Editor's note: This article was originally published on Jenni Schoenberger's blog, Mama Plus One. It has been republished here with permission.
Someone asked the other day how I afforded being a parent, especially a single one, on my low income. I don't make a ton of money, but I do make enough to get by. I don't have enough to go out and buy a house tomorrow, but I've found that, through careful planning, I can make a dollar stretch and keep our lives stable, steady and consistent.
People asked if I felt like I was doing justice to Zach by only having a small salary on which to care for him. But I do, I do get by. And I have some great tips and tricks for finding ways to pay for the things Zach and I need.
I budget. And re-budget. And check my budget
Not a day goes by that I don't check my online banking. I see how much money is in there, and I budget certain amounts for certain things " some money is set aside to take care of my pet's needs: food, grooming, vet appointments. Some money is set aside to save for Zach's future. Some money is set aside for our family vacation. And, money is set aside for medical bills, food, clothing, personal care and all of the other needs that we have. I stick to a budget, and I budget in some "fun money." You know, for going out for lunch or overdue library book fees.
I make money where I can, to pay for the other things I need
When Zach outgrows something I've bought him, if I don't have anyone to pass it on to, I sell it. Same goes for my own clothes - anything I don't wear or won't fit in is sold. The money I make from it goes into a special place, and when Zach outgrows that last pair of jeans that fit, or I have to have a new pair of shoes because the amount of holes outnumber the amount of threads, we have that money to fall back on. We have that as our emergency clothing budget " and, since we're basically selling what we don't need to get the things we do need, it also helps us have less clutter stored away, and begin simplifying our lives.
I save where I can
Target has this great thing where, every once in a while, they have a deal on diapers that allows you to buy two to three packs of diapers and get a Target gift card. Sometimes, the diapers actually contain coupons to use on your next purchase. I have several Pampers coupons expiring in the next year, and when the deal comes along, I grab enough coupons to get through the sale, buy the diapers I need (I'm stocking size 5 right now, and he's in size 3) and get a gift card for Target.
Those gift cards are great when it's time for the Easter Bunny or Santa to go shopping, or if I'm looking at my budget and thinking "Crap! I didn't budget for this unexpected trip to the doctor, so now I can't afford Zach's puffs that he likes to eat." I can say "Oh. But I have that $5 gift card that I saved from the last diaper sale. I can afford this." And I figure it out.
I accept help
There's a great clothing closet in my hometown. It offers free clothing - NO income requirement necessary. Anyone who needs clothing, or just wants to update their wardrobe with something different, can go to the clothing closet and get something. I try to take in a couple of things for each item I take, just because it helps sustain them and keep them stocked with things to help others. It's nice to know that it's a resource available to me if I need some clothes for Zach or I.
Zach also has some great friends from church and around town that are SO great about handing down clothes from their little boys to my little boy. It's so nice to have their help in getting some clothes for him. And, I rest assured knowing that when Zach outgrows the clothing, it can be passed down to someone else who needs it or passed on to the clothes closet.
I remember that every penny counts
I'm being serious. Absolutely literal about this one " every. penny. counts. Last week I took in a jar of change. I had been saving it for about four years. I didn't really even think about it. The jar just sat on my desk, and anytime I had some spare change, I dumped it into the jar.
Over time, the jar filled up. When it became clear that I was going to be a single parent of a little boy, I made a very important decision. That jar was going to be Zach and I's fun money. No matter how poor we got, no matter what life threw our way, that money could NOT be touched unless it was to do something fun. That means even if I was struggling to pay bills, that money was staying put for something fun for Zach and I.
When I was a little girl, my mom was a single mom, and even though I know now that she had her financial struggles, I never knew it as a child, because she always found a way to make it work, and she always had a little money set aside to make my childhood a little more special (even if it was something little. One time, we bought paint in primary colors, and took squirt guns, and sprayed them over the walls of my room for a fun, exciting paint job. On many occasions, during daycare, we would clean the table with shaving cream - she'd squirt on piles of shaving cream, and we'd spread it out and draw pictures in it or write words).
For me, this jar of change was someday going to be the money that would allow Zach and I to go see Elmo Live, or go stay at a hotel sometime, just for fun. Some people laughed at me for collecting whatever spare change I came across, but to me, that change was important. When the jar finally filled, my brother and I took guesses at how much money might be in it. He guessed that it was probably around $15. I figured he was about right. I took it in, poured that money into the change counter at the bank, and walked away with $41.50. I've since collected more change (from the washing machine, the sidewalk, or old purses in my closet) and I'm almost up to $43. The money will collect until Zach and I decide how exactly we want to use our "fun money." Until then, the change will keep piling up.
I get by on the Grace of God
God has never once let me down. I've had close calls some months where I wasn't sure if I'd have the money, but I haven't overdrawn my account, or had to go hungry, or had anything bad come to Zach or I. He always has everything he needs - food, shelter, clothing, and most importantly, love. God provides. Sometimes I see his provision when it's time for my Citrus Lane money to come out of my account and someone on my blog clicked my referral link, making it something my son and I can afford.
Sometimes I see his provision in that there's a new sale on exactly the thing I was about to run out of. Sometimes I see his provision in the amazing time that my family and I get to spend with each other because I live with them. Sometimes I see his provision in my brother holding my son, while they watch TV at night, and I realize moments like that might not be possible if God had provided more financially, to the point that I didn't have the blessed opportunity to live with my family " and then I recognize that I need to thank Him for providing exactly what I need right now. God takes care of me. He loves me, and He provides for me, and my son.
So when people ask me: are you doing your son justice? Yes. My son has everything he needs. He has toys in every room, enough clothing for various seasons and sizes, all of his favorite snacks, shelves and boxes full of books, and plenty of love. My son gets to see me every day, spend time with me constantly, and know that he has a close relationship with his grandparents and uncle.
When people ask me: how do you even afford being a single mom? I realize that I have learned how to be a single mom, and put my financial worries on God's shoulders, not on my own. I've learned that even if the money is tight, the fact that I get to cuddle up on the couch and watch "Sesame Street" with Zach each morning tells me that I have so much to be thankful for.
Yes, other people may have all the money in the world, and I may be scraping together a few coins. But I have a priceless opportunity to be thankful for the things I am blessed with, and realize that God has never left me wanting. Zach has everything he needs and then some. And so do I.