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The Road Less Traveled

The Financial Challenges of Alternative Lifestyles

By Kara Stefan

Single parents face the same financial challenges as married ones--only there's just one parent to shoulder it all. Houses cost the same whether the buyer is a married couple or a single mother of four. Groceries cost the same, daycare costs the same, and colleges don't give students a break on tuition simply because they come from a broken home.

Jane Herzog of the San Francisco Bay Area of California is a single mom by choice, via donor insemination. As the sole provider for her 4-year-old son, she says she's very sensitive to the financial challenges of single parents and the special considerations and worries that come with the job.

  • With no second income to fall back on, the financial pressure can be exhausting.

  • Life insurance--how much is adequate and who can you name as guardian who has the resources to care for your child(ren)?

  • It seems doubly important that single parents carry disability and accident insurance--and yet they have half the income of two-income couples to pay for these expenses.

  • The importance of a will takes on new meaning--if a probate court decides your parents are too old to care for your child, he or she could become a ward of the state.

  • Daycare is a single parent's nightmare. When plans get thwarted, you have no one with whom to negotiate options. You and you alone must bear the burden of either immediate childcare or some ridiculously expensive and far less ideal alternative, often placing your own economic status at risk. Herzog comments that this "happened to me, and I ended up spending a fortune on temporary arrangements."

  • Affordable housing can be a long battle: "Despite the fact that I am a well-paid senior manager, it's impossible for me to afford to buy a house in the Bay Area, and I can barely afford to rent our small house," Herzog remarks. Sometimes, it can take twice as long for a single parent to become "settled" in a home for purely financial reasons.

  • Unless Grandma lives nearby, indulging in a social life can mean weighing your prospects for fun against the cost of a babysitter. For single parents, it's usually a question of economics, not theatre tickets.

Fortunately, the Internet has opened up a whole new avenue of resources not just for single parents but all kinds of people who lead alternative lifestyles. The Internet allows both consumers and service providers to target their interests and the demographic they want to reach. The following is a list of Web sites that single/alternative lifestyle parents recommend for financial services and information targeted to their specific needs:

www.divorcesource.com: provides financial articles and information on debt, taxes, insurance, etc.

www.parentsplace.com: part of the ivillage.com network, this Web site features financial advice articles under its "Money Matters" column--much of which pertains directly to single parents.

www.gayparentmag.com: features financial articles as well as classified listings of financial planners, attorneys, and CPAs who work specifically with the gay community.

www.gayfinancialnetwork.com: a recommended financial advice Web site, whether you're gay or not. Some of the information provided addresses specific concerns of the gay and lesbian community, such as how a trust can protect partners when unrecognized "marriages" do not. The site also provides access to financial services such as online trading, banking, mortgage loans, and portfolio tracking.

www.singlemothers.org: sponsored by the National Organization of Single Mothers and provides listings of resources specific to the needs of this demographic.

www.cccsintl.org: a consumer credit counseling resource offering a lot more than advice on excessive debt. It also provides tips for back to school shopping, a vacation planning guide, and even games for children to help teach the benefits of saving money and shopping wisely for school supplies.

www.salliemae.com: a listing of resources for loans, grants, and scholarships to help pay for your children's college tuition.

www.collegesavings.org: this site gives you one-stop information about what types of college savings plans are sponsored by your state. Many offer broad flexibility when it comes to attending out-of-state schools, maximum contribution limits, and both state and federal tax advantages.

As a veteran single mom, I can honestly attest to the fact that financial challenges have not been the biggest disadvantage to raising a child alone. By and large, the hardest part has not been the lack of a partner to help shoulder the burdens but rather not being able to share the joys. Not having a partner to share in the first time my son walked and spoke, the funny things he says, and the winning soccer goal he scored makes the money management part look easy.

 

 

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