I grew up in a single parent household for most of my life.
My parents married soon after I was born but, for a number of reasons, things didn't work out and they separated, eventually getting divorced. My mum, as a result, raised my four siblings (including my autistic brother) and me pretty much on her own. When I was young, I saw the struggles she went through with money – having to pay all the bills, put food on the table and clothes on our backs. And I remember saying to myself at 11 years old that I would not go through the same thing.
Yet somehow fate, and poor choices in men, resulted in me becoming a single parent at 21 as well. Luckily, I learned to embrace the abrupt change that motherhood brought. And I live with the knowledge that God would not have given me something I could not handle. And for that reason I am truly blessed.
However, when it comes to money management I, like many others my age and older, am still figuring it out. Growing up an ambitious and independent person, I saw success as inevitable. But as I became the sole provider for my children, I had to shift focus and rebalance my life accordingly. Like any major life change, you have to reevaluate, and I am still on that journey of figuring out how I can best be financially secure for my family. It goes without saying that I can still make poor decisions, like finding myself among the one in 10 single working parents who have resorted to using payday and doorstep lenders to get by.
These decisions come with lessons learned. I know there will never be a day that my kids go hungry, and I refuse to let my financial strains get the best of me. I work full-time and I get some support from the government in the form of child tax credits and child benefit; but like many others I still struggle to make ends meet. I know it won’t be like this forever, and am confident there will be a time when I will be better off.
One in four families in the UK are headed by a single parent and 90% of those single parents are women. Forty-six percent of single parents had their children within marriage, that is, they had been married or were in a civil partnership, and are now separated, divorced or a surviving partner.
Regardless of the case in which single parenthood came to be, typically, we do not plan to raise babies on our own. Statistics show that children raised in single-parent homes have double the risk of living in relative poverty, compared to those within coupled families. No one wishes to be part of this statistic; in my case, as in many others, life ended up this way involuntarily.
As a young person, you go through life gradually taking on financial responsibilities, whether it's trying to build up your credit score, paying your way at your parents’ home, or fending for yourself as a student living on campus. Money management is an ongoing learning experience, as we figure out how to budget and see the effect that immediate gratification has on our bank balance. We are susceptible to making poor financial decisions.
So when you become a young mum, just like any other young person, you don't automatically know what you're doing with money. I don’t think you can ever be fully prepared for motherhood and the responsibilities that come with it. No matter how many people tell you about their experiences raising kids, or how many babies you may have cared for, you figure it out once you become a mum.
It is very easy for people to say things like "You shouldn't have kids if you can’t afford it" and this is a valid opinion, but it downplays the realities of life and the varying experiences that women go through. Who are we to judge, really? In my case, and I am sure many others', we do not look for sympathy but understanding. We worry every day about reinforcing the cycle of poverty we grew up in.
We each have our own ways of managing money. I know, for instance, a single mother who is working two jobs but still finds herself in rent and council tax arrears. She is living paycheque to paycheque, not able to see where her money is going because direct debits consume it all. It is a tough way to live.
The Conservatives' austerity campaign has hit us single parents hard. It has had a huge effect on low-income families, with an estimated 515,000 more to be affected by 2020. My experience of being solely reliant on child benefit and child tax credits in the past has been, and still is, tough. Knowing that you’re reliant on others to financially support you is very difficult, especially as an independent person. I hate the personal and social stigma that comes with being on benefits. I feel it the most when the media portrays benefit claimants in a negative light. It only reinforces that stigma. So as my benefits gradually reduce as my wages steadily increase, I am beginning to feel a sense of empowerment. I am taking back control of all aspects of my life – including my finances.
This is why it is so essential that kids are taught good money management from day one. Talking about money doesn't often come easily but research from the Money Advice Service states that the more parents talk to their children, and provide them with responsibilities like chores, the better they are at budgeting and planning for their future. Without this, a narrow-minded attitude to money, naive optimism, and plenty of financial regrets could develop. The most important lesson I am teaching my children is to delay gratification in the hope that it will lead to good future spending habits so that they are much better prepared than I was.
I am doing the best I can with the experiences I have had, learning the best way to manage my money and provide for my family. My kids are my motivation; I want to be the best example, working my way up that career ladder so I can support them and prevent them from going down the same rocky road.
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