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How We Make it Work On One Income

Guest post from Vanessa of Modern Homemakers Society:

One of the biggest desires for mothers, especially new mothers, is to be able to stay at home with her kids. However, in this day and age, that’s not always a possibility.

We’re living in a time where you have to have two incomes to make ends meet… or do you?

After my husband and I had baby number three, we started to calculate how much daycare would cost compared to what we were making. Turns out, my paycheck was just enough to pay for daycare and nothing else. I was basically just working to have someone else watch my kids.

At that point, we made the decision that he would work and I would stay home with the kids, but there were many bumps in the “one paycheck family” road. Here are five tips we live by that have allowed us to live on one paycheck and still have some “fun money” left over.

1. Determine Needs vs. Wants

You have to get really clear on where the money needs to go as opposed to where you just would like it to go. This is probably the hardest part about living on one income, being diligent with your money and using it wisely.

A lifesaving tool we use is Dave Ramsey’s Every Dollar budget form. This really helped us figure out how much we were bringing in, where the money needed to go, and how much we had left over for the more fun stuff.

2. Set a Limit to Your Spending

Whether it be extra “fun” money or bill money, you need to set a limit to what you’re willing to pay for certain things. Get with your spouse and come to an agreement on how much should go where. Are you paying more than you’d like on the electric bill? Come up with ways you could lower it such as turning off all the lights around the house where no one is using them, keep the thermostat at a reasonable temperature and use sweaters or blankets around the house in colder seasons, etc.

For fun money, set a limit to how much you want to spend on things like movies, ice cream trips, going to the zoo, eating out, etc. We like to use separate envelopes for these things so we know that once that envelope no longer has cash left in it, then there’s no more spending money until the following paycheck.

Some of the envelopes we keep are Eating Out, Family Fun Day, Birthdays, Christmas, Car Maintenance, Kid’s Sports Activities, and Family Vacation.

3. Establish Who Pays the Bills

Having one person in charge of paying all the bills makes it much easier to stay on top of your finances. I used to work in accounting so, in our family, I’m the one who manages our finances. My husband and I get together once a month to go over our finances and keep each other in the loop about where we are.

4. Start Meal Planning

I know it may not seem like it, but meal planning has saved our family a ton of money. Having a set plan for what you’re going to have for dinner each night helps to avoid last minute trips to the grocery store or worse, fast food places. When my husband and I got together and calculated how many times we went out for “last minute” food trips, we realized we had been spending over $200 a month on fast food!

It doesn’t seem like a lot when you’re spending five dollars here and there but if you sit down and calculate how much you spend in a month, you’d probably be shocked at your results.

5. Plan Free or Inexpensive Family Events

There are tons of things you can do with your family that don’t require you to spend a whole lot of money, and most of the time you can even find free events happening in your town.

Some of our favorite free family events are going to the music festival our town puts on once a month, movie night at the local park, game nights here at home, and sometimes we’ll let the kids invite a friend over and we set up the living room like a movie theater and lay out nachos, hot dogs, candy, etc.

Those are our five tips we used to help us transition from living on two incomes to living on one. I hope you all enjoyed them and will start implementing some of your own 🙂

Vanessa Phelps is a Mama of five, Homemaking blogger, and founder of the Modern Homemakers Society. Her mission is to help women rediscover the lost art of homemaking, and create a peaceful, stress-free home environment. 

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  • Lisa says:

    Do you still plan a fun money even if there is not enough money to pay the bills? I’m so tired of living off one income and never having enough it seems. We’ve been super frugal. Any suggestions?

    • I just happened to read your comment after reading this post and my heart goes out to you. #1: Sometimes are income is really not enough and we do have to get creative to bring in more money. For example, babysit some extra children, etc. #2: Make sure that you have a written budget. If you haven’t read it, I’d highly recommend borrowing “The Total Money Makeover” by Dave Ramsey from the library. #3: Get creative like this article says and find ways to reduce your bills. Whether that means giving up cable or satellite or switching insurance companies, etc. #4: There are times that it just isn’t possible to live off one income especially if you live in a high-cost area. I hope that helps you. I understand feeling like there is never enough because my husband and I lived that way for a while early in our marriage.

  • JJ says:

    Living on one income can definitely be done! And you can be creative! When we were pregnant with our third child(we had 3 kids in 3 years!), we wanted to move. We ended up buying a larger house with much more land all because we were able to put more of a down payment from selling. We also have a well now, so that eliminated our water bill(although we do have filters to purchase, etc.). Sometimes we think with less money we have to have less. It’s not true. You just have to think outside the box. I currently work from home, but for 5 years I did not work at all. And I am SO glad for it!!! All of the sacrifices were worth it!!!

  • Amie says:

    I am the only one working in my family; I have been since my husband lost his job. He is facing major surgeries in the near future so it really doesn’t make sense for him to find a job now. I work two jobs. I work my regular job and I teach English online to students in China. It is wonderful and I actually enjoy it more than my main job. I set my own schedule based on the prime hours. There are lots of remote jobs that are perfect for stay-at-home parents. I work early in the mornings before I go to my regular job and nights and mornings on the weekends… just one-three hours at a time. If you have a Bachelor’s Degree, you can teach. The companies provide training. There are plenty of other customer service jobs, etc. that you can do from home. I have encouraged my husband to find a part-time job that he can do from home online while he recovers.

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