How a Single Mom of Three Scrapes by on a $40,000 Salary

Single mother of three
Getting by on $58,000 a year isn't easy, but it's manageable. Doing it as a single mother of three is a near-Herculean task.

Mike Dang of personal finance blog The Billfold sat down with an anonymous mother trying to pull off this feat, and the interview is a startling look at the compromises some Americans are forced to make on limited salaries. The subject of the piece works at a nonprofit that pays her around $40,000 a year, and she gets an additional $1,500 a month in child support payments from the children's father. It's barely enough to get by.

On payday, she says, she's almost always hovering around $0 in the bank. She has a $48,000 loan from her ex-husband's education that she's been unable to pay off. Her work pays for two-thirds of her health insurance, but she's still considering dropping the coverage because her share of the premiums is still pricey.

And some bills simply go unpaid.

"I can't always pay utility bills in full, but I have figured out how much I have to pay to keep the utility companies from shutting off my service," she tells The Billfold.

The story is a great look at how people can be really smart about money when they're forced to be. The mother managed to negotiate a below-market rent by doing home repairs herself, and further negotiated with her child care provider so she could afford that vital service during the children's summer vacation. She always shops for groceries with a list, and doesn't stray from it. And she gets hand-me-down clothes from other moms to keep up with her growing kids.

Still, certain aspects of her finances need to fall by the wayside: Retirement, for instance, isn't in her future.

"I know that I will be one of those people who works until they drop dead," she says. "My priority is my kids and making sure they have a better future than I have."

That dismal financial outlook is sobering, but it's even more so when you consider that many people have it a lot worse than the subject of this article. Those child support payments account for an extra $18,000 in income, bringing her total income to $58,000 -- and keep in mind that that $18,000 is post-tax. By contrast, the poverty line for a single parent with three children is $23,400. For some perspective, roughly 27% of all single parents are living in poverty.

In other words, roughly a quarter of all single parents are making less than half of what this single mother is making. If she's struggling this much to get by on her salary, how are they managing to make ends meet?

Check out the whole interview over at The Billfold.

Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.


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Courtney Marie Mott

This article is bull crap. $58,000? Are you fricking serious? I have to try with all my might not to start cussing at the piece of crap who this is about and the idiot who wrote this. A single mom with $30,000 is the luckiest person in the world. This is just dumb, she's being an idiot if she needs to 'scrape by'. Most single mom's don't ever make a penny more than $25,000. I make less than $15,000 a year before taxes and don't get child support. Try dealing with that you spoiled little brat. This made me mad just reading it. The nerve of some people acting like they are poor or in need...

August 19 2014 at 9:47 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Shauna Curtis

I've never made more than 21,000 a year with three kids and no child support ever! I can't even imagine making that much money plus getting child support on top of it! You sure wouldn't see me complaining or falling behind! She is not struggling....that woman hasn't even seen struggle when this matter is concerned! Try interviewing someone who has had to get by and make things work like I have. Then you'll supply a story that'll inspire people and teach them how to get by when there's no way to get by!

May 10 2014 at 5:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

this is a free service that has helped me and countless others who have something to offer but no one to offer it to. step one: believe in yourself.
step two: cut and paste.

June 25 2013 at 3:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Marlon Williams

Sorry for any typographical errors Matt Brownell.... I had to type this response on a cell phone because i can't afford a computer.

April 26 2013 at 3:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Marlon Williams

OH ME OH MY! $40,000/yr?! Big whoop! For most of my life i have made less than $30,000 with kids and NO child support! This article makes it sound like she's living a HARD life, not an EASY life. By my math $40,000 is about $19/hr. I make $9.00/hr, AND have a college degree, AND graduated cum laude! Matt Brownell why don't you come to the "hood" I grew up in and write the same story. I guarantee it'll change your life. Don't worry, there aren't many homicides her. :-)

April 26 2013 at 3:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Oh BOO HOO. I Iive alone and get by on less than 12,000/year...yet I am still able to pay my bills in full and have a little left over for play.

April 26 2013 at 9:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


April 26 2013 at 9:13 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
James Elliott

When My works a lot of hours she make about $2400.00 a month. I get $1175.00 a month which is almost $43000.00 a year. That would be good except our two sons a daughter in law and 3 grand kids also live with us. No the boy and daughter in lad don't help with the bills. My wife works two jobs and the bills don't all get paid every month. My pickup hasn't been started since the first of December. The inspuction has expired and I need 6 new tires to get it inspected. Need the mothers for both doors to roll the windows up. The latch is broken on the drivers door and won't stay shup. Is cheaper to let it sit. All I could get for it would be junk price or I would sell it. I don't drive much and don't need it It is hard for a single mother of father with kids to make it but they could raise the wadges and make the cose of everything go up and make it worse. That is what I read. People can't live on $10.00-$15.00 a hour pay. When I was working I never made over $10.00 a hour and until I lost the site in one eye and had to quit driving trucks my wife made $7-8.00 a hour. I guess the government checks,free food and free housing pays better because there seems to be a lot of people waiting for their government check for doing nothing. I know someone that raised three kids on government checks

April 26 2013 at 8:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Another air head story, maybe I`m wrong but if my marrige was in trouble the last thing you need is another baby to take care of

April 26 2013 at 7:39 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
kristi schilling

ummmm since my husbands death I live on just over 25,000 a year ..... she is far from struggling and im sure there arefamilies living on under what im making ..... write a real life article!

April 26 2013 at 7:38 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply