Paycheck to Paycheck: How 4 Real Single Moms Make It Work

Anna Williams
Posted

frances“I make every decision based on what is best for my daughter.”

Who: Frances Dawson
Age: 56
Location: Cornelius, N.C.
Occupation: Realtor

I separated from my husband in August 2005 when my daughter was eight years old. I had obtained my real estate license in December 2003, but was not an established realtor yet. I bought a modest home that I felt I could maintain even if I had to switch to a more traditional 8-to-5 job.

The first few years were the hardest. My daughter has some special needs,
was a late bloomer and needed consistency for her success. It was important
to me to drive her to and from school as much as possible and set
up a regular schedule. I found a dependable college student to pick her up
two days a week, and I would get home by dinner most of those nights.

I also took on a realtor assistant who could take on some evening appointments and work with buyers on the weekends that I had my daughter. On the weekends that she went to her dad’s, I would work ferociously until she came home Sunday evening.

Over the years, I have had the great pleasure of being present for all the
big and little days of my daughter’s life. I volunteer at her school, am
active in my faith community, and have a good group of friends and support.

My daughter has had the same wonderful tutor once a week since the third
grade—when money was especially tight, I would pay her first from my
closing commissions and prepay a few months at a time. I depend on our
tutor to tackle the toughest homework and help keep my daughter on track.

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There were times, when the real estate market plunged, when I wasn’t
sure I could make it financially, but somehow it always worked out. I can be
a bargain maven when needed and can find fun even when I have no cash. We
have traveled every year—some years by car—to visit friends, and a couple
of times we took fabulous trips overseas. I carry more debt than I like,
but have no regrets.

“There were times that I wasn’t sure I could make it financially, but somehow it always worked out.”

Eight and a half years later, my daughter is in the 10th grade and turning 17 next week. I still take her to and from school and juggle work from early morning to late at night. My career has afforded me flexibility to be the mom I want to be. I make every decision based on what is best for my daughter and how I can be sure we maintain a healthy, happy, harmonious relationship. Our home is far from perfect, but I am so proud of how far we both have come.

As she gets older, I am beginning to envision my life ahead and how I want
to lead it. I’m beginning to volunteer more, take some professional
opportunities, go out with friends more and think about finding a great,
forever relationship. Beginning this summer we will start visiting colleges, and I don’t know how this day has come so quickly!

RELATED: Why Paying for My Daughter’s College Is My Ultimate Life Goal

family grad salem“I have alarms to take out the trash, water plants, get the car washed, and even a reminder of when to do laundry.”

Who: Anneliese Place
Age: 46
Location: Santa Barbara, Calif.
Occupation: Hospitality consultant

I have been a single mom for 13 years. My daughters’ successes gives me great pride: Shelby, left, is in her second year of dental school at Boston University and will be an officer in the Navy Dental Corps upon graduation.

Salem, right, is at Dos Pueblos Senior High in California. She is in the National Honor Society and is involved in Spanish, sailing and teaching her Border Collie tricks, and is the assistant director in her theater company. The struggle is real, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. These young ladies learned to succeed by watching me earn and provide for them—I generate the income to pay the bills and accomplish all our dreams.

One of the biggest day-to-day struggles is time management. I want to do so many things, but I am only one person. I can get spread pretty thin between work, having to pick up my daughter from school at the same time that the dog needs to be at the vet and dinner needs to be made … and social obligations need to be met. I have to choose what I can accomplish and what needs to be delegated to someone else.

RELATED: 7 Things Motherhood Has Taught Me About Money

A lot of planning has to go into balancing our time. We work with a yearlong calendar on the wall with dry erase markers. We even set calendar alarms on our phones to make sure everyday household chores are accomplished. I have alarms to take out the trash, water plants, get the car washed and even a reminder of when to do laundry. Without a schedule in place, there is no way we could succeed the way we do. I still struggle every day to keep up with plans. Life gets hectic, and things get rescheduled at times.

I have to pick my time wisely. I have found that mornings are my time with the girls. You know how everyone says the dinner table is the best opportunity for family time? Well, not in this family. We’ve got a lot going on! In my house, we have mornings to spend time together. We get dressed and ready for our day together, sharing mascara and mirror space. Breakfast is more than the most important meal of the day—it is often our only time together. We make mornings a big deal. Driving to school, I have a captured audience! We laugh, we joke, we plan, we even take care of crises both big and small—and sometimes we just sing to the radio.

I found time to expand my career by working at night while my kids slept and during the day while they were at school. I have worked many hours more than I wanted to and missed a lot of sleep—but it was worth it. This gave me time to be a mom at home more often.

I am always trying to find a perfect balance between the two. My girls see me work and understand what I do to provide for us as a family—so even then, they are learning from me. Time and events occur so quickly I sometimes don’t know how it all happened so successfully. I find myself at times more confident and empowered because of the sheer responsibility.

The point is, being a single mom means that I had to re­define what our traditional family is and how it accomplishes as much or more than a two-parent home. With enough creativity and a general sense of teamwork, we have made it fun!

  • EJR8726

    While I truly appreciate the women sharing their stories and that as single moms they have struggled, your heading – paycheck to paycheck is very misleading based on these women. I am not a single mom, but my husband and and I struggle paycheck to paycheck in spite of both working often more than one job -usually one full time and one or more part time. This was why I was so interested in the article – again I appreciate the hard work of these women, but this is not what I was looking for or expected in an article headlined :Paycheck to Paycheck.

    • ksgirl73

      True. The title is very misleading. I was hoping for some tips on cutting costs from this article and that’s not what it intended to be.

    • Rona

      I have to agree there is nothing here about paycheck to paycheck. This needs to be renamed very misleading and I was disappointed. I guess it was just about driving traffic to a topic that most people are interested in. Talk about a bait and switch.

  • G

    agreed. This article spoke nothing of the struggles of living paycheck to paycheck.

  • Dani

    I really do appreciate this article. True, it may not be about living paycheck to paycheck but as a single mom, I can definitely relate. I read many of your articles but often they are about how married couples make things work. Thanks for this article. I hope more about single moms will follow.

  • Letsbethruthful

    This was a thoughtful and maybe helpful but not for me. I am enployed working mom living paycheck to paycheck. I do not own a business and not a single mom by choice. Nice gesture but not very helpful.

  • itpaystobeinformed

    I agree with all the other comments, the title is very misleading to me. These women may be living paycheck to paycheck on their income but as I was reading all I could think about was how much more their children had growing up than mine ever did. I am raising 4 children on my own and not by choice either! After paying the rent, utilities, car payment, car insurance, phone bill, food, and gas there is nothing left over and some months there is not even enough to cover those bills. My kids don’t have gaming systems and never have, their clothes come from thrift shops and I don’t get clothes unless they are given to me. There is never enough food for me or my children. My kids don’t go on school field trips because I can’t afford to pay the cost of the field trip. Everyday at work I go hungry for lunch because there are never any leftovers for me to take. I don’t want sympathy and never ask for anything EVER! The only reason I opened up here was because it made me angry to hear these women say they live paycheck to paycheck when in reality they do not! One woman said she found free fun! THERE IS NO SUCH THING! It may be free to get into a park but it takes gas to drive there! Gas is not even close to free!

  • crdol

    I agree that the title is misleading. I appreciate the encouragement that people can live paycheck to paycheck, but no where in the article did it really discuss this as a reality. It talks about being a single mom but these mothers don’t fit into the typical demographics of the average single mom. Being in their 40′s with an established career doesn’t speak to those living paycheck to paycheck. I love the articles on this site, but they seem to be geared towards the upper middle class which is shrinking. The average person in most of them who is dealing with debt and increasing their savings seems to make at least $50,000 a year. My peers who are all college graduates don’t really make more than $35,000 a year. We are all eager to increase our savings, pay off our student loans and perhaps start a business. As encouraging as these articles are they seem to lean towards “if you don’t make at least $50,000 per year we’re not really sure if it’s possible for you.” I disagree with that since I’ve cut my debt in half over the last year on a meager income. I’d like to see something about the real average American.

  • ryr

    I also have an issue with the title of this article. I am truly happy these single moms are able to create a wonderful life for their children, however those of us who are single moms because of absent ex-husbands/fathers who feel their children are no longer their responsibility when the ink dries on the paper or mothers who became single parents because of a slip up. These mothers truly do live paycheck to paycheck and sometimes they don’t get to the second paycheck because the money is already spent. Why not give these moms something that can be used. Many don’t have the awesome support systems these women have nor the great jobs. These moms truly struggle day in and out. I am a single mom myself and have a support system but like many my ex-husband felt his job was done at the divorce. I have a good job actually 2. It is even a struggle for me sometimes. Can’t imagine what it would be like without half of what I have. Please interview a more diverse income bracket so the article can be more helpful to a broader range of single moms.

  • bettyboo

    I totally agree with the sentiments below. These women have a story to tell, but I’m not sure how it’s relevant on a financial website. Learnvest, I love you. I even listen to Alexa on sirius, but the articles are starting to miss the mark. We have someone here who CHOSE to be a single mom, knowing that she was living paycheck to paycheck. I would also suggest that there is a difference between a single parent and a DIVORCED parent.

  • tankgrrlny

    The title of this article is less than accurate. As a single mom who is literally living paycheck to paycheck I found this article insulting and not at all helpful.

  • tracy

    Yes, prepaid college tuition is not a reality for most single moms. This year I will have two in college, and hopefully for the next …….13 years. Yikes. It is tough to get food on the table for most single moms. This are the shrinking middle class moms, I, too, would like to see a paycheck to paycheck article on those of us in the growing lower classes.

  • http://www.ovlg.com/ Amy Nickson

    I agree with the others. The phrase “paycheck to paycheck” makes it seem to be an article that speaks of some tips through which single-moms can downsize their daily expenses and live a financially secured life. But there’s nothing of that sort. I have been an avid reader of this website but it’s really disappointing to see an article with a misleading title. This article really needs to change it’s title.

  • http://www.ovlg.com/ Amy Nickson

    I agree with the others. The phrase “paycheck to paycheck” makes it seem
    to be an article that speaks of some tips through which single-moms can
    downsize their daily expenses and live a financially secured life. But
    there’s nothing of that sort. I have been an avid reader of this website
    but it’s really disappointing to see an article with a misleading
    title. This article really needs to change it’s title

  • guest

    what does Shriver know about poverty. it is sad hen a man leaves a home whether thru death or divorce but when a woman decides to have a baby???? this is not fair to the child or children. Many young woman go on welfare get much from government so living on a paycheck to paycheck and still going to Starbuck is not a necessity

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  • Jenn Deloach

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  • Jenn Deloach

    Ive been a stay at home mom for almost 4 years. Its been hard trying to make money with a little one. I have found a few real ways that you can make a couple hundred dollars online easily. Check out my blog and good luck,
    cash4moms.blogspot.com

  • Jenn Deloach

    Ive been a stay at home mom for almost 4 years. Its been hard trying to make money with a little one. I have found a few real ways that you can make a couple hundred dollars online easily. Check out my blog and good luck, cash4moms.blogspot.com

  • Rose Anderson

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