How to live on one income (& love it.)

how to live on one income (& love it) // #frugal how to live on one income (& love it) // #frugal

Update 5/14: Since I wrote this post in October of 2013, I have begun to make some supplemental income for my family through blogging because of an online e-course called Rock Your Blog (affiliate link)–you can read a bit more about it in this post. Since I began implementing the principles learned there, I am making a part-time income, with the goal of being full-time within the next year. If you’re a blogger & want to know how you can make money from what you do as a blogger, I highly recommend this course. It connects all the dots, gives you the tools & shows you what you need to do to start making money from what you do. You can live on one income, but it’s certainly a blessing to be able to have supplemental income too!

Also see, out of debt: 5 steps, little things add up (5 ways I earn money)

We didn’t always live on one income. We weren’t always so fortunate.

For many years we juggled several part-time jobs, donating plasma (yes, that fit under the category of a job, & no, thank heavens, I was not the one donating), living on various stipends/student loans. There was a good year where Joseph taught high school & for a whole year we had a steady, sufficient income.

Now, though, the story is different. I no longer earn a paycheck, & Joseph has a job. Like, a real, grown-up job, one that can support a growing family.

“How exactly, can you afford so many kids?” 

When I went to lunch with Gena last November, she asked me, something along the lines: “How do you afford kids?” It’s a fair question.

I remember a wise older man, a father of many children, from my church growing up who once said, “If you wait to have kids until you can afford them, you’ll never have kids. You can never ‘afford’ kids.”

Now that Joseph is the one bringing home the proverbial (vegan) bacon, I admit, at times it’s been hard for me to adjust to the fact that I no longer contribute financially.

But one day, I realized, hey, that’s not true.

He’s the offense, I’m the defense. He scores the points (ie. money) & I defend the bank account. I manage our finances so that every penny earned is put to good use. That right there, is 90% of how we afford kids.

As long as we’ve been married, I’ve pretty much taken care of the grunt work of the finances. I create the budget, I pay the bills. I do (most of) the grocery shopping. But Joseph & I talk about all of our purchases, we go over our budget on a regular basis (which is easy to do with  He’ll call me at the store to tell me he’s going to buy some DVD’s (true story. happened yesterday). Not to get my permission, but rather to tell me what he’s doing, what do I think about it.  It’s our money, so we talk about everything we buy, be it big or small.


Let’s talk about equality, particularly equality as it applies in a marriage with children.

Equality, at least as I see it, is not as Sheryl Sandberg argues, “when half our homes are run by men and half our companies and institutions are run by women.” Nor is it as simplistic as suggesting that it’s achieved when both partners are earning an equal income.

Equality between the spouses, is a bit more nuanced.

It’s more than a title or paycheck, or a visible leadership position. It’s about respect, it’s about communication. At it’s heart, equality is about working together as partners, neither one spouse domineering or using their sex as an excuse for control, or to put it in religious terms, “unrighteous dominion.”

When Joseph & I married, we decided we wanted a big family.

We didn’t know (we still don’t know) exactly how many children, but we knew we wanted to be able to be in a place financially, where money would not hinder us from having more children if that’s what we felt like we should do.

Beyond that, we both feel strongly about having one parent stay at home. For the first 8 years, it wasn’t as cut & dry as one parent worked, one parent stayed at home. We worked together–Joseph worked, went to school, & helped with the child rearing. I worked & I helped care for our children.

It was a bit messy, but both of us learned how to work together. And we both came away from those years with a deep appreciation for the struggles (& joys) of working outside & inside of the home.

It’s my paycheck, too

Frugal habits begin with a respect for money. Each dollar in the checking account took time & effort to earn. It takes even more time & effort to make sure that those dollars, those pennies are spent judiciously.

And that’s my job. My job is to pay attention. Pay attention to when bills are due, what money is going where, & ask the questions: “How can save money on that purchase? Do we need it?”

Even though our monthly paycheck is made out in Joseph’s name, it’s my paycheck too.

I do the work that needs to be done at home so that Joseph can go to work & devote 100% of his time & attention to his job.

When there is only one income, both spouses work together to make that happen. It’s a joint effort, therefore, it’s a joint paycheck. Realizing this, is a big step in the direction of being equal partners.

I earn money when I save & it’s always easier to spend less than it is to earn more

Yesterday I did our monthly shopping trip to Costco. I spent $250 & saved $51 by using coupons for things like paper products, mouthwash, veggie burgers, & cereal. That’s a savings of 17%, on already really great prices, on items that I would have purchased anyway. I consider that $50, money that I earned.

“A penny saved, is a penny earned.”

A few other ways I “earn” money:

  • Gas. I buy gas from HEB (a local grocery chain) & save $.12 a gallon by buying their pre-paid cards. I buy those prepaid cards with my credit card that earns 1% cash back on all purchases. So when I combine the two, I save about $.15 a gallon on already the lowest gas prices around. $.15 may not sound like much, but when you multiply that by 50 or more gallons a month, I save an average of $10 to $15 dollars a month. Not a lot, but it costs me nothing in time or effort to do this, & I’m saving (ie. “earning”) money.
  • I’m a light hound. I turn off anything that uses electricity when it’s not necessary. I take advantage of natural light & have taught my kids to turn off lights when not needed. I put my computer on sleep when not in use during the day, shut it down at night. Unplug phone charges, blender, toaster, & other small appliances when not in use. Being careful about energy usage saves us $15-$20 a month. And it’s good for the environment.
  • Fitness can be free (or nearly free). Since I’ve retired from teaching fitness classes (for the time being), I’ve missed the comradery of group fitness & I almost bought a gym membership. But then didn’t. I realized I can exercise for free by walking my kids to school, going swimming at our (free) community pool, by dancing with my kids, by doing my own workouts. I also have a subscription to GiamTV that gives me access to over a thousand yoga & fitness videos for only $10 a month (you can try a FREE 10-day trial + get the second month free by using this link). That choice saves us $80+ a month.
  • Rice & beans, baby. I love rice & beans. Fortunately, so does everyone in my family. We eat some variation of rice & beans 3-4 days a week. Since this meal, with a side of fresh raw veggies, costs about $2 to make (& feeds 6), it saves us at least $50 or more a month.
  • Canceled my nook subscription to the NY Times. I love reading the paper every day. For a few months, I was paying $21 a month for a NY Times Nook subscription. Then one day, I realized, duh, why don’t you just read it on the web? It’s free! Sure, it’s not as user friendly, & I have to put up with a few annoying ad pop ups once in a while, but is it worth saving $21 a month? Yes.
  • Craigslist. For all that is good & holy, please give craiglist a try. You can get some amazing steals on items that people are dying to get rid of. Sometimes, barely even used!  I’ve bought two Pottery Barn couches ($650); a Pottery Barn white kitchen table ($250); a lawn mower ($35); a nearly brand new sectional sofa ($300); and two sets of wooden bunk beds, a matching dresser, nightstand, & a bookshelf ($550).  If I would have purchased these needed items brand new, I would have paid 3 X’s as much.

There are oodles of other ways we save money (maybe I’ll devote a whole post to it), but you get the idea. There are lots of ways to save a few dollars here & there. On their own, it doesn’t seem like much, but consider $100 a month saved adds up to $1200 in a years time.

Frugal is fun

It’s fun to save money.

It’s a mindset that has taken a few years, & few kids to really grasp, but I feel like once I realized that being frugal ultimately means more freedom, more time with my kids & husband, I realized that frugal really is fun.


Do you live on one income? Do you have kids? How do you make it work?


  1. Barbara S. Lahr
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  2. cara li
    on February 2, 2015 at 6:13 pm said:

    1. Try not to live paycheck to paycheck. Plan for life sucking at times.
    2. Try to have six months of budget saved up.
    3. If married, or have children, get life insurance.
    4. Try to enter into retirement debt free. You can save on things like gym (at Planet Fitness) and car insurance ($24/month at 4AutoInsuranceQuote). Try to cut back wherever.
    5. Look at your family medical history. Average out how long your ancestors lived. Add 5 years to that average. Is it 68? 75? 92?
    6. Now, plan to have what ever your budget is plus a 5% increase per year. If you have a 2k monthly budget now, that is 24k per year. Multiply that times an extra 5% per year. Finally, multiply that for how long you intend or think you will live. Me? My number is 144k (2kx12monthsx6years)(average family death=66 so I go to 71 (if I retire at 65).
    My number will rise with inflation.
    Now, this notion that we all need to save (or invest in 401’s) 1 or 1.5 million dollars is what the BANKS want you to do.
    7. What do I do with the rest of the money? LIVE LIFE TO THE FULLEST EVERYDAY YOU ARE ALIVE!!!!!!

  3. Sandra
    on September 25, 2014 at 9:27 pm said:

    I am interesting in “Frugal Living” as my husband is disabled and I am retired and working a part-time job. Things have been difficult. I have been reading everything that I can on being frugal and I am enjoying what I read very much. We just have to get into the idea of frugal living. To be truthful, it sounds like a lot of fun. Being new to this, it is difficult to understand since we have been living “the dream” for ten years. I am trying to understand just what to do to make our lives more fruitful and enjoyable. We live in a very small apartment and our rent is cheap for the city. The only problem is the apartment is all electric including the heat. We live in the Northeast and winters get very cold. We have been talking about purchasing a reasonably priced non-electric heater to heat our small apartment. I was wondering if anyone had any thoughts for a reasonably priced heater that will be safe. Thanks to everyone for listening!

  4. Courteney Miller
    on March 3, 2014 at 10:09 pm said:

    Hi! Well, we live basically on 1 income. My husband is an elementary school teacher and I am a photographer (I have good months and not so good months). We are struggling big time right now and I wish I could say we have a good plan of action and an end in sight but we don’t. Almost 2 years ago, we had no more savings to dip into to help us out with our mortgage so we put our house on the market and waited 7 months after 65 showings and only 1 offer and less than a month from foreclosure we sold our house (didn’t make anything on it but at least it was out from under us). We moved in with my in-laws next month will be 1 year since we’ve been here and we are still paying the minimums on our credit cards. We live very frugal…obviously no mortgage or utilities right now but we try to save in whatever ways we can on everything else. We do spend quite a bit on groceries but that is because we buy mostly organic fruits and veggies, grass fed beef, get raw milk and free range/cage free eggs from a farm, etc. We also put our children’s (5 and 3 years old) education before debt. They attend a Waldorf school which is where we want them to go throughout their education. We have tried the dave ramsey budget (actually we paid off $24,000 before we had children and it took only 14 months!) but it seems with 1 income that doens’t even cover our monthly bills, that are just in a hole and I’ve tried budgeting for an irregular income but it just doesn’t seem to flow. Any advice or words of encouragement would be greatly appreciated!

  5. julia-tagandtibby
    on November 14, 2013 at 12:29 pm said:

    Hi! Stopping over from Pars Caeli and I loved this post! We live on 1 income (plus what I make from the Etsy shop. which isn’t a lot at this point) and have learned to be frugal. I get my hair cut at a salon school and shop at thrift stores..have a great day!

  6. Claire
    on June 24, 2013 at 1:36 am said:

    Thank you for this blog. We have been living on one income since March 2012 but finances have gotten tighter in the last 5 months due to a loss of a portion of that one income. I am a Navy wife and we lived in Japan for a couple years, and coming (back) to the US was an adjustment due to losing COLA and the difficulty in finding a job for me, while at the same time having a 9-year-old and a 3-year-old (with an upcoming heart surgery) to take care of. It must have been God that told me that I have been stressing so much it is time to accept that we are going to live on one income and we’re gonna like it! Lol But seriously, I believe that everything happens for a reason and today I felt so down that after the boys went to bed I decided to google the keywords “family living on one income” and I found your page. Your blog is inspiring and it helps remind people of some important things like “contentment” and is a testament to the fact that even if one does not have many material things or luxuries, they can still be happy. I totally agree that having one parent stay at home with the children promotes stability and that is something I absolutely want for our kids. In all honesty, I do not want to work because I want to take care of our children and the home. Call me “traditional” but I want to cook for them, bathe them, play with them, teach them, etc.. I want to be there when my husband comes home and be the one to comfort him after a stressful day or be the first one to hear good stories of how his day at work went… I only want to find a job because I know it is most ideal for our family’s finances to have a second income, with $15K in credit card debt and $35K in student loans.. I am sharing your blog on my facebook and I will mention the great points you mentioned here to my husband. 🙂 Thank you!

  7. sasha
    on May 9, 2013 at 1:09 pm said:

    Hi, I just happened upon this website and love this post. I’ve been struggling with being a SAHM and one income for a couple of decades and I’m heartened to hear that I’m not alone. I very much appreciated Jane’s insight that we both earn his paycheck. I do the exact same things as were mentioned here (except Costco — I’ve found except for generic type drugs such as ibuprofen and some antihistamines — I do better on everything they sell there elsewhere). Which brings me to that other insight that frugal can be fun. It sure can. I love the independance it gives too and knowing we’re benefiting the environment as well as protecting the mental health of our kids by just being around. It is amazing how important the presence of parents in childhood is to the development of conscience and emotional resilience. I wish we cared as much about that as we do a child’s future job prospects. Anyway, thank you! What a great post.

  8. kimberlee
    on April 18, 2013 at 1:31 am said:

    I love your post. I get this question asked a lot from me, my family as well lives off one income thats not very steady but we still have great meals, spend lots of time together and live in a small house… we almost live by the same motto.. “Frugal is fun”

  9. April
    on April 15, 2013 at 5:52 am said:

    I really really love these type of particular posts. I love hearing how you save money and your perspective on things dealing w/ money and staying home. I need to hear these reminders and posting them is a help to our family! Thank you! I stay home and do my best to not overspend but it is so hard! I know that I spend less than probably 90% of my peers in the same situation but I still wish I was able to do with and spend less. Reading posts like this is fuel for me to keep on keeping on! Thank you again!

    Ps. I, like other readers, would love to hear more tips on frugal living-esp the food recipes. I know that they are simple and not necessarily original but again, seeing what you’re doing sparks in me to try it and rethink how we are doing things.

  10. Poor to Rich a Day at a Time
    on April 13, 2013 at 4:28 pm said:

    Yes we live on a one minimum wage income, although I did accept food stamps fairly recently due to stage 4 BREAST cancer diagnosis. The one downfall of our one and low income was lack of health insurance. We do pretty good and lead a frugal but joyful life otherwise. We have an 11 and 15 year-old that we homeschool and an adult son who will be moving out soon.A positive mind and lots of gratitude goes a long ways on one income!

  11. janet @ the taste space
    on April 12, 2013 at 10:15 pm said:

    I am the same way. I have no kids but still in student mode. Earning more money means I can save more. Rice and beans, baby! I hope you share some beany recipes. 🙂

  12. Adina | Gluten Free Travelette
    on April 12, 2013 at 8:07 pm said:

    I love your thoughts on this topic Janae – especially the part about thinking of the paycheck as both of yours. I feel the exact same way.

  13. Lindsay
    on April 12, 2013 at 5:44 pm said:

    This is a really wonderful and insightful post! We have just recently transitioned to a one (consistent) income family and are still trying to figure it all out. On top of that we my husband is currently working on contract which means a lot more money to manage but also trying to figure out our own insurance and retirement savings until he gets back to full time. We are trying to strike the right balance and now that we have finally settled into our new home we are hoping to pay off some looming debt and save a ton of money while we can.

  14. Quin
    on April 12, 2013 at 4:30 pm said:

    LFWFV- what a great addition to this post! I agree 100%!
    Lanae thank you for this post! What a great way to put it! We chose not to use credit cards because we have seen so many families ruined by the financial mess they created using them. So we really only live on what we can afford! And I feel that has been a blessing to us! Even with homeschooling our children and finding ways to educate them on a budget has been wonderful lessons for my girls! So thanks again for this post! It was a perfect reminder!

  15. lfwfv
    on April 12, 2013 at 12:55 pm said:

    I love what you said about equality in the marriage Janae. I totally agree with deciding as a spousal “team” where your money goes, and recognizing that we work together to make (and save) income. For me, that also means not getting upset when my husband has to work long hours. He would certainly rather be home with us, but the reality is that, in order to bring home stable income, sometimes his job requires him to work more hours than he is paid to work. He needs a wife who supports his commitment to providing for us, not one who nags him to be home when he can’t be.

    We use credit cards and reward points to stretch our budget, “fuel perks” at our grocery store, Amazon, Goodwill, asking what we need instead of what we want, limiting vacations, eating at home (always), buying in bulk when things are on sale, cooking from scratch, filling up on brown rice and oats (cheap grains that are nutritious and filling), cooking our own beans, simplifying (for instance, minimizing toys that are “gimmicky” and aiming instead to have basics like cups/blocks/balls for our little man)…probably more that i’m forgetting. oh, and we loooooooooove Costco and save so much money on produce and paper products there.