How to prepare to be a one-income family

by Erika Torres

Eric and I had almost a year to prepare to be a one-income family. We know everyone’s situation is different; some people may not have a choice as to becoming a one-income family, others may have to be a one-income family for several years, as opposed to only five months like us. However, these are the steps Eric and I took to survive these five months of living off of solely one income (and for our sanity, let’s hope it’s only five months and he gets a job in January, k?)

1. Decrease your living expenses

Having a whole year to plan for these five months allowed us to look at how to reduce our bills enough so that we would have extra money to save. The number one solution was to downsize our living arrangement. Last year, our rent and utilities were costing us 38% of our monthly budget. As much as we loved the swanky apartment building and the swanky Newport Beach address, we just couldn’t afford to keep living there. We managed to find a guesthouse on the same street as our apartment, but just a few blocks down. We ended up going from 38% of our monthly budget, to 24% of our monthly budget.

Trust me, it wasn’t easy to move into– essentially–a shack. I was embarrassed to invite friends over (I still sort of am), sometimes it makes me feel really poor, but for the most part, it hasn’t been that bad. And saving 14% of our monthly budget really helped in preparing to be a one-income family. There’s no way we could have continued to live at our old place on my salary alone.

2. Save, save, save

As much as possible, save as much as you can. Every month, from January to July, we were saving approximately 20% of our income. And honestly, we probably could have saved more–something I’m regretting right about now. We also put our entire tax return right into savings. Our goal was to save $8,000 and while we hit the mark for about 2 hours, we then ended up quickly having to pay off some bills. Our savings account is currently around $5,000 and I hope that we don’t take it any lower. I’m really depending on our savings account as more of an emergency fund, rather than a “we need it to survive” fund.

I also started clipping coupons in January. I didn’t really believe coupons were worth it until I tried it. I’ve been able to keep my grocery budget the same (around $325-350) but buying a whole lot more bang for my buck. I stock up on shampoos, conditioners and body wash when they are $1.50 or less with coupons. I only buy toothpaste if I can get it for free, and I have enough dish soap to last me a year. Now that Eric is no longer working, I don’t have to spend money on any toiletries and I hope to bring our grocery and toiletry budget to $250 for this month–the first time it will be under $300 this entire year! Krazy Coupon Lady and Living Rich with Coupons are some of my favorite blogs that help me match up sales with coupons.

3. Increase your income

This is a no brainer. But for the past year, I’ve tried to come up with other sources of income. We’ve had garage sales, I babysat on the side (and made $700 in two months!), I’ve been participating in surveys (earning $3 a pop, but it’s still something), I’ve taken every overtime opportunity at work, and I’ve been advertising on my blog (and although some people may want to complain about that, sorry honey, but you’re not paying my bills so advertise I will, if you don’t like it, don’t read it–easy as pie).  This may mean that the spouse who isn’t going to school may have to bear the brunt of coming up with additional sources of income, but isn’t that what you’re doing anyway by allowing them to not work for however long? Just add this to your “to do” list and remind your spouse when they get their first fat paycheck, it belongs to you. That’s what I tell Eric.That, and he owes me a fat diamond ring, and a vacation, and a lot of other things to…I keep tabs in my head.

Another way to increase your income is to alter your tax with holdings. For the first six months of this year, I paid the maximum to my taxes. Now that Eric is not working, I changed my with holdings so that I now receive an extra chunk of change every month. This has helped a lot. I just hope we don’t have to pay any taxes come next April.

4. Learn to live a different lifestyle

The first month of our one-income lifestyle was a major disaster. For a week, we were completely living off of credit cards. This month, we’ve been having to live an even poorer lifestyle just to pay off that one week of credit card abuse. However, I am proud to say that so far this month, we’ve only spent about $120 on frivolous items (ie, $56 going out to dinner once, $17 on frozen yogurt, and $40 for Eric and mine’s allowance–we each get $20 every two weeks). Everything else has been on groceries, gas, dry cleaning for Eric’s uniforms, an oil change, and some home tools to fix things like our garbage disposal. We haven’t bought any clothes, we’ve barely gone out to eat…we’re living at the base capacity. This has been the hardest part for us, but for the most part, we’ve both been so busy and tired that we’re not even noticing how little we’ve been “living it up.”

How else would you prepare to be a one-income family?


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City Girl October 6, 2011 - 7:15 pm

These are great tips! And, a “shack” in Newport Beach is nothing to be ashamed of, k? xoxo

Amber September 21, 2011 - 7:38 am

Omg! What is your email address??? We SO need to talk. I love this post and will be following you from now on. Hubs and I are in a similar situation although I am not blogging about it – but I would love to share ideas if you would email me. Good luck to you and your hubby on your budget!!

Kayla September 21, 2011 - 6:43 am

We are actually in the process of preparing to go to one income next semester as I enter my internship. Husband (A) works full time delivering pizzas [with 15 hours of classes, too!], and we’re living off his income while mine goes to pay for his tuition. We have simple categories for finances: tithe, housing, health insurance, car insurance, cell phones, envelopes (groceries, gas, and gifts are paid for with cash), car maintenance, tuition, and wedding fund (money we haven’t spent from our wedding 2 months ago), as well as an emergency fund and an internship fund (the goal is to have $1500 set aside to pay for my gas and expenses during those 4 mths). We have one car, which is paid for. My tuition is free, due to scholarships and grants [i.e. I will have no loans when I graduate!]. I coupon like crazy, and our grocery budget each month is $80-$100 (and we don’t eat junk). No credit cards for us, and we eat out once a month (maximum) – and even then, with coupons. For extra money, A donates (technically “sells”) plasma 2x a week, which brings in an extra $60 weekly. I used to also but am no longer able to due to health reasons.
We determined that to get married while still in college, we would have to sacrifice. But it’s worth it for us. We work hard to pay off his tuition each month so we have less debt to pay off when he graduates (becoming a pilot is expensive stuff!).
Just keep the big picture in mind – this is only for a season, not for the rest of your life. That may be the biggest encouragement you have as you go through it.

erin September 20, 2011 - 10:27 am

what surveys do you do? Please tell!

LBC Teacher September 19, 2011 - 5:50 pm

Sounds like you can do it! I know he’s crazy busy, but planning some at-home date nights could be a good way to feel like you’re still “living it up.” For example, making a good dinner, renting a movie, and making popcorn. It’s simple, but if you’re intentional about it being date night and not checking cell phones or doing laundry while you watch it can feel special. Good luck, I know you can do it!

J.Mill September 19, 2011 - 11:33 am

We hear so much about “The Love Shack” but haven’t seen pics or a video tour (that I know of). Do you have a layout drawing of it? I doubt it’s as bad as you say! We all have to live sacrificially at times to make room for special splurges. Keep going!

Also, a while ago I submitted to your Things My Husband Does with the fact that mine is vacuum-obsessed. Here’s a pic of him vacuuming THE AIR!

Meghan September 19, 2011 - 9:51 am

These are some great tips! We will be in the same boat this spring when I student teach, so I definitely need to go back to using Mint more, and stick to more of a budget. Some things that we try to do to save money is ask if we can cut back anywhere (cable package, movies, etc). Also- I just switched my car insurance to bill every 6 months, which saves me an extra 60 bucks a year- it’s small, but small changes add up!

Teacher Girl September 19, 2011 - 3:10 pm

I worked full time while student teaching, at night, but I had no choice as I had no one else’s income to rely on but my own. I think you two have done an amazing job preparing and you’ll be just fine, though I know it is tough. *hugs* hang in there!


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