Covering the everyday expenses for a family is a challenge. But for single moms, faced with the prospect of working and taking care of the emotional and physical needs of children alone, making and managing money is a much larger, harder to manage task. Add credit card debt to the mix and the financial situation for a single mom can suddenly go from feeling overwhelming to virtually unmanageable.
If you are a single mom, it’s important to know that no matter how large your balance and how tight your finances, there are solutions that will take you off the hamster wheel of minimum payments and onto a sustainable path towards debt freedom. More importantly, you don’t have to muscle through it alone.
Here are a few steps for handling credit card debt as a single mom. Take control and begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Step 1: Put exact numbers to your debt
When credit card debt extends far beyond what you could ever hope to pay off in a few months, it’s easy to stop paying attention to the totals. This cycle of only glancing at the minimum due and allowing interest and other fees to continue to pile up unnoticed is a surefire way to stay stuck in debt and perpetuate the feeling of overwhelm.
It’s time now to take a good look at exactly where you are at with every credit card in your name. Create a spreadsheet with the credit card, current total due, minimum payment, interest rate, and monthly due date.
Are you able to pay at least the minimum for each of your cards and take care of the rest of your financial obligations? Can you currently pay more than the minimums?
This first step of getting organized and fully acquainted with your debt situation is essential to your success moving forward.
Step 2: Take a hard look at your current finances
In order to create some real stability, your finances should be thought of in a big picture sense. After all, you can’t tackle your credit card debt without first getting a grasp on how much money you have coming in and exactly where it’s going.
With that in mind, create another spreadsheet with the rest of your monthly financial obligations. Take everything into account from rent to gas to non-monthly expenses like insurance premiums. Don’t forget monthly subscriptions or other services that are on auto-pay.
What is the total you have leftover every month? Are you taking into account savings? If you don’t currently have emergency savings, now is the time to factor this in as an additional monthly expense. Even after you’ve tackled your credit card debt, a lack of emergency savings is an easy way to ensure you don’t stay debt-free for long.
Now that you see the big picture of your finances, where can you make cuts, big or small? These amounts will be diverted towards your debt, so think of these as time and money saving remedies — they might seem painful, but they will be worth it.
Step 3: Create a plan
Now that you have a better understanding of your finances and your current debt, it’s time for the fun part — creating a plan so you can start to envision and work towards a life of debt freedom.
There are usually two schools of thought to tackling credit card debt — one says you should put more towards the cards with the highest interest rate to save more money over the long run, and the other says you should pay off the smallest balance first to create mental momentum and motivation to maintain your debt payoff plan.
It’s up to you to decide what works for you, after all, personal finance really is personal. Whatever you decide should be mapped out in detail, with an outline of which cards will receive minimum payments, which cards will receive more than the minimums (and how much), etc. Know who needs to receive which payments on which dates and ensure you have a plan for making them on time every month.
If you’re in good standing with your credit card companies, consider calling and asking for a lower interest rate. This is the quickest way to shave time and money off your debt payoff plan with no risk on your part. The worst case scenario is they deny your request.
Step 4: Get buy-in from your kids
Cutting back on expenses your kids have come to expect as a part of life can be extremely tough on you when you’re already in the middle of weathering this financial storm. For the sake of your sanity and for the purpose of using this as a teaching moment, explain to your kids (as long as they are age-appropriate), that you have a goal you are working to reach for the family and you need their help. Explain that in order to reach this goal, the family will all need to make small sacrifices along the way, but these help achieve something much more exciting and meaningful.
Depending on your comfort level, you might opt to let them in on certain milestones, or create a larger goal they can look forward to with you. For example, once you reach a balance of “x” you will go on a special family dinner out.
Your kids might not fully understand the situation, but even small amounts of understanding and support can make the journey much less painful and easier for you to manage.
Step 5: Ask for help
If your situation is too much to shoulder on your own and you’re still feeling lost, there are of nonprofit credit counseling organizations that are ready and willing to help. These organizations can help you take a comprehensive look at your situation and map out a plan that you won’t need to feel overwhelmed by. In addition, they can help you create a sustainable money management plan going forward so you can feel empowered and ready to live a debt-free life.
The good news? You aren’t alone. There are plenty of people who have been in your situation and plenty more that are fully equipped to help.