Parenting is one of the hardest, yet most fulfilling jobs in the world. But the less prepared you are when you become a parent, the harder it will be.

You could say that my financial situation as a young adult started off with a disadvantage: I became a teen mom. While most people my age were getting credit card offers in the mail, I was living at home with my son and feeling broke.

Luckily, I realized that custom-designed nurseries and name-brand baby gear weren’t necessary to raise a happy child. I focused on bonding with my son, making him feel loved, and enjoying the first few months of motherhood.

Becoming a parent at such a young age also pushed me to get my finances in order. Otherwise, I’d suffer the consequences.

Common stereotypes about young, single moms aren’t very flattering. But when I became a mother, I didn’t focus on that.

Instead, I focused on keeping my head up and learning how to survive financially as a single mom. Here are some ways that I found to make ends meet, even when I was struggling:

  1. Look for affordable housing.
  2. Create a budget with help from others.
  3. Check out programs that will assist with child care costs.
  4. Find a support system.

1. Affordable Housing

At first, living arrangements were easy because I was living with my own mother. It wasn’t the perfect situation because we didn’t have a lot of room, but I had no complaints.

I moved out when I was 20. At the time, a fancy apartment complex with tons of amenities in an attractive neighborhood wasn’t an option for me. I contemplated moving to Chicago and going to school there, but I quickly realized that it wouldn’t be affordable.

Instead I moved to the boonies and attended a state college in a more rural area. I was able to get a spacious one-bedroom apartment for the same price as a studio in Chicago. My apartment was incredibly basic, but it was home.

I used the money that I’d saved up from tax refunds and my work to pay the deposit and the first month’s rent.

2. A Budget

Since I barely made enough money to pay my rent, I qualified for food stamps and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). For me, there was no room for pride or for worrying about what others thought of me.

I could either accept the help and eat, or I could starve.

I went on food stamps and learned how to create my first grocery budget with the money I received each month. The food I received on WIC was good for healthy snacks and milk for my son, but it wasn’t really anything to live on.

When I needed to stretch, I visited local food pantries and found out about a community program that provided free dinner for locals every Wednesday. I remember regularly meeting up with a college friend and her kids at that dinner.

When I graduated college and found a full-time job, I got off food stamps, but the budgeting skills I learned from the experience still stick with me today, and my family of three spends only about $300 a month to eat well.

I also made sure to shop only where I could get deals and use my loyalty or rewards card. Using the app SavingStar allowed my to collect and save anywhere I had my rewards card connected to the app. Once I had saved over $20 I could withdraw to my bank or PayPal, or even hold out if I wanted to save it more.

3. Child Care Help

Child care can be a big issue for single parents. It’s pricey to begin with, and if you can’t pay the day care rates, you aren’t left with any other options, since you can’t work or go to school without child care.

How to Survive Financially as a Single Mom: 4 Ways to Make Ends Meet as a Struggling Single Mom

Luckily, many states have programs that provide subsidies to make the cost of child care more affordable for people who qualify. You still have to pay something out of pocket, but not nearly as much as the normal rate.

The fact that there was a day care center right on my college campus was amazing. I would schedule my classes during the day so that my son could go to day care while I earned credits, then I’d pick him up in the afternoon.

Without the day care assistance program, I’m not sure how I would’ve managed to get a bachelor’s degree in four years.

4. A Support System

If you’re young and wondering how to survive financially as a single mom, the key is to find support. I felt pretty discouraged when I became a teen mom. But then I realized that I had my whole life ahead of me. Some things might have become more difficult, but that didn’t make them impossible.

Everyone goes through different struggles in life, but the key is to ignore the statistics and the doubters. Instead, focus on finding a support system and leaning on it so that you can get back on your feet. That’s the only way to reach your goals.

The bottom line is that a solid support system and a positive yet realistic mindset can make all the difference and help you take action to improve your life.