South Africa has a large population of single parents – both single mothers and fathers who are trying to stay afloat. Sixty percent of children in South Africa have absent fathers, and more than 40% of South African mothers are single parents, according to the Human Sciences Research Council and the South African Race Relations Institute.
The financial stress linked to single parenthood is often where people need help. This was my personal experience as a single parent with a young child.
Being a parent is exceptionally rewarding – and I wouldn’t change it for the world. Of course, as a parent there can be many financial considerations and challenges. As a single parent, sometimes these challenges are magnified. After a difficult experience like divorce, you’re often still dealing with the transition of being on your own. Added to that is the requirement to downscale to a smaller home or move back with your parents; or the possibility of having to relook your career. There are numerous psychological and emotional things you’re coping with, while trying to keep the finances together. And trying to maintain a balance while trying to give your child the best you can afford.
With this in mind here are some key lessons I learnt along the way.
It’s vital to try to take control of your finances before they control you.
· Understand this isn’t your forever. You will get yourself sorted. Set several attainable goals.
· Plan for the changes you need to implement. Need to look for another job? Change your child’s school? Move somewhere else? Will you or your child need to talk to someone, or do you need any other professional assistance? Start making these decisions. And work towards them. In some cases, your child may be old enough to be involved in some of these conversations.
· Importantly, don’t cancel your insurance and medical aid. When you’re in the deep end financially, you may wonder whether you should temporarily cancel grudge purchases like life cover. I realised I couldn’t take that chance.
· Remember to update your will. It’s important to decide how you want money to be dealt with should something happen to you. Do you want a trust to manage the funds for your child?
· Deal with debt: The first few months were really tough for me. It’s easy to underestimate how tricky it is to maintain your old life. There are times when you can’t pay a bill. The instinct is to duck phone calls. The mentality is ‘I can’t pay it this month; I’ll pay it next month’. But what happens when you can’t pay it next month either? People are more understanding than you think. It’s often worth phoning the person/ institution to whom you owe money, being upfront and working out a payment plan together.
· Start an emergency fund: Try to pay off debt to free up some funds and see if it’s feasible to contribute to an emergency fund.
· If you’re moving into a new place, get the full financial picture before you commit: If you decide to get a place of your own, don’t underestimate the cost of rates, the moving costs, Wi-Fi and other expenses. Create a spreadsheet and do your sums.
· Know your rights as a single parent: Negotiating a divorce settlement is often complicated. You have to make sure that your child is looked after. It may be difficult to separate your relationship with your ex from your child’s relationship with your ex. It may be hard to keep things amicable, especially if your ex is not paying maintenance. You also need to know your rights as a single parent. Legal and financial counsel can be helpful.
· It’s ok to say no sometimes: A big challenge is being invited out when you just can’t afford it. It’s so tough to know what to say. Do you confess you can’t afford it or make up some excuse? Or do you just spend the money you don’t have because you really need some time for yourself? It’s important to have friends with whom you can be honest. But life does tend to become work, kids, sleep, repeat – so you do need to get out, but sometimes that means you may have to give up something else.
· Don’t underestimate a support system, it can make a massive difference. I was lucky to have a support system with parents to help babysit. But I think it’s important to try to stay independent and not fall into the trap of relying on family to support you financially or from a childcare perspective. They won’t be able to help you all the time.
· Don’t be scared to ask people you trust for advice. Don’t feel like you need to constantly maintain a happy facade. Have a close circle of people around you who you can trust with your feelings and fears. It’s also essential to ensure that you have a financial planner that you trust who can guide you through this difficult time.
Sometimes you’re not as alone as you think. ‘Own’ being a single parent. You’re doing an amazing job.
Lee Hancox is the head of channel and segment marketing at Sanlam.