You don’t need an expert to tell you raising a child as a single parent can be challenging. But there’s help available, especially when it comes to family finances.

You can apply money strategies right now. They have the potential to help you lighten the load. And get ever closer to—and even achieve—many of your short- and long-term goals.

Ask for help Repeat after us: I don’t have to do it alone. Consider friends, family members, community resources and trusted financial advisors. Your support network may very well be stronger than you expect.  

Asking for help gives you more energy and bandwidth to further your family goals and gain financial stability. And often all you have to do is reach out and ask. It could be a bit of free child care. Or a primer on the differences between an RRSP and a TFSA. More time equals more opportunity. 

Be smart about your budget

A budget is an essential part of establishing a good financial foundation—no matter your income. But you’ll want to make sure you build it with a sense of hope, not fear.

“The word ‘budget’ can sound negative,” Sun Life Financial advisor Patrick Fitzgerald acknowledges. People often associate budgeting with learning to live with less. Ultimately, it’s about spending and saving wisely.  

“I recommend looking at a budget from a cash-flow perspective. It’s a snapshot of the cash we have coming in and going out,” Fitzgerald says. “Remember that you need to have a life too, so there has to be some discretionary spending in there.” 

One place to find savings? Internet, television and cellphone plans.  

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission says Canadian households spent $222.83 a month on these services combined in 2016. That was nearly $2,700 a year the last year the agency crunched the numbers. Switching to a cellphone or Internet plan with less data or fewer features could help you cut these bills. Then you could use the difference elsewhere.

To spend less time hunched over your notepad or spreadsheet, Fitzgerald suggests software like Quicken. It can potentially save you hours by downloading transactions straight from your bank account.

Your emergency fund: how much to save and where

If you don’t already have one, a tax-free savings account (TFSA) can boost your personal savings. You can contribute up to $6,000 for the year 2019 and unused contribution room carries forward. If you were 18 when TFSAs launched in 2009, you could hold up to $63,500 in your TFSA now. And that’s even if you open it today. Also, you can withdraw that money anytime without penalty.

“TFSAs’ flexibility makes them a great place for a single parent to build an emergency fund,” says Fitzgerald.

But how much do you set aside for a job loss, leaky roof or other calamity?

Scott Hannah, president of the Credit Counselling Society, advises having three to six months’ expenses in reserve. Don’t stress if you can’t come up with the cash tomorrow. “Take a small piece out of your paycheque [on a regular basis],” he says. “Even if it takes you six years [to build your emergency fund], that’s okay. Maybe you start by aiming to save half of one month’s living costs in the first year.”

Make RESPs a priority

Considering opening a registered education savings plan (RESP)?

That is excellent news, Fitzgerald says.

“The big benefit is that the government matches up to 20% of the total contributions made to the plan per year through the Canada Education Savings Grant (CESG). It’s up to a yearly maximum grant of $500 per child [to a total of $7,200],” he says. “This can really accelerate a parent’s saving plan.”

The accumulated RESP contributions pass to your child tax-free. At withdrawal, the government will tax any income these contributions generated over the years, along with any grant funds received. The good news is that it’s taxed in the hands of your child. Their low income while they’re in school minimizes the bill.

Another perk? Anyone can contribute. Ask friends and family to divert a bit of that holiday or birthday cash to your child’s RESP.

Learn about how to crowdfund your child’s education.

Remember to save for your own retirement

It’s also critical to leave room for contributions to your own retirement in your budget—even if it’s modest. With a registered retirement savings plan (RRSP), contributions grow tax-free. That can be a powerful vehicle to meeting your retirement goals. You can also deduct contributions from your income at tax time, potentially generating a bigger tax refund.

Whatever mix of strategies you choose to pursue, the important thing is to get started. Read more about long-term money strategies for parents.

“If you put [retirement saving] at the bottom of your paycheque, something will always come up,” Hannah says. “It has to be at the top, even if it’s only $20 a month.”

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