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Paycheck to Paycheck: How 4 Real Single Moms Make It Work

07/22/2014 08:25 pm ET | Updated Jul 22, 2014

We all know single moms, and single parents, in general -- have it harder.

Earlier this year, "Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life and Times of Katrina Gilbert" -- a documentary film produced by Maria Shriver, chronicling the heroic struggles of one single mom of three, aired on HBO.

The film is one spoke in Shriver's multifaceted report, "A Woman's Nation Pushes Back From the Brink," and her overall societal push to help single women raising children to shore up their financial status. That's an effort we can get behind.

And, because today there are 10 million single moms making it work, day by day, we decided to profile and celebrate four who were willing to share their tips on how they're doing it. Read on and get inspired.

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"I group-text my support system for any tiny 'mom win' ... or 'mom fail.'"
Who: Brooke Randolph
Age: 33
Location: Indianapolis
Occupation: Mental health counselor and VP of social services at an international adoption agency

I am a single mom via adoption. My nearly seven-year-old son, born in Samoa, joined me a year ago. A schedule and routine is essential, even though I once would have resisted a stringent routine. Lots of hugs, high fives and teamwork keep us on the same page.

It helps that the after-school program at his school is wonderful when I need to use it. It can be a struggle to get dinner on the table by 6 p.m. every night so he can be in the bath by 7 p.m., but scheduling the Y and dinner plans in my phone helps keep me focused. I also rely heavily on grocery delivery from GreenBEAN and Amazon, especially since we have food allergies.

My parents are so helpful when he is out of school. I have paid babysitters only twice and mostly depend on my parents, my brother, my son's godfather, or trading child care with friends.

I am so, so thankful for a scholarship to my son's school because it truly is the best environment I could imagine for him. We buy used uniforms. I shop sales and Amazon Subscribe and Save.

Because of our allergies, I don't scrimp on food, but I do watch for sales and stock up. My freezer is full of frozen meat, blueberries we picked together, and applesauce made from apples we picked together at an orchard. I don't buy clothes for myself, and I am lucky that I have several friends who can pass down clothes from their kids.

As for my advice to other single mothers: Make sure you have support! I intentionally sought "mom friends" while in the midst of the adoption process. While I don't meet up with them as much as they'd like, I can group-text them for any tiny "mom win," stressful moment, question, or "mom fail" to get support, encouragement and advice. Sometimes you just need to vent.

One of the toughest parts of this job is being the only one to determine what is best for your kid. I talk to my mom frequently as well; sometimes you just want to hear other opinions or get validation. In my case, specifically with adopting an older child, my son has to be my top priority. He is extremely smart, so I have learned to talk to him about things and even be honest about what things stress me out and make it hard to be a good mom. Working as a "team" works for us because he is so compassionate and because he knows that he matters more to me than anyone else in the world.

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"From life insurance to prepaid college tuition, I'm making sure she will be taken care of."
Who: Yvette N. Harris
Age: Forties
Location: Miami
Occupation: Owner of a lifestyle public relations company

I am a single mom of a beautiful, amazing, spirited little girl named Nya (Nya means "purpose"). Nya is a huge part of my daily life. When she was born, I made a decision to make sure she would be a part of my life and not just included in it.

I own a lifestyle public relations company, so my daily schedule can be a bit hectic. She is currently in a home-school program that allows her to expand her mind in a more creative manner. I have Nya involved in everything from African dance, gymnastics, French heritage and science to a weekly dose of playdates every weekend. With that said, I am grateful for my single-mom community collective that comes together to help with car pool.

Working for yourself can be a bit challenging; I have changed my business model of who I do business with because I am the sole caretaker of my daughter's needs. Finances are something that weigh on my mind. But I'm working all that out to make sure I will be able to afford all of the things I want to expose her to. From life insurance to prepaid college tuition, I am really looking at ways to make sure she will always be taken care of.

I sometimes have to take Nya with me to my meetings if the babysitter gets sick. I remember having to take her to a presentation for a grant for a client when she was about four months old. I breast-fed and she fell asleep in her carrier for the whole presentation. The funny thing is that everyone kept asking me questions about her and saying how adorable she was. I never really made it through my presentation, but my client got the grant.

My daughter is amazing and has such a go-with-the-flow spirit. When we go to Starbucks, she will ask, "Mommy, is this a meeting, or are we just here for chit-chat?" She knows how to govern her behavior accordingly.

I am always working to make sure I have some balance that includes quality time with her, quality time for myself, and working on my business and personal development. One of the things we like to do together is our vision board and our gratitude jar. It's important that I teach her about hard work and that we can't just go to the ATM machine without Mommy actually working to make the money to put in the bank. I have finally reached the point where I am limiting the work I do on the weekends. It's a work in progress, but I am getting there. Now we make time for movies, trips to the farmers' market, and riding our bike to the beach.

I think because I had my daughter at an older age (I was 41 when I gave birth), it allowed me to have maturity and really be present for her. I love being a mother and I savor every moment. It's all about the balancing act, deciding you can do anything you set your mind to and having the community around you. It really does take a village.

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"I make every decision based on what is best for my daughter."
Who: Frances Dawson
Age: 56
Location: Cornelius, N.C.
Occupation: Realtor

I separated from my husband in August 2005 when my daughter was eight years old. I had obtained my real estate license in December 2003, but was not an established realtor yet. I bought a modest home that I felt I could maintain even if I had to switch to a more traditional 8-to-5 job.

The first few years were the hardest. My daughter has some special needs,
was a late bloomer and needed consistency for her success. It was important
to me to drive her to and from school as much as possible and set
up a regular schedule. I found a dependable college student to pick her up
two days a week, and I would get home by dinner most of those nights.

I also took on a realtor assistant who could take on some evening appointments and work with buyers on the weekends that I had my daughter. On the weekends that she went to her dad's, I would work ferociously until she came home Sunday evening.

Over the years, I have had the great pleasure of being present for all the
big and little days of my daughter's life. I volunteer at her school, am
active in my faith community, and have a good group of friends and support.

My daughter has had the same wonderful tutor once a week since the third
grade -- when money was especially tight, I would pay her first from my
closing commissions and prepay a few months at a time. I depend on our
tutor to tackle the toughest homework and help keep my daughter on track.

There were times, when the real estate market plunged, when I wasn't
sure I could make it financially, but somehow it always worked out. I can be
a bargain maven when needed and can find fun even when I have no cash. We
have traveled every year -- some years by car -- to visit friends, and a couple
of times we took fabulous trips overseas. I carry more debt than I like, but have no regrets.

Eight and a half years later, my daughter is in the 10th grade and turning 17 next week. I still take her to and from school and juggle work from early morning to late at night. My career has afforded me flexibility to be the mom I want to be. I make every decision based on what is best for my daughter and how I can be sure we maintain a healthy, happy and harmonious relationship. Our home is far from perfect, but I am so proud of how far we both have come.

As she gets older, I am beginning to envision my life ahead and how I want
to lead it. I'm beginning to volunteer more, take some professional
opportunities, go out with friends more and think about finding a great,
forever relationship. Beginning this summer we will start visiting colleges, and I don't know how this day has come so quickly!

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"I have alarms to take out the trash, water plants, get the car washed, and even a reminder of when to do laundry."
Who: Anneliese Place
Age: 46
Location: Santa Barbara, Calif.
Occupation: Hospitality consultant

I have been a single mom for 13 years. My daughters' successes gives me great pride: Shelby is in her second year of dental school at Boston University and will be an officer in the Navy Dental Corps upon graduation.

Salem is at Dos Pueblos Senior High in California. She is in the National Honor Society and is involved in Spanish, sailing and teaching her Border Collie tricks, and is the assistant director in her theater company. The struggle is real, but I wouldn't want it any other way. These young ladies learned to succeed by watching me earn and provide for them -- I generate the income to pay the bills and accomplish all our dreams.

One of the biggest day-to-day struggles is time management. I want to do so many things, but I am only one person. I can get spread pretty thin between work, having to pick up my daughter from school at the same time that the dog needs to be at the vet and dinner needs to be made ... and social obligations need to be met. I have to choose what I can accomplish and what needs to be delegated to someone else.

A lot of planning has to go into balancing our time. We work with a yearlong calendar on the wall with dry erase markers. We even set calendar alarms on our phones to make sure everyday household chores are accomplished. I have alarms to take out the trash, water plants, get the car washed and even a reminder of when to do laundry. Without a schedule in place, there is no way we could succeed the way we do. I still struggle every day to keep up with plans. Life gets hectic, and things get rescheduled at times.

I have to pick my time wisely. I have found that mornings are my time with the girls. You know how everyone says the dinner table is the best opportunity for family time? Well, not in this family. We've got a lot going on! In my house, we have mornings to spend time together. We get dressed and ready for our day together, sharing mascara and mirror space. Breakfast is more than the most important meal of the day -- it is often our only time together. We make mornings a big deal. Driving to school, I have a captured audience! We laugh, we joke, we plan, we even take care of crises both big and small -- and sometimes we just sing to the radio.

I found time to expand my career by working at night while my kids slept and during the day while they were at school. I have worked many hours more than I wanted to and missed a lot of sleep --but it was worth it. This gave me time to be a mom at home more often.

I am always trying to find a perfect balance between the two. My girls see me work and understand what I do to provide for us as a family -- so even then, they are learning from me. Time and events occur so quickly I sometimes don't know how it all happened so successfully. I find myself at times more confident and empowered because of the sheer responsibility.

The point is, being a single mom means that I had to re­define what our traditional family is and how it accomplishes as much or more than a two-parent home. With enough creativity and a general sense of teamwork, we have made it fun.

This story originally appeared on LearnVest.

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