3 Things That Suck (Financially) About Being a Single Parent

It seems like some people always have an opinion about single parents. Single dads are usually considered heroes, while single moms are called names and subject to speculation about everything from their sexual habits to the quality of their parenting. And while I’m not talking about that double standard today, let me warn all of you - if you’re here to insult me, my child, or my parenting skills, click away because I don’t want to deal with your crap.


okay, is it just me or is that girl a cyclops?


Ah, the joys of single parenthood. While I’ve always basically been a single mom, even when I was still married, nothing could have prepared me for the difficulties I would face raising my son on my own. The discussions about puberty and sex (which I firmly believe should be father/son topics). The hilarity of trying to teach him to play sports. Trying to prevent him from becoming a total computer nerd like his mother.

One thing I was definitely unprepared for was the financial impact of being a single mom. No, I’m not talking about all those statistics about how single moms end up broke. Clearly two incomes are better than one; I don’t need anyone to tell me about that. No, I’m talking about those little things, the ones that add up to big things. Here are some examples of what I mean.

3 Things That Suck (Financially) About Being a Single Parent

1. School Expenses

All the talk about a free public education in the US is a load of crap. School supplies alone set me back an average of $100 each year. Then there are school clothes, shoes, book rental fees, locker fees, club fees, field trips, lunch money, bake sales, and those stupid fundraisers where I’m supposed to spend $20 a roll for wrapping paper. And I won’t even get started on the twice-a-year crappy school photos that I feel obligated to buy.

Sure, I could go tell the school all my financial business and save on some of those things. But in the small town where I live, it would take about an hour for everyone else to know every detail and judge me (and my son) as a result. No thanks. I’ll just quietly complain until 2016 when he finally graduates.

2. Buying Food

This may not be too bad for parents of girls. But all the stuff you hear about teenage boys’ appetites is totally true. In the past few months, Jayden has morphed from a bottomless pit to a black hole when it comes to food. The child literally eats 6-7 times a day. And just when I feel pretty good about all the food I brought into the house (you know, because I’ve been cooking lately), I hear him screaming, “I’M STARVING AND THERE’S NOTHING TO EAT!” Yes, it really is that bad.

I don’t know how to solve this problem other than convincing the insurance company to cover a feeding tube. (I asked his doctor. She looked at me like I was nuts.) And not only do I have to pay for all this food, but I also have to be the one who drives to go get it. I bet I spend more on food in a year than most people spend on housing.

3. Worrying About the Future

Sometimes I think about Jayden’s future and just curl into a fetal position. If he decides to go to college, who’s going to help pay for it? Mom. When he moves out on his own and needs help getting started, who’s going to take him grocery shopping and teach him what Mean Green is for? Mom. If he takes after me and makes a bunch of financial mistakes, who’s going to pull him out of the hole? Mom. I’ve considered changing my name to Dad just so I can get out of all these fun future experiences.

I’d like to think that my son will always make good adult decisions and that he won’t need to lean on me for help, but let’s face the facts - he IS my child. Something tells me he’ll be just as stubborn about learning to be responsible as I was. So I’ve been stockpiling money since the day he was born in preparation for his future failures. (Don’t send mean emails. I’m just being realistic.)

So, Single Parenthood. Worth It?

It’s fun to gripe every now and then, but I wouldn’t trade my role as a single mom for anything in the world. Despite the swirling, sucking sound I hear in my wallet every time Jayden comes near me, he’s a damn good kid and I’m proud of the young man he’s becoming. I’d much rather him be exposed to my influence than certain other individuals’ influences. I just wish he didn’t cost so much!

I’m aware that two-parent households face the same challenges when it comes to raising kids - it’s not like single parents are given a more expensive model. However, it’s tough to be the only person your child can turn to on an emotional AND financial basis. By being aware of the things that suck, I’m learning to be more appreciative of the things that don’t suck. And I’m able to prepare for future sucktastic financial drains, because if his appetite is any indication, the costs are going to be epic.

28 Responses to “3 Things That Suck (Financially) About Being a Single Parent”

  1. The Money Mail says:

    Hey Andrea, you raise some good points but as you have also mentioned the challenges are similar for both a single parent and a couple when it come to raising children only having a team ( couple) solving those makes it easier.

  2. smallivy says:

    I don't think there is any easy answer - raising a child is expensive. The one good thing is that his expenses for college and starting out are predictable in their timing.

    It would be good when he starts approaching 16 to explain to him that he isn't going to get a lavish, all expenses paid, sleep-in-every-weekend-college experience. Tell him what you are going to be able to contribute and then let him know he'll need to find the rest. It will be easier if he starts this around 16 than if he waits until after he graduates. He can start a job (which will build responsibility and get him off the computer). He can also start looking for scholarships. If he gets 30 or so of those little, $500 scholarships that are around that have little competition, he might be able to pay for his whole college career. He could also start out at community college to save expenses for room and a lot on tuition. Almost everyone should do this.

    • Well Heeled Blog says:

      I'd start doing this before he's 16. Start talking about it now so it's not this big dramatic I Will Pay for $XYZ or I Won't Pay for College conversation and more of several conversations about money, values, college education, parents' obligation to kids, etc.

  3. smallivy says:

    Also remember that there are a lot of people who come over here with $500 in cash and make it, sometimes big. If he is willing to work, you should not need to set him up. You can also start teaching him now how to take care of a house by having him earn the money he needs for his expenses by paying him commissions for chores around the house rather than giving him money when he asks. Have him do the laundry sometimes, clean the kitchen sometimes, and pick up and vacuum sometimes. Learning to cook together would also be a great experience.

  4. kathryn says:

    Having raised 4 teenagers, and relying on one income for most of the time, I do understand.
    Our kids were always told they must have a part time job at 16. They were required to move from home at 18, unless they paid room and board (at current market).
    We never hid our expenses from them.We try to install the importance of saving money for a downpayment on a house. What we ended up doing was purchasing a 5 unit apartment building and we all co-own it.Each of us have taken a unit. As they have moved on with their life/careers they have rented out their unit.When we travel, we rent out our unit.
    It would be nice when parents divorce/split up they would consider the kids a bit more. Child support is not needed, if equal custody was given.

  5. Sean@OneSmartDollar says:

    Try not to stress out quite as much about the college aspect of things. There are plenty of ways to help out whether its scholarships or financial aid.

  6. @Financeyoga says:

    I'm not a single parent, but taking care of a child is expensive. The formula is crazy and my boy likes to chug-a-lug, seriously. I am trying to save as much as we can before he gets older and the expenses really start rolling in.

  7. Jordann says:

    This reminds me of a Simpsons episode where a childless woman is digging through her purse for something but she can't find it because of all the disposable income in there. Kids sure are expensive.

  8. addvodka says:

    My mom was a single mom when we were growing up and I know she really struggled financially. It sucked to watch her go through that. My dad wasn't great at paying child support and you're right - school expenses are insane.

  9. uncc901 says:

    I TOTALLY agree with everything you have said. I am in the same boat as you, except I have two boys (15 months apart). They are 5 and 4 and they are already draining my wallet. Pre-K is always asking for money so I can just imagine whats to come in the future when both are in school (which will be in August). Lunches, pictures, field trips, projects (yes in pre-k) and the list goes on. However, I would not change anything. Everything I do is for them and knowing that I can do for my kids just as well (if not better) that some two parent homes keeps me going!!

  10. Michele says:

    This is a very personal question and you certainly don't have to answer, but doesn't your ex bear any financial responsibility here? I'd assume he pays child support, though I could be completely wrong about that. It seems most child support agreements I hear about these days extend THROUGH college, requiring the paying parent to continue contributing until the child reaches some specified age and/or has completed a degree.

  11. Well Heeled Blog says:

    I have so much respect for single parents - moms and dads. You are right - single dads get the type of adulation that seem to escape single moms - hopefully that is changing.

  12. bogofdebt says:

    I always respect single moms-and as I've said before, you are amazing.

  13. John@MarriedWithDebt says:

    Love your positive attitude. It's strange how single dads are adored and women are just expected to do it. You will be able to pass on some great lessons to your son.

  14. Amanda L Grossman says:

    They have school pictures twice a year now?? Why?

  15. smallivy says:

    I think as a society we need to start doing a better job raising children. We've made working more important that family. The lawyer (male of female) who works 100 hour weeks is seen as a champion. The mom or dad who raises the children is seen as of low worth. If parents split up, both should still be a big part of their children's lives (assuming there's no abuse), both financially and physically. There should not need to be a court enforcing child support. If there is a tragedy, members of the community should step in and help out.

  16. Jason@liverealnow says:

    I’m not single, but I do have an almost teenager. He’s 12, 5’11″ and I don’t think he’s ever been full.

    I have no idea how single parents manage.

  17. seedebtrun says:

    You are a super hero. All single parents are! When Jeff is out of town for a few days, I'm always completely zonked. I try my hardest to keep the house extra tidy and go above and beyond as far as getting things done for the kids, getting them to and from activities, etc., but I don't think I could do it on a full-time basis. And actually, I'm still not the only parent giving emotional support when he's out of town since he still calls every night and talks to the boys about their days, and offers fatherly advice. I really have no clue how you do it!

  18. Another Housewife says:

    It's so true about boys and their hunger. My son is only 8 and can eat all day long. After school snacks have turned into a full blown fourth meal! Add to that his entire crew of eight year old friends who have made our house their hang-out!

    We are a one income home and I agree with all of your financial points. Heck from a financial standpoint I could have written it myself. From an emotional standpoint I hands down give you a huge pat on the back for going it alone. I am a wimp and often throw pity parties when my husband has to go out of town or is working a stream of long hours. I start to feel like a single mom and then realize I how incredibly spoiled I am.

    Being a parent has given me so much more respect for my dad who was a single parent. I have so much respect and appreciation for you and all single parents. I don't know how it but I know your son will forever be worth it!

  19. insomniaclabrat says:

    Um yes, that girl is definitely a cyclops.

    And for the record, when I was a teenager, I ate just as much as my brother did when he was a teenager. I think generally boys do eat more, but I guess I just wanted to be special or something. Ha!

    I don't know how you do it, but I think you're doing a great job.

  20. scarr says:

    As others have said YOU ARE A ROCKSTAR and no one could do what you do for your son. You are o e of a kind!

  21. Jon Rhodes says:

    It is tough, and you should be really proud of what you are doing. I'm sure you will have grown a lot wiser because of this experience.

  22. Tie the Money Knot says:

    Whether a single mother or single father, it's a tougher road than for couples. No doubt about it. In terms of your last point, worrying, it makes sense because there is nobody else to lean on on a daily basis. If one loses a job and is married, the other person might either be working or could find work. For a single parent….it's up to you alone, which is much harder. Single parents absolutely deserve to be commended and understood, women and men both.

  23. Natalie says:

    As someone with no children, I know hard it is to just support myself let alone another human being! I know I would probably be a cheap mother and my kids would whine about how awful their mother is but I wouldn't care. The important thing is making sure the bills are paid. That will create a far more peaceful environment than anything else. Good luck!

  24. BalancingMoney&Life says:

    All of these points are so, so true! Even as a married parent, I've been setting expectations for my sons for years. Yes, I have a little $$ to help with college, no I am not paying for it all, and no you will not qualify for loans, so you'd better get a PT job and start saving.

    I'm lucky in that as much as my ex is a flake (and he is), he's an involved Dad so my kids get emotional support from him. Sadly, I pay him child support, but that's another post.

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