Meagan Pietrzak thought she had it all: a husband she loved, a stable job and two vivacious daughters.
But last year, the life she’d built quickly fell apart.
Her husband abruptly left, completely disappearing from their lives.
Suddenly, she was not only heartbroken and alone, but also the sole provider for two hungry mouths. And it would soon be three: She was a few weeks pregnant.
But even though Pietrzak’s world had crumbled, she did not.
“Failing as a mother is not an option,” she explains. “You do whatever you have to do to make it work.”
Amazed by her resilience, I had to know more. Here’s how this supermom handles two jobs and three daughters — and still manages to thrive.
The Day-to-Day Life of This Supermom
Pietrzak and her daughters, ages 5, 4 and 6 months, live outside Houston, Texas.
She works full time as a coordinator for an international oilfield firefighting company and receives no government assistance.
Every morning, she wakes up at 4 a.m. so she can have one-on-one time with the baby. They leave at 6:30 a.m, she works from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 or 5:30 p.m., and then comes home to make dinner and put the girls in bed.
As if that doesn’t sound hectic enough, Pietrzak has a side gig, too.
Ironically, she found it while (unsuccessfully) searching for an inexpensive babysitter on Care.com. She noticed a nearby church was hiring an infant sitter, and sent in an application.
“I let them know I was interested, but had my own children I’d have to bring,” she says. “They were reluctant at first and wanted to meet everyone. My kids became fast friends with the regular kids, and a few months later they offered me the Wednesday evening sitter position, as well.”
Exhausted yet? We’re still not done…
Most lunch breaks and evenings during the week, she performs tasks on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to earn additional money.
Somehow, she also finds time to occasionally write on her blog Solely Surviving. Though it doesn’t earn money (yet!), it helps her have conversations with other adults — an opportunity she doesn’t often get.
This Single Mom’s Exact Budget
So that’s her day-to-day — but how do the numbers break down each month?
Here’s her exact budget…
Full-time job: $2,550 (after taxes, 3% 401(k) contribution and health insurance)
Part-time job (church): $260
Odd jobs (online): $50
TOTAL INCOME: $2,860
Daycare: $1,240 (full time, includes breakfast, lunch and snacks)
Cell phone: $0 (her employer pays, on the condition she answers calls after-hours)
Food: $125 (explained further below)
Car insurance: $40 (paid annually to get the discount)
Baby items: $50 (mostly diapers and clothes)
Student loans: $20 (on income-based repayment plan)
Emergency fund: $100 (she now has $1,600 saved up)
TOTAL EXPENSES: $2,835
How This Single Mom Saves Money
Surprised by how low some of those numbers were? So was I.
“Basically, there are always ways to save,” Pietrzak explains. “Every time I think I’ve scrounged to the max, I find something else I can do to cut back on costs.”
Here’s how she saves money on…
Pietrzak and her daughters live in a three-bedroom house.
“I bought a cheap two bedroom fixer-upper house with a 3% down, first-time buyer loan, spent a year updating it and sold it for enough profit to put the 20% down payment on our current home,” she explains.
When her older daughters are in school and she can save $250 per month on daycare, most of that money goes towards home repairs.
“I plan to sell this house next summer to turn a profit,” she explains, “so any leftovers generally go to upgrades, paint, etc.
“My plan is to keep buying and fixing up every two to three years, so eventually I’ll be mortgage free,” she says. “Hopefully before they start college.”
Since she’s “just over the threshold” for daycare assistance, Pietrzak’s summer daycare costs are higher than her mortgage.
She sends her girls to two different daycares to save $400 per month — even though it’s admittedly “inconvenient.”
Her infant daughter stays with a woman without grandchildren, who charges 50% less than a regular daycare because she wants her “baby fix.”
“The key here is to not get complacent,” she says. “Talk to people, network, know the prices, know what’s a deal… Don’t be afraid to ask or negotiate.”
Although Pietrzak says she doesn’t have time for “extreme couponing,” she does what she can to save money on the essentials.
After waking up with the baby at 4 a.m., she scans coupon blogs like Living Rich With Coupons and The Krazy Coupon Lady. If she sees a great deal or moneymaker, she stops by the store on her way to work or during her lunch break.
She also keeps food costs low by breastfeeding her youngest baby and choosing a daycare that provides food, as well as cooking dinners at home from scratch — often in the crockpot.
For household items, she uses her cash-back credit card to buy discounted CVS, Lowe’s or Home Depot gift cards at Raise or Cardpool, and then makes her purchases online through ShopAtHome or Swagbucks.
“It sounds tedious, but it gets me great discounts,” she explains. “It’s just a little bit of a juggling act.”
“Credit cards are only to be used for money back and to be paid off every month,” Pietrzak says.
She uses them for points, discounts or cash back at the retailers she frequents: Sam’s Club (5% back on gas), Amazon (rewards points) and Target (5% back on purchases). She also has a Chase card that offers 1%-5% cash back on everything.
“I write down the purchases in my check register so I know exactly how much to pay,” she explains. And as soon as she gets home, she pays the bill.
That lets her reap the cash-back rewards of credit cards — without racking up a balance or paying interest.
Pietrzak and her family live a frugal life: For example, she mows her own yard and cuts all of their hair.
But frugal doesn’t mean devoid of fun.
“We go to different parks a lot, have play dates and really have an active life,” she says. “It helps we live in a larger city where there is always something to do that’s cheap or free.”
On the rare occasion they eat out, she uses discounted gift cards purchased using her cash-back credit card.
Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way
Although Pietrzak never would’ve asked for — or imagined — this life, her outlook is incredibly positive.
“All my kids are happy, curious, and healthy… and I think that is what matters most at the end of the day,” she says.
“When I die, no one will remember me for having or lacking expensive furniture or fancy shoes,” she explains. “My kids will remember the picnics, park time, bike rides, playing tag and hide-n-go seek, or days at the splash pad — none of that costs me money.”
Of course, she wishes she didn’t have to stress about money, or could take her kids on vacation — but she’s confident she’ll get there someday.
“I’m determined,” she says. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
If you’re impressed by her story, you’re not the only one — even Pietrzak herself is surprised.
“Five years ago, I would’ve said there’s no way I could survive alone,” she says.
“Now I’m not only surviving alone, I’m providing for three little people and we are all thriving,” Pietrzak explains. “Life is good.”
Your Turn: Are you inspired by this single mom’s budget?
Susan Shain, senior writer for The Penny Hoarder, is always seeking adventure on a budget. Visit her blog at susanshain.com, or say hi on Twitter @susan_shain.