Hi! I'm Josina,

Are you a struggling single mother?

Does it feel like the world is resting on your shoulders?

If you want to overcome the feeling of hopelessness and reclaim your optimism and joy, read on...

I'm a fourteen-year veteran and I can give you some tips and tricks that will help you on this journey. It's not a secret that single motherhood is not easy. Let me help you stay sane. I will share with you, my wins, failures, and strategies to keep going. The parenting mistakes I've made like in Coping with a Problem Child as a Single Mother, as well as wins like in A Story About a Battle for Custody. This site also features recipes for busy mothers and how-to videos. My journey is far from over, but I've learned so much that I want to share with you. Our lives may be unconventional, but we're living it on our own terms! Join the community and sign up for a weekly newsletter to receive updates and stay informed.


  • Josina Miles

One of the greatest threats to our financial futures is debt. When your debt to income ratio leans heavily on the side of debt, it's debilitating and makes day to day living unbearable.

Don't Wait All Year for a Refund

It feels like a lifetime waiting for the next paycheck. You do all the things you're supposed to do with it...pay the bills, restocking the house with food, buying things the kids need and have been waiting on for a while, but you're still cannot pay all the bills this time around. You will need the next paycheck to make up the difference and even then it still won't be enough. Next month it starts all over again, but you can't seem to catch up, much less get ahead. You're running a race as fast as you can, but there's no finish line.

The only time you're able to catch up or even get ahead is at the end of the year when tax season arrives. You look forward to that big tax return and you feel like it's worth it. The problem is that you have to wait an entire year to get that refund and finally get the chance to catch up. You really don't have to wait that long.

Whenever you start a new job, they always have you fill out a few forms like W2 and W4, among others. What is the W4 form? The W4 form determines how much money they withhold from your paycheck. They call this allowances. You tell your employer how much to withhold based on your current circumstances. Depending on how you fill out the form, you can have either too much or too little taxes withheld. If you have too much taxes withheld, you won't get a large paycheck, but you may have a relatively large refund at the end of the year. Alternately, if you have too little withheld, you will have more in your paycheck, and a smaller refund.

My preference is the latter. The government is not a bank, but like a bank they will keep your money and invest it. You don't have your money to spend or invest during the year. The ideal scenario is breaking even. At the end of the year, the government doesn't owe you anything and you don't owe them anything. To make sure you're maximizing your income during the year, use the IRS website's withholding calculator to figure out the ideal number of allowances and submit a new W4 form to your employer.

2. Do your own taxes

There will always be people who will try to take advantage of your ignorance. Companies such as H&R Block will charge you upwards of $200 for each form and sometimes, a percentage or your refund. While it's more convenient and you want to take any changes missing tax break opportunities, you should be able to keep 100% of your refund or at the very least pay a small preparation fee.

I learned to do my taxes while I was in high school and I was working for a car dealership as a cashier. I never pay to do my taxes, except for the online apps which I highly recommend. One salesman would come into the office to make copies of his tax return forms. One evening, he showed me how to fill out the forms and explained the differences between the forms. As a teenager at my first job, I had no problem making sense of the 1040EZ. I did my taxes every year after that and even started doing it for friends.

Today, I no longer use the paper forms, which you can pick up for free at your local library. I have been using Turbo Tax for years. I love the automation of it all. You really need not do anything but confirm and deny changes from the previous years. You don't even need your W2 because they pull in your tax information directly from the IRS website. The fees I paid years ago was very reasonable and have never needed to have them take it out of my refund, which is an option. I pay a nominal fee, wait and the refund is in my bank account in two weeks.

Another option is free! The IRS website has a list of free tax preparation income based offers.

3. Do Reduce your monthly expenses

Do you know your debt to income ratio? Even if you're not in the market for a house or trying to get a loan, it's important that your debt to income ratio is within the manageable range. According to consumerfinance.gov, your debt to income ratio should not exceed 43%. This is the highest percentage your debt to income ratio can be before in order to quality for a home loan, if you're in the market for one.

How do you calculate your debt to income ratio?

Add up all your expenses and divide it by your gross monthly income. Your gross is the amount you have before they subtract taxes and other deductions. For example. If your gross monthly income is $2800 and your total expenses are $1500. Then your debt to income ratio is 54%. This isn't ideal. You only have two options: increase your income or reduce your expenses. The former is normally my choice, but it's possible to break even by of increasing our spending when our income increases. We must learn to reduce our spending first, so that when our income increases we can resist the urge to overspend.

Some ways of reducing your monthly expenses are: cutting cable or the extra phone line; cancelling monthly subscriptions for premium channels and other subscriptions; make larger installment payments such as paying every 3 or 6 months can reduce your monthly payments; taking advantage of automatic withdrawals to further reduce monthly payments.

4. Do Create a Budget

When you hear the word 'Budget', it sounds a little old-fashioned. As old-fashioned as it is, it never went out of style. If you will run your house like a business, a budget is not only a necessity, it's a requirement.

A budget helps me manage my money by allowing me to visualize my priorities, plan for the future and gives me a control over my destiny.

Setting up a budget doesn't require a lot of technical skills but knowing basic math helps. You can start by jotting down your monthly expenses on a piece of paper and keeping a record of your spending the old-fashioned way. If you're technically inclined, you create one in a spreadsheet and let Excel do the calculating for you.

created with Microsoft Excel. If you don't have a licensed copy of Excel installed on your copy. Sign up for a free web version that includes a lite version of the Microsoft Office suite.

5. Don't Buy Cheap Things

Living within your means is not the same thing as being cheap. Being cheap doesn't mean that you're living within your means. While it's true that we assign a value to things based on popularity and need, we instinctively know when something is a bargain and when it's not.

If you're a single mother with limited funds, you cannot afford to be cheap. While the dollar store can be a lifesaver when you're in a pinch, but it shouldn't be your weekly stop when shopping for household items. You may think paying a dollar for body lotion or home décor is a deal, but it's not, when the top ingredient is mineral oil or the decorative item is plastic.

When you're spending your hard-earned dollars, the goal is to buy quality things that are not only good for you, but will last.

I would characterize cheap things as those items which are mass produced. The items didn't require a lot of human labor, only machines and the materials cheap and easy to produce. I stopped going to the dollar store to buy school supplies for my kids and opted to buy at Target. I buy things that are more personal to their tastes and I get a better shopping experience. I still use the dollar store when they need stuff for school projects. I can pick up card boards, glue, scissors and other stuff that I know they will need to for a one-time project, and not need to use repeatedly.

6. Don't Sign up for a House Phone

People still use house phones? If so, why? When I bought my second home 12 years ago, I thought about connecting a house phone, then changed my mind. My dad and I argued every day about this in the beginning. He still has a house phone and so does my aunt, but they both have cell phones. Is it just the force of habit or do they enjoy paying that unnecessary bills? What they're paying for is unsolicited advertising. I hear them complain about telemarketers calling them non-stop and in spite of blocking numbers; the calls are relentless.

I wondered at first if I could really get along without it, but then I realized that I didn't need it at all. The same thing goes for cable. I could never imagine paying north of $100 for cable each month even with bundled services.

7. Don't do payday loans

Many years ago, I worked in a call center and received a call from someone asking to speak with one of my co-workers. I figured it must relate to work and they're following up on a previous conversation. That wasn't the case. They were trying to track down my co-worker to recoup money for a payday loan. I could hear the cracking in my co-worker's voice as they tried to explain their lag in making timely payments.

Payday loans fall in the category of predatory lending. It's easy to get the loan as long as you have a job that pays you consistently, but the interest rates are exorbitant ranging between 200-250% depending on the terms. It's close to impossible to pay this back. I can't think of a single emergency that would necessitate this loan, unless you had no intention of paying it back. A family member or a good friend (proceed with caution) is a safer bet, and they probably won't charge you interest.

These types of loans are not meant to be helpful. Their purpose is to profit off of your desperation and lack of ability to plan or take decisive action in your finances.

8. Don't bother with credit cards

Credit cards are not meant for everyone, just like a buying a house, a new car and college. Unless you're running a business, you don't need a credit card.

Why do we need credit in the first place? We need it because the things we want or need to purchase is out of range. Since we don't have all the money now, we borrow it intending to pay it off later. Buy it now, worry about it later. The problem with this method is that there is no guarantee you'll be able to pay for it later. Life happens. When you're certain that nothing will go wrong, something goes wrong and you need emergency funds. It's costing you more to pay for it later than to pay the full cash amount today. Why would you want to pay more?

Credit cards do more harm than good because they set you up to fail. Accepting free money doesn't increase your income, it increases your debt. If you didn't have the money to pay for the item in the first place, then how are you expected to pay it back?

Removing credit cards from your life forces you to use the money you already have to pay for the items up front. It enables you to prioritize you spending and delay gratification. You have no choice but to think about whether you really need that item or can live without it for a little while.

9. Don't eat out regularly

Eating out is a luxury that we too often regard as a necessity. It's understandable that we're often stretched so thin, we're forced to take shortcuts. We just want to make it through the day. The problem is that each day is a replica of the day before and when we continue on this trend; it creates more problems.

One reason eating out regularly is bad is because it's not good for your health. Foods prepared outside are the home are usually not healthy, but made for taste. You may end up getting more than you bargained for and the cost is your health.

Another reason eating out regularly is bad for you is because it's expensive. You're paying for the convenience of not having to cook yourself. The cost of family meals at a fast-food joint these days can be up to $30-$40 and that's just for one day! Can you imagine spending this amount of money several times a week?

Cooking your own food guarantees that you know exactly what's going in the pot which minimizes health risks. You're able to buy more, cook more, and save some for another day. Who doesn't like leftovers? Finally, you can save more of your money and have more adventures with your children that they will remember for a lifetime.

10. Do Pay Yourself First

You are number one. It never occurred to me that I should count me as a bill payment. When allocating your paycheck, be number one on the list. This is the first step in building your savings, emergency or investment fund. You're probably already doing this with the help of your employer. When you signed up for 401K, the payroll takes this out before they deduct taxes. You don't even realize that it's missing and you're able to make due on what's left over.

Living paycheck to paycheck is the antithesis of security. Treating yourself to more stuff immediately after receiving your paycheck is not the same as paying yourself, it's the same as giving your money away.

The benefits of paying yourself first are: allowing you to build an emergency fund; save towards investing your future and systematically build security.

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  • Josina Miles

"In my 28 years of practicing law, I have heard nothing like this." he said during my free consultation. I had just finished telling a lawyer a very embarrassing story about a cat, the reason my ex wanted to get full custody of our daughter. Well, that was his excuse anyway. We often argued about him spending more time with her and being consistent, so it caught me by surprise that he suddenly wanted her full time, only he didn't.

The Meeting

We were in the kitchen and I was making breakfast. My eight-year-old daughter was sitting at the kitchen table, by the window. She suddenly screamed and jumped up. When I turned around, there was a cat sitting right next to the window on the outside. She was a beautiful grey and white mix and she appeared calm and friendly. The window was closed, so there wasn't a concern of her getting inside. I had a cat when I was a little girl, so it intrigued me, but it scared my daughter. Later that evening, she was back. My thirteen-year-old was excited by having a pet and asked if we could feed her. Knowing what I did about cats, I thought if we feed her, she would keep coming back for more. I was hesitant, but I agreed. A few days later, I was at work when I received a text message from my oldest child. After school, she and her friend brought the cat inside the house, gave her a bath and had it sitting on my sofa! My first thought was my little one and how she felt about having the cat in the house. My oldest assured me she was fine and didn't seem bothered by her being there. When I got home from work, she was hanging out in my oldest daughter's bedroom. I felt a little nervous, but she was so calm and unafraid, so I allowed it. We didn't have any supplies such as a litter box or even cat food, so I told her that the cat would have to go back outside for the night. The cat was living in an abandoned car next door. She stayed in the car all the time and only came out when she was looking for food.

A New Addition

We moved her in the house. It was exciting at first to have a new family member. It still breaks my heart that we no longer have her. We went to Pet Smart and purchased supplies for the cat. That night, she officially moved in. Only two of us were happy about it. My little one was so uncomfortable with the cat, she hid in her room and screamed every time the cat came anywhere near her. It was perplexing because they cat exhibited no aggressive tendencies. She was so gentle and wanted to get to know us. Whenever I was lying on the sofa would snuggle up beside me, then lay one paw on me as a sign of affection. I never knew cats could be so loving. My little one wasn't so convinced and because of her fear, she set a process in motion that almost ruined my life.

She ran away

She would spend weekends with her dad aka grandmother. It was Sunday night, and I picked her up and brought her home. She was even more nervous about the cat than usual and was afraid to enter the house. It was late; I was tired, and I just wanted to go to sleep. My patience was thin, and I didn't want to deal with her nonsense. My anger got the best of me and I yelled at her to get in the house. Instead of running in the house, she ran to the neighbor's house, a few houses down on our block. A lady with an enormous dog who I didn't know well. She thought my daughter was running away from me because she was afraid of me. No one would believe what she did next. She locked her in her house and refused to let her out. Protecting her, she said. I could see her through the glass screen door. I called the police, then I called her dad. When her dad arrived, he took the lady's side and demanded that I kick the cat out of the house immediately. He kept repeating that I'm choosing a cat over my daughter. He would drill that into her head in the following months and made her believe it. When the police finally arrived, I was so fed up with the situation and my loss of control; I let her go with her dad for the night. That decision changed everything for the rest of year. I found myself in a heated fight between myself and his family and then the courts.

He filed for full custody

A couple days later, I found a new home for the cat. When I called to let them know that I would pick her up later, they hung up the phone on me. I went to the house after work and he refused to give her back to me. Also, she was afraid to come back home thinking the cat was still there. The police stated that without a court order, there was nothing they could do. I couldn't get to the courthouse to file in time because of work and he b

eat me to it. When I filed for full custody, I contacted a lawyer. I had one conversation with a lawyer and he never called me back. I fought on my own, but I had some concerns. In the state of Pennsylvania, they don't give preference to the mother, but base their decision on the best environment for the child. One issue I felt would be a strike against me was that I didn't really have a support system. My family lives in another state and we weren't close. He not only has a large family, but they're close and are always supportive of each other. It wasn't just me against him; it was me against him and his whole family. I felt like I had one thing going for me; I was the primary parent since birth.

He had the advantage

He got a lawyer through his company and I had to defend myself. I had gotten a lead through my company, but it was only a lead, so I would have to pay the lawyer with my own funds. I had no money to get a lawyer, even for one day. However, his lawyer wasn't present for the initial hearing. It was me against him and I got lucky that day. The arbitrator was compassionate towards me after hearing my story and I realized that he wasn't buying his story. Since the case brought against me. They asked him what he wanted

. He stated that he wanted primary physical custody and to see her every day. I would be the one visiting her or given visitations. They didn't make a final decision that day, but would have us face a judge in several months. He would render a temporary custody decision and send it to us in the mail. It upset me they didn't decide immediately, but it arrived a couple weeks later and it was official. They gave me temporary 'primary physical custody' and they gave him two days every weekend. I felt vindicated. We both got the letter on the same day and he called asking 'when should I bring her?' I could hear her in the background shouting "Today!"

The final judgement

The final hearing was more or less a formality. Months had passed without incident. When we went to court his lawyer asked to meet with me. Apparently, he no longer wanted full custody, and he didn't want to see her daily. He only wanted every other weekend! This came as no surprise. She should be with the parent who wants to see her every day. They granted him what he asked for so I still had the full physical custody. We were all happy with the outcome. I recall sitting in the waiting area before the hearing began. We were the only ones in the waiting room. The dad and I sat relatively far away from each other and didn't converse. My daughter, the diplomat ran back and forth between us, making sure that she gave us equal attention. She was even happier with the outcome because the fighting was over and she still had both of us.

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When my daughter first approached me regarding her persistent feelings of sadness, my immediate reaction was fear. Actually, I was afraid because she asked me to make her an appointment with a therapist who could prescribe her medication. I wanted her to talk to me about anything, anything but this. I felt powerless and since I didn't know the right things to say; I said all the wrong things.

I wanted an immediate fix

My initial thought was that I was being presented with another problem, but not just any problem, a serious one. Money, my usual problem, couldn't fix this. I'm a fixer. I felt like I needed get to the root of it so I could quickly diagnose her with being 'a normal teenage girl.' My reaction was like what are you complaining about? You have a good life. It may not be picture perfect or something to brag about but you're not in any danger. Whoever is bullying you, ignore them. You just need to toughen up, get a thicker skin and stop acting like a baby. And it went on... I was a being stupid, but it petrified me

She was already seeing a counselor. Her school had recommended a private institution affiliated with them, that provided counseling services to at-risk children. They came to the school and had her do a computer evaluation. The results were that she was not in imminent danger of doing harm to herself or to others, but they assessed that she may need some preventative care. A counselor would come to our house and talk with her for a few hours a week. The service lasted around six to seven months, including an extension. I assumed she was feeling better.

I was warned

Fifth grade was the year that everything changed. Until that point, she was a star student, known by all the teachers, her picture displayed prominently on the 'wall of fame' in the corridor. They often selected her to receive perks like free tickets to the theater. The principal would walk out of his office if he heard her name being mentioned and agree with all the compliments. Whenever I would attend parent/teacher conferences, they only had positive things to report like, another another spotless record or What can I say? She's great. It was at one of those parent/teacher conferences that they gave me my first warning. They told me she's a great student, they don't have any complaints, except one. She was hanging around the wrong set of people. They mentioned one person in particular, someone I knew; one of her best friends. I blew it off as frivolous. Since her grades were perfect, I didn't think I had anything to worry about. I even stopped looking at her report card. Ironically, her behavior at home was more volatile. I had a lot of issues with her. While her teachers considered brilliant, I considered her obnoxious. She knew she was smart, and I was proud of that fact, but she let it get to her head. She believed that she knew it all and would often criticize my decisions. Our relationship felt like a tug of war.

At the beginning of her sixth year, they had a school trip. Their bus a few hours after school had let out, so I had to pick her up in the evening. Her teacher, whom I'd never met, and realizing that I was her mom, approached me. Since she was busy making sure she accounted for everyone, she quickly stated that she would like a conference with me to discuss a few concerns she has with my daughter. She also stated that my daughter was a good kid, and she wants it to stay that way, so it's imperative that we talk. It was disconcerting, but I agreed to schedule some time with her.

It all went downhill

When I finally met with her teacher, I couldn't believe my ears. My daughter had not only stopped doing her homework and turning in class assignments, she was the resident trouble maker and officially on their radar. Her grades plummeted from straight 'A's to 'F's in 3 or more classes. Her highest grade at that point was a C. This was only the beginning. They took me to the student counselor's office after I burst into tears in the classroom. They recommended counseling. As a single mom, I needed all the help I could get, so I readily agreed to have her evaluated.

I stopped working for a few months, not because of her issues, but because of mine. However, couldn't have come at a better time because then I had the time to give her the attention she needed. During my time home, I noticed a trend. At the end of each school day, she was so exhausted, she would sit on the living room sofa and stare at her phone. When she dragged herself up the stairs and into her bedroom, she would crash into the bed and fall asleep. She would sleep for hours, then wake up late at night to start her homework, if she ever did it. I was on a mission to curb this behavior, but it was difficult. She'd been doing this for several months and it was proving difficult to break her out of it. I needed to return to work because my source of income had dried up; I had no choice. Shortly after I started working again, it got from bad to worse. I frequently got calls during my workday, while in my 3 month probation. The calls were weekly, then almost daily. They were like, 'she left the classroom without permission'; 'she's talking back to the teacher'; she's talking and not doing her work'; and it went on.

She was out of control

Things got increasingly bad. I was being called by the school for a meeting almost weekly. She started getting suspensions. Sometimes they asked her not to return without a parent. I had to go with her to reinstate her back into the school population and this impacted my job because at the time I needed to reinstate her; I should be at work. Luckily, they were understanding of the situation, but I know that I became less valuable to them. Finally, they began the process of expulsion from the school, but I wasn't going down without a fight. I had no choice. They asked us to go to the school district office where we had to meet with an officer. It felt like we were in court. They brought in evidence of all of her misdeeds to back up their claims. I had called in for backup myself. My aunt and uncle drove down from New Jersey and gave testimonies on her behalf. I believe that it was their efforts that saved her from being expelled. They were so impressed by the support that they gave her a second chance. She made good on her promises, almost.

As her performance at school worsened, so did our relationship. We were full of resentments towards each other. I went into full damage control mode, doing the best that I could to stay on top of her school work and using the school portal to monitor her grades, find any outstanding work. I got my family involved. My cousin kindly brought her into her family home to spend time with them. She got a much-needed break from me and me from her.

A break in the storm

Her behavior started to improve slowly. The calls from her school stopped, but they sent the occasional email or text message. Her grades remained low, which I attributed to lack of motivation. I believe that her initial drive to succeed stemmed from her need for approval. What I haven't talked about is the fact that her father is not in her life. His choice, since she was around 9 years old. She refuses to discuss this with me. Ironically, they're still "friends" on Facebook. He never responds to her posts or messages, even though he sees and reads them. She did nothing wrong, but he rejected her anyway.

One day, she came to me with a confession that she was in a fight at school. She had slight bruises on her face I hadn't noticed. What I didn't realize, because she kept it hidden, was that she was being bullied at school. The bully was in fact one of her good friends who used to come to my house and she visited often. I didn't realize that they had a falling out, and this girl was not only bullying her, but encouraging her friends to do it. When it became too much to bear, my daughter confronted her. "There's a video!", she told me excitedly. She won the fight and regained her respect. The school suspended her for a few days but she could return within two days. Honestly, my first thought was about how brave she was, and I relieved. It wasn't long before I started to notice a shift in her demeanor. She exhibited more confidence and her lethargy, prominent at the end of each school day diminished. In the weeks to follow, I decided not the pursue the therapy sessions any further.

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