5 tips for surviving on a dime when you're a millennial mom
Millennials, it’s official: We’re not kids anymore. With the Pew Research Center classifying a millennial as someone born between 1981 and 1996, even the youngest among us have been experiencing hangovers legally for over a year. We’re redefining the hallmarks of American society, and people are freaking out. To date, we’ve “ruined” department stores, dinner dates, and home ownership, just to name a few.
Parenting is high up on the list of status symbols being decimated by millennials. Studies have found that since 2007, birth rates among American women in their twenties show a 15% decline compared to women of the same age in previous generations. The explanations for this phenomenon this vary wildly, but at the end of the day, much of the argument boils down to simple math. It’s been proven time and time again that millennials’ cost of living is proportionally higher than that of our parents, and that’s before you throw another mouth to feed into the mix. Kids are expensive. Plain and simple.
That being said, about 49% of millennials still make the choice to become parents. As a 26-year-old mother of two children under the age of 8, I can definitively say, financially, it’s rough. Keep in mind I’m lucky enough to live in a two-parent, two-income household — and it’s still rough.
Both my husband and I grew up in homes with incomes below the poverty line. That means every dollar we spent was a dollar we’d personally earned. Now, I’m a little bit older but much much wiser. As a mom, I’ve learned a few tips and tricks to save a dollar.
Budget: Plan Every Penny
As simple and mundane as this sounds, budgeting changed the way I think about and handle money. If you don’t have a budget plan together, stop what you’re doing right now and go make one. Ironically, some of the most effective budgeting tools I’ve found are older tactics that are tried-and-true.
The Envelope Method has been around since the 1950s and is one of the best ways to keep your spending easy to track. The premise is simple: When you get paid, take all of your money out of your account so that you’re dealing exclusively in cash. Parcel your check into very specific categories and place a dedicated amount in an envelope. Whatever’s in the envelope is what you spend. Don’t like cash? There are free sample budget plans online and tons of free apps that’ll help you get from Friday to Friday.
Prioritize: Cut Out Unnecessary Expenses
When you have children, there are three bills you must ALWAYS pay — and pay on time: electricity, transportation, and rent. Everything else is a luxury, with the exception of food. Even the internet can be cut from your budget if you need to live lean. Free Wi-Fi is everywhere. I freelanced out of Starbucks and McDonald’s lobbies exclusively for a full year.
Make sure you spend only on what you need. Not only does your livelihood depend on it, your children are depending on it too. If you have to skip binge-watching The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt this month to put an extra few dollars towards food, clothes, diapers, etc., then so be it.
Time Management: Make a Schedule
Time is your most important and valuable asset. Having a routine is such an important step as a millennial mom, and it will keep you both organized and sane. Here are a few daily schedule examples for working moms that I’ve found invaluable. There’s a schedule for everyone regardless of what phase of life you’re in.
Planning your days beforehand will result in less stress from lack of organization. Also, consider the fact that being organized will open up a world of opportunities to save, or earn, some cash. For example, setting aside a few hours each week to clip coupons can save you hundreds of dollars on essentials, like groceries, laundry detergent, and toiletries.
Additionally, having kids and working in the gig economy means that often, your time is money. If you have a schedule for your kids (especially if they’re younger) you can predict when they’ll be doing things like napping, eating, or having quiet playtime that will allow you to send off those emails to your clients uninterrupted. Take the time to manage your time.
Research: Google Resources in Your Area
There have been times when I’ve had $20 in my account for groceries for the week. Researching public assistance programs has saved my life. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and I’ve learned that there is no shame in being on public assistance, as long as I went in with the mindset that I was asking for assistance temporarily.
The first resource I would look into is assistance for childcare, since daycare is by far the most expensive part of having a child. In 2016, CNN reported that the average cost of childcare surpassed the cost of college tuition in at least 23 states. There are lots of resources that offer daycare assistance for low-income families or for families where at least one parent is a full-time student. Find those agencies in your state or county, and apply a soon as possible, i.e. yesterday. In all honesty, I recommend applying when you’re pregnant if you can. The waiting lists for those programs average a year or more.
When it comes to nutrition, in most states, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) will grant households with children a small budget for food if your income qualifies. Programs like WIC and the Summer Break Spot are designed specifically to ensure that children under 18 are getting consistent, nutritious meals, especially when school is out.
Even if you don’t qualify for food stamps or cash assistance, these same programs can help with health insurance. Uninsured children can be granted Medicaid or state-subsidized insurance, and the income restrictions are typically less stringent.
There are also discounted health insurance programs specifically for kids who fall into the “gap” — if your household income is more than the state allows for coverage but less than the amount you need to buy a policy, consider looking into programs like CHIP or state-specific health insurance policies.
My kids are covered by our state’s HealthyKids program, even though my husband and I still don’t have health insurance. We pay $40 per month for full coverage and never pay out-of-pocket costs. Knowing that my asthmatic son is covered for those unexpected trips to the emergency room offers peace of mind.
Swallow your pride, do your Googles, and apply. If you decide to go this route and apply for assistance, set aside a good chunk of time; the application processes can be time-consuming.
Food: Make a Meal Out of a Molehill
Speaking of food, here are a few life hacks that will ease the load a bit.
For every Publix, Walmart, or Kroger, there is a smaller grocery store that is locally owned, sourced, and operated. I’ve found that a majority of the time, these smaller, mom-and-pop groceries offer incredible discounts on fresh meats and produce. Search for “grocery stores near me” and go into “more detail.” After the major chain stores, the highest-rated local grocers are usually next in succession on the list. Read the reviews and browse the photos. The best ones aren’t hard to find.
Skip the kale
You can’t be bad and bougie on a budget. Buy generic brand non-perishables in bulk. You can always make a meal out of rice, pasta, or beans. Oatmeal is a well-worn breakfast staple in our household. Keep items like these on hand for weeks when you can’t afford to get healthier options. Sometimes, you’ll have to choose less healthy alternatives to make sure the family is fed, especially if money is scant. If you thought ramen was just for college, think again.
Plan your meals
Looping back to time management: Planning your meals is a proven way to save money on grocery costs while ensuring you don’t stress about the next plate you set at the dinner table. Here’s a real meal plan I’ve used in hard times to feed my family of four for about $50.
Again, keep in mind that these prices are the average prices at a major retail chain. Shopping local will save you some precious funds. If you have to go to a major chain, shopping on sale days (usually Monday through Wednesday) will save you money, or at the very least, get you more bang for your buck.
BONUS — TREAT YO’ SELF
At the end of the day, every mother in every home is different. What works for some may not work for others. It’s important to take care of yourself and your mental health even before you take care of your children. That’s not to say that you should ignore the needs of your kids, but being a parent can be overwhelming. If you are in a bad space mentally, parenting can be a catalyst for some really dark days if you don’t take the time to care for yourself.
Build time into your routine for health and self-care. I highly recommend taking one hour every morning to meditate and work out, at 30 minutes per activity. Even if you can’t do this every day, establishing these healthy habits for yourself makes your job as a mom that much easier. I use YouTube University for everything and have a favorite channel for guided meditation and for daily exercise. Find hobbies that you like and dedicate time for yourself as often as you can. You’re worth it.
So, what’s the moral of the story? Being a parent is hard, but if you manage your time, your money, and your mental health, you’ll make it through. The kids are alright.