Single parents are some of the best jugglers of time and money. Here, they share their secrets to avoiding being overworked and over budget—hacks that any parent, single or otherwise, can use.

By Nafeesah Allen
July 01, 2021
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They say if you need to get something done, ask a busy person. And I don't know anyone busier than a single parent. Single parents are—quite literally—some of the most dexterous time and money jugglers on the planet.

We spoke to a few single-parenting pros to get some of their best secrets to avoiding being overworked and over budget. The best part? Any parent, single or otherwise, can apply these life hacks to ease their busy days.

Avoid food shopping with your kids

Rebecca Lake is a freelance writer and finance blogger in North Carolina. Her blog, Boss Single Mama, is a nod to all her money management wisdom as a single parent of a teen and tween. She says that she and her kids hate grocery shopping, because it is simply so time-consuming.

She particularly dreads going to big-box stores like Walmart or Target with the kids: "I am guaranteed to spend more money because my son is the worst about tossing things in the cart," Lake explains. "And sometimes I don't even know he's done it until I'm at the checkout. Some of the most random things I've found in my cart have included a $100 Pokemon card set (which I did not buy), a $25 pool float (which I did), Hot Wheels, oven mitts and, one time, he tried to fit in a beanbag chair. So that's one way Instacart saves me money—because I'm not buying unplanned extras."

Layer cashback offers and coupon apps

Daniela Baker is a community manager at CreditDonkey, a personal finance website that provides practical money management tips. This single mom of two young boys, a 7-year-old and a 1-year-old, swears by Ibotta.

"I've been using Ibotta for six months now, and I've never been grateful for an app like this one. I was able to get $200 in just six months from all the cash back on my purchases," Baker explains. "This may seem like very little, but it means a lot when you are trying to keep your finances together. These kinds of apps are very empowering and rewarding for single parents like me," she attests.

There are lots of other cashback plug-ins and coupon apps to add to your repertoire—but don't forget that most major credit cards also have a cashback component. Triple your savings by layering these money-back offers with Amazon subscription discounts on essential purchases you were going to make anyway. The key to saving time and money? Don't get too carried away with frivolous online shopping—and pay those credit card balances in full at the end of every month.

mother and daughter sitting on floor placing coins in piggy bank while smiling at one another
Credit: Illustration by Francesca Spatola; Getty (1)

Keep utility costs low with off-peak timing

Ellen Mayer-Splain, a single parent and emotional disabilities teacher in Fairfax County, Virginia, is always strapped for time. Between the needs of her own 11- and 14-year-olds, and those of her students, she's found that the key to saving money is thoughtfully timing your tasks.

"I do all the laundry, except delicates, together in cold water, and I never run less than a full load," she says. "I also do laundry on weeknights when electricity is cheaper from the grid. My dishwasher has a timer, and I only run it in the middle of the night when we are sleeping." Energy Sage says that utilities are cheapest late at night and early in the morning, when fewer people are using these resources. Between midnight and 6 a.m. seems to be the sweet spot across all 50 states.

Even if you're on solar or well water, there is value in doing these chores when you can knock them out quickly—while kids are still asleep or already out of the house. "I do a lot of my shopping, cleaning, and batch cooking when my boys are with their dad," Mayer-Splain adds. "It means I can maximize my attention on them when they are with me."

Embrace robots to outsource mental load

Nobody knows the heavy burden of mental load like a single parent. Employing robots and apps such as Alexa, Google Nest, and Siri can give your brain a much-needed break. Remembering birthdays, food allergies, rehearsal schedules, and work deadlines can absolutely feel like too much for one person. And when those major obligations fall through the cracks, there's usually a significant financial outlay to fix the mess. Instead, single parents swear a smart speaker is a secret weapon for scheduling, reminders, and collaborative to-do lists alike.

Many parents—single or not—say that they'd give anything to be in more than one place at a time. Smart home technology is the closest thing to it; automation from your smartphone proves as much. You can watch the baby sleep on the monitor, turn on the thermostat, and order school supplies in a matter of minutes. Invest in a cleaning robot that will vacuum and mop for you, and you'll really see your free time soar. After all, when you're a single parent, affordable time-saving technology may be the best (or only) way to buy yourself some guilt-free "me time."