Whether it's healthcare, clothing, food, housing, or transportation, the cost of raising a child keeps climbing. According to a 2013 U.S. Department of Agriculture report, a middle-income couple will spend an estimated $241,080 over 18 years to care for a child born in 2012. For single-parent families with one income, that figure can seem daunting. Following is a collection of tips and resources that can help single parents navigate the financial shoals of child-rearing.
Maintain a Budget and Track Expenses.
Single-parent households are completely dependent on one income, which makes it imperative to practice thrifty saving and spending habits. Drawing up a monthly budget that includes funds for the proverbial rainy day is always wise. A variety of free online resources that import bank accounts and credit card charges can help single parents track spending. Popular options include Mint.com and LearnVest. Each offers budgeting tools and mobile apps that let users enter expenses and check balances on the go. Advanced features depict spending patterns visually in graphs and pie charts.
Sign Up for Health Insurance.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), popularly known as Obamacare, requires that all adults have health insurance. Medicaid is open to certain low-income individuals, including single parents, who cannot afford private health insurance; eligibility requirements differ by state. Single parents who don't qualify for Medicaid may find an affordable health insurance plan through one of the state insurance exchanges or through a marketplace organized by the federal government for residents of states that have not set up an exchange. The portal into the world created by the PPACA is the place to start. Some states also provide personal "navigators" who help consumers identify and apply for insurance that suits their needs.
Single parents whose salaries exceed Medicaid eligibility requirements may save money by enrolling their children in the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which is available in every state but varies in the details. Parents with kids in CHIP may still be able to buy a marketplace health insurance plan but it's likely that premium costs or out-of-pocket expenses will be lower. Co-payments and monthly premiums for CHIP families max out at 5 percent of the family's annual income. Coverage under this program includes check-ups, doctor visits, shots, medication, emergency services, and more. Visit InsureKidsNow.gov or submit a marketplace application to see if CHIP is an option.
With college tuition costs spiking every year, single parents and their children should look to scholarships, loans, and grants to mitigate the financial pain. The Office of Federal Student Aid provides more than $150 billion in tuition assistance annually. Prospective students can submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to see if they are eligible for grants, loans, and work-study funds, all of which depend on need, tuition, and student status. The federal Pell Grant awards up to $5,550 for a school year and does not need to be repaid.
For thousands of other scholarships, whether for the single parent who wants some post-secondary education or for a child, FastWeb is a useful resource. This site aggregates scholarships and internships and matches applicants based on their profile and academic interests. The U.S. Department of Labor also hosts a scholarship-search page with filters by award type, study level, and affiliations.
Check Other Programs.
Single parents may qualify for assistance from the Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF) program, which provides cash grants for families in serious financial need; eligibility is determined at the state level. Regardless of location, single parents receiving TANF assistance must spend a minimum of 30 hours a week in job training or a work activity. The lifetime maximum for aid is 60 months, and the goal is to move recipients from welfare to work.
Low-income families may qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is also managed by the states. Food stamps -- actually a debit card that's refilled monthly -- can be used almost anywhere to purchase groceries. Children in families enrolled in SNAP automatically qualify for free school lunches (sometimes available at summer programs, as well). Community resources that can help single parents fill hungry stomachs include local food banks and soup kitchens.
Many states also maintain programs for affordable housing, home energy assistance, and the like. These safety-net programs vary by state, so visit the state's website to learn about available resources.