Is it possible to live on a single income today?
I get asked this question a lot.
When Dave and I married, we discussed what our family life would look like once we had children. Would we both continue to work or would we live on one income?
We decided I would be a stay at home mom when the time came. Until then, I would finish my business degree and find a good job.
The reality of our decision happened 18 months later. I never did get that good job to help build a nest egg.
Dave was also completing his Bachelor’s degree part-time while working full-time.
Our small, student-housing apartment now needed to squeeze in an infant. Thankfully, it was a two-bedroom apartment even though the second bedroom was the size of most walk-in closets.
We joked that you couldn’t walk a straight line in our apartment!
So how did we make it work on one income?
- No credit cards. We lived on a cash basis only. If we didn’t have the cash, we didn’t buy it. That taught us the value of saving for something.
- Odd jobs. Both my husband and I found ways to earn extra income to ease the very tight budget. Because we lived near a college, I advertised my typing skills and did well typing papers for students. Cash flow booster.
- Eating out was only for special occasions. We ate out on our anniversary and maybe a birthday if we received a monetary gift from our parents. For us, date nights were spent walking in a park with our baby, or eating popcorn at home after the baby went to bed.
- Having dinner with friends was at their house or ours. Since most of our friends were in the same financial condition, we had great fun getting together at our homes. We’d pool our resources for dinner, then play games, talk, or just hang out. Some of the best times ever!
- Plan every meal. Before I went to the grocery store, I made a detailed menu plan. My favorite economical and delicious recipe book was More with Less. By following a menu plan, experimenting with different meal options, and learning to economize our use of higher priced items, we ate well though economically.
- Do my own baking. Baking ingredients were inexpensive compared to ready-made. Therefore, I made bread, cookies, cakes, snack bars, whatever. We didn’t buy these expensive items, which helped stretch our grocery budget.
- I learned to can. We lived in an agricultural area with lots of u-pick farms. We also knew people with large gardens who gave us their overflow produce. So, I learned to can with the help of another young married woman—capitalizing on the cheap prices.
- Limited clothing. Usually if I needed something new, I made it. Also, we bought gently used items at thrift stores or garage sales and then had them altered if needed. We reserved buying new off the rack for really special pieces.
- Stay away from malls. Our discretionary income was next to nothing. Therefore, I didn’t go to a mall just for fun because I knew I’d see something and be tempted to spend what I didn’t have.
- Become a sales shopper. I learned to shop sales. I learned to read the grocery store ads and buy what was on sale. If we needed something more expensive, we saved first, and then watched for the item to go on sale. It became a game to see how much money we could save.
- Own one car. Our first car was a used one that was a gift from Dave’s parents. It ran economically. It was cheap to insure. It was all we needed.
- We did this together. I know I couldn’t have survived these years without a husband who supported our efforts to economize. He learned car maintenance, woodworking, furniture refinishing, and other handyman skills to save money on repairs. We worked together to care for our family and our home within our income.
Living on a single income is challenging.
There were times when we didn’t know if we would make it to the next paycheck. When our attitudes stunk, the struggle intensified. Things were tight. It was hard to watch others who didn’t seem to struggle.
But, we stuck to our belief this was best for our family. Therefore, we made strategic decisions about what were needs and what were wants.
Remembering those times, I’m thankful for these four important lessons:
- Life is more than things. Even though our apartment was very tiny, it was adequate, safe, and comfortable. We had wonderful friends, we had each other, we had plenty to eat, and we enjoyed many of our wants. We had what we needed and then some.
- Living on a budget is doable. I’ve mentioned before that I’m budget-allergic. But it was during this time that I learned the value of budgeting well. And, when I did, my financial stress level was greatly reduced.
- God always met our needs. We have multiple stories of God’s provision in times when we didn’t know if we would make it to the next paycheck. Yet, we always did. We never missed a payment. We never went without food. We may not have had much by society’s standards, but we always had what we needed.
- Paying with cash brings joy. Delayed gratification really is satisfying. Knowing you don’t have to figure out how to pay for that item you just bought is well worth saving the money and paying with cash.
Looking back, the things we did without didn’t matter nor did we really miss them.
Do you think your family could make it on one income? Why or why not?
Capture the extraordinary moments in the ordinariness of today.