Coping with money worries

Don’t bury your head in the sand, hoping that it will all go away. Or buy more things thinking it will make you or your kids feel happier. You might get the adrenalin buzz while you’re buying it, but it will make you feel worse afterwards.

Instead of beating yourself up about saying no, choose your battles. Remind yourself that you’re teaching your kids good life skills and they can’t get everything they want. Get them involved by giving them chores to earn some money to save up for a special treat that they would like. They will appreciate it much more when they’ve worked for it themselves, or maybe change their minds and decide they don’t really want it when they can’t have it instantly.

Even when money is tight, there’s a lot you can do to keep on top of things. The more you know, the better you’ll feel. Find out what you’re due and what’s out there. Do some groundwork before you buy credit or set up contracts. If you’re finding it hard to work things out for yourself, or to get control over your money, there’s support, including from One Parent Families Scotland. Don’t feel you have to struggle on your own. You might never have had to do any of this stuff before. 

Spending and shopping

  • You probably hear this a lot, but that’s because it works: do a meal plan, then do a shopping list and stick to it. That way you’ll buy only what you need and won’t be tempted to look at other things in the shop.
  • Look up cheap recipes online. There are loads of sites. Get your children involved by making a family recipe book with all their favourite meals.
  • Be savvy about how shops are set up. Here are some tricks of the trade:
    • Shops aren’t doing you a service. They’re in the business of getting you to buy stuff.
    • They put the most expensive items at eye level because people don’t bend down. So, look to see what’s on the bottom shelf. It’s probably cheaper.
    • They make trolleys extra wide to encourage you to fill them.
    • They put the fruit at the entrance of the supermarket, and the bakery with the fans at the back. It means that you buy the fruit first, and then think that you deserve the fab-smelling baked goods at the back of the shop. And while you go from front to back, and then back to the tills, you’re tempted to pick up all sorts of things that you don’t need.
  •  When you’re buying:
    • Check prices and shop around for discounts. Lots of bargain shops sell branded or good quality cleaning products cheaply.
    • Most supermarkets discount fresh items towards the end of the day or have discount sections. See if there’s anything that you can use. Remember to check the ‘use by’ date and don’t be tempted to buy something just because it’s reduced. 
    • Try not to shop when you’re feeling hungry as you’ll be tempted to buy more.
    • Special offers such as 3 for 2 can look like a good deal but only buy them if you know you need 3. Check out the unit cost (for one item) as sometimes it’s cheaper to buy items singly.
    • A lot of food gets thrown out. Don’t buy more than you need. Check ‘use by’ dates, and any tins you have at the back of the cupboard.
    • Try swapping branded foods for own brands or value brands, a few at a time. If you like them, great! You can save a bit of money. If not, you can stick with what you like. Try making it fun by having blind taster tests with the family. Often the only difference between own brands and value brands is the packaging.
  • Buying stuff doesn’t make you feel better although the adverts tell you otherwise. These pictures of happy smiley shiny people aren’t real. Unless you’ve money to spare, save it, and save yourself the worry too.
  • If you think you’ll be tempted to buy stuff online and you can’t afford it, don’t go internet shopping. It’s just like staying away from the real shops when you don’t have any spare cash.
  • Watch out for ‘buy now, pay later’ offers online. They’re not all they seem. You’re being sold a short-term loan. Here’s a useful article from ‘check my file’ which explains it.

Useful links

Money and children

  • We often try to show our love for our children by spending money on them and buying them stuff. Lots of single parents feel they need to ‘make it up’ to their children, for example if there’s been a break-up. Bottom line is that children value your love and attention more than anything, like when you play a game with them or watch a film together.
  • It’s tempting to go overboard because you love them and want to prove to them and others that you’re a ‘good parent’.
  • It’s natural to want to give your children special times and presents, especially for big occasions like birthdays and so on. Can you keep it reasonable? Young children can’t tell the difference between something that costs 50p and £50. They’ll likely play with the cardboard box for longer than the expensive toy that the box contained.
  • It’s not great to land up worrying about paying back money you’ve borrowed. Say they want a PlayStation, and you buy it on credit and then can’t pay it back? The chances are your children will lose the PlayStation and you’ll be in debt. Far better to say to your children that they might not get it this year, but if you can manage to put a little by, they might get it by their next birthday or whenever. 
  • Big dates like Christmas can be especially hard when children are bombarded with adverts, and are comparing with their friends about who is getting what.
  • Other celebrations such as Eid are also increasingly seen as a time to buy lots of gifts for children. 
  • Parents can then feel pressured to make sure children aren’t disappointed, even when money is tight. Remember that it’s OK to let your children know that some families have more money than others. (Some parents we work with suggest explaining that parents have to give money to Santa.)
  • Children, especially teenagers, worry about the pressure of debt on their parents. So, at the end of the day, borrowing money and over-spending on your children could cause them more worry than pleasure.
  • Saying no to your children doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent. Far from it. It’s showing them that the opposite is true. You are teaching them important lessons which will help them as they grow up.
  • By age 5, children have learned their spending habits for life from their parents. So, if you can show them ‘good’ habits, like saving a little and working out what are good deals and what aren’t, you’ll do them a great favour.
  • You can help your children to start to understand about advertising and branding and how these get people to spend more money than they have or need to. Talk to them about whether they think it’s really important to have a more expensive version of the same item. 
  • Having these conversations can get your children to think more critically about adverts and peer pressure. It can help them understand why you are making the choices you are about what you buy.
  • Giving your children pocket money (however little) can be a really good way of helping them start to think about managing and saving money. 
  • Encourage your children to put some of their pocket money into a jar every week to save for something special. Get them to find out how much the thing they want really costs. They can watch what they save build up. That’s quite exciting for children. 
  • You can even get your children involved in your own saving and budgeting plans. For example, challenge them to help you find the cheapest items at the supermarket or tick off a list while sticking to a budget. This teaches them about money in a fun way and it means they can feel good about helping out. 
  • If they want something that you’d like to give them, for example a particular kind of schoolbag that everyone’s using, try to find the cheapest place to buy it.
  • When you can’t afford something, be honest with your children. Explain what the situation is and how you’re handling it, rather than leaving them in the dark, or thinking that you’re being mean and unfair. Children are more likely to accept your decision if they understand your reasons for it. 
  • With the internet, the App Store on phones and tablets, or video games where you can buy add-on items during the game, there are more opportunities than ever for children to spend money when the ‘real world’ cost might not be obvious to them. Lots of games are even designed with a gambling element, so players are asked to spend money with the risk that they might not get the items they want – meaning they ‘need’ to try again until they do.
  • Be aware of practices like this when you’re managing the settings on devices that your children use. Agree what’s to happen when it comes to spending online. For example, do you need them to ask your permission and show you what they are buying? Do you want to agree a monthly limit on their spending? You can set up spending limits on PlaystationXBoxSwitchApple Store, and Google Play Store
  • As well as talking to children about the value of money, it could be a good idea to talk to your children about the risks of gambling.

Useful links

Money and worry

Money causes worry for many single parent families. It’s easy to see why. A lot of it is about things that you can’t do anything about. You can be on track, and then something happens that you don’t expect: the washing machine breaks down; your children grow out of their shoes, or need something extra for school; your ex stops paying; your child leaves school and goes out to work but stays with you.  

Changes and emergencies can happen to anyone and at any time. 

Money problems and poor mental health can be a vicious circle. Dealing with money problems can affect your mental health. Struggling with your mental health can make it harder to manage your money or even to earn money.  

  • There are steps you can take to try to break this cycle and to feel a bit more on top of things. Mental health charity Mind has useful information on money and mental health, including tips for managing anxiety over bills and assessments, avoiding overspending when you’re unwell, and sharing your worries with others.
  • Sometimes all you can do is take control over how you respond to what’s going on. Our tips for stress and anxiety might help you cope with the worry part, so that you can make a plan to deal with any practical stuff as best you can.

Useful links