My single motherhood came to me as the biggest, most shocking, life-altering, amazing, unfathomable surprise I have ever been dealt.
I am a single mother, but not in the way that some women are– I wasn’t married with a career, then divorced & now sharing custody, nor did I choose the way that some women do to be single mothers by using donors, nor have I suffered the pain of losing a truly committed partner that forces some women into single motherhood. I am a single mother in the sense that I was working an $8-an-hour job at a library, spending time with a boyfriend that I wasn’t too sure about, when suddenly my breasts hurt & my usually regular menstruation day passed uneventful & I realized I needed to take a pregnancy test. I saw reality shift before my eyes as I witnessed the blank test transforming into a positive sign & my as-yet-undefined future suddenly came racing toward me, begging to be decided.
I hadn’t been to college yet but I knew with certainty that I needed to plan on it now that I would be bringing a child into the world; in the meantime I knew I had little chance of finding myself qualified for a well-paying job & one of the main sentiments I had always heard regarding the notion of having children is that it’s wildly expensive, so I was nervous & doubtful that I would succeed.
My previous lifestyle choices, like being a vegetarian, then a vegan, & just generally embracing hippie behavior, led me to seek out information on natural parenting & it wasn’t long before I recognized that while adding another human to the planet does use resources, the notion that only people who are willing to spend a fair amount of dollars should have children, & that people with little income will find themselves destitute, is a view that comes from the idea that children need a great many accessories to survive & thrive.
While I know that the expenses add up over time, I also know that there are many facets of parenthood that some people find automatic, while others understand they are not necessary. Cribs, bottles, diapers & strollers are a few examples. Many readers of Mothering Magazine will be fully aware that cosleeping can replace cribs, breastfeeding is needed instead of bottles, cloth diapers can be used in lieu of disposables which saves thousands of dollars as well as the environment, & slings or other baby carriers that keep your child near you can be employed instead of strollers. Not only are these methods cheaper, but they happen to be backed by data that suggests children develop better when raised through these means.
I have discovered a number of ways to drastically lower the cost of raising a child; some already well-known by the Attachment Parenting community, others maybe less. But as a single mother, I have found these gems to be invaluable.
- Accept help. So many of the cliches regarding parenthood ring true in the moment, & the thought that it takes a village to raise a child is true, in a few ways. While I believe children should stay as close to their mother as possible in the first months, or years if possible, of life, the villagers can assist in a different way in that they can give you stuff! If you find yourself expecting a babe, whether your finances are stable or not, ask around & see who has what for you. Spread the word that you are fully open to hand-me-downs & request them at your baby shower, if you have one. If your pals know you are willing to accept used items, you may find yourself receiving bags of recycled clothes instead of one brand new piece. I have employed a stroller as my son got older & found it to be a novelty joy ride, & while I was fortunate to have one gifted to me by my generous dad, strollers, as well as slings & other carriers, even cloth diapers can be found online at Amazon.com or Craigstlist.com. Try to find a work-at-home mom to buy from! Or become one yourself! Thrift stores & garage sales are frugal choices as well.
-Accept more help. “Poor folk need help they call it welfare, but rich folk need it then y’all call it a bailout. . .” – Phonte, rap star extraordinaire.
My attitude toward government assistance may be controversial to some & I understand why, but I feel fortunate to live in a country where assistance is available to those in need & I will accept it while I need it. My mom said it well when she stated that she’s been paying taxes for years now & someone in her family should benefit from it! I am comfortable using food stamps & medical assistance because I am working hard to provide a solid future for my son & myself; I am not coasting remotely & the only way I am able to maintain a solid relationship with my child without having to work excessive hours in addition to going to school full-time is by taking the help I can get with gratitude & pride.
-Go to school. Even if you are very determined & have an extraordinary skill that will allow you the lifestyle you want for your child, whatever that may be, getting an education is an excellent idea. If you find yourself in a position similar to mine, college is a necessity. I want to be able to show my son the world & I want to be able to help as many people as possible. I am an artist & a good one, but while I used to be comfortable with the uncertainty such a road would give me, having my son made me recognize the importance of determining what I want to do– what I can do that I will love but what will also leave us with stability.
Going to college also means that you will receive grants & loans, & scholarships eventually if you do well. This means that school will be your job & you might not have to work for minimum wage. Minimum wage alone doesn’t cover rent, food, & bills, much less the daycare that is needed while working at said minimum wage job. I was able to move in with my mom until my son was 15 months old when I started school, which I strongly suggest if possible! If you are a single parent & you’re looking to stay at home with your child, try to find a safe, loving, comfortable place to live for a while. If you are unable to find such a place, taking online classes is an option. Online classes will still provide you with student monies & if you have to take a few credits on campus to fulfill the full-time requirements, many classes are only an hour long so separation would be minimum. If you do find yourself having to work, as I do, try to find a good babysitting or nanny position. Working in a situation where you can bring your child along is such a blessing.
-Daycare options. When the time comes for your child to attend daycare, which is likely for a single parent, choosing an appropriate daycare can be overwhelming & heartbreaking. Many of us mothers would rather never separate from our children, but in some cases it is necessary. I highly recommend campus day-cares. The university I attend has a little school for children & it is staffed with students & graduates from the Early Education Department on campus. This means the teachers are well educated on the needs of a child, as well as the developmental milestones & the proper ways to diffuse aggression & arguments. Behavioral issues are handled in consistent, loving compassionate ways– you will notfind a caregiver yelling at a child in this environment. My son’s class has at most maybe 7 children present at one time, because the age groups are separated, & at least the main teacher & two interns working with them. The classrooms are small & the objects are child-sized; it reminds me a lot of Montessori style, just at a lesser cost. My son’s school is paid for in part by a low-income grant offered by the campus daycare & also the assistance I receive from the state. It is a cheap but mostly wonderful option. You may find yourself, like me, having to educate some instructors on the breastfeeding laws & proper care of an intact penis; you may also end up bringing your own food for your child every day, like I do, but it is worth it for such excellent care at a good price. I am able to visit my son on campus & the classrooms have giant one-way windows so I can watch him play any time. Every day after my classes are done when I pick up my son I get a note from the teacher detailing the lessons they learned that day, how long he slept, what he ate, & any incidents of interest. It is truly a school & not just a “daycare;” I know he is learning with their structured program. I trust in the nurturing he is receiving completely.
-Household/personal care. The previously mentioned cloth diapers, breastfeeding, cosleeping & slings can prove to be wonderfully economical, & I have learned a few other ways to keep consumerism low. Vinegar & baking soda! I recently bought these items in bulk, which is good because I go through both so quickly. I use baking soda & vinegar for washing cloth diapers & cleaning my home. I also recently discovered that making a solution of 1tbs baking soda/1c water works well as a shampoo & using a vinegar rinse leaves my hair, which is abundant & wild, clean & fresh. A baking soda wash with a vinegar rinse actually helps to restore the pH balance in your hair, rendering traditional shampoo & conditioner obsolete. I use the same baking soda wash for soap now, though I have been keeping a small bottle of Dr. Bronner’s castile soap around while I’m adjusting, since it is available in bulk & works well diluted. I won’t waste anymore money on baby soaps & shampoos for my son; he has been taking water baths with a small amount of baking soda & vinegar & he still smells delicious. Adding tea tree oil to any of these choices can add cleaning power, although tea tree oil needs to be heavily diluted. Homemade laundry soap, toothpaste, deodorant, dish soap, & other cleaners are also options that I imagine I will delve into soon. There exist a great many resources online to learn more about these methods.
Some other disposable items that don’t need funds wasted on them are mentrual pads & tampons. I recently bought a cloth pad from Party in my Pants & I will be making some at home; it is all I will use now! Products like the Keeper mentrual cup can be used instead of disposable tampons. If this idea sounds overwhelming or icky to you, doing a little research on the topic may change your mind.
Many breastfeeding mothers are aware that nursing bras can be expensive but worth the money. Using a regular bra can be wasteful since the bending & twisting of wires will wear it out quickly. Having a good nursing bra is helpful, comfortable, & can boost self-esteem during the nursing process. I have discovered that you don’t have to spend a lot of money on several spendy bras yourself, you can ask for gift certificates to online stores, or good mama boutiques nearby, for your baby/mother shower. You can find a well-fitted one after you discover what size your breasts will likely remain at; for the first month or two you can probably use a cheaper version, but I have found those to be uncomfortable & unflattering. If you are able to buy one or two of the fancier types, you can wear them often by using the same baking soda wash/vinegar rinse as previously mentioned to wash it nightly. I wash my bra in the bathtub with that solution & some added tea tree oil, then hang it to dry overnight. Depending on the material, you’ll want to experiment with the amount of time yours needs to fully dry, but it’s a simple way to utilize your nursing bras without spending a fortune.
-Foods. Buy in bulk! If you don’t live near a co-op or a store with a decent natural/bulk foods selection, see if anyone in your area is interested in joining a buying club or a CSA (community supported agriculture– you’ll get a giant, cheap box full of fresh produce, eggs, & honey every week). Eating whole foods like oatmeal with almonds & blueberries, rice with steamed vegetables, & nuts to snack on will affect not only your budget but also your health over time. Walnuts bought in bulk, for instance, can be added to stir-fries, tossed into oatmeal, eaten raw, or soaked & blended with spices to create a pate. My beloved friend Karen has a beautiful blog that details canning, preserving, & baking from scratch on a budget; she also has an entry where she made her own laundry detergent! http://mamalooma.wordpress.com/
-Fun. Being in nature is an excellent way to freely spend time exploring with your child. I often take walks with my son in his sling, which was loaned to us by my doula, but I also use the stroller when I need to have some quiet time & a little space. Employ the library! When my son was younger, I bought him a many books, which is lovely, but he really was only interested in one particular book featuring trucks. The other books that I had spent money on are enjoyed, but not nearly as much as the truck book & could easily have been returned to the library, if that is where I had gotten them. Now that my son is 2 years old & interested in many things, we go to the library often to pick up a wide variety of books & some educational movies for when homework season starts again. If he is not attached to a book, we can return it with no injury to the budget. Just take care with the items since they will cost you if they are late or damaged.
If you are a new single mother or newly pregnant, know that your baby will not need the many toys that humans seem to believe their offspring will desire. Little babies need their mothers more than any synthetic bouncers, mobiles, swings, toys, jinglers or janglers. It may not be the same with every child, but my son was overjoyed by leaves swaying in the wind, people passing by, my boobs, & other random things until he developed a strong interest in balls & things with wheels when he was around a year old. When this interest became clear & he started to play more independently, I then requested specific gifts for him for his birthday & holidays, & I bought a few special things when I could. I decided I would give him books for holidays so he would have a personal library, & many books are really cheap but endlessly entertaining. I recommend procuring a few items to explore with, or playing with toys at a friend’s house or children’s museum to see what your child really enjoys & stick with that until his or her view expands.
The very most important thing you can give your child is yourself. It is wonderful to encourage a child once they have developed sincere interests, but the objects so many people purchase for their young ones often do not encourage learning, nor do they encourage bonding. If you find yourself a surprised single mother, I hope you are able to find ways to save money & through that, save time for your child. Your motherhood does not rest on what type of stroller you are able to afford, or how new your child’s clothes are. Your creative spirit & your undying love will make your baby’s world solid in a way that material objects cannot.
Single mothers, fathers, or parents with partners, how do you raise your children in a frugal manner? What ways have you found to cut costs? Do you employ these methods just to save money, or are you, like me, totally thrilled with anti-consumerism? :)
About Kristen Tea
I am a 27-year-old single, attached, informed, lactivist, intactivist, peaceful Minnesotan mother of almost 4-year-old Sun Ronin a.k.a Sunny Boy. I am an artist & lover of expression. I’m also a student with many things to learn, including nutritional therapy, lactation consulting, doulahood, yoga instructing, & more. I believe that unplanned pregnancies do not have to equal uninformed motherhood, & women have the power to restore humanity to everything we touch.