The Single Mom’s Survival Guide

Stephanie Land Single/Step Parent

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I have been a single mom for most of my daughters’ lives, and there are a lot of things I’ve done when I only had 50 bucks in spending money a month (that included various toiletries). I thought I’d list them. Living well under the poverty level requires a lot of creativity.

1.  Know your grocery stores. Seriously. Know who’s having a sale, who has lower prices on a certain item, and where you can buy something in bulk. My grocery budget isn’t big, and I am committed to feeding my child good-quality products, which often means less for me. A good sale at Safeway can mean twenty bucks you could save.

2.  Allow yourself two things to splurge on with food. For me, this is really good yogurt and coffee.

3.  Learn how to make a really good-quality loaf of bread and muffin. This will save you tons of money, and it’s really healthy and filling.

4.  Use food money wisely. Seriously. It’s your lifeline. Don’t waste it.

5.  Go “out to eat” in your grocery store. Once a month or so, Mia and me would walk down to the local Co-Op and select a few things. Me: an Odwalla juice and a discounted deli sandwich. Her: a chocolate milk, some chips, hummus, an apple, or whatever. We would purchase this food, get a nice window seat, and happily munch away. Sometimes I’d get a coffee, if I had enough change.

6.  McDonald’s Playland is actually pretty awesome on a rainy day.  

7.  Find a really good consignment store. Hang out with the owner if you can and shoot the shit for a while, or better yet offer to help out a bit. They’ll often give you better deals on your clothing. For a while, my daughter’s wardrobe was funded almost completely by a local consignment store, and her socks, underwear and sometimes shoes (and other must-needed items like leggings or whatever) were from Walmart.

8.  Know your parks! Find one with a good bench that sits in the sun, and enclosed area that doesn’t have lot of hiding spaces, and park yourself with a book for the afternoon. Bring snacks.

9.  Forage. Learn your local flora and fauna. Pick berries, dig up mushrooms, snag apples. Find a community garden. Grow gardens wherever you can.

10.  Find a really good, high protein granola bar. When these go on sale, buy a case if you can.

11.  Connect with a local therapist. Either through a local Domestic Violence Chapter or Community Health Center. If anything, it’s good to unload for an hour, and it comes at no cost. Other counseling centers will also have a sliding scale fee. Call around. It’s worth it.

13.  If you have any single mom friends, hold on to them like precious jewels. These ladies know how it is, and that is valuable. They are your lifeline, and your cohort. Make groups. Have play dates. Help each other out. Create a village.

14.  Meditate on moments. Stop and breathe. Take mental pictures of your kid laughing. Enjoy a minute to yourself. I mean, really enjoy. Even if it’s sitting in your car before you go into the store and your kid is dozing in their car seat, relish it. Embellish it.

15.  Always ask for bartering. A lot of people might not be able to pay you, but if you offer to clean their house, weed their lawn, or watch their dogs while they’re away, you can often get a lot more for your buck/time. Massage practices would be an excellent place to start with this.  Also landlords. Always always offer to work off your rent.

16.  Make the most of your kid-free time. Being a co-parent isn’t easy, especially if the relationship is not a good one. When your kid’s away at the other parent’s house, it’s hard. I know it is. But use this time to connect with yourself. Give yourself time to relax. You’ve earned it, Super Mom.

17.  You will look back on this time with a ton of nostalgia. Trust me. You have been given an opportunity to get to know yourself and your child(ren) without the benefits that a lot of money brings. Without the distraction of electronics or fancy shiny things. It’s just you, your kid, and a puzzle that you found for 25 cents at a garage sale. Many people don’t have this luxury. And trust me, it is one.

18.  Dating. This could be a whole other list. Don’t give up hope. Dating as a single mother in itself is a really good way to weed out the men from the boys. Try not to waste your kid’s time (and heart) with this. If they seem like they’re a keeper, that’s one thing. If they’re a fling, keep the worlds separate as much as you can.

19.  Create routines that are a little on the weird side. Like listening to a certain song in the morning. Kissing a certain way at night or when you say goodbye. The way you cut up pancakes or warm up towels in the dryer after a bath could be the one thing your kid will look back on and sigh with a feeling of comfort. But it’s important to create that comfort now. These little things are the ones you fall back on when you’re needing that reassurance that you’re gonna make it.

20.  You will make it! This too shall pass. Nothing is permanent. Carpe Diem. Find your mantra, and listen to it. My personal one was “I love you, I’m here for you,” because really, you are all you have. And, when it comes down to it, YOU and your mental and physical health are what’s important. Take care of them before you take care of your kid whenever you can. Nobody likes to scrape bottoms of barrels all the time. Find your moments of peace, your happy places, and your own little mantras. Love on your kids, and they will return the gesture ten-fold.


Hear Stephanie Land in The Mamalode Podcast, Episode 1, from March 2016


About the Author

Stephanie Land

Stephanie Land's work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Vox, Salon, and many other outlets. She focuses on social and economic justice as a writing fellow through the Center for Community Change, and through the Economic Hardship Reporting Project. Her memoir, MAID: A Single Mother's Journey from Cleaning House to Finding Home, is forthcoming through Hachette Books. She writes from Missoula, Montana, where she lives with her two daughters.

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January 2015 – live & learn
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