I’ve spent a lot of money over the last few months. Partly it has been the classic ‘I’m sad about breaking up so I’m going to buy some pretty wine glasses’ type of spending, but also there has been a fair amount of eating out because I don’t want to cook and trips to the cinema because I want to entertain Belle but also want to sit quietly in the dark for two hours.
Budgeting as a single parent generally is tricky on several levels.
Firstly there is the fact that you only have one income. Dur, obviously that’s tricky. You have to basically spend the same as if you were a two-parent family though, because you have to live in a proper house and have a TV licence and pay bills and what not.
Secondly, and the bit I actually find hardest, is that you end up solely responsible for entertainment. You can’t tag team the amusements so that one of you can have a nice lie down with a book while the other one attempts wholesome craft activities, and it all ends up feeling a bit intense. As a result, I often resort to the aforementioned cinema trips and other outings that dilute the feelings of responsibility a little but that inevitably cost money.
Thirdly, you basically have no time to do anything and the fact there is no one to research car insurance prices for you makes you cry, and then you have to play patience on your phone for a little while to calm down, get distracted and forget to pay the credit card bill. (This last bit could just be me.)
Here are some tips then to help you budget as a single parent:
Get an overview
When you’re worrying about the pennies, it’s always good to get an idea of exactly what the pounds are up to. A tool like Money Dashboard is great for this – it helps you get to grips with what’s happening on a grander scale and gives you an idea of whether things are generally heading in the right direction. Better still, it has great visuals, so you can see at a glance what your money is up to.
Look at the detail
Now you’re a bit more comfortable with the bigger picture, you can afford* to drill down into the detail and see if you can identify areas for concern or potential savings. Recently I realised I was paying too much for my gas and electricity direct debits for instance and that I was over £600 in credit! It really does pay to check up on these things now and again. Money Dashboard can help with this too.
Take out cash
This is a classic one. Taking out actual physical cash helps you focus on what you’re spending. It makes you a little bit more aware of things, rather than simply popping to a café, handing over a bit of plastic and ‘spending’ £10 on two milkshakes and a toasted sandwich.
Fail to plan, plan to fail
Has anyone ever said this to you before? It’s highly annoying because you know it’s true, but it still doesn’t make you any more enthusiastic about the prospect of creating anything tedious like a weekly meal planner. As much as the idea may leave you screaming into a pillow, planning meals, outings and large items of expenditure really is important, otherwise like me you end up with a fridge full of pate, soft carrots and tonic water and have to go out for dinner.
What are your top budgeting tips?