Money Management 101 for Single Parents Going it Alone

1. Determine What You Owe

As the head of the household, it’s up to you to make sure that your entire family’s needs are being met. In order to do that, you need to be extremely diligent when it comes to money management basics. This is not something that will happen by accident. Instead, you must plan for it and work toward it.

The first step is to set up your “office.” Gather all of your bills, a calculator, a pencil, and your checkbook.

I would also recommend that you grab an old binder that you can use to keep track of your financial data and a shoebox for storing paid bills.

Now you’re ready to begin:

  • Go through all of your bills, and pay anything that is due within the next week.
  • If you have bills coming due that you cannot pay, notify the company and ask them to set up a payment plan with you.
  • Print a copy of the chart “Paying Down My Debts” or make your own.
  • On the chart, list all of your debts, including any car loans, student loans, and credit card debt.
  • In addition, list the total balance left to be paid on all of these debts, and the percentage rate you are paying.
  • For now, leave the fourth column of the chart blank, and store it in your “Financial Data” binder.

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2. Eliminate Joint Debt

Before we create a plan for paying down your debt, it’s important to consider some special circumstances that may apply to you as a single parent. I asked LaToya Irby, Credit/Debt Management Expert, to share her expertise on handling joint debt:

Wolf: Let’s say a single mom still shares a credit card with her ex. What should she do?

Irby: Ideally, she would want her ex to transfer his portion of any joint balances onto his own credit card. That way, everyone is paying for their own debt.

Wolf: What about leaving both names on the account, and agreeing to pay part of the amount due? Is that ever advisable?

Irby: No. If you’ve made an agreement with your ex to split the debt payments on accounts that include your name, and your ex-misses a payment, it’s going to hurt your credit. If the ex-fails to pay altogether, the creditors and collectors will come after you. Not even a divorce decree can change the terms of a joint credit card agreement. In the credit card issuer’s eyes, you’re just as much responsible for post-divorce accounts as before.

Wolf: What about situations when a couple’s divorce decree mandates that one individual must pay off the joint credit card debt, but that person fails to do it?

Irby: You can always file contempt of court papers against him/her, but in the meantime, your credit score suffers. So I suggest paying off the debt to save your credit. If you can’t afford to pay the debt, at least make minimum payments to keep a positive payment history on your credit report.

Wolf: What about other accounts, such as utilities and cell phones?

Irby: The safest thing to do, if you have a service in your ex’s name, is to turn off the account and reestablish service in your name.

 

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3. Find Money to Pay Down Debt

Another thing we have to do before creating a plan to pay down your existing debt is to find money in your budget each month. To assist in this step, I contacted Erin Huffstetler, Frugal Living Expert.

Wolf: How much money do you think the average person can uncover just by being more intentional about spending and budgeting?

Huffstetler: The average person could easily uncover an extra $250 a month—and probably much more.

Wolf: What are the top 5 areas that you think people should look to first when they’re trying to cut their expenses?

Huffstetler:

  • Food spending (both groceries and eating out)
  • TV-related expenses (cable/satellite services, certainly; but also movie subscriptions and rentals)
  • Phone services (particularly extras like call waiting, caller id, long distance, and cell phones)
  • Insurance premiums
  • Miscellaneous spending (all those small amounts spent on coffee, vending machine snacks, and other indulgences)

Wolf: How can single parents, specifically, stretch their child support dollars and reduce child-related expenses?

Huffstetler: For single parents looking to stretch their child support dollars, creativity is the key. Look to children’s consignment shops and thrift stores to buy your kids’ clothes instead of department stores; sign them up for Parks and Rec-run activities instead of privately-run activities (which will always cost more); and don’t feel like you have to make up for being a single parent by buying them extra things—it’s you they need, not stuff.

 

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4. Pay Off Your Debt

The next step is creating a schedule for paying down your debt:

  1. Pay off the debts that charge you the highest interest first.Bob Hammond, author of Life Without Debt, recommends that you pay off the debts that are charging you the highest interest first since borrowing from those creditors is costing you the most money. “Concentrate on paying off the high-cost debts as soon as possible,” Hammond advises. LaToya Irby, Credit/Debt Management Expert, agrees. “Highest interest rate debts cost the most money, especially when those debts have high balances. So you’ll save money on interest charges when you pay off those high-interest rate debts first.”However, there are exceptions to this general rule. Irby notes, “If you’re likely to get discouraged because it’s taking a long time to pay off that high-interest rate debt, you can start with the lowest balance debt. Getting some small debts paid off will motivate you to keep going.”
  2. Pay more than the minimum payment. Aim for paying more than the suggested minimum payment, in order to pay off your debts as quickly as possible.Miriam Caldwell, Money in Your 20’s Expert, shares this advice:
    • Choose one debt to focus on.
    • Increase your payment on that debt by as much as you can.
    • Once you have paid off that debt, move all that you are paying on it to the next debt you want to pay off.
    • You’ll be surprised at how quickly you can get out of debt with this plan!
  3. Meanwhile, continue to pay the minimum balance due on all of your other debts.Record what you intend to pay toward each debt on the debt chart you made in Step 1.

 

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5. Budget Your Monthly Expenses

Now that you know where you stand financially, and you’ve created a plan for paying down your debts, it’s time to make sure that you’re making any other necessary adjustments so that you can keep up with your plan. And this means creating a budget.

I know this can be intimidating, but I’m going to make a suggestion for you: Sign up for Mint.com. It’s a free financial software program available on the Internet, and it will basically do your budgeting for you. It will create a visual pie chart showing how much you’re spending each month on housing, gas, food, entertainment, and more. This way, if it turns out that you’re spending a lot more on food than you really should, you can begin to make the necessary adjustments to get your spending under control.

If you would prefer to create your budget the traditional way, allotting a certain amount of money to each spending category, I’ve created an online budget calculator you can use, which includes categories for child support and other details specific to your life as a single parent.

Finally, in taking a look at where your money really goes each month, it’s important to know approximately how much money you “should” be spending in each category. Generally speaking, your net spendable income (after taxes) should be allocated as follows*:

  • Housing: 30%
  • Food: 12%
  • Auto: 14%
  • Insurance: 5%
  • Debt: 5%
  • Entertainment: 7%
  • Clothing: 6%
  • Savings: 5%
  • Medical/Dental: 4%
  • Miscellaneous: 7%
  • Child Care: 5%
  • Investments: 5%

 

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6. Set Financial Goals

Now that you’ve worked out a plan to pay down your debt, and you’ve created a budget, it’s time to determine your needs moving forward.

Specifically, as a single parent, you need to ask yourself some questions, such as:

  • Do you need to file for child support?
  • Do you need to get a higher-paying job?
  • Is it time to think about going back to school?
  • Do you need to consider moving into a home/rental that would reduce your overall monthly payments?
  • Are there alternatives, such as taking on another job or splitting expenses with another single parent family, that you need to consider at this point?

One of the things that I want you to know is that the ball is in your court. You determine where this goes from here on out. But unfortunately, you can’t do that if you’re ignoring your financial health, right?

So the fact that you’ve come this far in the process of getting a handle on your finances tells me that you’re determined to make the changes you need to make in order to provide for your family’s future.

So go ahead and ask yourself these questions. So much of single parenting is learning to roll with the punches and be creative in the face of adversity. If, indeed, you need to make some pretty major changes, now is the time to do it. Don’t incur any more debt where you are. Be resourceful, follow through, and do what you need to do to turn your financial situation around.

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7. Increase Your Net Worth

The next step is to determine your net worth and begin adding to it.

Determine Your Net Worth:

Your net worth is what you own minus what you owe. Programs such as Mint.com, Quicken, and Microsoft Money will calculate your net worth for you, automatically.

You can also determine your net worth simply by adding up all that you own, including all of your investments, the equity you may have paid into your home, the value of your car, and any other assets you possess; and subtracting what you owe in remaining debts.

Set Up a Savings Account:

Once you know where you stand, you’ll be ready to set up a savings account. You can do this through your regular bank, or begin investing in a mutual fund that pays interest.

Even if you can only afford to set aside $25 or $50 per month, it will begin to add up.

Before you know it, you’ll have an emergency savings plan in place, to protect you in the event that your car breaks down, or your home needs a major repair.

In addition, this regular savings will help you increase your net worth over time.

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8. Become Even More Frugal

Unfortunately, all of the work you’ve already done in steps 1-7 will have little lasting value if you don’t change your attitude toward money. Now is the time to become even more frugal and learn to live within your means.

Practice Discipline:

Stop imagining that more money is going to pour in tomorrow—through finally collecting on unpaid child support, winning the lottery, or getting a promotion. If those things happen, great! You’ll be even better off. But living as if they’re going to happen is causing you to spend money you don’t have.

Instead, force yourself to make purchases with cash only. Do not continue to pay outrageous interest payments toward credit cards for purchases you don’t absolutely need. You can get by without that new furniture, right? What else could you skip, in the interest of spending only what you have right now in the bank?

Try These Ideas:

  • Check Freecycle before you make another major purchase. Someone else may be giving away the very thing you’d like to buy!
  • When you’re getting ready to buy something specific, look for it on eBay first. I buy a lot of my clothes, new-with-tags, through online auctions!
  • Forget trying to keep up with “The Jones’s.” You already know your value; don’t get caught up trying to “prove” your worth to others by having “just the right” house, car, or appearance.
  • Do not use shopping, ever, to appease your emotions.
  • Finally, when you do go to make a big purchase, step back and give yourself a few days–or even a week–to think about it. There’s no reason to suffer through buyer’s remorse and try to justify to yourself purchases that you really can’t afford. Think it over carefully and make those purchases, when necessary, with cash.

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9. Schedule Your Own Weekly Financial Check-In

Grab your calendar and schedule a weekly financial update meeting with yourself. This is an extremely important step in managing your personal finances, and it’s one that you need to continue each and every week. During your “meeting” time:

  • Pay any bills that are due.
  • If your bank statement has arrived, take the time to balance your checkbook.
  • Check the balances of your checking and savings accounts.
  • Update your debt list to incorporate any recent payments.
  • This is also a good time to write out your grocery shopping list and check what’s on sale at your local grocery store this week (either using the store’s Web site or the sales circular that comes in the newspaper).
  • Finally, also make note of any upcoming expenses you need to anticipate and plan for.

An attitude of gratitude and finances.

 

 

References:
Irby, LaToya. Email interview. 24 Oct. 2008, 
Huffstetler, Erin. Email interview. 24 Oct. 2008. 
Sources:
Caldwell, Miriam. Email interview. 27 Oct. 2008, Hammond, Bob. “Debt Free Key: 10 Steps for Coping With Credit Problems.” Life Without Debt. Franklin Lakes, NJ: Career Press, 1995. 31-32, Irby, LaToya. Email interview. 24 Oct. 2008. 
“Spending Plan Online Calculator.” Crown Financial Ministries. 11 Oct. 2008.

Written By: Jennifer Wolf

Source: thebalance

 

 

 

The Surprising Costs of Downsizing Your Home

© Jamie Grill/Getty Images
© Jamie Grill/Getty Images

When I look at my retirement stash, I have to admit it’s kind of small. When I look at my house, I realize it’s kind of big. And when I consider the two together, I think that maybe I should downsize and use the equity in my house to buy a condo or add to my retirement savings and rent.

Downsizing isn’t for everyone, but it’s one of the few strategies — along with working longer, delaying Social Security or spending less later in retirement — available to near-retirees who find themselves short on retirement savings and don’t have time to catch up, says Steven Sass, of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. “The house is a major source of people’s savings. If you don’t want to work longer or give up eating out in retirement, downsizing should be part of the plan.” (Another way to get at home equity is to take out a reverse mortgage)

Do the math. Before you sell your house and move, add up the costs that can chip away at the amount you free up. For starters, fixing up a house to sell often means spending thousands of dollars in repairs and upgrades (new roof, anyone?). Once the house does sell, you’ll pay commissions to real estate agents on both sides of the transaction, usually to the tune of 6% of the home’s value. Packing and transporting enough furniture to outfit a two-bedroom condo will run $1,500 if you move a few miles away and $5,000 or more if you move across the country, according to the calculator at http://www.moving.com. As for the furniture you don’t keep, you could find yourself spending a few thousand dollars to ship the good stuff to your kid across country and paying a hauler to cart away the rest.

Even after the move, you won’t be home-free. Condo association fees run at least several hundred dollars a month, on top of insurance and property taxes, and if the building needs a major improvement, such as a new roof, you’ll get hit by a special assessment to help cover the cost. Renting is more predictable but leaves you vulnerable to annual rent hikes. And whether you rent or buy, you’ll surely want to buy new furnishings that fit the smaller space, says Paul Miller, a certified financial planner in Boca Raton, Fla. “You think you’re freeing up all this money by downsizing, and then you spend thousands to refurbish.”

Other expenses you might not have considered: Instead of the driveway you currently enjoy, you’ll probably have to fork over cash for a parking space. If you can’t squeeze Grandma’s armoire into the second bedroom (or bear to part with it), you’ll pay $100 a month to rent a storage unit. Because you won’t want to stash those old tax records in the second bedroom, you’ll spring for storage space in the building. Moving far away from friends and family? Factor in the expense of traveling back to the old neighborhood a few times a year. As for the next family reunion, that won’t be happening in your two-bedroom condo: Count on covering the cost of renting a beach house.

Of course, moving to a condo or apartment also allows you to cut your utility bills, eliminate yardwork and snow shoveling, and get rid of your mortgage or trade it for a smaller one — and maybe you’ll make your kids chip in for the beach house. Still, be sure to add up the pluses and minuses before you put out the For Sale sign, not after.

“There are a lot of considerations that go into the downsizing decision,” says Miller. “This may be the last move you’re going to make, so you’d better make it a good one.”

Written by Jane Bennett Clark of Kiplinger

(Source: Kiplinger)

To Downsize or Not to Downsize: The Retiree’s Question

© Zillow
© Zillow

Many boomers may decide to downsize their large multi-level houses in retirement, while others may hang onto their homes for family gatherings and passing on to children. What’s the right move for you?

You might want to stay in your home if …

You have a strong emotional attachment to it.

A lot of times the decision isn’t as much financial as much as it is emotional, says Craig Brimhall, vice president of wealth strategies at Ameriprise Financial.

“People envision their grandkids in the spare bedroom, and that’s a very emotional thing. Sure, it makes sense to save money on a home when you can, but if family ties override that, then you may find yourself doing just the opposite of what you said you’d always do,” he says.

Leaving a home will always be somewhat bittersweet assuming you have positive memories of years gone by, Brimhall explains.

“Many people have a tough time parting with the family home. If you aren’t really fired up about moving into a condo, and financially you aren’t being forced to leave, then it’s OK to stay put.”

You want to leave your home and property to your children.

“If you don’t want to let go, your kids probably don’t want to let go,” Brimhall says. “Even if you’re ready to sell, you may find your kids say, ‘Don’t do it! I want the home!'”

Kids sometimes have surprising opinions about what parents should do in retirement, says Judith Chipps, senior vice president of wealth management at Merrill Lynch.

“If there is a good family situation there, talk to your kids. If you have strong family ties in an area and your kids will be involved with you, then there may not be a need for you to downsize. If your children want you to be involved with their children and they all live nearby, that would be a very strong input into the decision-making,” Chipps says.

You don’t want to move or don’t want a major change.

If the thought of moving and meeting with a real estate agent fills you with terror, you may not need to make a change.

“Psychologically, if this is going to send you into a tailspin and you aren’t going to be happy, then is it worth it? Probably not,” Brimhall says.

If you’re doing the math and you find you’re going to save only a few thousand dollars every year and will be less satisfied, that amount just isn’t worth it.

“If you think about it but you feel like, ‘All my memories are here and I just can’t go through with a big move,’ then I think that’s a sign you shouldn’t uproot yourself,” he says.

With that said, the move itself is a short-term inconvenience, and retirees have to look at the big picture.

“Moving is admittedly a really bad weekend, but then it’s over,” Chipps cautions. “The hassle of moving should not drive the downsizing question.”

You might want to consider downsizing and relocating if …

You want to be closer to grandchildren.

Proximity to grandkids and family is a big consideration for many retirees, Brimhall says.

“I see it a lot of people moving cross country or around the world to be closer to grandkids. It’s a hot button issue, and many people are willing to make the move, regardless of cost.”

Because most retirees don’t have the financial means to keep both their family home and buy something closer to the grandkids, downsizing or selling your current home is the most common solution.

You’re on a fixed income and the cost/upkeep may be too much for you.

When living on a fixed income you may find it difficult to keep up with the expenses that go along with a larger home, not to mention that its maintenance may become more difficult as you get older, says Leslie Tayne, author of Life & Debt and founder of Tayne Law Group.

“Downsizing to a more affordable home or condo is usually a better option,” Tayne says. “Making a decision to downsize can be very difficult because it is often very emotional; however, although your home is filled with memories and sentiment, it may be more practical to downsize so you are able to live within your means during retirement.”

You want to travel frequently

If you envision a retirement in which you can shut the door behind you and not have to worry about leaky water heaters and roofs, downsizing to a smaller apartment or condo may be the best decision, Chipps says.

“A smaller place with very little upkeep makes sense for people who want to be more mobile,” she says.

You may need a single-level home for medical concerns

If your larger family home would need to be completely retrofit in the event of an injury or needing a wheelchair, a smaller one-level home may make the most sense, Brimhall says.

“It’s not pleasant to think about, but will your house be suitable for you when you are no longer ambulatory? People are living longer and you have to think about the reality of becoming immobile,” he says.

In addition to needing a home equipped for medical care, many retirees may also want to consider the need for a home that is closer to medical facilities, good doctors and hospitals.

Written by Kathryn Tuggle of TheStreet

(Source: TheStreet)