Over four years, Emma Johnson went from a six-figure journalist to a mom relying mainly on her husband's income to a single mom and founder of a successful website. Here's how she did it. 

By Cassie Shortsleeve
June 18, 2020
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Early in her career, Emma Johnson was a successful journalist bringing in a six-figure salary. But in 2008 when she became a mom, her career took a backseat. She wound up relying on her husband's corporate salary and benefits, and while she worked from home bringing in about a third of what she'd been making—she felt like she'd given up a big part of who she was.

"It didn't feel great because I had scaled back from a job and a career that I was passionate about. I liked making money and I like making my own money. It made me feel secure, powerful, and part of the world as an adult," says Johnson.

Fast forward two years and Johnson, now a mother of two, was facing a divorce. Living in New York City with child care expenses, she knew it was time to get serious about earning a solid income again. In 2012, she launched the site, Wealthy Single Mommy. "I wanted to challenge the idea that all single moms are broke, which was a stereotype I struggled with." Today, the site is among the largest single mom communities in the world and led to the publication of Johnson's book, The Kickass Single Mom: Be Financially Independent, Discover Your Sexiest Self, and Raise Fabulous, Happy Children. "I love making money and I want more women to make a lot of money and be joyful about it," says Johnson. "All good things come from financial security."

So how'd she do it, and what are her takeaways for mamas who might be in her shoes? Here, she shares her biggest tips.

Drop Your Mom Guilt

Johnson says all moms can struggle with mom guilt around dividing time between work and family. She notes that working bolsters your family's financial security while creating a model for your children and your community. Plus, there are stats to prove the benefits of exposing kids to your work life. Some research finds that daughters of employed moms are more likely to have jobs, make more money, and be in managerial roles than daughters whose moms stayed home. Adult sons raised by working mothers also spent more time with their families than sons of mothers who didn't work, the same research found. Having boundaries between work and home life (like dropping your children at a child care setting or having a designated area in your home where you work) can help you be fully present in both areas of your life at the right times, she notes.

Be Realistic About Your Money

Women who find themselves as single moms likely need to adjust expectations and be realistic about their lifestyle, says Johnson. Asking questions like, "What money do I have today?" versus "What kind of lifestyle did I enjoy?" can help you better understand where your finances are currently and what you need to prioritize. Short-term, you might need to make changes, living according to whatever money you have at the moment. That might mean temporarily moving in with family, for example, but that's OK, she says. Knowing the ins and outs of your current financial situation can prime you for success and realistic living down the line.

Do Your Money Research

Not sure what you should be doing with your money? Need to find an avenue for investing someday? "There are free resources all over the internet," says Johnson. "Find some voices that resonate with you and just start learning." Find out your credit score, manage your debt, and understand what it will take to start investing, she suggests. Having a solid knowledge base is important as you become financially independent.

Practice Foundational Money Skills Every Day

The small stuff—paying your bills on time, setting up automatic payments, keeping an eye on your credit score—matters. These things are simple, but when you keep track of them every day you'll catch small problems (a tiny drop in credit) before they become big ones (a huge drop) and make universal money skills a habit. This will help you responsibly manage other areas of your financial life, like financing a new car or managing your debt in more meaningful ways.

Think Big

Whether you want to start a business or go for a promotion, it's important to seek out a community that inspires you to take big steps, says Johnson. That might be through family and friends or it might be via a professional network where you can find mentors or peers who give you advice. Wealthy Single Mommy, for example, has a Facebook group that any single mom can join.

"Our goal is to help women think bigger, be independent, and navigate single mom life." Connecting with people in similar situations and seeing their setbacks and successes can motivate you to set bigger goals or think independently about how you can make change, she says. "The goal has to be financial independence, and we have to start embracing all of these incredible opportunities that we have as women in 2020."

And sometimes, thinking big means taking risks. Since single moms are—quite literally—doing it all themselves, taking risks can be scary. "The instinct is always to keep your head down and be glad you have a job with benefits, even though maybe it doesn't pay well or you hate it or it's a dead-end," says Johnson. But from time to time, taking risks can have big payoffs. And a supportive community can help you figure out how to make the best moves for you.