Single-Mom Finances: What I Learned Growing Up in a One-Parent Home
Adversity can sometimes leave a mark on the rest of your life. Making sure it’s a positive one is the big challenge.
I grew up in a house that had one parent and three children. My mother raised the three of us while getting her master’s and then working full-time. Money was both a spectre and a fact of life. It was abundantly clear to me that we didn’t have a lot of money, but we never went without.
The older I’ve gotten, and the more involved I’ve gotten in the personal finance world, the more I realize that being raised by a working single mother deeply affected the way I handle money now. It’s shaped my mindset, habits, and emotions surrounding money.
My Childhood Relationship With Money
Money was never plentiful when I was a kid. We used coupons. My mother closely monitored water usage and was adamant about turning lights and TVs off when they weren’t in use. My brothers and I qualified for lunch assistance at school, and our closets were filled with hand-me-downs.
There were also summer camps, dinners out for special occasions, and a trip to Disney World. I played the flute for four years, and always had great birthday parties.
I never, ever felt deprived. But still, my family operated inside a scarcity mindset.
A scarcity mindset is the belief that there will never be enough of something. When my mother told me to put name-brand food back on the shelves, or when we couldn’t afford clothes from Abercrombie & Fitch (the coolest clothes at the time), I worried that it could be the purchase that blew everything apart. The scarcity mindset was instilled in me from a young age, and I’m still working to shed it today.
While we never went without, we never had more than enough. We walked a fine line as a family, and it was noticeable.
The Financial Advice I Learned From My Single Mom
Growing up flirting with the line between broke and comfortable meant that I walked away with some tangible money lessons.
1. Name Brands Aren’t Usually Better
I still abide by my mother’s staunch belief in off-brand products. At the grocery store, I never buy the brand-name foods. If you look at the nutrition labels and ingredients list, they’re often nearly identical. No need to waste money on packaging!
2. A Scarcity Mindset is Limiting
Being mindful of your money is a good thing. Being afraid of your money is not. I was afraid of money as a child. I felt that I couldn’t understand or control it and that it wasn’t for me. This stemmed from a deep insecurity that there was never enough to go around. Operating from a place of fear is limiting — you don’t take risks, and you don’t push yourself for more. You simply accept your current situation because you’re afraid to lose even that.
3. One Source of Income Only Goes so Far
Supporting four people on one income calls for some advanced personal finance skills. My mother didn’t have the time for side hustles, so we opted for frugality to make the dollars stretch. Today, I have several sources of income because I know how hard it can be to make just one work.
4. Look for the Deal
I’m a big fan of negotiation. I’ve negotiated with my internet provider, my car insurance agency and every landlord I’ve ever had. Growing up with a single mom who scouted out deals left an impression on me. Almost everything is negotiable — all you have to do is ask.
A Final Thought
Growing up with a single parent made me hyper-aware of money at a young age. Today, I’m impressed with what my mother managed to do with the money she did have. In large part, I’m also grateful for learning about money so young. I’ve been saving for years, and I’m in a place where I feel comfortable with my lifestyle and my money habits.