How do you make money work as a single parent? In the latest post in our Frolo Financials series we chat to one mum of two, working full-time, who describes herself as a ‘co-parent, ish’…
I’m 43 and I have two children aged 13 and 11. I’d call myself a co-parent, ish. I make all the decisions and have all the responsibilities. My ex-husband has them to stay every other weekend. I am responsible for all the childcare.
I work 35 hours a week as a Regional Manager for national charity. I give personal money advice to people for a living, particularly focussed on debts and budgeting, and am qualified to do this. I have also been in the situation that when my husband left my income didn’t even cover the mortgage payments let alone food or anything else, so I have been completely broke and I get it. I understand the theory and have lived it in a practical sense.
When my husband left I was working 21 hours per week on a fixed term contract for a small charity. I had to claim child benefit and tax credits the day he left as his income meant that we hadn’t been eligible for either of these. As I waited for these to come through I had no choice but to live off credit cards. This was six years ago and before food banks really existed. This credit card was finally paid off in December 2020, ironically with back paid child maintenance my ex owed me.
I gradually increased my hours and income but things were always very tight. One Christmas I sat down and worked out what figure I needed to earn on my own to cover the bills and have a comfortable quality of life – for me this meant not worrying about finding money for school trips, being able to fix the boiler when it broke and a caravan holiday in Cornwall, nothing too fancy. For me this figure was £30,000. I applied for my current role and have been here just over two years.
My ex pays me maintenance and I pay for everything for the kids – clothes, shoes, school uniform, school trips, music lessons. When they were younger I had enough income to cover the bills but not for extras like swimming lessons. If he was late paying me maintenance, (not uncommon at the start), I had to sit the kids down to explain that if he didn’t pay me then they couldn’t go swimming. I think it’s important that children know the cost of things and value money.
I live in an affluent area of the South East where there aren’t many single parents – I’m the only one in my friendship group – so there’s a lack of understanding that I cannot always afford to join in with drinks and meals out.
I remember a few years ago having a very direct conversation with the deputy head at school about how I could not afford £410 for a school trip. She listed all the reasons why my son could go. I explained that we would just go without things like birthday presents or clothes to pay for it. She seemed quite surprised that this was my reality and that money can only be spent once.
This conversation was motivation for me to change my job and earn more.
I recently reduced the term on my mortgage so that it will be paid off before my eldest child leaves school and I no longer receive maintenance. I pay into a work pension, and then £240 additionally into a private pension. My aim is to go part time at 55 and claim this private pension then.
£450 goes into a day to day savings pot – this is for birthdays, Christmas, holidays, car maintenance – and £450 goes to house maintenance. I bought a doer upper and so far have replaced the doors and windows, boiler, gutters and cladding and I’m now saving up to replace the bathroom.
Other regular monthly expenditure includes £58 for my daughter’s flute lessons and instrument hire, £50 for my yoga classes, which are currently on Zoom, donations to two local charities, plus the usual haircuts, clothes, shoes – kids don’t stop growing!
The confidence that I have from being financially independent is amazing. If my ex stopped paying us a penny tomorrow, we would be fine and I have made sure of this. I’m really proud of providing for my children and also showing them that a woman can have a career. I’ve also taught them the value of money – they can guess the total of our food shop to the £1!
If you enjoyed this post, read more of the Frolo Financials series now.
If you would like more information on benefits or support with debt, we suggest Entitledto or Turn2Us for easy to use benefit calculators, Citizens Advice for general benefit and debt advice, National Debtline, or Business Debtline if you have your own business that it’s debt.