How to Budget: 8 Tips to Help Single Parents Spend Less

Make a list of your fixed expenses

Single mom frustrated over how to budget
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Standard "how to budget" advice starts with "make a list of your income and expenses." And while that that's a worthy goal, it's a tough one when you're already incapacitated by a mound of bills. So let's try something different: just list your fixed expenses for now. Open up a spreadsheet on your computer and start listing your fixed expenses in one column: rent/mortgage, car payment, insurance, utilities (including your cell phones and cable/internet), taxes, and insurance. Next, add groceries; because while they may change from month to month, you can't get by without them.

Now tally it up to see how much of your income is going to fixed (and relatively fixed) expenses. This is where your money is going. (For more help tracking your budget, use our Free Budget Calculator for Single Parents.) 

We often forget about these items, because they're considered a "given." But keeping them in mind helps you become more intentional about the areas where you are choosing to spend money.

Shop Smart

Single mom teaching her son to shop smart
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When it comes to grocery shopping, you may feel as though you don't have time to clip coupons—but you do have time for this: Buy in bulk what's on sale. Start by visiting your local grocery store's online circular. (Yep, that's right. You don't have to buy the Sunday paper anymore to get access to the ads.) Once you know what's on sale, stock up on the items you use most often. For example, buy a dozen of your favorite crushed tomato brands, and you'll have twelve weeks of sauce at your fingertips.

Eat Cheap-but-Nutrient-Packed Standby Meals

Cheap, nutrient rich meal: marinara sauce
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Speaking of sauce, here's my next tip: have a few cheap-but-nutrient-packed meals on standby. My favorite is Jolinda's Simple Marinara Tomato Sauce. When dinner is this easy to make, you don't have to waste money on take-out.

Switch to a WiFi Only Phone

Child using a WiFi only phone
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You've probably seen the ads for Cablevision's WiFi-only phone, called "Freewheel." For $10 per month, you can get everything you need—including phone service—as long as you're always within range of WiFi. For families paying $200+ per month for cell phone service, that savings is considerable. And if your kids have WiFi at home and at school, it may be a deal worth considering.

Eliminate Cable

Mother and daughter watching TV online
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More and more families are ditching cable altogether. And with so many online options, it's easy to see why. Plus, if everything you watch is available online, the only thing you'd be missing is the bill. (As in, the probably-$200-a-month cable bill...)

Evaluate Your Automatic Payments

Man checking his online payments
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Take a look at your online banking account and see what services you're paying for, month after month. (Confession: I signed up for an online cooking school last fall, just in time for Thanksgiving. I meant to cancel it within 30 days, but guess what? I paid for the service for 9 months—without ever using it.) If you're paying for similar auto-renew-every-month services that you're not using, cancel!

Shop Goodwill First

Thrift store clothes
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You'd be amazed by what you can find for a fraction of the cost at Goodwill and other thrift stores. And while you're there, drop off some tax-deductible donations (and get a receipt) and be sure to check out the household items section You might find a suitable holiday or birthday gift you can stock away—further boosting your savings.

Eliminate on-the-go Food Purchases

Fast food in the car
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When life gets busy, it's easy to fall back on grabbing dinner on the go or "treating" yourself to a cup of coffee instead of brewing it at home. But these purchases add up. Seriously—go take a look at your bank account. It's easy to drop $50 or more over the course of a month without even thinking about it. Instead, try making dinner from with whatever you have on hand with these Easy Dinners With Ingredients From Your Pantry.

And that's the trick. If you're going to cut spending, you have to be intentional about where your money is going. For more money management tips, read Money Management for Single Parents.