents can expect to spend about $233,610 on each child up until their 18th birthday – and that doesn’t include college costs. On average, parents spend $12,978 per child each year –about $36 a day – on housing, childcare and education, food, transportation, clothing, health care and other costs.
If you’re a Millennial, you might already be in a tough spot financially: Your generation faces staggering student loan debt, lower employment levels, smaller incomes and a lack of affordable housing options.
Not all single parents have money trouble, of course, but if your finances could use some work, read these budgeting tips for single Millennial parents.
Step 1. Create a Budget
It’s easy to get to the end of the month and wonder where all your money went. Fortunately, it’s also easy to track your income and expenses by creating a budget – and sticking to it (okay, it’s not super easy, but making a budget is easier than running out of money). You can create a yearly or monthly budget (the choice is yours) but the basics are the same either way: Estimate your income (money coming in, including child support) and subtract your expenses (money going out). It’s worth noting here that you should always “pay yourself first” by setting aside money each money to save and invest. Make sure that’s in your budget, too.
If you have money left over – that’s great. Make a plan to spend, save, and invest it wisely. If not, you’ll either have to increase your income (by working more hours, picking up a second job or asking for that well-deserved raise) or find a way to cut your expenses. Be mindful of needs versus wants. Needs are things you need to survive – housing, food, clothing, child care, health care. Wants are things you’d like to have, but that you don’t need (such as your daily venti caramel macchiato).
Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between the two. Here’s an example. You need a house – a place for you and your kids to stay warm and dry. You want a swankier house with a swimming pool. If you’re living beyond your means, you can’t justify the bigger house as a need. If you need to cut expenses, start by taking an honest look at where your money is going now. Are you spending too much on things you want and leaving yourself with barely enough to cover the things you need?
You can make a budget the old-fashioned way using pen and paper or an Excel spreadsheet, or you can use an app to make budgeting easier, faster and even fun (search for “budgeting app” in the App Store or Google Play).
The Stash Invest App for example, could be a great way to start your budgeting plan. Stash offers “Smart-Save”, a free personalized saving tool for Stash users to help them save the right amount of money at the right time.
2. Set a plan to spend money wisely
When creating a budget, it’s helpful to know how much you should be spending on things like housing, debt obligations and retirement savings. Here’s a quick rundown:
- Housing. This will probably be your single largest expenses – whether you rent or own. In general, you should spend no more than 30% of your gross income on rent (no more than 28% is better), and no more than 28% if you have a mortgage.
- Total Monthly Debt. If you have a lot of debt, aim to keep your combined housing costs and debt payments below 43% of your income (36% is better if you can swing it). 43% is the highest debt-to-income ratio (DTI) you can have and still get a qualified mortgage. Add up your recurring monthly payments (rent/mortgage, student loans, car payment, minimum credit card payment) and divide by your monthly gross income. That’s your DTI.
- Student Loans. Aim to spend between 10% and 20% of your income on student loan payments. Find out if your employer offers any student loan repayment benefits – and if so, make it happen.
- Auto Expenses. Aim to spend between 10% and 20% on auto expenses, including car payment, gas, insurance and maintenance. No car? Great – put your other transportation costs here, such as Uber, Lyft and public transportation.
- Retirement. Aim to set aside 10% to 15% of your income for retirement each month, starting in your 20s (the earlier, the better). If you can save more without affecting your quality of life, go for it. An IRA is an easy way to get started. To start investing in an IRA you don’t need large sums of Cash. Stash users can actually start investing in an IRA account with as little as $15.
- College. A 529 college-savings plan lets your earnings grow tax-free as long as they’re used for qualified education expenses. What you should save each month depends on how old your child is now and the type of school you see them going to (public, private, in-state, out-of-state, etc.). A good starting point is to save $100 a month.
- Kids can understand the relationship between earning, spending and saving – if you take the time to teach them. Let them help with the budget so they can see the connection first-hand (it will help you now, and prepare them to be financially savvy later).
3. Check out Tax Breaks
As a single parent, you might be able to save money come tax time. You may qualify as “Head of Household” in the Internal Revenue Service’s eyes – which means you can claim a higher standard deduction when you file your taxes. In general, you qualify as Head of Household if you were unmarried on the last day of the tax year, provided more than half of the money needed to maintain your household and your kids lived with you at least half the year. (Check out the IRS’s What is My Filing Status.)
You may also be eligible for tax exemptions and tax credits that can save you even more money, including:
- The Dependent Exemption. If you’re a single parent and file as head of household, you can claim an exemption for you and each child. Only one parent can claim a child as a dependent, so if you and your child’s other parent share equal custody, you should figure out ahead of time who will claim the dependent exemption.
- Child Tax Credit. This provides a maximum credit of $1,000 for each child. To qualify, your child must be younger than 17 years old on the last day of the year. If the amount of your Child Tax Credit is more than the tax you owe, you may be able to claim the Additional Child Tax Credit.
- Child and Dependent Care Credit. If you have a job and earn income, you may be eligible for a child care credit. To qualify, your child must be younger than 13 years old for at least part of the year, and the person who takes care of your child can’t be their other parent or someone who can claim you as a dependent.
- Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). This credit helps low-income and moderate-income working individuals (and couples). It reduces the amount of tax you owe and refunds the difference if the credit is more than the amount you owe. Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia also offer earned income tax credits.
4. Get your budgeting plan started
Budgeting takes works, and a lot of willpower, but if you make the effort, you and your family will be better off financially – now and in the future. Don’t be afraid to bring the kids into the conversation; even little ones get the connection between earning, spending and saving. Your financial goals will be easier to reach if everyone in the family is working together.
Once you’ve committed, getting started is easy.
Stash is one app for all your investment and saving needs. With Stash, you can create a unique, risk-appropriate and diversified portfolio to get you towards bigger goals, like your child’s college education or a down payment on a home. Want to open an IRA? You can do that on Stash too.
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