Over 13 million Americans struggle each day to be the best single parent they can. It can be a thankless job and one that requires an entire set of financial tools that couples rarely face. This column is dedicated to helping the single parent cope.
Twenty-five percent of children under the age of 18 in the U.S. are being raised without a Dad. That’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of single fathers bringing up children, but the facts are that the majority (80%) of single parents in this country are women. Nearly half of them live below the poverty line. Here’s how you can avoid that fate.
The first change you must make is in developing a new attitude toward life and your finances. If your spouse had been handling the finances before you broke up, that responsibility is now squarely on your shoulders. Step one is to know how much you are spending. Create a budget. Record everything you spend each day for the next three months and then divide the total by three. That will give you an understanding of how much you are spending on average each month. With knowledge comes power.
Continue to do this for that first year and make sure to monitor your spending on everything. The next thing to do is establish an emergency fund that can be accessed easily. This pool of money is earmarked for unexpected expenses like home repairs, new tires, etc. You should keep a reserve of 3-6 months of expenses on hand for emergencies, or in case you lose your job.
If you are now or have been a stay-at-home spouse, you will probably need to consider a new career. That may require taking classes to earn a degree or attend a vocational school. Sometimes divorce courts allow for “rehabilitation maintenance,” which can be negotiated in a marital settlement agreement requiring one spouse to pay for the other’s training. This is especially so when one spouse initially worked and paid for the other spouse’s law, medical, MBA or other degree. Now it’s your turn.
For those of you who already have a good-paying job, retirement savings will now become critical to your future and that of your family. You need to save at least 15% of your salary each year and if you can afford it, much more.
You must also reevaluate all of your financial documents. Term life insurance is important in the event that something happens to you. It is the obvious way that your children can be cared for financially if you or your ex dies suddenly. Life insurance, for those who are in the throes of divorce right now, can be mandated in a divorce decree. I suggest you insist on it and make sure your ex does not allow it to lapse by law. The policy should be large enough to insure there are ample funds to provide a home, basis living needs, medical expenses and college tuition for all your children.
Make sure that all of your retirement accounts and other pools of money have the proper beneficiaries recorded. This includes any money your parents may intend to leave to your kids. Normally, your children should now be the legal beneficiaries of any inheritance. The last thing you want is to see your ex-spouse receive your assets or become the custodian of assets while your children come of age. And while you are at it, you might give some thought to who you would like to have as guardians of your children in case of your death if not your ex-spouse.
Single parenting is a hard job and the relationship you have with your ex can make it that much more difficult if it is mired in recrimination and hostility. What is done is done. Your future success demands that you acquire a new self-image, devoid of the past, that will allow you to treat your ex as a business partner for the sake of your children and your future self. The sooner you accept these facts, the sooner you and your children can start enjoying life again.