A Woman’s Guide to Managing Money


If you’re thinking about messing with Anita Dixon, our advice is: don’t. As commander of the United States Army Garrison Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina, Dixon is a cross between mayor, city manager, and all-powerful ruler. She’s in charge of a $110 million budget and supports the 55,000 soldiers who come through every year for basic training.

On top of all those duties, she’s also a single mom to daughter Brittni, 19. Conscious of those heavy responsibilities, 45-year-old Dixon has done everything right when it comes to her personal finances. She’s used a VA loan to help her buy her primary residence——gathering a total of four over the years, ranging in price from $49,500 to $181,500 (and snapping up three timeshares, as well). She recently sold one for $110,000, more than doubling her original investment, to help her daughter pay for tuition at Stanford University. In addition, Dixon has been religious about putting money away in an IRA and a Thrift Savings Plan.

The military isn’t exactly the road to riches, but it has helped Dixon control costs. For daily necessities, she shops at the military grocery and department stores, with their rock-bottom prices (and where all shopping is tax-free). She enjoys free medical and dental care, uses the base’s gyms, and buys her gas on the base.  And all through her daughter’s upbringing she networked with other single parents in the Army, looking after each others’ kids and keeping childcare costs low. As a result she’s been able to build up an emergency savings account of $9,000.

That kind of financial discipline is what the rest of America could use, says Harrine Freeman. “We all have instant gratification syndrome: We want everything, and we want it right now. But you have to plan out your spending, and if you don’t have the money, then you can’t buy the item. Don’t eat out, bring coffee from home, use public transportation, and buy only on sale or in bulk. It all adds up.”

Another issue that becomes critical when children enter the picture: life insurance. “It’s a must,” says Michelle Oliver, who herself has both term and universal-life policies. “And it’s best to get it while you’re healthy and young, because the older you get and the more health issues that arise, the more your monthly premiums will go up.” Dixon, for instance, maxes out the Army’s options for life insurance with a $400,000 policy.

No matter what the circumstances that led to your raising a child alone, focus on today’s solutions instead of getting mired in the past. “Even though it may seem wrong and unfair that you’re on your own, try not to fixate on how your ex caused all your problems,” says Ginita Wall, co-founder of the financial-resource Website www.wife.org and co-author of It’s More Than Money — It’s Your Life!: The New Money Club for Women (Wiley; $24.95). Dixon has done just that. “Often I didn’t get child support over the years and when I did it was limited,” she says. “But as a single mom, you learn to survive.”

Action Plan

— Get life insurance. Term-life policies are inexpensive, and will let you sleep at night, knowing your child will be taken care of in the event of your passing. Consider a term policy worth five to 10 times your annual salary, and compare quotes online.

— Build an emergency savings account. Anything could happen at any time, including medical emergencies or job loss. Have a cash stash of three to six months salary to help you through.

— Control expenses. Disciplined spending will help you divert your resources to critical issues such as retirement and college savings.

Helpful Resources

www.singlemom.com: A general help Website for single parents, with a special section on finances.

Smart Women Finish Rich: 9 Steps to Achieving Financial Security and Funding Your Dreams (Broadway; $14.95): David Bach’s common-sense guide for getting on the right financial path.

www.wiseupwomen.org: A Website developed by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau for women who want to learn more about managing finances.