Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Single Mama on a Budget

We’ve had a lot of fun this summer.

Living on one income for more than the past year, I’ve become more thrifty than ever. I’ve saved and budgeted where I felt I could, so that I could splurge on things that were important to me and my family. I would participate in office luncheons, but chose to brown bag it. I did this, so that I could attend fairs with Little Diva and Little Dude or splurge on ziplining with The Boyfriend. I tried to dine out rarely, and when I did, I tried to use as many coupons or Groupons as possible. I opted not to participate in too much alcohol consumption while out with friends (also saving me calories; and I don’t enjoy it that much anyway).

Racing can be expensive (as you well know). I passed on several of my annual races this year (particularly 5Ks), because I would rather splurge on epic races that were more important to me and my training (i.e. The Chicago Marathon). I’ve participated in many of my races for free, because they were supplemented by RDM sponsors or because I received free entries via other venues (coaching, giveaways, etc).

We tried to take advantage of many summertime activities and festivals, but also didn’t get a chance to do everything we wanted to. We had to make some decisions. Decisions on what was MOST important to us … and my wallet.

While I am not necessarily buying fun and fancy new THINGS … we are having fun and amazing EXPERIENCES. When I’ve splurged, I’ve splurged on experiences, not on items.

I do like to shop. I love fancy things; pretty things; unique things. I’ve always been a sucker for rummage sales and thrift stores. Most (90%) of Little Diva and Little Dude’s clothing comes second-hand. About half of my wardrobe now comes from thrift stores, too. I love a good deal or a unique second-hand find … and I’m damn proud of it.


This summer, I’ve tried to find as many free activities as possible. Here are some things we did for free or at low-cost.

- park hopping (running, bike riding or driving to various parks)

- picnics and grilling out (with the goal to clean out the refrigerator and cupboards)

- visiting the local nature center/arboretum

- bike rides

- the beach

- library (not only free book and movie rentals; also access to computers, train table, doll house, board games, story time)

- using our state park pass

- nature hunts/treasure hunts (creating checklists of various items or hiding little toys in tupperware containers)

- tennis with friends

- fishing

- playdates

- Dollar store shopping

- rummage sales (we would then often visit a park in each neighborhood)

- look through their baby books with them

- decorating homemade pizzas

- Friday night disco/dance parties in the living room

- letting the kids make me dinner (creating a menu, setting the table,dishes)


With the cooler weather and the impending school year upon is, this involves being more creative to entertain two active kids on a tight budget. Thanks to past experience and Pinterest, here are some things that I am planning.

- indoor picnics (complete with blanket and a picnic basket)

- movie night (create a dinner menu and prepare snacks to compliment the movie title/theme)

- board games or puzzles at McDonald’s or the food court (taking things in a different area really creates new excitement in the kids)

- forts

- pulling out the workout DVDs and having the kids try them with me

- making an indoor photo booth (with props)

- free construction classes for kids at Home Depot

- thrift stores

- iceskating

- sledding

- visit local museums (free resident days)

- visit the book store (read together and play together at the train table)

- mall play areas

- indoor camping

- schedule a Sunday as “pajama day”

I plan to continue to make use of helpful “mommy” sites in my area, as well as community guides. These are full of great events, many of which are totally free or at low cost. It’s been a great way for the kids … and I … to discover many of the great assets in our community and the surrounding area.

If you are local, here are some great resources in the Madison, Wisconsin area:

Moms in Madison (HERE)

Madison Mamas (HERE)

Mamas Gone Madison (HERE)

Hula Frog Madison (HERE)

Taking advantage of discount sites, like Groupon (HERE), Living Social (HERE) or Koupon Shop (HERE) have been a great way for us to try new things and have affordable experiences together (rock climbing, kayaking, paddleboats, brewery tours, horseback riding, bowling, mini golf).  This also gives us the chance to dine at some favorite restaurants (and buy cupcakes!!) and try new restaurants. Many of these deals are 50% off or more. Some of these offers are more-than-tempting … so try not to over buy … only purchase deals at places you will visit and use before the deal expires.

What does your
do for fun???


  1. We love indoor picnics, especially on a rainy day. We like to watch a movie and enjoy our picnic on an old tablecloth spread out on the living room floor. :)

    In addition to the Home Depot classes you mentioned above, we've also tried the free classes at Michael's Crafts... something to look into!

  2. We do star parties. Bring dinner outside and sit on a blanket and eat while staring at the sky. Totally inspired by darling daughter's love for a Fancy Nancy book. :)

  3. I think you are doing a great job with your kids. Your tips are handy not only for the single-parent but for anyone who is looking to have a good time with the kids without splurging. Looking back, indontnreally remember the things I did with my parents that involved lots of money, instead it is that day when we flew a kite at a park, played ball at a nearby beach, fished at a pond, cycled through the park that I truly treasure and remember,

  4. Love this! You are such a great mama!!!

  5. I love groupon also...and I also love thrift stores. I love nice things, but honestly I hate payign retail!

  6. Such an inspiring blog! What a mom! I admire you.. :)