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The Great-West Life Assurance Company, London Life Insurance Company and The Canada Life Assurance Company have become one company – The Canada Life Assurance Company. Discover the new Canada Life

The Great-West Life Assurance Company, London Life Insurance Company and The Canada Life Assurance Company have become one company – The Canada Life Assurance Company. Discover the new Canada Life

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How to adjust financially as a single parent

Key takeaways

  • Of all the families surveyed in Canada as part of the 2019 censusOpens a new website in a new window, 19% were one-parent families.
  • Becoming a single parent requires a lot of adjustment, especially when it comes to finances.
  • Whether you receive assistance or have sole financial responsibility for your family, there are tips you can use to help you budget, save and provide for the future.

Adjusting to being a single-income household

There are many things to adapt to following a divorce or separation, including the impact this will have on you and your children financially.

Adjusting to being a single-income household can be difficult, even if you receive financial support from your former partner. There may be additional costs of childcare to think about, inflation, and worries about what will happen if you’re unable to work.

There are ways you can budget, maximize savings and government benefits, and planning for the future can help you financially navigate this next chapter or your life.  

Creating a budget 

One of the first steps to take is to review your new financial state, taking into consideration all forms of monthly income including child support and any government benefits you may be able to claim.

Budgeting for fixed expenses

First, you’ll need an idea of what your monthly expenses are. Fixed expenses are those that occur on a fixed date each month, and are usually essential bills and utilities such as: 

  • Rent or mortgage payments
  • Insurance
  • Car payments or transit costs
  • Any increase to childcare costs
  • Internet and phone bills
  • Credit card and loan repayments
  • Subscription payments

Budgeting for variable expenses

Once you’ve isolated when your fixed payments are due, you’ll need to work out how to cover your variable payments. 

The money left over from your paycheque once you’ve accounted for essential bills is known as disposable or discretionary income. This is used to cover expenses that aren’t bills or payments, but still amount to your overall cost of living, such as:

  • Groceries
  • Entertainment
  • Eating out
  • Gas
  • Clothing
  • Toiletries and personal care
  • Beauty and haircare

Bill payments and expenses aren’t the only things you’ll need to factor in. Saving and ensuring you have a safety net is also important to help you cover unexpected costs in the short-term, as well as to plan for your long-term financial future.  

Managing saving

Even if you experience difficulty managing money as you adjust to single parenthood, it’s still important to set money aside to save each month, even if it’s only a small amount.

For example, it’s wise to have an “emergency fund” or money saved to cover large issues that could impact your income, such as job loss or illness.

You could also set up a ‘rainy day fund’ which may only have $500 - $1,000 saved to cover smaller, one-time purchases like car or home repairs.  

How much should you save each month?

The amount you should save a month will depend largely on how much money you have left over after you’ve covered your fixed bills and living expenses.

You may have heard of the “50-30-20 rule”, which means you allocate 50% of your take-home pay to your “needs” or fixed expenses, 30% to your “wants” (your variable expenses), and 20% to savings.

While it’s a popular method, it normally works best when budgeting monthly, and so may not apply when budgeting by paycheque.

Instead, you can set up a system where you contribute based on how much you’d like to save in total over the year rather than by a set amount per month, or you might set up a recurring payment to transfer money from each paycheque to your savings account as you’re paid, treating it as almost another expense.

However you choose to do it, saving a little is better than nothing. There are many benefits to starting to save early, including taking advantage of compound growth.

Maximize government benefits

Your change in circumstance could mean that you may now qualify to receive money from the government or can claim certain expenses on your tax return.

If you’re single with a child or children, you automatically qualify to receive the:

Depending on your income and other factors, you could also qualify to receive benefits such as the:

If your change in circumstances has meant your household income has lowered, you may qualify for additional government support available to low-income families, too.

Make sure you stay up to date with new and changing government benefitsOpens a new website in a new window that may become available that could help. For example, to help with the high cost of living in Canada in 2023, the government has introduced a one-time Grocery RebateOpens a new website in a new window to eligible individuals and families to help with the rising cost of food. 

The CRA child and family benefits calculatorOpens a new website in a new window can help you determine how much you might be able to receive in total through government benefits.

Explore increasing your income

If your expenses have increased drastically, you may want to explore ways to earn extra money to help you cope.

For example, you might explore doing a side hustle in addition to your current job, such as:

  • Freelance, contract or gig work
  • Delivery work such as Uber or food delivery
  • Services such as dog-walking or catering
  • Selling something you made or reselling something you bought previously
  • Teaching or tutoring

Prepare for the future

Set financial goals

As you embark on your new beginning, it’s a great time to take stock of your goals and priorities. This also includes evaluating the role your finances will play in achieving these goals.

For example, do you plan to pay down debt? Do you plan to move to a new home following your separation? Do you want to start or increase your savings for your child’s education? Thinking about how your goals may change and evolve in this new phase of your life can help you save and invest to achieve them.

Ensure you’re insured

If you’re a parent, it’s important to have coverage in place to help your children in the event something should happen to you, especially if they’re at the age where they depend on you financially.

If you already have insurance, make sure to review your coverage levels and update your beneficiaries. If you don’t already have coverage, now’s the time to look at available options to see what best suits your needs.

There are different types of insurance available, such as:  

  • Life insurance – Following a death, a lump sum is paid to the policy holder’s beneficiary. This money can help your family with funeral costs, outstanding debts or loss of crucial income.
  • Critical illness insurance –This lump sum is paid out following a life-altering diagnosis of a covered condition and can reduce the financial burden of fighting a serious illness.
  • Accident insurance – Accident insurance can be paid out as a lump-sum following catastrophic injuries, or to help a beneficiary financially following the accidental death of the policy holder.

On top of life insurance, it’s important to consider whether you have enough in the way of health and dental benefits. If you had coverage through your spouse’s plan, you’ll likely lose this coverage once you separate. It’s important to check whether their coverage will still extend to cover eligible children, too.

If you don’t have health and dental benefits beyond what’s covered by the government, you could be at risk of having to pay for medical bills out-of-pocket.

This could result in thousands of dollars a year for you and your children, which could put a strain on you financially.

If you have coverage through your employer, it may extend to cover eligible children, so it’s a good idea to check the details of your plan to ensure your children are named on the plan and the levels of coverage suit your family. You may also want to see if there’s any change to coordinating benefits for eligible children between you and your spouse.

If you need coverage, explore our health and dental plans to see how they can be tailored to your needs and budget.

Save for retirement

On top of savings to help you out now, it’s important to make sure you’re saving for your future as well.

Products like a Tax-free savings account (TFSA) or a Registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) are ways to help you save for the longer term.

You could explore options like segregated funds or mutual funds that are invested  by a portfolio manager. This means you don’t have to worry about committing time to manage your investments but can still have an opportunity to grow your wealth over the long-term.

We know that women typically retire with less money than men, and this could especially be the case if being the sole financial provider makes it harder to contribute to retirement savings. Even if you’re contributing only a small amount each month, this can add up over the long term to help you afford to retire and enjoy your dream retirement.

Make plans for your estate

If you haven’t done so already as part of your separation, you should think about estate planning to make sure your instructions are clear for what will happen to your assets after you’re gone.

Estate planning is arranging your affairs so that when you die, your money and belongings are distributed the way you want. Some things to think about include:

  • Making or update your will – Dying without a will can cause many issues, the main one being  you have no say over how your estate is managed and distributed once you’re gone. It can also result in more stress, money and time involved with wrapping up your affairs.
  • Choosing an executor – Called a liquidator in Quebec, an executor is a person who administers and distributes your estate.
  • Updating your financial arrangements – This includes your insurance and investment beneficiaries, property ownership documents and finances related to your business.
  • Signing a power of attorney – You can sign a power of attorney for property and for health and personal care, and you may also consider creating a living will, which outlines your wishes for medical care and end-of-life under certain circumstances.
  • Review your beneficiaries on your workplace insurance and savings – Some plans have legislation governing who the beneficiary will be, but for others, you’re able to update it yourself.


What's next?

  • While managing your finances, it’s also important to prioritize your mental health and your relationship with money. While it may feel overwhelming, there are ways to help you manage your anxiety.Opens in a new window
  • If you have insurance and/or benefits through your workplace, check your coverage to make sure everything is up to date.
  • According to our recent survey, women who worked with an advisor felt more positive about the time it would take to reach their financial goals after a divorce than women who didn’t. If you need help navigating this new chapter of your life financially, an advisor can help.

This material is for information purposes only and shouldn’t be construed as providing legal or tax advice. Every effort has been made to ensure its accuracy, but errors and omissions are possible. All comments related to taxation are general in nature and are based on current Canadian tax legislation and interpretations for Canadian residents, which are subject to change. For individual circumstances, consult with your tax, legal or accounting professionals. This information is provided by The Canada Life Assurance Company and is current as of date of publication.

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