Update 2016: I wrote this post about how to get out of debt as a single mom several years ago. I have since remarried (and added more kids to my family!), but this advice is still quite relevant. I add a few more resources at the end.
After an unexpected divorce, I found myself a single mom of 4 children. During this time, I was focused on building my online income. I had been blogging for a few years at this point, but mostly as a hobby. I needed to grow my business so I could support myself and my kids.
I also had a bit of debt and knew I had to eliminate it so I could lower my expenses and use my income for necessities. I successfully paid off my debts and was able to save an emergency fund too. Here’s how I managed it.
How to Get Out of Debt As a Single Mom
Stop charging – You can’t get out of a hole unless you stop digging! Commit to living debt-free. (Update 2017: I now use a credit card to pay business expenses. This makes my bookkeeping and taxes so much simpler! It’s important to have the discipline to pay it off monthly. Know thyself. If credit cards are a temptation to overspend, don’t use one!)
Paid off the smallest card first – I did this for the psychological boost it gave me. Some experts insist that you should pay off the card with the highest interest rate first. However, there is more to getting right with money than the numbers. Part of it is the emotional aspect. (After all, if you were good at math you wouldn’t be in debt in the first place!) The card had a small balance and getting it over with made me happy and gave me impetus to keep going.
Create a large visual – I’m a visual person and seeing my goals out in front of me is exciting and keeps my goal in the forefront of my mind. I put a large chart on my office wall with a line graph. It had lines for my debt, income and savings. It was exciting to see my savings and income grow each month (funny how that happens!) while my debt got smaller!
Sell stuff of value – I got rid of things that didn’t mean a lot to me but that could be turned into cash. And I disciplined myself to use that money towards the debt ONLY.
Start an emergency fund first – While this seems backwards to some, it helped me feel safer and in control. I thought it would be awful to get out of debt and then have all 4 tires fall off my car or have some other emergency and have to get back in! So having that “baby contingency fund” gave me real peace of mind and made me feel proactive instead of reactive.
Ramped up my income – I worked hard in my business to step up my earnings. I earned money as a blogger and internet marketer. If you are considering starting a blog or want to earn more money from your blog, download my FREE report: 100 Top Blogging Tips here. (Update 2017: I rarely blog anymore! I loved writing and did it for 15 years, but one year ago started a totally new business that now earns me far more than my blog did.)
Track your spending – I kept a small notebook in my purse and wrote down EVERY penny I spent. This is a good money habit. Just the act of doing that naturally curbed my spending! Plus it pointed out weak spots (coffee and books) that I could work on.
Reward yourself for being frugal – I budgeted a small amount (less than before but still something) on little treats for myself so I wouldn’t feel totally deprived. It’s also a good idea to make a list of treats that don’t cost money. Examples: a good library book, a hot bath, a walk in a pretty area with a friend, a free movie from the library.
Transferred balances – I transferred balances on two cards to one that offered zero interest for 6 months. And I paid it off in 6 months then closed the card. I beat the credit card companies at their own game!
Read a lot about personal finance – I read a lot of books during that time about debt, personal finance and emotions around money. I discovered some great blogs! See more: MoneySavingMom’s Budget Book | Pay It Down! by Jean Chatzky Book Review | All The Money in the World review | 17 books on personal finance | My favorite books on radical frugality
Make sacrifices – I temporarily stopped paying my kids an allowance. I talked to them about my goals, about debt and about what we would do when the debt was paid. One of the things I did when the cards were paid was buy my oldest a guitar.
I also didn’t buy myself new clothing for a few months. I just kept focusing on what I wanted, which was to not be beholden to anyone, and did whatever I could to meet that goal, which meant sacrificing things that weren’t as important to me.
I spoke my goal out loud – I shared my goal with others who were close to me, and because of that, opportunities came my way because I had declared my intention.
I wrote more about my experiences as a single mom who got out of debt and living frugally in my ebook, The Temporary Tightwad. Go here to see more.
One thing that I wish I had done differently during this time? I wish I had started investing money. I use the Stash app, which allows you to begin investing with just $5. If you use this link, Stash will give you $5 free to start!
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