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17 Ways Single Parents on a Budget Can Save Money

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, it costs approximately $233,000 to raise a child from birth to the age of 17. Housing, food, clothing, child care, transportation, and health care represent the main categories of parental spending. Overall, raising a child is an expensive endeavor.

For single parents, that cost is even more apparent. A 2017 study from the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion found that child-rearing expenses for single-parent households with a before-tax income of less than $59,000 were roughly equal to married couples in the same income bracket. However, the average household income for single parents in this group was $24,400, while married couples averaged $36,300.

As such, single parents have the same financial responsibilities as any other family but are often at a lower income level. That’s only natural when there’s one breadwinner versus two. Luckily, if you’re trying to save money as a single parent, there are multiple strategies you can use.

How Single Parents Can Save Money

Some money-saving strategies boil down to smart personal finance choices, like creating a monthly budget through an app like Tiller or living frugally. Other strategies depend on your income level and take advantage of various assistance programs and tax breaks for parents.

Whatever the case, take an afternoon to organize your finances and make a plan to start saving.

1. Save Money on Groceries

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), single-parent households spent 14.9% of their total income on food in 2019, the highest of any household composition.

Considering how much single parents spend on food, especially with older children in the house, figuring out how to save money on groceries should be a priority. For starters, switch to a budgeting-friendly grocery store in your area and buy store brands over more expensive alternatives.

Additionally, you can try coupon apps and cash-back apps to save more on grocery shopping and household essentials. If you’re a single mom or have teens at home, these apps can also find deals on menstrual products to offset the pink tax. Reward apps won’t dramatically reduce grocery spending, but any amount of money you can save counts.

Single parents can also get creative to save money on food. For example, parents of newborns can make homemade baby food for a healthy, cheaper alternative to store brands.

If you have an older kid with a massive appetite or multiple kids, you can ease the cost of large, frequent grocery trips. Shopping at a warehouse store like Costco or Sam’s Club makes financial sense if your savings outweigh the membership fee. You can supercharge your savings by investing in a stand-alone freezer to take advantage of sales.

Finally, try using kitchen appliances that save you money. Something as simple as a pressure cooker can reduce your food spending by using less energy. You can also use a slow cooker to prepare meals while staying energy efficient.

Both appliances also make it easier to cook with less expensive, tougher cuts of meat. The slow cooker’s low and slow process breaks down chewy collagen. A pressure cooker can also break down the collagen — and more quickly. But only if you don’t overcook the meat.

2. Use Amazon Subscribe & Save

Another effective way for single parents to save money on a tight budget is to start using Amazon Subscribe & Save to get discounts on everyday purchases.

With Subscribe & Save, you can get up to 15% off if you sign up for automatic deliveries of everyday essentials. For single parents, that helps simplify life and prevents you from having to find a babysitter or lug the kiddos to the store because you forgot to restock something essential.

Most products grant a 5% discount for setting up deliveries. However, if you add at least five products to your subscription for the same address, you save 15% on your entire order.

Subscribe & Save works for thousands of products, including categories like:

Plus, Subscribe & Save also has 20% discounts available for categories like diapers and baby food.

Setting up a subscription is free. You can cancel or edit your subscription whenever you choose, and Amazon sends a subscription email reminder before your order ships so you can double-check you’re only buying the products you need.

Amazon Subscribe & Save is undeniably one of the best ways to save money with Amazon. It takes time to figure out the right delivery schedule for your household. However, you can always update your delivery frequency and order quantity, so don’t be afraid to build a Subscribe & Save list and make tweaks to get the timing right.

3. Save Money on Child Care

According to the Center for American Progress, the average cost for center-based child care is $1,230 per month. That represents a significant portion of many household’s income, especially for single parents.

Considering this expense, finding ways to save on day care can be a massive relief for your monthly budget.

To save, start by reviewing available financial assistance programs on to find specific resources and requirements for your state. There’s a range of financial assistance programs, including:

  • Child care subsidies for low-income families
  • Head Start programs that support children’s mental, social, and emotional development as they enter school
  • State-funded prekindergarten programs, which you can find on Child Care Aware of America

Programs like Head Start are particularly useful because they often provide nutritional assistance and other social services for your family, depending on your income level.

Another option to reduce day care costs is to check for potential school or work child care assistance programs. For example, some employers, colleges, and universities offer on-site day care services to help parents. If the financial burden of day care is keeping you from pursuing an education or hurting your ability to work, search for schools and employers that provide it.

Finally, if you have to pay for day care, look for a family care home instead of center-based child care. The Center for American Progress puts these types of child care facilities at an average of $800 per month, over $300 per month on average cheaper than center-based care.

Regulations vary by state, but family care homes are essentially day cares run from a residential building. While they’re cheaper than center-based care, licensing agencies still monitor family care homes’ health and safety, so you can have peace of mind as a busy parent.

If you don’t need full-time care but need it too often to rely on a sitter, many child care operations offer flexible child care programs. For example, The Children’s Courtyard — which has centers in California, Colorado, Georgia, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, North Carolina, Texas, and Washington state — has a flex care program you can use to get care when you have special day care needs, such as requiring care over holidays or school breaks, if you work part-time or an irregular schedule, or just need the occasional break from the kids.

If you just need occasional help with the kids, there are several other options to help you save money on babysitting. For example, you can start a babysitting co-op if you want to share child care responsibilities among several parents without having to rely on relatives.

If you need to hire a babysitter, opt for a teenager or college student with first-aid training and babysitting certification from the Red Cross or another reputable organization. They typically charge less than professional babysitters or nannies.

If all else fails, lets you find and hire local child care help. It’s free to browse, but you need a membership to contact caregivers. Monthly pricing is $39, or you can prepay for 12 months to drop the price to $13 per month. Alternatively, Sittercity is slightly more affordable and costs $35 per month on a month-to-month basis or approximately $8.20 per month if you pay 12 months upfront.

It’s also worth exploring child care benefits at retailers and service providers you frequent. For example, if you like working out at a gym, shop around for the best gym membership for you. Look for gyms that offer drop-in care, and you won’t need a babysitter. Places like Ikea and Mall of America have drop-in care too.

4. Lean on Your Support Network

A common theme in parenthood savings is to ask your support network for help. Hand-me-downs and babysitting help are probably the most common requests, but there are other ways your network can help you save money, some of which might save them money too.

Even basic ideas like starting to carpool can help save you and your friends and family gas money. If you need to vent or want to maintain your social life without spending a fortune, invite your friends over for a potluck dinner or game night.

Ask your social circle or parent group what they need help with, and put your heads together to figure out how you can help each other save or make money. Start a babysitting circle. Get together on weekends to cook batch meals for the whole gang. Anything you can do to relieve the pressure on each other and save money will help the whole group in the long run.

5. Keep Child Support Payments Fair

Specific requirements vary between states, but if you’re currently receiving child support payments, that’s a massive step in ensuring your child has the financial support they deserve.

However, you can also seek child support adjustments as a result of certain life events, such as:

  • A decrease in income from losing your job
  • The other parent receiving a significant increase in income
  • An increase in the cost of care as your child grows

In these scenarios, you can request a child support payment modification to increase monthly support payments to provide a sufficient level of support for your child.

However, a court must approve any modification. A verbal agreement between both parents isn’t enough. Furthermore, both parties must agree to the modification. If you can’t reach an agreement, you have to file a new child support case with the court.

Ultimately, child support is about what’s in the best interest of the child. Consult a family law attorney for more information.

6. Look for Affordable Activities

As a single parent, it’s often hard to find a moment to breathe. It often feels like you spend every waking moment trying to fill all roles for your kids: caregiver, educator, disciplinarian, breadwinner. It’s hard to find the time, let alone the money, to spend quality time with your family.

Between paying the bills and socking money away to pay for your child’s college education, spending on outings can be difficult unless you get a bit creative.

You can always turn to outdoor activities, regardless of the season. During the fall, backyard camping and hiking trips are free and fun activities for kids. During the summertime, a beach day is a budget-friendly outing. And if you’re looking for wintertime activities, visit your local skating rink or build a snow fort in the backyard.

For more ideas, see our articles on outdoor fall activities, winter activities, and summer activities.

If you decide to spend money on outings, try to find venues that offer child admission discounts or free entry. For dining, search your area for restaurants and fast-food chains where kids eat free on certain days. Then use any other tips for saving money on eating out to keep even more cash in your wallet.

And before you take a family trip, read our article on affordable ways to save money on vacations.

7. Stop Feeling Guilty About Saying No

While this isn’t the most obvious way to save money as a single parent, it’s an important tip to keep in mind.

Unfortunately, saying no to kids isn’t always easy, especially if the only reason you’re saying it is because you can’t afford what they want. Instead of caving and unbalancing your budget, stave off that guilt by remembering you’re doing your kid a favor by saying no.

Behavioral author and former psychotherapist Dan Mager, writing for Psychology Today, says saying no is part of teaching your child there are limits and that happiness doesn’t come from buying new things. Learning you don’t always get what you want is a crucial life skill.

But things can get complicated when you include a noncustodial parent or even an overeager relative. The best solution is to discuss boundaries with these other parties to ensure all parties understand and respect the rules.

When it comes to equal co-parents, Psychology Today contributor and licensed psychologist Deborah Serani says to keep an open dialogue and develop consistent rules between both households. Set boundaries and spell them out clearly, and you can keep parenting styles consistent for your child and in line with your expectations.

8. Don’t Overspend on Newborns

Newborn baby expenses can come as a shock to first-time parents because they tend to come all at once. Baby supplies, toys, a crib, diapers, and child care mean the cost of having a baby is quite significant. And for single parents, there’s only one income to support all the costs that come with having a baby.

The first tip for saving money on newborn expenses is to wait to buy certain baby products until after the birth. For example, many parents stock up on newborn clothing before their new arrival. But clothing that’s too loose is actually hazardous for newborns because it can restrict breathing when sleeping. So while preplanning sounds great, it’s often better to wait so you can shop for the right size.

Friends and family members will also buy you tons of baby gifts. So until you see what they picked out, that money is better off waiting in a high-yield savings account.

Other ideas to reduce newborn costs include:

  • Switching from disposable diapers to cloth diapers
  • Relying on your local library for children’s books
  • Getting toys from a toy library or local charities like the Salvation Army
  • Share child care responsibilities with other parents to reduce babysitter fees
  • Asking friends and family or even neighbors on sites like Nextdoor and Freecycle if they have secondhand baby toys, books, or clothing
  • Shopping at thrift stores for clothing and other baby essentials

Finally, there are certain baby items you shouldn’t buy. For example, bedding can be a suffocation hazard for newborns.

9. Don’t Overspend on Children’s Clothing

While housing, food, and transportation are where most people spend their money, clothing still made up 4.4% of annual spending per year for single parents, according to the 2019 BLS data.

Some wardrobe spending is for your own closet. But you have to buy more frequently for growing kids, so it’s worth focusing on cutting back there.

Luckily, there are several ways to save money on kids clothing. Money-saving tricks include:

  • Shopping in the clearance aisles
  • Buying out of season to avoid inflated pricing
  • Shopping at discount superstores like Walmart and Target
  • If you don’t get more than enough hand-me-downs from friends and family, you can post clothes your older child has outgrown on Nextdoor and let your community know you’re also looking for new sizes for your little one
  • Learning how to sew so you can fix minor rips in your kids’ clothing

Additionally, you can try shopping online for kids’ clothing with a variety of money-saving browser extensions. For example, Rakuten pays you cash back for shopping online at thousands of stores. You can also try Capital One Shopping to apply coupons automatically when you shop online.

Capital One Shopping compensates us when you get the browser extension using the links provided.

10. Save Money on Children’s Toys & Books

As a single parent, it can be financially straining to keep up with growing kids. Aside from continually buying clothing that fits, you also want to encourage your child’s development by buying toys and books that foster their curiosity.

But that doesn’t mean you have to buy everything brand new. Most of the time, kids don’t care if their toy is gently used so long as it’s fun to play with. So save your money for the hot new toy they’ll want for Christmas and accept those hand-me-downs from friends and family.

Consignment stores like Once Upon a Child also sell gently used clothing, toys, and baby gear at up to 70% off retail pricing. You can also search Kidizen for gently used kids fashion, toys, and essentials. Finally, check out local thrift shops, charitable groups, and garage sales to find affordable children’s toys and books throughout the year.

If you want to avoid spending altogether, check your area for a toy library or create your own toy exchange with other parents. These exchanges let parents drop off old toys and borrow gently used ones for their kids. Toy exchanges ultimately help extend the life of every toy and let everyone save money.

11. Save Money on Children’s Sports

According to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine, youth sports reduce the likelihood of childhood obesity, encourage healthy eating, and even reduce the odds of smoking and drug abuse in adolescents. While the study also highlights that sports can lead to childhood injuries and hypercompetitiveness if taken too seriously, there’s no denying youth sports have a range of physical and psychological benefits.

However, childhood sports leagues are expensive, especially for sports like hockey and football, which require costly equipment in addition to sign-up fees. It’s tough enough to make it to every game and practice as a single parent, so why add stress by overpaying for equipment and registration fees?

Thankfully, as a single parent of athletic kids, you can still save on organized sports. The simplest trick is to register early since leagues often become more expensive to join as a season approaches.

If you have the time and skills, you can also offer to coach or referee games in exchange for a discount, depending on the sport and league.

Encouraging your kid to join school teams is also a cheap alternative to most city-run sporting leagues. Similarly, community centers like the YMCA often host their own leagues or have free drop-in matches for all age groups.

Finally, if you need to buy equipment, shop used from stores like Play It Again Sports. You can also find deals on Craigslist if you’re comfortable meeting a seller in person and can put in the time to search for deals.

You can also try searching on Nextdoor, Freecycle, and the Facebook Marketplace. Prices are almost always cheaper than buying new. And you can also post on Nextdoor and Freecycle to let your neighbors know the type of sports equipment you’re looking for.

12. Cut the Nonessentials

As a single parent, you probably lead a pretty busy life. Finding time for yourself can be difficult, considering how many daily responsibilities you have. While that’s part of being a parent, it also means you may still be paying for some expenses for previous hobbies or diversions you’re underusing or have completely forgotten about.

If you take a hard look at your monthly payments, there’s probably room to trim some unnecessary expenses. Some common areas you can reduce or eliminate spending include:

  • Phone Bills. Cancel your landline phone if you barely use it. Also check your cellphone plan to ensure you’re not overpaying for features you don’t use, like unlimited data. Cellphone plans are quite competitive these days, and you can find affordable plans that still have unlimited talk, text, and some data. Look into carriers like Mint Mobile.
  • Cable Bills. If you’re too busy to watch TV regularly, it makes sense to cut your cable subscription. You can switch to more affordable streaming services to provide entertainment for your family. Disney+ is an excellent option for kids. But it even has content for older audiences, like “The Simpsons” and the “Star Wars” and “Marvel” franchises. Disney+ costs $6.99 per month (or $69.99 annually). If you want more variety, you can bundle Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+ for $12.99 per month.
  • Personal Care. Taking care of yourself and de-stressing helps prevent burnout. But that doesn’t mean you can’t save money doing it. For example, if your care routine involves going to the spa or salon, try a DIY spa day to keep costs down without sacrificing your routine (and your kids might even enjoy it). Similarly, if you unwind through relaxing hobbies like reading, finding free audiobooks or e-books can help you save. No matter what you enjoy, get creative and find ways to do them without spending as much.
  • Fitness. You don’t need an expensive gym membership or equipment to stay active. There are numerous free and inexpensive ways to work out at home.
  • Finally Kick a Habit. If you’ve been thinking about quitting an expensive hobby like smoking or drinking, now’s the perfect time. Review your monthly spending for the habit you’re trying to eliminate and set a new spending limit. This limit can be $0 if you want to quit entirely or a lower amount than you currently spend on average.
  • Skip Little Expenses. It might seem harmless in the moment, but little expenses like playing the lottery or a daily trip to Starbucks add up quickly. If you need a game plan to quit these habits, try financial fasting, and don’t purchase anything but necessities for 21 days.
  • Go Green. If you’re currently buying products like plastic water bottles or coffee pods, you’re wasting money. You can save money by going green. Even minor changes, like switching to reusable water bottles and being less wasteful overall, help you save.

Every family is different, so examine your monthly spending to find areas where you can cut back.

If you like the idea but are short on time, try a bill negotiation service. Companies like Trim call service providers, such as Internet and cable companies, on your behalf to negotiate lower rates. If these companies save you money, they typically take a percentage of the annual savings for their time.

13. Take Advantage of Tax Credits for Single Parents

If you’re a single parent, it’s time to use tax season to your advantage.

For starters, all parents can use the child tax credit to save up to $2,000 for each eligible child. There are numerous IRS requirements for filing, but generally, as long as your child is under 17, a citizen, and is a dependent on your federal tax return, you can claim the credit.

The child tax credit is subject to income limitations if you make $200,000 or more when filing separately. However, that’s a nonissue for most single parents. Another important condition is that your child must receive over half of their support from you within a given year, not a separated partner. Additionally, your child must live with you for more than six months per year to qualify.

There are also other ways single parents can save when filing their taxes. For example, you might be able to deduct child care expenses if you earned an income and paid for child care so you could work or look for a job. That applies to children 12 years old or younger. Depending on your income level, you can deduct up to 35% of child care expenses.

Finally, filing as the head of household on your taxes can save money. Generally, filing as the head of household puts you in a lower tax bracket than filing as single. To qualify for head-of-household filing, you must:

  • Pay more than half of household expenses
  • Have a qualifying child or dependent
  • Be unmarried or considered unmarried for the tax year

If you combine these tax credits, tax season certainly becomes more profitable for single parents. If you follow appropriate tax preparation tips and track your income and expenses throughout the year, filing won’t be too difficult. You can also rely on tax preparation software or professional help to file your taxes.

14. Apply for Government Assistance Programs

Like tax breaks, there are numerous programs in place to help families and individuals who need financial assistance. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 20% of U.S. families with at least one child under 18 receive some type of assistance. And nearly 46% of families who receive assistance are single-parent households.

Food assistance programs are one example. For starters, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, currently helps more than 40 million people pay for their monthly groceries. You can visit the USDA’s website to check your eligibility, but your search doesn’t have to end there.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, commonly known as WIC, is another food assistance program that helps pregnant and postpartum parents, infants, and children 5 years or younger.

WIC’s primary goal is to provide nutritional assistance. But WIC also provides access to services like health screenings, nutrition and breastfeeding counseling, and immunization screening and referrals.

Like SNAP, WIC has several eligibility requirements, including household income ranging from 100% to 185% of federal poverty guidelines. The WIC prescreening tool takes 15 minutes to complete and helps determine if you’re eligible for assistance. You don’t need to be pregnant or breastfeeding to sign your children up for assistance if they qualify.

Finally, nearly 100,000 schools run the National School Lunch Program. In 2019, the program gave daily free or low-cost meals to over 29 million students. This program is available to any student at a school partner regardless of household income.

For more help feeding your family, read our article on food assistance programs.

If you don’t qualify for any of those programs, is a resource you can use to find financial assistance, loans, health care guidance, and even disaster relief. You just have to use the benefit finder tool to help the system match you to programs you qualify for.

It might take a few afternoons of research and phone calls to find programs you’re eligible for, but the work is worth it if you qualify. If you only need temporary emergency assistance, read our article on emergency financial assistance.

15. Build an Emergency Fund

Building an emergency fund is one of the most important financial decisions you can make. It can help you stay afloat during short-term emergencies. These types of emergencies can hit sole breadwinners particularly hard if they negatively impact their ability to pay the bills or get to a job that pays the bills.

For example, if your car broke down tomorrow, would you have enough money to pay for major repairs out of pocket?

Similarly, larger emergency funds come in handy for extended periods of financial instability. If you ever lose your job, having a few months’ worth of money saved helps cover monthly expenses until you get back on track.

Building a stash of cash for tough financial times can be more challenging if you have a lower income and are already spending most of your paycheck on things like rent and child care.

But you need a game plan. The last thing you want is to take on credit card debt or, even worse, predatory payday loans with painfully high interest rates.

To start, download a budgeting app like Tiller or Mint to track your spending and set monthly spending limits for different categories. Once you calculate your average monthly expenses and savings rate, decide how much money you can comfortably put into your emergency fund each month. If money’s too tight, cutting back on expenses can help you find a bit of wiggle room in your budget.

You should park your emergency fund in a separate account from your primary savings and checking accounts to ensure you don’t spend the money. Additionally, you should deposit the money into a high-yield savings account to help offset the impact of inflation.

The CIT Savings Builder is one reliable bank account that pays nine times the national average annual percentage yield (APY) and only requires a $100 deposit to open. Plus, there aren’t any account fees, and you unlock the highest APY by depositing at least $100 per month.

After opening your account, take a portion of each paycheck and put it into your new savings account. If you can’t afford a large sum, even putting $5 per week into the account is a start.

You can also look into flexible side gigs to make extra money to build your emergency fund faster. Try online freelancing in the evenings after your kids go to bed. Similarly, gig economy jobs like driving for DoorDash or Instacart are flexible enough to let you work nights or weekends when you can access free or low-cost child care through family or a babysitting co-op.

16. Speak to a Financial Professional

It doesn’t matter whether you make six figures per year or $600 per week. Speaking to the right financial advisor can help you save money today and in the future.

Different financial professionals suit different needs. Single parents might benefit from speaking to:

  • A Financial Planner: Can help you develop a roadmap for managing your wealth and goals like saving for your child’s education
  • An Insurance Agent: Can help you find affordable coverage and decide if you need certain kinds of insurance, like life insurance
  • A Credit Counselor: If you’re drowning in student loans or credit card debt, credit counseling can help you get it under control and make a plan
  • An Accountant: Can help you file your taxes properly and make use of all available child tax credits

Deciding whether you need financial guidance is entirely up to you. Start by comparing the cost of different advisors and deciding which financial issue is most urgent. For example, single parents with an immense amount of debt can likely benefit more from talking to a credit counselor than an accountant. Paying for expert help can be expensive, but if the advice sets you on the right financial path, it might be the right choice.

17. Check Into Flexible Work Hours

As a single parent, managing your work life amid a slew of other responsibilities can be challenging. Plus, eventualities like a sick child staying home from school can throw your entire workday into a scramble.

Thankfully, it’s often possible to negotiate a flexible or remote schedule with your employer. Companies are already warming to the idea of flexible working arrangements and completely remote workers. A 2020 Gartner survey found that over 80% of company leaders plan to let employees work remotely sometimes. And an analysis from employment site FlexJobs on remote work statistics also found that remote workers typically save money, are more productive, and have a better work-life balance.

If you’re negotiating with your employer, support your request with these types of findings. Ultimately, remote work is usually a winning solution for both parties. Even if you can’t go fully remote, having more flexibility in your schedule to sometimes stay home can be a massive relief as a busy single parent.

If your job can’t accommodate a flexible schedule, you can also search for remote-friendly jobs and begin planning a career change. FlexJobs is specifically geared toward flexible employment, though you can find plenty of flexible and remote positions on sites like ZipRecruiter.

Final Word

As a single parent, the responsibility of parenthood rests solely on your shoulders. But that doesn’t mean you can’t save money, build memories with your child, and still have some free time for yourself.

Ultimately, one of the most powerful things you can do is build and lean on a support network. It can consist of other single parents who understand the challenges of solo parenting, your family, or close friends.

Whatever the case, being a single parent doesn’t mean you have to tackle every challenge on your own. And while there will be stressful moments, the beauty of raising a child and watching them grow is worth it.

Tom is a freelance writer originally from Toronto, Canada. Tom's passion for finance and discovering methods to make money originally sparked in college when he was trying to make ends meet on a tight budget. Outside of freelance writing, Tom also manages the blog This Online World - a personal finance website dedicated to helping young adults make and save more money.