Each week on Real Simple's Money Confidential podcast, host Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez digs into the real financial issues people face every day. On this week's episode, O'Connell Rodriguez talks to Kayla, a 35-year-old single mother of one from Nashville who is trying to stretch her income to cover herself and her son, while still paying off student loans and other debt. (Kayla is an alias, to protect our caller's identity.)
Kayla has been making good money, and was the breadwinner in her marriage. Fast forward through a divorce and the pandemic, and Kayla is struggling with her finances—she has been paying alimony to her husband, dealing with a lack of child support, and trying to get adequate child care to cover her son after his preschool shut down due to COVID. "This year, childcare has been like the moving target to kill us all. I just about bankrupted myself on getting a nanny, because otherwise I was going to lose my job," Kayla says.
Kayla feels very isolated, because most of her friends have more support to manage their finances and their families. But she feels like she's constantly putting out financial fires in her life.
"It is so much more expensive to care for a child without a partner's income. No matter how large the support is, it doesn't make up for another full-time income coming into the household."
—Bridget Casey, founder of moneyaftergraduation.com
How can Kayla get her finances back on track? For help, O'Connell Rodriguez turns to financial expert Bridget Casey, founder of moneyaftergraduation.com, and a single mom herself.
Kayla definitely isn't alone—one in five children in the U.S. live in single-parent households. And Casey suggests that she seek other single parents, as a source of support and friendship (and on occasion, serving as a babysitting swap, to help out when she needs a hand). "With my single mom friends, I will just take their kid for a day—my child has a playmate that isn't me and so she's happier and they're getting free child care," Casey says.
Having at least a small cushion of savings is a goal, but Casey advises that Kayla has to be easy on herself right now, with her rising child care bills and debts, and the pandemic still here. "There's still too much of a personal responsibility narrative in personal finance that puts all the blame on the person who is just trying to survive what's happening to them," Casey says. "But these events that we have to deal with are not always because of decisions we made or things that were within our control."
While Kayla is focused on providing funding for her child's college education, Casey recommends that Kayla prioritize her own retirement and debt payments first. "You don't necessarily know what the post-secondary landscape is going to look like in 10 or 15 years," she says.
Listen to this week's Money Confidential—How Can I Support My Kid and Save Money as a Single Parent?—for even more tips from Casey and O'Connell Rodriguez to get a handle on your finances.