Single Parents Facing Financial Challenges

It could go without saying that single parents are in a particularly difficult financial situation. The statistics should be alarming, given that children of single mothers are five times more likely to live in poverty than children of married parents1. Of course, this is not to say that all children of single parents grow up in poverty. However, as a group, their challenges are significant.

Unique Challenges

  • Childcare Costs: The most obvious financial challenge to single parents is finding affordable childcare. When grandparents or other family members are not available to care for the children while the single parent is at work, these costs can skyrocket. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the cost of child care can vary by state from as little as $399 a month (Mississippi) to over $1,550 a month (DC and Massachusetts). However, as a percentage of income, DC (29%), Oregon (23%) and Massachusetts (23%) win the unwelcomed prize. In 18 states, the typical cost of childcare for one four-year old is equal to or greater than the average household’s rent.
  • Mealtime: Another financial challenge faced by single parents, and one that households with one spouse who care for the children may not deal with to the same extent, has to do with meals and the single parent’s time and energy. Single parents usually have less time to prepare meals and more demands on their time by their children, which leads to a tendency to eat out, order carry out, or order food to be delivered at dinnertime. Obviously, such options hit the household budget pretty hard.
  • Child Support: Most single parents who are entitled to child support already know that barely half of child support payments are actually made regularly. This alone is enough to send even die-hard budget lovers into a conniption fit. The question is a valid one: how can you plan your monthly spending if the arrival of the money (child support) is unreliable?
  • Added Expenses: Finally, because single parents spend less time during the day and evening with their child(ren), they might try to compensate for this purchasing the children gifts and toys or by taking expensive vacations.

Debt Reduction Services Solutions

If you or someone you love and care about is a single parent, here are some resources and steps to consider using:

  1. When it comes to childcare, take advantage of as many resources as possible. State assistance varies widely but is a major source of help to many single parents. At tax time, make sure you are maximizing your child tax credit. Use the IRS locator tool to find a free Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program near you. At work, ask your employer about a Flex savings plan (pre-tax dollars you can use for dependent care) and to see if they offer child care benefits (subsidies). You can even ask your child care provider if they offer sliding fee scale rates based upon your income. Local nonprofits such as the YMCA or an area church may offer affordable care as well.
  2. Debt Reduction Services Inc has counselors available throughout the day to help you put together a budget that works with your income. If you are dealing with debt, they also have a fee-based program that will minimize that amount of time required of you to pay bills each month.
  3. Plan your meals a week at a time to minimize the likelihood of eating out or ordering carry out. A menu planner will save you time at the store, energy in the kitchen and money in the wallet.

Take advantage of our free webinars to brush up on or polish off your financial skills and knowledge. Topics include savings, household budgeting, establishing a financial vision, shopping and spending strategies, spending personalities, as well as relationships and money.



  1. 7 Sources to Help Pay for Child Care
  2. The Balance: Money Management 101 for Single Parents Going It Alone
  3. 7 Strategies for Single Parents
  4. Save on Child Care with these Six Tips
  5. Fox Business: Financial Tips for Single Parents
  6. Budgeting Tips for Single Parents
  7. 15 Time-Management Tips
  8. US News & World Report: The Best Budgeting Strategies for Single Parents


Child Trends Databank. (2019). Children in poverty. Available at:

The Cost of Child Care (2016, Apr). Economic Policy Institute. Retrieved from

Todd Christensen
About the Author

Author and Accredited Financial Counselor®, Todd R. Christensen, MIM, MA, is the Education Manager for Debt Reduction Services, a nationwide nonprofit financial wellness and credit counseling agency. Todd develops educational programs and produces materials that teach personal financial skills and responsibilities to all ages. He’s also the author of the book Everyday Money for Everyday People.