The balancing act of being frugal as a single parent

Published: 20/03/2015 and written by Natasha Krovak

In today’s busy society, getting the balance right between family life, work and your finances is a bit of a fine art. For some it can seem an eternal juggling act, and for many its a real struggle… none more so than for single parents. With over two million single parent families in the UK, it means that approximately 1/4 of all UK families are surviving on just one income. This fact is made even more stark when you consider that single parent families are twice as likely to be living in relative poverty. That’s why, with Saturday 21 March 2015 marking National Single Parent’s Day, we have decided to dedicate our latest blog to those hardworking single parents. Because money is always one of the biggest worries, we are going to look at some key budgeting tips and downloadable tools that will help you to manage your money a little easier, as well as passing on some frugal money-saving advice that will hopefully make your newly managed money stretch that little bit further.

The balancing act of being frugal as a single parent

Making ends meet

Being the sole breadwinner can be a struggle, and despite 63.4% of single parents being in employment, most only work part time and even in full time employment, single parents bring home 48% less than couple families; on average £337 a week compared to £700 for two working parents. With less money coming in and your time and attention stretched between children, work and a household to run, it can be hard to find the time to properly manage your money. A report by the Office of National Statistics has found that 38% of single parents say their money runs out before the end of the month, and 63% state that they have no savings to fall back on.  A more worrying set of statistics is that single parent families are 31% more likely to be in arrears with their rent, mortgage or household bills, and 47% say that they need to borrow money from either banks, credit cards, family or friends to pay for childcare. With facts like these, there has never been a stronger reason to take control of your finances and start budgeting your income.

Why do you need a budget?

We’re told time and again to budget our money, but the truth is that budgeting can be a crucial way of avoiding getting into debt. Putting together a budget helps you see what money you have coming in, what essential things you need to pay for, and most importantly, what money you have left. It helps you take control and puts you in a better position to deal with any unexpected changes in your life. Be honest with yourself and write down what you really spend, otherwise your budget will never work. Sounds rather daunting, but don’t worry. We’ve sourced this fantastic budget planner via the Money Advice Service, which is free to download and covers every possible incoming and outgoing expense in a simple spreadsheet.  Just pop in your figures and it will do all the working out for you. Download Budget Planner.

Tips for budgeting:

  • Check the direct debits going out on your monthly statement.  You may be paying for something that you no longer need or weren’t even aware you were paying for.
  • All those little bits can add up to a lot. Make sure you keep track of day-to-day spending within your budget (i.e. work lunches, takeaway coffees etc) and see where you can cut back.  Spending just £5 every working day on lunch out can cost you £1,250 a year.  Keeping receipts will help you keep track.
  • Don’t give in to pester power.  We know that you don’t want your children to go without, but if you are living on a tight budget it is vital that you do not overspend.  If possible, try shopping without the children.
  • Always save.  Put money away regularly to plan for emergencies and set a savings goal for large items.  Having a goal gives you a reason to save and helps motivate you.  Just 5% of your salary each month can add up to a lot at the end of the year.
  • Have a separate bank account for bills.  Setting aside money for all your bills and direct debits in a second account means that your spending money is kept separate and you know that your bills are covered.
  • Most importantly – stick to your budget!

If you find that you are struggling contact Gingerbread, a dedicated advice and support service for single parents. Other organisations that offer advice and support include: ShelterMoney Advice Service, and Citizens Advice.

Money saving advice 

As a single parent with a single income, being frugal with your money is not a sin.  It isn’t necessarily easy, but living on a budget can help make your money last longer. We have gathered together some useful advice on cutting your household bills and food shopping, plus links to how you can get money for old clothes and furniture for less. Being frugal doesn’t have to be boring, so we’ve thrown in links to some great days out on the cheap.

Cutting household bills:

Gas, electricity and water bills can take up a large portion of your income, and with 33% of single parents living in fuel poverty, we have some helpful tips that should make that portion just a little bit smaller:

  • Turn it down. Just by turning down your thermostat 1º degree can reduce your heating bill by 10%, saving you around £60 a year. Think thick jumpers and socks before turning the heating up.
  • If you see a devilish red light, switch it off. Leaving devices on standby collectively costs UK householders £227 million a year. Turn it off or unplug it and you could save £80 a year on your electricity bills.
  • Use energy saving bulbs. By replacing all the old bulbs in your home and switching to energy efficient ones, you can save you around £60 a year.
  • Direct debits. Most energy suppliers give you a 5-10% discount if you pay via direct debit, meaning your bills could be around £100 cheaper a year compared to paying via cheque or cash.
  • Get FREE energy efficient products.  The government has set up schemes that enables the big energy suppliers to give customers free energy efficient products like free boilers and free insulation to help reduce energy consumption.  Check the links to see if you are eligible, as you could save over £250 a year with more efficient products.

For more tips and tools on reducing your energy bills, see our ‘Make energy saving work for you’ page.

Cutting costs on your food shop:

  • Plan your meals in advance based on what’s in your cupboard. Sounds simple but many of us go food shopping when there is still a lot of food left in our cupboards.  Reduce your food bills by going through your cupboards and creating a rough meal plan for the week ahead based on what ingredients you already have to hand.  Planning meals in advance and having a set shopping list can help curb your spending. Download your meal planner.
  • Do your food shopping online. Impulse purchases can increase your bill by 20-30%.  By shopping online you can actively keep track of how much you are spending and take advantage of bulk buy and special offers more easily.
  • Swap to unbranded products. Children can be bigger brand snobs than parents. Keep the branded packaging from your old food products and fill it with the new non-branded contents…the kids will never know the difference!
  • Healthy Start vouchers. From fresh fruit and veg to milk and vitamins, the NHS Healthy Start vouchers give parents of young children a way of eating healthy produce for free.  Healthy Start vouchers can be used at supermarkets, greengrocers, pharmicies and more.  Find out how you can get Healthy Start vouchers.
  • Go coupon crazy.  There are some great sites online that offer money off coupons for a wide range of products so its worth hunting around online before you do your weekly shop. Two useful coupon sites include Coupon Shop and Super Savvy Me. (Coupons on these sites get updated regularly, so check before every shop. Be aware that some coupon sites will ask you to sign up to the products mailing list before you can get the printable voucher.)

Money for old clothes

We know children get through clothes quickly, leaving a pile of old unwanted clothes in the wardrobe.  One option is to hold a clothes swapping party with your friends, another is to donate them to charity, but an emerging trend is to send them off and get a little bit of extra cash. There are a few sites online that do cash for clothes, all offering different prices based on weight. The best one we have found is Genie Recycling which offers 50p** per kilo, whereas most sites only seem to offer 20-40p per kilo.

Furniture for less

When you are on a single income, you don’t want to be forking out big bucks for new furniture.  Thankfully, there are a host of places where you can purchase second hand, recycled or refurbished furniture and appliances for a fraction of the price.  As well as the obvious places of Gumtree and Ebay, there are a host of national schemes that offer affordable ‘re-used’ furniture:

Days Out

We all need to blow off steam and have fun every now and then, so keep your eyes open for special offers.

  • 241 entry to London attractions with rail tickets.  National Rail have linked up with a huge range of attractions across London, giving you 241 entry when you produce a valid rail ticket.  This offer runs all year, so it’s definitely worth taking advantage of if you travel by rail.
  • Grown ups go free to Merlin attractions.*** Kellogg’s are currently running a promotional offer where grown ups can visit Merlin attractions for free when they purchase another full price ticket.  Just cut out the promotional voucher and present at the kiosk. This works out great for single parents as children’s tickets are always cheaper than adults, so this offer is cheaper than the standard ‘kids go free’ that normally runs.  Attractions include Legoland, Sea Life centres, Alton Towers, London Dungeons and more.
Being frugal isn’t about being tight with your money, it’s about being smart.  

*Statistical facts and figures were acquired through the single parent charity Gingerbread and via the Office of National Statistics.  Correct at time of writing on 20 March 2015. **50p per kilo price for Genie Recycling correct at time of writing 20 March 2015. ***Kellogg’s ‘Grown ups go free’ promotional vouchers are valid until 30 June 2015 at participating attractions, except for the London Eye which is only running the offer until 1 April 2015.  Adults presenting the promotional voucher must be accompanied by a separate full paying child or adult.

Mr Lender is a leading UK-based short-term credit provider.  We provide payday loans and short-term loans of up to £1,000, repayable up to six months.

Warning: Late repayment can cause you serious money problems.  For help go to