How South Carolina Mom Liz Prelich Navigated Through Financial Odds

Liz Prelich, a single mother, shares her story through the ups and down of it all:

I never planned or expected that I would become a single mother.  I was always determined and confident that my marriage would last, through thick and thin, and that our children would never experience divorce.  While what I had planned wasn’t what was to become my journey, I can’t say that I’m disappointed in finding myself a single mom.

Liz's Kids

Liz’s Kids

My New Life as a Single Mom

In December of 2014, after many years battling depression and more valleys than peaks in my marriage, I found myself entering a legal separation with my husband of almost ten years.  Even in that moment, I still believed that we had a chance at making things work, if we both were willing to put in the work needed to see it through.  Unfortunately, I quickly realized that I had been fighting alone far too long on a relationship that was never going to work.

The night that my husband left, taking the children with him from their beds as they slept, I found myself completely alone.  I discovered that my husband had depleted everything in our accounts, leaving just enough to cover the rent auto-draft that week.  So there I was, thinking the man whom I had given twelve years of my life, conceived, carried and brought three children into this world with, worked tirelessly every day to support financially, emotionally, physically and spiritually would actually want to fight to keep our marriage together.

Only to discover that not only had he gone and taken our children from me, but he had left me without a running vehicle and had taken all the money that we had.  Most of which was money I had worked for and earned, as I was the main breadwinner of the family.  After calling my family in distress, and finding that there was no one close enough to come in that moment, I accepted that there wasn’t anything I could do at 1 o’clock in the morning and went to bed.

Surviving (and Thriving) as a Single Mother

There is no guide or set of directions showing how to deal with this type of situation.  You can’t Google “what to do when your husband leaves you with no money, no car, and no hope” and magically come up with a step-by-step guide on what to do. So I immediately found myself in survival mode.  I didn’t know what I was going to do, or how I was going to get through this, but I knew that it was make it or break it time.  I finally fell asleep for a few hours until daybreak then woke to hit the ground running.

I wasn’t sure where I was going, how I would get there, but I was sure that my end goal was to get my children back, and become the best single mom I could be.

Liz and her Daughter

Liz and her Daughter

My husband had left in the only working vehicle we had at that time.  Thankfully, I just so happened to borrow a vehicle from work the day before and was able to use it to get to work that morning.  The first thing I did was contact my employer, letting him know of what had transpired and asking for time off to take care of personal business.  I received approval to use the company vehicle until I could get our second car running. It had been sitting for over six months at a friend’s house (as my husband was supposed to be getting it fixed).

As I made the thirty mile drive to work, my mind raced, trying to comprehend what was happening, and wondering how I was going to get financial help.  I determined that I would need to ask my boss for an advance on my pay to get me through the week.  I couldn’t think ahead further than that as it was too overwhelming.  As soon as I arrived at work I talked to the owner and made the request.  To my shock and amazement he offered me a loan and still keep me on track with my pay as usual, knowing that I would need all the financial help that I could get as a newly single mom. I was humbled and blessed beyond belief at such kindness, as I had only worked for this company for 7 months.

Looking for Legal Help

After receiving the loan, and approval to use the company vehicle, I went to work looking for a divorce attorney.  I looked online for any programs or government help available for single mothers in my local community, but came up with nothing that would me gain legal assistance.  I learned that pro-bono legal assistance for single mothers was only available in domestic abuse cases, and even further, only in physical abuse situations.

Even though I had suffered emotional abuse, spiritual abuse and what I later learned is referred to as “gas-lighting” (a form of mental abuse in which the abuser presents false information or twists the truth in a way which causes the victim to doubt their own memory, perception and sanity), I was ineligible for any legal assistance from programs for single mothers.

Using an Attorney to Help through divorce

After many phone calls, and walking in to a criminal attorney’s office in a desperate search for help, I was able to find a family attorney who had time for a consultation that afternoon.  But I quickly found out I was going to need to come up with more money than I ever could have planned to retain the attorney.  In addition to this, I also was aware that as soon as I could get my car back, I was going to have to find a way to pay a mechanic to get it up and running.

I didn’t have an emergency savings account for myself marked “Just In Case I Become a Single Mom Savings”.  I had to rely on my family and friends for help.

Over the course of my marriage I had become disconnected from my family.  But I learned quickly that my family would never leave me alone, and they will always do what they can to support, love and assist me in times of need.  I was so blessed by how they rallied around me over the course of many trials. They came together and provided emotional, spiritual, physical and financial support when I never even had to ask.

They helped me with the costs for the attorney, assisted in finding, retrieving and paying for my car to get up and running, and came from hundreds of miles away to be with me.

Budgeting and Planning as a Single Mother

IMG_0337After retaining an attorney, and getting my car to the mechanic (we are still on day one, mind you), I had to find a new bank and open my own checking and savings accounts.  My brother and his wife helped me with this, as I was still in such shock I couldn’t even think for myself.  I remember sitting in the bank with my sister-in-law and relying on her to answer simple questions that I couldn’t even register in my brain at that time.  Upon leaving the bank they took me to the store to purchase groceries and some personal items I needed.

I walked through the aisles in a daze, unable to think of what food to purchase, depending on them to help me with something as simple as grocery shopping.  I hadn’t been allowed to grocery shop without fear of going over the expected budget in years, and all of a sudden I’m shopping with my own account, my own list, and only needing to answer to myself in the end.

Talk about post-traumatic stress! That evening my sister-in-law and brother helped me create a budgeting spreadsheet that was so simple and to the point, once we put in all of my expenses and income, I was able to see a glimmer of hope that it was possible for me to make it on my own. But I also realized that I was going to need to seek out more help available to single mothers if I was going to get where I wanted to be financially and it wasn’t going to be easy.

Where can a Single Mother Get Help?

Over the course of the following weeks, I researched community help for single mothers in my area, looking into every government program and financial resource available.  I applied for SNAP food benefits, Medicaid, WIC and called the Salvation Army, United Way as well as the local food banks.  These are great resources available to all families, not just single mothers, but they can be life savers for women on their own with young children.  Unfortunately, I was denied help from most of these resources except Medicaid for my children and basic Family Planning through their program for myself which covered my yearly physical exam and birth control.

Liz and her Son

Liz and her Son

Other Programs to Help Single Mothers

I reapplied to SNAP food benefits three times, spending hours on the phone repeating the same information only to be denied again and again, because they all required me to include my husband’s income as part of the application. Even though we were separated and I wasn’t receiving any of his weekly paycheck, he was paying just enough child support to push me over the amount that would get me approved for assistance.

It was really discouraging.  I became frustrated because there weren’t any programs for single moms that were considered applicable to me.  But instead of feeling badly for myself and giving up, I decided it was time to change the course of action.

Using Social Media to Find Help

With the wonderful amount of technology available today through social networks like Facebook and Twitter, I turned to my community for help.  I joined a few local groups geared toward buy, sell and trade type posts and put myself out there. I also posted on my own personal page requesting assistance.  I was still living in the marital home at that time, and had a huge yard that was far behind on maintenance.

I posted pictures of my yard and requested any help anyone was willing to give when a leader from a local church I had attended off and on, reached out to me and offered assistance.

People are willing, if you just ask

Leaves Collected in Garabe Bags by Community

Leaves Collected in Garbage Bags by Community

Within a couple of weeks a truck with a few young men and one of their youth leaders showed up early on a Saturday morning to blow all the leaves off my roof, from the back yard and the front yard, bag them up and haul them to the dump.  It was amazing to see that there were people willing to help someone they had never met and sacrifice their time on a Saturday to do so.

This saved me hundreds of dollars over the last few months I lived there, as the man who was the head of this outreach came by my home (which was over 20 miles away) and mowed it every few weeks after their initial visit.  This also helped me in deciding that I needed to move somewhere that included maintenance with the rent!

Moving Assistance for Single Mothers

Moving Trucks are not your only option!

When it came time for me to move into my own place, I barely had enough money to pay for the deposit and first month’s rent, let alone anything extra to pay for a moving truck or hire anyone to help me.  Again, I found myself seeking help from friends, family and the community.  I had to humble myself and asked for help from some co-workers and one of my brothers, as well as request the use of a box truck, pick-up truck and trailer from my employer.

I also turned to social media once more, asking for any free or cheap furniture and household items available.

I want to stop and tell you if there is one thing I want for you to take away from this is don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and ask for help.  You will be amazed at how many truly great people there are in your community, who will blow you away with their sincerity, love, kindness and support.  I found myself overwhelmed with the number of people messaging me on Facebook and offering furniture, clothes, linens, babysitting, but most of all encouraging words.

There ended up being a couple who were combining households and had a lot of furniture, artwork, kitchenware, linens, lamps and more that they were not only willing to give me, but also helped with moving it all to my apartment.

On top of that, they made a meal for my kids and me, and even purchased groceries for us too!  Really, there are many people in the community who have been there, and will embrace the opportunity to pay it forward to you in your time of need.

I also had a friend who I reconnected with on Facebook that works with a local outreach providing food and items donated by grocery stores, restaurants and other stores to those in need.  I was able to receive food, towels, bedding, decorative items and shower curtains from this organization.

Inspirational Quote

Inspirational Quote by Dan Brown

Again, if I hadn’t been willing to put myself out there and ask for help, I wouldn’t have received all of this support.

Going back to College AND Figuring out the Finances

In addition to being a full-time working mom, I am also enrolled full-time in college with an online program for adult professionals.  It is designed specifically for adults returning to school, or those who work full-time or are unable to attend a traditional university.  With this comes more opportunity for financial assistance through the government in the form of subsidized and unsubsidized loans and the Pell Grant.

Applying for Scholarships to go Back to School

There are also many resources online to obtain grant money and scholarships for single mothers like salliemae.com and scholarships4moms.net.  These all require you to fill out applications, sometimes writing an essay on a topic they request or about yourself and why you are the best candidate to receive the award.  The more you applications you submit, the more opportunity you have to be awarded money.  Any money from loans or federal and state grants that is in excess of your tuition will be given to you in the form of a refund for your use toward school supplies or any other school related expenses you need to cover while in school.

It’s important to remember that there are deadlines for all financial aid you are seeking, so make sure that you pay attention to the due dates.  It’s a good idea to compile a spreadsheet or put reminders on your calendar of the due dates and requirements for each one to help you keep track of them and avoid getting overwhelmed.

Pay Attention to your Spending

Most importantly, your financial stability and future will rely on keeping to your budget and paying attention to your spending.  Whether you use a spreadsheet, a basic notebook, or one of many free budget managers and apps available, you should find one that works best for you and create a budget based on your income and monthly expenses. If you need help with this, ask a family member, co-worker or friend who you know is good with financial planning.

IMG_0579

If you don’t have anyone to help you can always look online for a free budget sheet and find one that will work for you.  You will need this to determine if you should cut out some expenses to stay within the budget.

Liz’s tips to Saving Wherever You Can

  • You may have to sacrifice some things like cable, internet, or a contracted smartphone.
  • You can use the internet at the library or any restaurant or coffee shop that offers free WiFi,
  • You can purchase a pre-paid smartphone and pay as you go. When you find yourself without the money to pay for it, you don’t have to worry about any charges to have service turned back on.
  • I found that the local electric company offers a pre-paid option instead of regular billing, which allowed me to avoid having to pay a high initial fee to have power turned on, instead they required less than $100 dollars up front and I receive a text message when my balance gets below $25.  Don’t be afraid to ask your utility companies what options they have available for flexible billing.

I like to keep up with my spending and update my checkbook at least once a week and my budget along with that.  You will be able to prepare yourself for the coming months if you put in your budget what expenses and income you know you have as well as any unexpected things that come up.  Keeping up with your budget will allow you to know when you will have a little extra cash available to go out with the girls or take the kids out to the movies, as well as when you will have to be frugal and say no to the temptation to spend money you don’t have.

Additional Opportunities for Single Mothers

If you find that you need a way to make extra money there are many opportunities available to single moms. If you are like me and have shared custody you could look into getting an evening job serving or bartending when you don’t have the kids as that allows you the chance of bringing in cash from tips.  Just remember that you will have to claim any earnings at tax time, so make sure you put aside one third of your earnings in a savings account for the end of the year.

If you have full custody and getting a second job isn’t possible, you could look into some more flexible options.  There are an abundance of direct sales companies specifically geared toward women that are available and have great support networks for training and the potential to become your full-time income if you so desire.

Liz Prelich

Thanks for your advice Liz!

Conclusion and Takeaways

As you can see, there are many resources for financial assistance available to single mothers if you are willing to do a little research and put in the work needed for each.  You can pick and choose what you want to apply for and what groups to join.  There are also support groups geared towards single moms in many areas both online and locally through churches and non-profit organizations like United Way and the Salvation Army.

But don’t expect these resources to come and find you, while it will require time, energy and patience, in the end it will be worth it.  Most of all, you will gain a new level of confidence, self-respect, independence and a sense of accomplishment when you see that you cannot only make it on your own as a single mom, but you have the ability to become the successful woman, friend, mother, and partner you always desired to be.

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