Expert Interview with Emma Johnson on Managing Your Money as a Single Mom

Managing your moneyIf you're a newly single mom who feels overwhelmed at the prospect of wrangling your finances, business journalist, blogger and AM radio host Emma Johnson has a message for you: You can do this.

"Trust me, you can do way, way more than you think you can," she says. "When I'm feeling overwhelmed, I tell myself, 'People way dumber and with far fewer resources have done this before successfully.'"

The best place to start is to think of yourself as a financially independent adult. Design a life that you can live within comfortably - even if that means moving into a smaller house in a less prestigious neighborhood than you envisioned. It might also mean starting over in a new career.

But, Emma adds, remember two things:

1. Everything is temporary.
2. There is no substitute for being totally financially independent - from your ex, from your parents, etc.

We recently checked in with the founder of WealthySingleMommy to get more of her advice for how to support a family on one income. Here's what she had to say:

Tell us about WealthySingleMommy. When and why did you start your site?

I launched WealthySingleMommy two and a half years ago. It started as a way to speak about money to professional single moms, but quickly evolved into a site where I can share my experiences and opinions about the topics of importance to my peers: career, money, parenting, dating, sex and feminism.

Who should be reading it? What will they find on it?

I speak to my peers - educated, professional women who identify as single moms. Many married mothers (and dads of all kinds) also join in - women considering or facing divorce, single women contemplating being a single mom by choice, and parents navigating blended families. It is a place where smart people can come together and discuss this very singular - and very common - life experience.

What have been the biggest financial challenges you've faced as a single mom?

Single parenthood is a risky proposition - there is only one income, and in the event something should happen to my ability to earn, I have no one to fall back on. In the meantime, I have to juggle childcare and other family logistics alone.

What solutions have you found for these challenges?

I focus on earning. This involves outsourcing housecleaning and laundry, and living in an apartment that requires little maintenance when compared with a house with a yard. This frees me up to spend more energy on my career, my family and other pursuits that give me energy and joy. In business I think a lot about risk. You must take risk to grow. Just like any investment, the more risks you take, the more upside potential you have. And since my financial situation is more precarious than in a two-parent family, I have more incentive to take risk.

What are the biggest mistakes you think single moms make when it comes to managing their money?

It can be very, very scary to go about this parenting business alone. I understand why women freak out and shut down into poverty mode - focusing their energy on getting as much child support and/or alimony out of an ex, qualifying for public assistance, and spending energy on living very thriftily. While some of that might be necessary immediately after divorce, it is not a long-term solution for living a fulfilling and financially viable life.

What ways have you found to bring in extra income when you've been in a pinch?

I'm constantly staying in touch with past, current and prospective clients. If work is drying up, I send out a round of emails to touch base and tell people what I've been up to - including to friends in my industry with whom I can be a bit more candid about my need for cash.

What are some of your favorite money-saving tips?

Shop less. Focus less on saving money on purchases, but instead buy only what you need and use, and items that give you a lot of pleasure. This may be a beautiful handbag that you enjoy every day for years, or a gorgeous couch that your whole family constantly gathers on, a morning espresso at the lovely bakery where the cute waiter flirts with you and makes it exactly how you like, making you feel cared for. But be conscious about your purchases. Closets and drawers and shelves full of unused stuff costs you in so many ways - clutter that needs to be stored, cleaned and maintained, and a mess that takes a toll on your mental health.

What have been the most useful tools and resources you've found to help manage your money?

No joke - I look at my Mint account at least once per day! I also use QuickBooks for my business invoicing, and Chase - where I have most of my accounts, including savings accounts for my kids and my mortgage - for managing money and some bill-paying. Automation is key - as is a single depository like Mint where you can set goals and get a snapshot of your whole financial picture.

Why do you think it's important for single moms like you to have a community of similarly situated women to check in with?

Feeling alone is one of the worst things a human can experience. And single parenthood is inherently ripe for loneliness. If you connect with others in similar situations, you can be absolved of the shame that naturally follows isolation. So if you're feeling really rotten because you screamed at your ex in front of your kids, or think you might be the only professional woman who stays up at night worrying her family will wind up on the street if she doesn't start making more money, connecting with others who have similar experiences can make all the difference. If you feel supported and cared for, you have more energy to support and care for others - your kids, your career, even your ex.

Plus, you need people to share resources and tips, the joys of parenthood that can feel uncelebrated when you don't have a spouse, and have a good LAUGH. Who else can understand what a mess single motherhood can be than another single mom!? That is why I created Single Mom Society, a free forum just for single moms. It is the biggest need for this group:

Connect with Emma on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.