While almost every dad I know has to work hard to make the money stretch far enough to meet needs, divorced dads often have a harder time than other dads. Because they are likely paying the lion's share of the expenses for two homes and because they love their kids so much but don't see them as much as they want, the needs seem even greater and the money even more stretched.
These ideas came from visits with many divorced dads I know who have learned the hard way that managing money is a big job and that little things can help a lot in the effort to spend less and save more.
Create a realistic personal budget. Divorced dads often have a pretty complex set of financial demands. They may have to provide alimony and child support, their kids may need counseling and their mom may not be able to meet all the needs that she is supposed to, leaving dad to make up the difference. So getting control of his money is one of the first things a divorced dad needs to do. A personal budget will help identify all the bills, the needs, and the resources. And if the budget is set up monthly but allocated as often as paychecks arrive, the dad can stay on track with all the demands and still save a little for the unexpected.
Use your bank's bill paying system. If you are still paying bills with personal checks and mailing them, you might want to consider signing up for online banking with your bank or credit union. Most bills can be paid online and your bank usually covers the cost of transferring the money electronically or paying for the cost of mailing when mailing is required.
The other nice thing is that by setting up payments to be made from your checking account just before they are due, you an earn a little extra interest and avoid the late payment penalties and higher interest rates that they bring.
Take advantage of your employer's retirement contribution. If your employer offers a matching program for retirement contributions like for a 401k plan, take advantage.
It may be tough to come up with the needed amount or percentage to match, but you are getting a 100% return on your investment by taking advantage of the matching program.
Sign up for a cafeteria plan. Many employers also offer what is called a cafeteria plan where you can have money held out of your paycheck tax-free each payday and then use those funds to cover eligible medical costs or child care costs. This can save you a ton of money during the year by using pre-tax dollars to pay these ongoing expenses.
Find inexpensive activities with the kids. When a divorced dad has his kids for a weekend or a summer visitation, there is always a temptation to go to the movies, to an amusement park or other expensive venue to have fun. If you are trying to economize, you should check out some of the less expensive opportunities for activities with the kids. Storytime at your local library is always a good choice. Museums are usually pretty inexpensive and they frequently have programs for children. Going on a hike, planning a camping trip and scheduling a board game night can also be a lot of fun and less expensive than other choices.
Be a smart grocery shopper. One of the biggest challenges for a divorced dad is trying to shop effectively.
We often just hit the store (or the fast food outlet) on the way home from work. But impulse buying and making many trips to the store is a waste of gas and tends to increase costs. So sit down weekly and plan the meals for the week and then go shopping for all the food and supplies on your list. Organizing your shopping list so items on shelves together are together on your list will also save you time shopping. Another thing to avoid is going shopping when you are hungry; you will inevitably end up with extras in your cart and a little less money in your wallet.
Make friends with a mechanic. Car repairs can eat a divorced dad alive. When we are trying to save money, we often put off maintenance and repairs until it is too late and the costs have escalated significantly. So check around and find a good mechanic and then develop a relationship.
Take your car in regularly for oil changes and maintenance like tire rotation and brake checks. When you do need repairs, your mechanic knows you and knows your car and can repair it quicker and usually cheaper. And you can often call and ask advice over the phone when you are a regular customer.
Set up an automatic savings account deposit. Most banks and credit unions will let you set up an automatic withdrawal from your checking account to your savings account the day after every payroll deposit. Putting a regular amount into a savings account and doing it before you are tempted to spend it will help you build up an emergency fund.
Be energy-smart. Americans are spending an ever growing amount of their disposable income on energy. So a little care and concern can really rack up the savings. Just turning off lights in empty rooms can make a big difference. Buy an inexpensive programmable thermostat for your home so you are not keeping it warm in the winter and cool in the summer while you are away. Change your furnace filters regularly and clean your air intake covers in your house to keep your furnace more efficient. Make sure that you fix leaky faucets quickly, especially ones that leak hot water. A few small steps can make a huge difference in your energy bills.
Drive less; walk and bike more. Finally, in an era of rapidly escalating gasoline prices, consider parking your car more and walking or riding a bike. If you walk or ride to work, or take the bus partway and walk or ride the rest of the way, you can save money and also increase your physical activity. Just leaving the car home enough that you can reduce one tank of gas a month can mean a lot of monthly savings.
Just making a few simple changes can result in big savings for a divorced dad every month. Stay focused and be disciplined, and you will be surprised at how much you can save!