5 Ways to Survive on One Income

April 2, 2008 by Kyle

As I have mentioned before, my wife is a stay-at-home Mom to our 3 children. Financially, it is very challenging but the rewards far outweigh those challenges. I did a post awhile back about the benefits to both of us, and especially our kids, of having at least one parent at home. So I wanted to take some time and write about the ways we survive on one income. Some are obvious and some may take some creativity on your part. Since I love lists, I came up with 5 ways we survive on one income.


  1. Budget Baby, Budget! When you only have one income to draw on, you better have a really good idea how your money is being spent each month. Fixed bills like utilities and housing are easy to account for. The other stuff gets tricky: food, clothes, entertainment, etc. But by allocating money for groceries, gas, entertainment, clothes, it really helps my wife and I create some accountability for our spending. Proper financial planning is really essential to being able to survive on one income, which is why we use Quicken as it helps us set up our monthly budget. The financial planning software tracks our monthly expenses and notifies us when bills are coming due.
  2. Shop Where The Deals Are. Hit the discount grocery stores, we shop at Winco Foods (just try to avoid the crowd on the 1st and 15th of the month). Shop for clothes at Ross and Marshall’s. Although if you have found my blog, odds are you probably do this already!
  3. Generate Some Extra Income. I sell a lot of stuff on ebay. If the kids outgrow some clothes and they are in decent shape, they go up on ebay. Toys? The same thing. Also, if you are into crafts, sewing, or woodworking, consider selling the stuff you make on ebay. I have an acquaintance who does this with woodworking and she has a great little side business.
  4. Don’t Be Afraid To Downsize. Downgrade or negotiate your cable bill, or get rid of it all together. Downgrade your cell phone package to the fewest minutes package. Pick a designated night or special occasion once per month where you take the family out for dinner. Plan your vacations wisely, stay with family and friends when possible. These are a few of the things we have done to survive on one income. It has been our experience that there is NO way you can survive on one income and keep up with the Jones’. Take that idea out of your mind and flush it down the pot. This might sound like we are home-bodies who have no fun. Wrong! I would argue that our lives have actually improved since we started downsizing. We focus on experiences and time together and not on what we don’t have.
  5. The Big Decisions. Everyone reading this is in a different financial state. If you have a lot of credit card debt it is obviously going to be much harder to survive on one income. Same goes for a large house or car payment. This is where making some big decisions is necessary. Whether it be moving into a smaller house or trading in your gas guzzling SUV for a smaller car, these decisions are often at the tipping point on whether or nor you can make this work.

Bottom-line: From personal experience, I am a firm believer that it can be done if you make the decision that it can be done. It comes down to what you are willing to sacrifice in order to make it happen.



14 Responses to “5 Ways to Survive on One Income”

  1. Brip Blap on April 2nd, 2008 8:22 pm

    We switched to one income a few years ago, too, and I think the key is preparing ahead of time for the switch. I still wear my corporate uniform of Ralph Lauren shirts, but I buy them from Marshalls, not Macys or Nordstroms.

    I am not a big fan of budgeting, though. I think buying sensibly doesn’t really require a budget. I buy instant coffee instead of Starbucks, but we don’t have a coffee budget (since I can drink 120 cups for $5). We buy items on sale at the supermarket, etc.

    Great list! Too many people think having a one-income family is impossible and it is not – it is very, very possible, you just have to decide whether you have the discipline for it before you do it!


  2. Aaron Stroud on April 2nd, 2008 10:02 pm

    Sticking to one vehicle is working well for us. Our only debt is student loans, consolidated at a rate approximating inflation and a reasonable mortgage.

    And once our mortgage is eliminated, we’ll be able to cut back even further, leaving even more time for the kids.


  3. Kyle on April 3rd, 2008 11:09 pm

    Brip Blap, Good point on the importance of buying sensibly. That is great that it works for you that way. The power of the budget for us is the way it shows us visually money in, money out. We know where it is ALL going and brings up red flags on things we can cut back on or eliminate, and what we should have left over at the end of the month.


  4. Katie on April 6th, 2008 9:41 am

    I love this post. My husband and I too are on a budget! Althought it was tough at first, we are loving it now! We know where all of our money goes! What a concept!


  5. The Happy Housewife on April 7th, 2008 7:24 pm

    Great post… I have always been a SAM but there were some lean years. We lived with one car, no tv, and no meals out for over a year, until my husband was promoted and received a raise. It can be done!


  6. Jenny on April 16th, 2008 10:15 am

    My husband made me wait until all of our credit card/student loan debts/car loans were paid off before I could get pregnant. We spent the first fours years of our marriage working and buying small things here and there ( a piece of real furniture- a vacation- a starter home) and the rest went to debt payments. I’m so glad he had that much foresight and patience with me. Now that I have my children and I’m not going to a 8-5 job- I’m so glad we had those early years to enjoy each other, mature, and become more financially stable. We’re both naturally thrifty so we haven’t felt the need to budget for everything. But, with the economy going the way it is I feel the urge to really tighten the belt.


  7. Momma on April 21st, 2008 8:04 am

    Great tips! I’m always amazed at how much we can tighten our belts when we need to. Of course, when we don’t need to is when we slip.


  8. foreclosurefish on April 21st, 2008 8:56 am

    Great post, surviving and prospering with just one income is quite possible. Sometimes, it’s probably preferable, depending on the family conditions.

    Financing a life of debt, huge houses, larger cars, and impulse purchases is not quite possible with just one income, of course, but you’re spot-on discussing having to sacrifice some things. Budgeting and taking up the deals that other profligate spenders pass up definitely help avoid the credit traps.

    And downsizing seems to be one of those taboo words in American culture right now, what with larger SUVs, larger fast food meals, bigger box stores, and so on. But cutting expenses is one of the easiest ways to live happily with less.


  9. Monique Rowe on August 2nd, 2009 1:23 pm
  10. Monique Rowe on November 3rd, 2009 9:57 pm

    Book is done…also have the web site- we try to live on one income- it’s tought for sure, but can be done.


  11. RonnieC on October 18th, 2010 10:20 am

    I disagree with the person above that said that there was no need for a budget. If you are making enough then that can be the case, but it is a different philosophy than just buying on the cheap.

    I notice that in our consumer culture, the first response from most people when told they are going to go on a financial diet is to go buy as many books on the subject, buy a sewing machine, or buy whatever they think will help them “save.” Its ingrained in America that “buying” is somehow “doing.” I have found incredible power in simply NOT SPENDING.

    Although my wife & are both working and bring in about $250k, we are preparing to go the one-income route. I calculated our new grocery budget at $170/wk. When it is MY week to buy groceries, we come in at or under budget. When it is HER week, we average $225. That is the difference between having a budget (“I am not going to spend more than $170”) and NOT having a budget (“Look at all the money I “saved” by using coupons and buying sale items”.) The fact is, there are always things on sale and there are always coupons available. Use them, but DON’T OVERBUY AND BLOW YOUR BUDGET. I have never seen a week where my wife comes in UNDER budget by $50 to compensate for the weeks where she is OVER budget by $50.


  12. Leigh on February 24th, 2011 11:00 pm

    Good tips and yes, it is possible. My husband only earns $22,000 and we live quite well on one income. Of course, we don’t have any debt like credit cards or loans.

    @Ronnie – you don’t need to buys books (just borrow them from the library) and I bet your grandmother has an old sewing machine she doesn’t use anymore. That is where I got mine along with tons of fabric she had stored in her linen closet.


  13. JENNIFER HART on February 27th, 2013 3:14 pm



  14. illy junus on March 18th, 2013 5:46 am

    Great tips, i love reading it, and all the respones too. I’m a stay home mom with one single income. It’s been hard for us, because my child have a heart condition. But through lots of thinking and planning maybe we can survive.


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