REAL TALK: Inside the budget of a single mom

WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO SURVIVE AS A SINGLE MOM? One mom’s personal account.

Single mothers comprise more than just teen moms and those women whose children’s fathers chose not to be involved. Single mothers can also be widows, divorcees, single women by choice, and single women whose children’s fathers are unable to contribute or unknown. Single women face exceptional challenges, especially when we aren’t receiving support financially or emotionally from the father of our children.

Public assistance through the form of WIC, food stamps, Medicare and TANF, not only helps us make ends meet, but also give us added means to allow us to save a small amount of money, and provide ourselves a safety net should an emergency arise. There has been a lot of talk about entitlements lately. As a single mother, I have never felt “entitled” to the few benefits that I receive. I have only felt grateful.

But to help shed some light on exactly what it would take for a single mother with a single infant and an hourly job to make ends meet without entitlements, I have composed this sample budget. It accounts for the things that many people expect lower income families to maintain, and maintain without the benefit of public assistance. This budget doesn’t account for saving for college for our children, saving for retirement, or saving for much of anything at all. The list accounts for the bare minimum that all parents and children should or are expected to have access to.


The budget is as follows:

Rent for a one bedroom: $500 (Rent gets more expensive as the rooms go up in number, and more expensive depending on where you live.)

Child care: $400 a month. This is a bare minimum, for somebody who works a normal 9-5 job (I don’t; my hours are long and tend to run late into the evening) and often times it’s more expensive for an infant. Most licensed child care facilities cost upwards of $125 a week. I forwent licensing in favor of affordability.

Electric utilities for a one bedroom home: $85/mo. This is assuming you are a single mother with one young child and can share your room. Hopefully you are also fortunate enough to not have to pay a water bill, or trash bill. My electric bill for a one bedroom apartment last month was upwards of $150, and my thermostat was set at 68 degrees all month.

Cell phone: $75. Landlines are not a viable option in this day and age. You have emergencies away from home, especially with a child, and you need a cell phone. If you are job searching, it is helpful to be able to answer your phone when a prospective employer calls. People survive without these, but it’s difficult. At the absolute bare minimum, $25 a month for a landline.

Health insurance: $300 on the cheap end for one adult and a child. (I am fortunate enough to have my health insurance paid through my employer, and my daughter’s paid through the state, but many people aren’t so fortunate.)

Vehicle: $150 a month on the cheap end. If you’re lucky, you’ve bought a cheap one and paid cash, so you don’t have this monthly payment. Some people are also fortunate enough to live downtown and be able to rely on the bus route, but generally speaking, everybody should own a reliable form of transportation. Unless you live in a big city, buses often do not operate on holidays, or late at night, and in many cities are very limited as to where they travel. I knew one woman who had to leave at 6 a.m. to take the bus to drop her child off at daycare, then be at work by 9 a.m. That’s a three-hour commute, to a job 15 miles away.

Vehicle insurance: $60 a month, for a good driver.

Fuel: $200 a month (assuming $50 a week for a four-week month). I only work five miles from home, but none of my friends or family live nearby, nor are there any quality affordable grocery stores nearby, so there are times I go over this budget.

Basic groceries: Includes healthy meals, toilet paper, soap, medicines, basic odds and ends. I spend around $300 a month, and I’m pretty careful with what I buy (I shop at discount stores like Aldis), though I’m trying to be even more frugal by cutting back on treats like coffee and ice cream. Also included in this is clothing/toys, etc. for you and your child (bought at the Goodwill, because “basic necessities” dictates that these things don’t have to be new).

Infant’s groceries: Diapers run about $35 ($16 and some change every two weeks for a box of the store brand diapers. And that’s for the weeks the baby doesn’t have diarrhea or diaper rash and can go more than an hour without a diaper change.) Plus any diaper rash cream, jarred baby food, or other baby necessities you may need.

Formula: $120. Most low-income single women qualify for WIC, which provides formula. I wasn’t able to breast feed, and formula costs about $30 a week for two cans on the cheap end (one can a week for home, one can a week for daycare), and that’s only if your kid doesn’t eat like a hog like mine does.

Internet: $60. This isn’t technically a necessity, and it requires a computer to use, which is another thing that is often just beyond many parents’ budgets. Many women I know do without and go to the library or a friend’s home to utilize their computer and Internet. But I still feel it is something everybody should have access to in their home, especially for single mothers who likely don’t get out much, to feel connected to the world and their community. But if you don’t feel this is important, feel free to trim the $60 off this budget.

TOTAL: $2,285


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