Preview: How I do a monthly budget meeting with myself as a single mom to empower myself financially and enjoy a sense of peace around money.
Despite not having any coffee that day, my heart beat so fast I felt light-headed.
The mortgage papers stacked on my desk begged to be signed so the marital home could be transferred to my name, and the deadline was close.
Working through the paperwork with my brain fuzzy from grief, and the income from my business dropping like a rock since my life blew up, I wondered how I was going to stay afloat.
The peace around finances that I’d enjoyed while married – would I ever feel that way again?
While married, the ex and I held frequent budget meetings as a couple. These sessions were crucial in gaining control of our finances. We eliminated his debt, paid cash for new cars (even if one was a church bus that smelled vaguely of eau de nursing home) as our family grew, and saved a hefty down payment on a home.
I’m divorced and a single mom now. I still do a monthly budget meeting – by myself.
On the first day of the month, I grab my red Bullet Journal and my laptop and snuggle into bed. (Oversized pillows at my back and a bergamot-scented candle crackling on my nightstand, because paying attention to your finances is the ultimate in single mama self-care!)
But first … what you should know about budget meeting
I got the concept of budget meetings when the ex and I attended Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. Put simply, it’s a time set aside by a couple to put together next month’s budget and talk about their financial goals.
I’m glad I did FPU. But since then, learning about financial trauma helped me move beyond a shame-based approach to personal finance.
I still think budget meetings are a great idea. I do them by myself now that I’m a single mom. Eventually, I’ll include my two oldest kids still at home so they can learn how a single woman budgets.
Mastering budget meetings: thriving as a single mom
On the first day of each month, I sit down with pencil, my Bullet Journal, and my laptop. I open Mint (that’s Mint, the budget tracker and planner by Intuit, not Mint my frugal mobile provider, but I love that Mint too!).
1: Show me the money: total income for the previous month.
This is the figure I’m going to work with for the new budget. If today is September 1, I total August’s income and that figure is what I’m budgeting.
I budget by managing last month’s money, not my projected income for the current month.
This requires having a cushion in your account. Financial experts teach different ways to budget. I recommend trying various methods to figure out what works for you. This is what works best for me, but as we say in the South, there’s more than one way to skin a cat!
2: Analyze last month’s spending.
I double-check that all transactions are categorized properly in Mint. Sometimes, Walmart is groceries, and other times it’s household supplies. I want my spending to go in the right category, so I make adjustments if needed. If there are different categories in one transaction, I can split it easily using the “split transaction” feature.
I check Mint weekly so this task isn’t overwhelming. This task takes just a few minutes.
I’m also checking to ensure I stay inside the budget I created for that month. What was my actual spending compared with my projected spending? Tracking my spending has been one of the most empowering money habits I’ve adopted. I’ve done it by hand in the past, but now use Mint to automate things a bit.
2b: Look for high or unusual spending.
For example, in July I had back to school expenses that I won’t have next month. One kid had a medical procedure that won’t be repeated for a long time, so that’s another anomaly.
If I saw overspending that didn’t feel good to me, I make note of that as a reminder. I also analyze why I spent too much on those categories. Was it emotional spending? A lack of planning? Or some other dumb reason I was spending too much?
3: What expenses are popping up this month?
Many of our expenses change from month to month. This is why I redo my budget, from scratch, monthly.
A new month might bring the quarterly lawn maintenance, or a bit of frugal travel, or a middle school girl’s “I hate all my clothes!” emergency.
4: Craft a fresh budget tailored to the month ahead.
I write this on a new page in my Bullet Journal, generally next to my monthly calendar page.
Then, typically halfway through the month, I do a quick check of the Trends in my Mint account. This is to make sure I’m on track. If I’m spending a bit too much, I’ll pull back.
I might do a freezer challenge to spend less at the grocery store. Or I’ll plan free weekend fun for the next couple of weeks.
If I spend less than last month’s income, I move some money to investments. Yay!
One final tip: question everything. So often, what we think are fixed expenses… aren’t. Staying creative and strategizing how to lower my spending in every category has been key to finding money to invest.
Solo budget meetings are crucial to my financial peace and growth as a single mom.
Make the whole routine pleasurable. I usually sit down on my bed with a fancy tea or fresh coffee when I look at my finances.
The goal is to create positive associations with good money habits. One reason we avoid looking at our money is because we associate it with painful feelings. We cringe from the shame of overspending or not saving for retirement. Work to be mindful of those and bring them into our conscious awareness.
If we avoid looking at bills or debt or planning for the future, it’s because we’re trying to avoid unpleasant emotions (mental health experts say this is the root of procrastination – an attempt to avoid negative feelings).
When we avoid our money, we create additional pain in our lives.
But we can create pleasant routines around caring for our money that we look forward to. Brew a fancy coffee and sit in a lovely spot. Use a favorite pen or journal. Don your divorced mom cardigan.
the best part of wearing a cardigan is doing the divorced mom wrap around— madimoiselle ? (@drivingmemadi) March 2, 2023
Budget meetings make me feel more in control of my money. They ease financial anxiety. And they aren’t too time-consuming for a busy single mama.
In fact, most of my money is on auto-pilot. My retirement accounts are set up on autodraft. My bills are on autopay. The budget meeting helps me breathe more easily, the tight feeling in my stomach gone, because I know I’m on track with my finances.
You might also enjoy: How to Get Out of Debt As a Single Mom
This is a reader-supported site, and these are affiliate links, meaning I earn a small commission when you make a purchase. Thanks!
A few of my favorite personal finance resources. I personally use and love these tools!