People in all walks of life sometimes need debt relief, but one segment of the population that often struggles harder than others is single moms.
The Census Bureau reports that the second-most-common family grouping in the U.S. is children living with a single mother (23 percent). The Census Bureau says that 31.2 percent of single mothers live below the poverty line.
Less than half (45.6 percent) of single mothers received full child support payments from fathers. Add this delinquency to the wage gap — white women earn 81.9 percent of what white men earn, black women earn 67.7 and Hispanic women earn 62.2 — and it puts single mothers at an almost insurmountable disadvantage.
The good news is, single mothers today are more educated than they used to be. In 1994, 22 percent of single mothers had dropped out of high school; by 2014, the number was less than 14 percent.
But the challenges are still great — after all, if you have no one to watch your children, it is hard to hold a job, no matter your level of education. While it is true that those with more education are better able to afford childcare, it is still a challenge to raise children on your own, doing all the drop-offs and pickups, all the meal prep, all the household chores, all the childcare and work full-time as well.
It is scenarios like these — when it’s hard to make enough to get by — that you can fall behind with your efforts to pay off debt.
According to the World Economic Forum, the U.S. is fourth for most expensive childcare in the world at 25.6 percent of a family’s income. Countries, where daycare is even more expensive, are the U.K., New Zealand and Ireland. In Austria, Greece, Hungary, Portugal, and Sweden where child care is subsidized, parents pay less than 5 percent of their income.
So what can a single mother do to make ends meet?
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Emma’s Struggle to Get Out of Debt
Emma has a 3-year-old girl and a boy who just turned 1. She was engaged to the father, but he is now in prison and has no assets, so Emma has no hope of collecting child support anytime soon.
She had to move from their two-bedroom apartment to a subsidized one-bedroom. She pushes the queen-sized bed up against the wall and sleeps on the outside to prevent either of her children from falling out during the night.
Emma had a difficult childhood herself. Her mom died when she was a little girl and she has not seen or spoken to her father in many years. Her siblings are scattered across the country. Her children’s father’s family hasn’t been supportive, and she feels like she doesn’t have anyone she can count on for help in times of emergency.
Sometimes neighbors — many of whom are in a position similar to Emma’s — agree to help by keeping an eye on the babies while she runs out for more milk or Tylenol. But when one of her children is sick and can’t go to daycare, Emma misses work, and that makes it hard for her to keep a job.
Worse, Emma and her former fiance ran up thousands in debt when the children were born. Emma was out of work briefly, so they used credit cards for expenses. They didn’t have insurance when either of the children was born, so she is now left with sizable medical bills to pay as well.
Earn Extra Money to Pay Off Debt
To make ends meet while in between jobs, or to make extra money to pay off debt faster, single mothers can try the four money-making strategies listed below.
1. Sell possessions
You may not think you have a lot of extra items to sell, but every little bit counts. Once the baby outgrows an outfit, sell it for 25 cents. The recipient will be glad to get it for that price, and if you sell eight outfits, you can buy two pounds of rice with the money. Also, consider buying and re-selling items. This will only work if you’re sure there is a market for the things you want to sell and you’re good at it. Buying from yard sales can work well, as homeowners are often willing to let items go for less just to get rid of them. If you have anything of value, like used electronics, put it on eBay or Craigslist for a higher price.
2. Cut back on expenses
This can be challenging if you’re already living a bare-bones lifestyle. But if you’re not, consider scaling back. A trip to McDonald’s can cost $20 for a family of three. If you have little kids, get them food off the dollar menu, and don’t buy soda. It isn’t good for them anyway. And don’t order anything for yourself — kids rarely finish the food you give them, especially when they’re distracted by toys and play tunnels, so you can save by eating what they leave behind. Also think about switching to more generic products at the grocery store. If you get food stamps, you can save this way by getting more for your allotment.
3. Refinance high-interest loans
You may need your car to get to work and get your kids to school, but if you’re struggling to pay for it, you might be better off making some changes. If you had less-than-stellar credit when you bought the car, you may be paying an extra-high interest rate. If you have made all your payments on time, try to refinance the loan for a lower interest rate. The same goes for credit cards. If you’ve run up high balances trying to bridge the gap when buying diapers, winter boots, and other necessities, you may be paying exorbitant interest rates. Look into consolidating your debts to lower your interest rate and payments.
4. Increase Your Income
Even though this can be a challenge, it’s almost always possible. If you have family or friends to help with childcare or affordable daycare, you might be able to get a second job. This could be something like working in a warehouse or as a bartender late at night, when your children are asleep anyway. If you don’t have any help with childcare, try work-from-home jobs, such as doing freelance writing, taking in a laundry for others, or doing clothing alterations. You might also be able to make some money watching others’ children while you’re watching your own. Don’t assume responsibility for too many, though, and check first to see if you need a license in your state.
When you’re overwhelmed by responsibilities and you need debt relief, try some of our tips. There’s nothing better than facing adversity and winning. It may take time and you may need to try different strategies, but you can get out of debt, even as a single mother.