Being a single mom for many years I had my share of financial troubles, I was never jobless but life at home with two kids certainly gave me a wide set of challenges, keeping up with my bills was one of them! Yes there were good times where I could splurge a little, travel and have some fun… but I also had really bad times. Funny enough, those bad times are what taught me what I had to do to never to be in a sticky financial situation again. Needless to say, it also gave me the opportunity to teach my kids a thing or two about handling their expenses. There's nothing worse than living pay-check to pay-check, it causes stress in the family and the uncertainty is sometimes unbearable. It's amazing how some simple efforts can help you take control of your finances, here's some of the changes I made and lessons I learned:

- The first thing I did was sit down and had a talk with my children. Kids are smarter than you think, they will understand if you explain why you need to get a hold of your finances. I came up with a plan and I made sure that we all understood and were on board. I was very specific and clear with the kids as to the changes we were making in the house, it became easier for me to deal with them on a daily basis.

- Debit cards in my opinion are the best option ever! Carrying cash always makes me spend more, you know, because it's just there! By using my debit card for everything I can have better control of what I spend. With my online access to my account, I make sure I check it at least once a week, I also check it when I’m close to pay day or when I'm about to head out for groceries… it helps remind me of how much I can spend, or not!

- As soon as my bank gave me the option to pay my bills online, I was all over that! I set a reminder in my calendar and I pay them all once a month, get it over and done with. I never set my bills to be paid automatically from my account, I like to check the amounts and the charges just in case there are any irregularities. I always pay on time, this helps me avoid paying late & reconnection fees.

- One of the biggest changes with the kids was that I began to give them an allowance. Then, I went a step further and got them debit cards. It was easier for them to budget their money and less of a hassle for me, I could transfer money into their accounts easily as well as keep an eye on their expenses.

- When I got my first credit card I decided to re-decorate the bathrooms in my house, then I moved on to the kid's rooms and before I knew it I was close to maxing out my credit. Once I paid that off I decided to freeze my credit card and keep it on hold, ever since then I only activate it when I have an emergency or when I'm going to travel. If I do ever use it, I focus on paying it off and putting it on hold again.

- If I can't afford it, I don't buy it… it's as simple as that. When I was a teenager and asked my mom to buy me stuff (shoes mostly), she’d always ask me, do you want it or do you need it? I hated when she'd ask me that but now that I'm a mom too, I am very thankful of that one valuable lesson. When it comes to clothes, shoes, furniture or appliances for the house, I always make sure I really need them. When it's time to upgrade, I never buy on credit, I plan, I save up and I buy cash.

- Now a days with all the "global warming" issues I work hard at managing a green home, or at least as close to "green" as possible. That wasn't the case back when my kids were small. All in all I always made sure they turned off lights when they left a room, kept their phone calls short and never wasted water on silly things. We were not always consistent with this but when we really made an effort, it made a world of a difference when it came to paying the bills.

- Just 3 blocks away from my house I have a little corner store, a pharmacy and a hardware store… if I ever need something, I walk! It's amazing how sometimes we grab the car to do the simplest things, from visiting a neighbor to running a quick errand. My car can be a major expense if I abuse it, I sometimes walk, take occasional public transportation and always check my tires and the engine… did you know that you can actually save hundreds of dollars by just keeping your tires properly inflated?

- Family time is important but we sometimes get caught up in life and feel we need big money to entertain our kids, take them to the movies, eat out, theme parks, water parks, you name it! Children need our love, our time and our undivided attention, not expensive outings and activities. In hard times with my kids I learned that they had more fun playing in the corner park with me than going to the movies, we'd pretend that we had no power and play card games in candlelight, sleep out in the back yard to watch the stars or even play silly loud music and do house chores together whilst singing and dancing.

- I've never been a collector, I'm pretty low key and minimalist when it comes to my house and my life… I did study fine arts though and loved to paint, until it became an expensive hobby. Collecting or hobbies can really hurt the wallet so it’s something that I do only occasionally when I have the money to do it.

- Last year I was talking to a guy that worked for me, he was really young and had just gotten married and had a baby. I was quite shocked to learn that he had this method of living one pay-check behind. He started off by cashing his check a week later and then two weeks, three, etc until he managed to hold on to his pay-check for a whole month. If by any chance he had some extra expenses, he always had an extra pay-check he could cash in and use that money. It took me a while to adopt this method but now I do it automatically and I always have a whole month's pay sitting in my bank account (other than my savings).

- One of the crazy things about owning a home is that every month, something always breaks down or needs fixing. Sometimes, and I have no idea why, it all comes in waves, you wake up one morning and you have no hot water and your washer and dryer are suddenly not working. This taught me to always keep my receipts and guarantees in check, paying for repairs or to replace appliances can really set me back when it comes to my budget.

- I have the great advantage that I love to cook, and I'm good at it too! This has not always been the case though, I also like eating out and having someone else cook for me. Back a few years ago when I was stuck in an office for 12 to 14 hours I was constantly eating out and then throwing food out back home. It takes discipline but cooking at home and eating fresh really made a difference in my expenses, if I added to that packing a lunch for work and drinking plain water instead of bottled green tea, I’d really notice the difference. Needless to say, living a healthier life also helps with medical expenses as I rarely get sick.

Probably the biggest lesson I've learned about personal finance and budgeting is that every small thing counts. Every small effort made a difference, it added up and eventually those little things became habit and helped me save money, for example:

- When I go to the supermarket, I always make a list and I stick to it

- I never buy bottled water, i drink from the tap

- I never buy junk food, always healthy, always fresh

- I buy some things in bulk, dog food, toilet paper, cleaning products, etc, I save tons like that!

- If I don't use an appliance, I unplug it and store it away

- I'm great at using coupons at the supermarket and going on discount days, in some occasions I've paid for only half of my groceries

- I do my own lawn with my son, saves me a bunch on gardening

- I buy generic products, same stuff, lower price

- I'm a techie so I'm all about digital, I read all my newspapers and magazines online, saves me on subscriptions and recycling

- I wash my car at home (actually, my son does!)

- I try not to de-stress with money, retail therapy does the trick but so does a long walk or a nice visit with a friend

- I have my friends over instead of going out, that's a huge saving there!

- If I have a long work day out of the house, I get up early and have a good breakfast, saves me on getting hungry and eating out

- I fix my own hair, do my own nails and shave/wax myself, my only beauty bill is the occasional haircut

- Gym bills can get crazy, especially if I can't make it to the gym everyday, I work out at home

Back a few years ago I found myself in a financial pickle, I made some bad money decisions and I had tons of bills to pay and two kids to feed… no money in my pocket. I grabbed my car, sold it, got back on track and bought a smaller used car. It was simple, it worked. We sometimes live out of our means and prefer to deal with the stress instead of solving the problem. Downsizing is not a big deal, I had no financial help or advisor, I did what I knew was right, combined that with a lot of small changes and ever since then my personal finances have become a breeze.

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