For single parents, twice the burden

| Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, 8:56 p.m.

It's hard enough for a two-parent household to raise kids these days.

So imagine the additional weight on the shoulders of single parents.

“Single parents have to carry the entire burden for their finances on their own and have to make all the decisions on their own,” said Wade Chessman, certified financial planner at Chessman Wealth Strategies. “This can be a stressful situation. They are also more vulnerable financially because they don't have anyone to fall back on in the case of unexpected expenses, job loss.”

There are 11.3 million one-parent families nationwide, up 13.8 percent from 2002, according to the Census Bureau. If you're in that group, here's what you need to know:

• Create a budget. “Single parents need to preserve financial stability, since they are the sole income-earner,” said Todd Mark, vice president of education at Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Dallas. “This includes stability at work to protect the income and stability with monthly spending to lock down expenses to a sustainable monthly budget.”

The importance of a budget is driven home by government figures showing that the cost of raising a child keeps rising.

• Fight the guilt. Don't let single-parent guilt make you buy expensive items to help ease the child's separation anxiety.

“The single parent often wants to protect the children by maintaining the same lifestyle,” said Tom Murphy, certified financial planner at Murphy and Sylvest LLC in Dallas. “A child who has just lost one parent for any reason will often react by assuming the other parent will also leave. The remaining parent often tries to console the child by giving him or her whatever the child wants. The result of this process is all too often the rapid expenditure of readily available cash and significant credit card debt.”

Paul didn't allow herself to fall into that situation. She doesn't have credit card debt, and her house is paid for.

• Cover your assets. Because you don't have a backup income earner, make sure you have enough disability and life insurance to cover you in case you become disabled or you die before your children become adults.

“If your budget is tight, you have to cover the big risks first,” said Lynn Lawrance, certified financial planner at Financial Network Investment Corp. “The biggest risk for the child is that something happens and you're no longer around or able to work.”

• Get advice, support. It is so important to have family and friends that you can be honest with, trust and seek advice from,” said Debbie Paul, who became a widow with three children after her husband died a year and a half ago. Her work and church communities “have loved the Paul family well. They have taken care of us and taught us much.

• Teach your children. Use your financial challenges to impart valuable lessons to your children.

“This can provide an opportunity for teachable moments concerning priorities and needs vs. wants,” Lawrance said. “You can show your child that you don't have to keep up with the Joneses and that buying a used car, using coupons, buying on sale, at garage sales or at second-hand stores can help you stretch your budget with minimal sacrifice.”

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