Parents in America face a lot of hard choices regarding family leave and child care. My husband and I are no different.
Like any young couple, we discussed our plans for a family from the very start. We always agreed when we had kids, I’d become a stay-at-home mom for a few years until the children went off to kindergarten.
However, this dream seemed almost impossible. Could a family still manage to live on one income in the 21st century? That was the question we had to answer.
Our first (and only, for now) child was born in 2013, but we started planning to transition to one income when we got engaged in 2010.
We’ve now been living the one-income dream for three years. Though I can’t speak for everyone, I can tell you how our small family is flourishing on a public school teacher’s salary, which averaged about $56,000 in 2013.
Living on One Income
A lot of time, effort and planning went into making it possible for us to live on a single income. We accomplished our goal by doing the following:
1. We Planned Ahead
We were both working full time when we purchased our home, but we knew I’d stay home one day.
We bought accordingly, selecting a house and mortgage well below what the bank offered us.
We also had a target number in mind for all housing-related monthly expenses, one we knew we could pay on one salary. The mortgage payment, homeowner’s insurance, property taxes and HOA fees all had to come in below this amount.
We showed restraint, but we were still able to buy a brand-new home.
2. We Paid Down Debts
There’s no way I could stay at home if we were drowning in debt.
Before I quit my job, we paid off my husband’s student loans ($250/month) and both our car loans ($480/month) for a total budget reduction of $730 a month.
I also paid off about $3,500 in credit card debt after our daughter was born by picking up extra classes as an adjunct professor.
We aren’t completely debt-free – we still have my student loans and the mortgage – but we’re on our way.
3. We Shopped Around
The savings really add up.
4. We Budget
We make a budget each month and use an app called Goodbudget to track our spending.
Since we pay most of our bills automatically, we only create three envelopes in the app: groceries, gas and incidentals, which covers haircuts, oil changes, prescriptions, birthday presents and other randomness.
We both have the app, which syncs regularly so we can see our spending in real time.
5. We Make Sacrifices
I know many women want to work full time and many other women have absolutely no choice but to work.
That being said, sacrifice is part of the equation for every stay-at-home mom I know.
For our family, this means driving older cars, going out much less, taking fewer and shorter vacations, searching for free entertainment, and planning and saving for anything that’s not a necessity.
How We Thrive on a Single Income
It isn’t all work, no play at our house. Here’s how we keep the fun going with less money.
6. We Have Supplemental income
We actually live on about 1.25 incomes.
When I was working full time, I made $41,000 per year. I now work 10-15 hours each week teaching and freelance writing. This supplemental money — about $10,000 per year — is usually gravy to our budget.
The “wiggle room” lowers tension and keeps our worries at bay (as does our emergency fund).
7. We Use Co-op Babysitting
We trade babysitting services with another couple to lower the cost of going out.
They watch our daughter once a month for free. The next month, we babysit their kids for free. We also use our parents and siblings whenever we can!
8. We Have a Date Night Envelope
During the 10 months I was pregnant, we asked for gift cards to restaurants and the movie theater for every birthday and gift-giving holiday.
By the time the baby was born, we had an envelope filled with enough gift cards for us to go on a date each month, and we continue to add to the envelope.
We get some peace of mind knowing the dates will come and they’re already paid for. We can look forward to alone time together without having to worry about stretching our budget for date nights.
9. We Joined the YMCA
Joining our local YMCA has been one of the best things we’ve done.
We pay full price for a family membership ($79 a month). It’s a bargain for what we receive in return: access to the gym, a variety of fitness classes, computer lab and a pool. I challenge you to find another place offering so much for so little!
Additionally, our daughter can be in the Kids Zone for an hour and a half each day while we’re there. This means I can take her for quality play time with new toys and new friends — and I can get some “me” time whenever I need it.
This has done wonders for my sanity as a stay-at-home mom.
10. We Have Personal Fun Money
In our marriage, money is combined and we make money decisions together.
But we also budget for what Dave Ramsey calls “blow money.” The amount changes depending on our expenses, but my husband can do whatever he wants with his fun money without consulting me, and I can do the same without consulting him.
We feel this gives us the best of both worlds: We’re on the same page as a couple about our financial future, but we individually have an outlet to spend autonomously and blow off steam.
Living on a Single Income was an Adjustment
I’ll admit, there was a little bit of financial culture shock the first year I stayed home.
It was hard to adjust our lifestyle at first, but now we’re thriving in our “new normal.” We appreciate each dollar more and make wiser decisions.
Whenever we feel like giving up, we refocus on the prize of experiencing day-to-day life with our little one.
And we’re excited about the idea of continuing to live on one income once I go back to work. Then we can use most of my salary to achieve some big-picture financial goals, while adding a few more luxuries back into the picture.
Most importantly, we’ve learned we can work together and make our money work for us to create the life we want.
Your Turn: Has your family ever lived off one income? Share your experiences in the comments below!
Leah Baacke is a stay-at-home mom, adjunct professor and freelance writer. She is a Florida native and currently lives in the Tampa Bay area.