The Completely Achievable Path to Becoming a One-Income Family

First off, I fully realize this is a very personal topic. For a variety of well-thought-out reasons, not everyone who stumbles upon this post desires to become a one-income family. That’s fine. This is not written to change your thinking or convince you otherwise.

Instead, it is written to encourage those who do desire such a lifestyle. I have known a number of dual-income families over the years who desire to become one-income – typically experienced in conjunction with the birth of a child. This post is written with them in mind.

My wife and I have lived our entire married lives (13 years) on one modest income. We have proven it is possible. And if we can accomplish it, so can you. This post is written to provide you with practical thoughts and encouragement to take the very step you’ve been desiring all along.

Ten years ago, our first child was born. As my wife had always intended, she immediately resigned from her position as an administrative assistant and became a full-time homemaker. At the time, my gross income was less than $40,000/year + health insurance benefits. I offer the numbers only as a frame of reference… there are surely one-income families that live on more and some that live on less. Over the years, I have experienced a number of pay increases (as one might expect), but my career in non-profits was never chosen for its level of compensation.

Still, we were able to survive and thrive on one-income because we took some very intentional steps with our lives, finances, and decisions:

1. Ask when and why, not if. I’m all for careful planning and crunching the numbers, but I’m also all for taking risks and learning to figure things out. When my wife quit her job to stay-at-home, we looked at the financial inflow and outflow. But our intentions in analyzing the numbers were never motivated by the question “Is this going to work?” We had already made the decision. The when/why had already been determined. Budgeting was approached as the means needed to make the necessary adjustments to accomplish it… not as the determining factor.

2. If possible, prepare ahead of time. My wife and I received valuable advice when we got married. A good friend of ours told us, “Decide now to live off one income… even if both of you are working. Put the entire second income directly into savings.” This decision to live off my income alone contributed significantly to our first home’s down-payment. But more importantly, it kept our lifestyle at a level that provided options when our first child was born (or if an unexpected job loss would have occurred). If possible, begin making choices today (avoid debt, lifestyle creep, and high mortgage payments) that will accommodate one income in the future.

3. Be content with less. A one-income family will, by definition, earn less money than a two-income family. The pursuit of possessions will need to be tempered. You’ll own a smaller home with less-fancy cars. Luckily, you won’t be missing much. There’s far more joy to be found in pursuing less than can be found in owning more. *At the time, we were not living minimalist lives (that decision came later). But if we had been, the transition to one-income would have been even easier.

4. Be convinced of the benefits. There are countless benefits to staying at home with young children that motivated our decision: stability, relationship, experience, educational opportunity, scheduling flexibility, consistent discipline, fewer expenses. We recognized these benefits and used the opportunity to make one-income a reality.

5. Budget. A healthy understanding of budgeting is required in most every case. But from my experience, there are only a small variety of expenses that keep families from living on one-income: too costly mortgage, car payments, eating out frequently, exorbitant entertainment expenses (tickets, vacations, and/or alcohol), and credit card debt. Start there and you’ll solve 85-90% of your financial problems. To embrace healthy budgeting techniques, you’ll find countless budgeting tools online. But the one that works best is the one that actually provides you with the tools to live within it. *Additionally, a one-income family is one that treats all incoming revenue as “shared,” not “yours” or “mine.” If you need to change your thinking on this, do it now.

6. Find an outlet for relationship. One difficulty of removing oneself from the workforce is the loss of a built-in network of relationships. Interpersonal relationships with peers are absolutely essential to our well-being. Be intentional in seeking out a place to find them: church, community groups, mom/dad groups, activity groups, etc.

7. Find an outlet for service. You have gifts, talents, experiences, and education that our world needs. And likely, you still desire to use them. Just because you have decided to stay at home does not mean you resigned from using your gifts to change the world. Look for opportunities to use them on a broader scale. There are, after all, countless organizations (schools, community, nonprofits) that need your giftedness. Find one as an outlet for your talents.

 8. Embrace temporary or part-time. If there are some internal reasons keeping you from fully becoming a full-time, stay-at-home parent, consider the options of part-time or temporary. You don’t need to leave the workforce permanently. You can still keep a toe in it by finding a part-time employment arrangement that fits your schedule/desire. And as your family becomes more self-reliant, you can always make the decision to return back to work.

Again, this post was motivated by the countless conversations I have had with families who desire to become one-income. It is not the perfect solution for every family. But it has worked well for ours on a relatively modest budget. And if it has worked for us, it is completely achievable for you.

Image: Keoni Cabral

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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Comments

  1. Tanya says

    I gave up work when I had my first child. It has now been almost 20 years and it is only the past few years that I have returned to part time work. My family has always come first, and yes we have always managed okay. The kids are happy, healthy and well fed. I do not believe they have missed out at all. They were always happy to have me around and in fact now still are. I have no regrets at all and highly recommend staying at home for all those who wish to. However do not think that being a stay at home Mother is an easy option. Children are a lot of work, but of course are worth it. :)

  2. Lindsay says

    We live off less. Half of $40, 000 plys health benefits. We sharedone car for awhile. When we took on two we paid in cash we had saved so we only have on car payment. We lib e by our means and we live on the basics. Soon our kids will be in school which is when I plan to return to work. We are healthy and happy. It does take some getting use to. I can’t go and get pampered and shop whenever I want haha!

  3. Brian says

    I would Love Stay Home W The Kids. But Society And My Wife Won’t Let Me.

    1. Better For OUr Kids In Long Run

    2. I’m Not Treated Well At Work

    3. We Pay 1/2 Of My Income To Send Them To Daycare

  4. Paris says

    I just got fired from my job Friday. Long story short got sick at work (I’m a pre-school techer) haha sorry WAS and because I was sick I didn’t want to be there for obvious reason and she told me no. So I left and got fired. Probably a stupid mistake but o well. My husband works full time at a factory. We where using my income to pay for food, gas and basic nessesities. Now that I am unemployed I’m not bringing in any money obviously. I’m a little scared. Anyways. Any advice would be fantastic.

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  6. Brittany says

    Thank you for sharing your advice on the matter. My husband recently gave me the “ok” to take a year off from full-time work as my current job is exhausting and has led me toward some unhealthy habits that I am not too proud of admitting. My concern with leaving my current job goes deeper than no longer having my salary, but money has really been an issue for me as I take care of our finances. Your advice on finding a way to fitting into this decision rather than enabling money to make your decision has truly opened my eyes and is making this decision less of a headache. Thank you again and I hope we can be just as successful in our endeavor as your family has been in yours.

  7. April says

    Great advice!! I’m 11 weeks prego with our third child (our other two are 8 and 4) and I have started thinking about quitting my job and becoming a stay at home mom. My 4 year old can’t start school til 2014 school year due to his birthday falling in November, so I will have two children not in school. Its a hard to decision to make considering my husband and I have been living off two incomes for the past 7 years and are accustomed to our duel income lifestyle but me being at home offers a lot of benefits. I like your advice on putting one pay check away as if we didn’t have it and living off one income. I think that would be a good start for us and gives us a good savings for when I do decide to take the leap.

  8. Bonnie Jean says

    This is hard for many people, and it points out the need for advance planning. Even if you never think you will be a one income family, it is wise to plan for that eventuality. The modern world lures us to require two incomes, but sit down and figure out what it costs to go to work…the second car, the commute, the work clothes, lunches, continuing Ed, etc. Also the high cost of daycare and the effects on health of job dissatisfaction and the psychological cost of being a latch key kid. A true partnership must be established between the two spouses in order to do this.

  9. Tracy says

    As a unplanned single parent, my family has always survived off one income. Society believes due to my circumstances, I get additional benefits or child support. This is not the case and we still make it. We shop at Aldi and Walmart and do not own the nicest of anything, but God has always provided for us and continues to do so. It is not as impossible as you think. I enjoy this blog and have picked up even more tips for making it all work out-thanks Joshua!

  10. Carey7 says

    I can’t figure out how to do it as a single mother of 3, one with special needs. My husband very unexpectedly walked out on us, and I have no help at all from anyone (except the small amount of court ordered support we get. He is self-employed and hid most of his income:( My youngest will be starting school full-day this fall, but I still can’t work. I would have to quit every summer, during winter break, spring break, and so on. Not that I could find a job that lets me work only between 9:15-2:30 weekdays. With any minimum wage job I could get, daycare would cost 2-3 times what I would make per hour. I feel hopeless to provide the most basic needs for my kids. I’ve searched everywhere I can think of for some solution, and will continue to, but it doesn’t seem possible to make it.

    • Karen Dubrinsky says

      Hi, Carey,
      A friend of mine was in a similar situation and some of the things she tried were: taking a job at the school or in the school district (if possible), doing a business such as Pampered Chef from home, and would you consider working out a deal with a babysitting co-op or a teen nanny for the summer? Obviously, the other things like home cooking, using the library for books and free programs, etc., help too. I am not trying to sound preachy, these are just some of things she has tried (and I have, too! I love our library). I wish you success and know that you are not alone, just by posting, many of us are wishing you well!
      Karen

      • Ellie says

        If you need the help, there is no shame in seeing if you qualify for “food stamps” during this season of your life. You can use the benefits to buy garden seeds. If you are able to plant a 4×4 garden in the spring, this is a great source of fresh produce. Weeding is also a wonderful exercise to keep kids busy.
        A thrifty person can make their benefits go very far.

    • says

      Carey,

      I think that Karen’s comment below about a home based business isn’t a bad recommendation. I actually have been working with Team Beachbody from home and have been able to create a couple hundred extra bucks of income by doing that. Check this out if you want more information (http://aaronmasterson.com/becoming-a-beachbody-coach).

      There are also significant tax incentives that home based businesses can take advantage of to put some extra money back in your pocket too. So don’t rule it out right away.

    • Kori says

      Carey,
      Have you tried looking at churches? I’ve worked for a “mega” church for several years now. I recently moved to a new dept within the church and I set my own hours and if my husband has to have the car for the day (bad weather and can’t ride the motorcycle), they understand I won’t be coming in and I will find another day to make up my hours. There are also several ladies who work in the children’s dept and they bring their children with them to work and the children do church “childcare” classes and such while the mother works. It’s something to think about.

      Or have you thought about working at a day care? A friend of mine (single mother) raised her son that way since he was born up until she got married. She worked at the day care while her son was enrolled there so he went with her to work every day.

      I wish you the best of luck. I can only imagine your situation, but you sound like a strong woman :)

    • Joby says

      Could you work for a day care or start your own. You would be raising your child or children and others while making money. Smells like a solution.

  11. audra says

    I work under my husband (long story short- 3 years into our marriage his company needed someone with my skills, I stepped up to the plate to help out as I just got finished with school and needed a job to pay bills, and 8 years later I am still there) the house is paid off, and we were hoping to start a family (with the aid of fertility treatments which aren’t covered by our health insurance) with the hopes of me becoming a stay at home mom. however, a week ago my husband got into an argument with his boss and out of spite his boss decided to take my position away from me (I’ve had that position for almost 4 years) now I have a degrading position and my self esteem has taken a brutal beat down. my husband has encouraged me to put in my 2 weeks notice and stay at home, go back to school, finish my novel, or pursue a new full-time /part-time job. (basically whatever I decide)

    my only fear is that, even though we can do it I don’t want to become a burden to my husband. I know he hates his job, wants to quit and takes a lot of crap from his bosses! (yes, he has two)

    because my position was taken from me, and dispersed around to the “new hot girl in the office” and the boss made it very clear to my husband and then even more clear to me that he didn’t know what position I would be in in the future (3 months down the road) so I feel like I’m being shown the door. I hated my job anyways and have been wanting to quit for a while now, but we were finally in a position to do fertility treatments and start a family. now, I have 56 days left and I’ve told HR I’m quitting because I am going back to school (which I am, but I originally wouldn’t have) I thought “reason for leaving” would look better if I said I was leaving to go back to school and not “demoted/can’t stand upper management” I don’t want to seem like a problem opinionated employee to any prospective future employers.

    anyways, looks like hubby and I will be living lean for a while until I can find another good paying job. can’t help but be happy that I’m finally breaking free, just wish it wasn’t with a boot on my butt.

  12. Audrey says

    With the house being less than it’s worth what suggestions do you have on ways to get support on becoming towards one income?

  13. Glee says

    I was very blessed to stay at home through most of my children’s school years. Early on I was “only” a stay at home Mom but as time went on I began bookkeeping for my husbands business. When the economy took a dive in 2008 we found ourselves in a financial bind mostly due to the need for health insurance. I am now working full time, still doing the bookkeeping and caring for my 88 year old mother. It is difficult. I am older and less able to burn the candle at both ends. I remind myself everyday that I am leaving an empty house when I leave. I am more grateful everyday that I was home with my family when they needed me. We were always on a tight budget and frequently struggled to make it week to week and it was worth every minute of it. There is a way even if you are house poor. Good luck to everyone trying to make this work. It is possible. Just live within your means. Do without. Eat oatmeal for supper.

  14. says

    We became a one income family after the birth of our first son. We just cut back in a few areas and lived a simple life. I got hand me downs for clothes and I started a small home business of doing decorated cakes and artwork I sold that was 23 years ago. My kids turned out good, they are all in the air force. We didn’t buy a bunch of things that we didn’t need, I shopped at thrift stores, yard sales and swapped babysitting and various things we needed. Even now that my kids are gone I still only work when I want. We never went without, ever. My kids have always been my priority. I would rather eat home cooked meals than fancy restaurants. I would rather sit around a camp fire with friends that hob knob and it all worked out in the end. All of our hard working dual income friends either divorced, had kids that suffered and struggled or they are over their heads in debt. We are free of debt, have fun and have great kids.

  15. anneke de boer says

    Have you also notive that it saves money to quit your job and stay at home (as one of two)? It doesn’t cost you on expensive working cloths, dinners out or takehome meals because you are too tired to cook. It does not cost you on dry cleaners (one can do that themselves). It doesn’t cost you on gaz or other means of transportation to get to your work. As a homemaker you have more time to repair stuff, do needlework on things which are broken or help your kids. There for you safe on money for reparations and help of a teacher or a program to put your child on. etc.

  16. says

    A one-income in the family is not easy, if only the husband is working for the family, At this modern time a wife can also work even if shes at home, she can also took care for her children and can work even at home…Many things you can do even you are at home and still making money. I don’t believe that you can survive with your growing family if only one is making money…

  17. says

    For those of us who financed our own educations, living off of one income can be nearly impossible. I currently owe over six figures in private, educational debt. I was the first in my family to go to college, and my parents had no idea what they were doing (in terms of advising me). I was encouraged to go to a private college because I “was smart,” and was “just as good as the rich kids.” I am in a professional, helping field, and make decent money, but not enough to pay the mountain of educational debt I’m buried under. I am now pregnant with my second child and fear what the financial future holds. Even though my family and I are extremely frugal, it is not as cut and dry for many families to live on one income.

  18. says

    Such an inspiring post. I relate very much to this article because my wife and I have been living on a single income since we’ve been together! Mostly by default — either I’d be in school and my wife would be working, or vice versa. Now we have a baby, and my wife is a stay-at-home mom, so we’re still rocking the single income :)

    It’s worked quite well for us, and in fact, I just wrote an article on my blog about how we live on a single income and how others can make it work, too!

    Thanks for the inspiration.

    Cheers,
    Brad
    bradhussey.ca

  19. Izabelle says

    Sometimes, the choice is made for us. My husband got really, really sick 4 years ago. It took 10 months just to get a diagnosis, and then 8 surgeries to get him back to being able to function in his daily activities. He tried to go back to school twice, in order to work in a less physically demanding field, but he was forced to stop because of his health.

    Our goals have since shifted. We learned to live with only one income and are starting to thrive on it. We now plan that when he is well enough for us to start a family, he’ll be a stay-at-home dad. When we see our friends fret with daycare and work-life balance, we actually feel lucky.

  20. Karen says

    We live a pretty minimalist lifestyle, but I can say without a doubt that living off of one income is not possible for us. My husband has two children by a previous marriage, so 1/3 of his income goes to support them in another household. And while his employer pays for his insurance, it costs $800/month to cover our family. Add to that our payments on $30,000 of unforeseen and unpreventable healthcare bills (and that’s WITH insurance), and we are barely making it with both of us working. I work as a freelance editor, and the money I make pays for food, gas, and all the incidentals. While a single income may work for some, it is just not possible for everyone.

  21. Sharon c says

    Enjoyed reading your article very much…
    I have been a stay at home mum for 21 years living on 1 income.
    Staying at home has giving me the freedom to raise our children to be happy and to teach them lots of things before they start school…Giving the children one on one time with me ..l have been able to spend quality time with all 3 of our children.
    And yes if you budget your money and spend wisely it is possible to stay at home…Buying a smaller house having one car rather than two…

  22. says

    I quit my job 2 days before my first child was born, almost 16 years ago and have been “home” raising my kids ever since. Having one stable and consistent income has been key to making it work, but people considering this should also consider how much working costs. We were concerned about losing half of our income at the time, but the reality was that our two incomes put us in a much higher tax bracket than our single income does, so much of what we were making, we weren’t ever really seeing in the bank every month but were just paying in taxes. Also take away commuting costs, dry cleaning, grabbing a coffee each morning on the way to work, lunches out, etc. and every little bit adds up. For us, it was the best decision we ever made. No amount of money could replace the relationship I have with my kids and the lower stress level in our house that is achieved by having someone home all the time. Good tips and insight in this article!

  23. Erin says

    Great article…I really appreciate your good advice with this. I think the biggest hurdle to a lot of people making this change is not being willing to make choices that are counter-culture, which is just a matter of remembering that you are prioritizing your family over “things.” For example, we only pay about $40 a YEAR for phones…only use prepaid cells for emergency, otherwise strictly use a magicjack landline. No cable, consignment sales, etc. It can be “inconvenient” compared to what our society’s expectations are, but once you make the decisions and get used to it, it’s actually freeing.

  24. Heather says

    The past several years my husband and I have lived off of his modest income of $30,000.00 We do live in the UK where we have access to the NHS so luckily, we do not have to factor in healthcare-related costs although it can be very expensive to live here.

    During this time I have been in and out of work as I struggled with some health issues. We were proactive in choosing to live a simple lifestyle in an affordable area so as not to incur any debt and so that we could save during what was a trying time.

    I am healthy now and just started working again full time in September. I make four-times what my husband does but we are still living on just his paycheck as that is what we are used to now. Also, my husband wants to pursue his dream career which would mean quitting his current job. We have come up with a plan for him to do this in April. While I will be able to comfortably support us both while he does this, we will continue to live on the equivalent of his salary now and save the rest.

    This plan gives me, now the primary ‘bread-winner’, a sense of freedom knowing that if I choose to change jobs and do something that makes a lot less down the road, I will be able to and my husband will be able to continue pursuing his dream career. I consider all of these steps we are taking an investment in our future and don’t feel like we are missing out at all.

  25. says

    I was a single parent for most of my children’s lives, so was forced to make do on one income. I was a social worker and saw a lot of poverty, but also a lot of families wasting the incomes they had on drugs and alcohol and big screen TVs. I learned early on to differentiate between “wants” and “needs” and to live within the budget I was earning. My three children are all adults now and are very frugal people who do not have a lot of “stuff” even though they make decent livings. They buy used when they can, make do with what they have, and are a great example living a eco-friendly life.

  26. says

    Joshua, thank you for a great post. I share your views on many of your points, but especially the decision to be content with less fluff. As I recently mentioned on my Thrive on One Income post, we simply cannot live above our means. My family has been living with one breadwinner for almost two years and it’s been great. Tough…but great. Thanks again.

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