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How a Single Mom Paying for Childcare Shops

Kelsey, 31, has dealt with major credit card debt and enlisted in the Army, all while caring for her kids.

An illustration of a coin being dropped into a piggy bank.

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Welcome to Racked’s How Do You Shop? series, in which we ask a variety of people some deeply personal questions about how they earn, save, and especially spend their money. If you know or are someone with an interesting relationship to $$$, email

This week we spoke with Kelsey, a 31-year-old media assistant and weightlifter who lives with her two young children (ages 5 and almost-7) in Woodbridge, Virginia, outside of Washington, DC. Her older daughter, 12, lives with their dad. The younger ones are about to finish full-time daycare, which has been a major expense for Kelsey.

Salary: $60,000

Rent per month: $1,789

Utilities per month: $52 for gas; $92 for electric; $30 for water; $125 for cable and internet.

Gas: About $75 a week.

Gym membership: $50 a month. (“As a weightlifter,” Kelsey said, “it’s really hard to find clothes that fit an athletic body.”)

Cost of clothing for kids: $400-$500 a year.

What were the costs associated with having your kids in full-time daycare?

We currently are paying $385 a week for both kids, and that’s for summer because they’re there all day. Before summer started, when I had one in before-[school] and after-[school] care and the other in all-day daycare, it was $325 a week. When they both start school next week, they will both be before- and after-care only. It will go down to $230 a week, which is not a lot, but still something!

Their dad and I are separated. It’s too expensive to get divorced, so we can’t. We’ve been separated for, like, five years. He does pay half of their daycare. I don’t always get it on time from him, but it’s never really late. Then whenever they’re at his house, he pays for their stuff, but I don’t really get extra money from him.

We just have a joint account. Every time he’s paid — every two weeks — he puts in his half, and then I put in my half. Daycare’s drafted from it. Thank god I have somebody who’s reliable that helps me with it, but it’s still really expensive.

How do you manage your own money?

It’s much better than it used to be. I grew up really, really poor. My mom was on welfare and had filed bankruptcy when I was little. When I grew up, I didn’t really know too much about money. I just knew that it was important to have. Then I got myself into huge, huge debt when I was 20, wanting to impress all these girls at the office and be their friend. You know, I was like, “Oh, you have a Coach bag. What’s that? I can’t afford that. Let me go buy one.”

It snowballed into this huge thing where I ended up getting evicted and losing custody of my [daughter] because I bought this bag I couldn’t afford.

What had happened was I was working for a mortgage company that basically shut down overnight when the housing crisis happened, so this was 2006. We were basically just told, “You don't have a job anymore.” I’m 19, 20 years old, and I have this 1-year-old baby, year and a half. I had just gotten two credit cards, one for a $300 limit, one for $500. You know, nothing. I find out I don’t have a job. I’m supposed to be getting, I think, a three-month severance pay every two weeks, just like normal, but something got messed up with my paperwork, so my severance pay never came.

By the time it did come, it came in a lump sum, so it was heavily taxed. By that time, I had fallen behind on rent. I had already charged this bag I could not afford. It was somewhere around like $200 — nothing crazy, but on a card with [a $300 limit]. It was just was, like, wrong time, wrong priorities, and I wasn’t able to ever recover from that. I needed that credit for other things. By the time all was said and done, those accounts ended up being charged off at over $2,000 or $3,000 each. I mean, it was so bad.

This was June of 2006. I freaked out after all this happened and got evicted. My daughter had just turned 2. I dropped her off with her dad and was like, “I have to go back to Oregon,” where I’m from.

I was like, “I can’t manage it out here.” I had fallen in with a bad crowd and was doing too many drugs, and just needed to stop. Dropped her off, left town, came back to Virginia three weeks later, and it continued to snowball until 2009. I was partying really hard one night and I was like, “I’ve got to stop this.” I called my dad. He bought a plane ticket. Next day I went back to Oregon and re-enlisted in the Army.

I had dropped out of school when I was 15, worked full-time the year I was 16. Then right when I turned 17, I joined the Army Reserve and left for training for my junior and senior of high school. I chose to get out when I got pregnant when I was 18. I was only in for just under two years. In June of 2009 I re-enlisted, and I just got out about a year ago.

That was my catalyst to get clean. I went back into the Army Reserve. I didn’t have a job, so I just said, “Find me a unit that will put me on active-duty orders to come in and do whatever, like clerical work they need or any help in any supply or whatever.” I started with that. I just started going on active-duty orders for, like, five days at a time at my reserve unit and volunteering for any type of training I could go to because any time you go to training, you’re on active duty, so you’re getting paid for that. I used all that money to just start paying down my debt. I basically paid to have, like, a super legit credit report pulled. Had listed everything out from cheapest, you know, to most expensive.

Then I also disputed a lot of things that I either didn’t recall or just kind of knew would get thrown off if I disputed it. I ended up getting everything cleared. I had to start over by opening a secured credit card. This would’ve been the summer of 2011.

I was just a few months into a job at a steady-paying, regular, full-time job, which I’m still at now. Then by the time that happened, I’d had another kid. Things fell apart with [me and the kids’ dad] pretty shortly after that. But ever since 2009, when I re-enlisted, I’ve been pretty serious about just wanting to get rid of this debt.

I did have to take out new debt when we separated. I bought a car that was just in my name, not our name. That’s also when I started school. Personally, I think college is the biggest waste of time and money.

I went to an online school, a contingent of University of Maryland. I graduated with a bachelor’s in psychology. I had big hopes to do something with research psychology in the military before I found out you can’t even apply for that unless you have a Ph.D. I was like, “Nope. I don’t have time.” There are age limits. You have to do all this before you’re 34, and I’m like, “I just don’t. I can’t.” I graduated from there and pretty much went on student loans the entire time. As a reservist, I am eligible for the post-9/11 GI bill; however, I never deployed, so I don’t have enough active-duty time to use the full benefit of it. So really, all I got as a reservist was $4,500 a year in tuition assistance, which covered one class, basically.

How does your relationship with money affect how you shop for yourself and for your kids?

For me, there’s a couple layers to that. First, I don’t, because I don’t have any time or money to think of myself. I haven’t since I was 18 and became a mom. Another part of it is growing up without any money. I think I’m of the belief that people go to one end of the spectrum: Either they grow up with no money and they’re super frugal themselves, or they’re like, “Fuck it. Yeah. Money.” I haven't really met anyone where there’s, like, a middle ground.

My kids, of course, come first for everything. I’m trying really hard. I’m struggling with my almost-7-year-old right now. She’s really money-hungry all the time and doesn’t understand the value of it. Any time we go somewhere and shop, I’m trying to be really cognizant of how she might be perceiving what I’m doing. Because it’s just too much. “Mom, but, you have to give me money for this!” “No, I don’t.”

When it comes to [what I buy for] my kids, the number one thing is durability and affordability. I’m very lucky that their dad is a manager for Target, so we get his employee discount. He gets a 10 percent employee discount, and then we use the Cartwheel app with his employee discount and with the REDcard discount. We’re at least getting 15 percent off everyday items. And then they have 30%, 40,% 60% off sales a lot. Because of that, pretty much when I get anything for the kids, it’s from Target because I know for sure I’m getting that discount. For myself? LOL.

Responses have been edited and condensed for clarity.