How to Support a Family on One Income

Written By:

How to Afford Life on One Income

How to Afford Life on One Income

My wife and I are very fortunate. We have two healthy kids and we’re able to survive on one income. (My wife is home full-time with the kids and I’m the sole breadwinner for our family.) It’s not always easy, but we make it work.

More American families are learning to live on one income, whether it’s because one parent decided to stay home with the kids or one spouse lost his or her job. No matter what your circumstances might be, I’d like to offer some advice on how you can better afford to live on one income:

Set a budget.

Figure out how much money you spend every month. You can use an online budget planner to learn more about how much you need to earn to cover your fixed monthly expenses – and find out what expenses you can cut. Be sure to leave some money in the budget for savings and contingencies; what if your car suddenly needs a new battery or new tires or worse?

[Check Your Credit: Don’t Guess. Know.® Get your free credit report and score. No credit card required.

Tighten up your spending.

When you’re living on one income, you can’t spend money the way you used to; you have to eliminate impulse purchases and avoid “unconscious spending” that can add up to hundreds of dollars per month. Re-evaluate the way you relate to money. Get frugal. Do you really need clothes purchased at the mall or could you get by with shopping at thrift stores?

Instead of buying new baby clothes every three months, borrow pre-owned baby clothes from friends and family. Hold a “mom swap” where other parents bring used items to give away to each other – “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.” Clip coupons. Make a grocery shopping list and only go to the grocery store once a week – especially if your grocery store offers a special weekly discount or double-coupon day.

Make hard choices.

Living on one income requires you to make some tough decisions about what’s really most important to you and your family. You need to be prepared to give up some “big things,” like travel and nice cars and new clothes, so you can enjoy the “little things” everyday with your kids.

Back in our pre-parenthood days when we lived on two incomes, my wife and I used to love to travel. We took big, expensive vacations to visit friends in Europe, New York City and Japan, and we were afraid that this would be one of the things we would miss the most after we had children. Today, now that we have kids, our travel is mostly limited to more economical vacations – shorter, cheaper car trips and overnight stays in nearby cities – but we still have a lot of fun.

Make extra money.

Just because you’re on one income doesn’t mean you’re limited to that one person’s day job salary. There are lots of ways that one (or both) of you can make some extra money on the side. The classic example is the stay-at-home mom who offers babysitting services to her neighbors and friends. One of our friends started a home-based private chef business that has grown to become her new full-time job.

[Check Your Credit: Don't Guess. Know.® Get your free credit report and score. No credit card required.

Be prepared to “pay yourself back” in the future.

I’ve written before about how parenthood, especially when you’re on one income, is one of those times in life when you can be forgiven for not saving very much money. If you’re on one income, chances are your future self will be happy to “float you a loan” in the form of lower savings. However, once you’re back on two incomes, you need to re-double your efforts to save for retirement and sock money away for the future.

Be prepared to maximize 401(k) contributions for both you and your spouse. Save as much as you possibly can. You might even try saving all the money from one spouse’s paycheck – after all, if you got by on one income for so long, why not keep it up?

[Check Your Credit: Don’t Guess. Know.® Get your free credit report and score. No credit card required.

Deciding to live on one income is not easy, but for us it has been well worth it. What we’ve given up in money, we’ve gained in being able to spend more time with our kids, friends, family and neighbors. We live a less-hectic, less fast-paced life and for the most part are very happy with our choices. Giving up one partner’s income might sound difficult, but it can be done!

Related articles: