Tips For Living On One Income

The Truth About Living On One Modest Income


The decision to be a stay at home mom and leave my 7-year career behind was an easy one. We knew living on one income would be tough but jumped all in knowing we wanted me to be home with my daughter. 


We live on one income because we were and still are willing to make sacrifices so that we can be the sole caregivers of our daughter. 


Even though the decision was easy the road has been bumpy and living on one income definitely has its challenges. 


I’m going to be completely honest and tell you about the sacrifices that need to be made. But know this… everything is totally worth it! I would never have it any other way. 


Some Background On Our One Income


I’m not going to tell you exactly how much we make. I don’t need you comparing yourself to me and my family. Everything is relative based on how much your expenses are anyways. But I will try and paint a picture for you, so you can see that our income has been extremely modest. If we can do this… you can do this too. 


Before I left my job, I was a teacher and I made more money than my husband. He was still working his way up through his company and was working on his college degree. 


I was the head Cross Country coach and had my master’s, so that did help my pay, but I was making an average teaching salary that accounted for at least 60% of our household income. 


When I left we gave up 60% of our income. And if you think real hard about what teachers make in the Midwest, you’ll understand we weren’t left with a huge household income when we made this decision. 


Our Expenses


To continue to paint a picture for you I’ll let you know that while living on this one income we’ve had to pay our mortgage, my student loans (from the private university I attended), and our regular day to day expenses… utilities, insurance, cell phones, internet, and groceries. 


We are a family of 3 with two large dogs. 


And of course, you can’t ever get away without having some sort of emergency come up.  


We have no car payments because we paid cash for one and I paid mine off before we got married. 


In addition to all of this, we have put a large chunk of change into a start-up business that required us to file a provisional patent. In other words, we’ve been able to save a lot as well. (At the time of writing this we do not make any income through this side business, yet) 


Also, at this time I do make extra income with this blog. It’s not a ton but it is very helpful! However, it took a lot of time and hard work to get to this point and for the first two years I made pennies with my blog. So when I’m giving you these tips, please realize they are coming from a girl who knows full well what it’s like to live on one very modest income…to have to sell things from the basement to get groceries for the week. 


Through all of this, we have never missed a bill and have no debt beyond our mortgage and student loan (that I acquired before we had ever even met). Bless the husbands who let you stay home with your child while their hard-earned money goes to your student loan debt. 


Okay, so I told you all of this so that you could see that living on one income really is possible. I whole-heartedly believe that almost anyone can live on one income. It’s not easy and I, of course, don’t know your financial situation, but I wholeheartedly believe it is more doable than you think… most of us are just making excuses when we say we “have to work.”


I do however understand that not everyone wants to stay at home and not everyone wants to live on one income. If that’s not what you want, if that’s not what you feel called to do then I totally get that, understand it, and think there is nothing wrong with that. 


Tips For Living On One Income


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Shopping Is Not A Hobby


Stop going shopping for “fun.” Just stop. When you find yourself bored or like you just have to get out of the house because the kids are driving you nuts… find something else to do. 


Don’t window shop, don’t go with a friend just for fun… just don’t shop until you need something. And even then wait until you need multiple things and go all at once. 


I find that running to the store to “grab that one thing” turns into 5 things or even 10 things. 


Learn how to go without and only shop when you NEED to. 


Get a new hobby… shopping should never be a hobby. Read some books, go to the park, go for a walk, go for a drive so your crazy children are strapped in… but don’t go into the store. 


Related: 7 Unique Ways To Be More Frugal


Find Free and Low-Cost Entertainment


You will have to sacrifice going to the movies and going out to eat. I’m sure you knew this. The good news is that you can still have fun at a low cost. 


With my daughter, we do crafts and activities, go to the park, play in our own yard, look at animals in the pet store, and go to the Library. 


My husband and I watch movies at home, play games, and often have fun snacks on hand. 


If you play your cards right (have a budget) you will still be able to go out and do fun things. We’ve seen plenty of movies, eaten plenty of Texas Roadhouse, and taken our daughter to do fun activities as well. 


Have A Budget And Stick To It


This is an obvious one but it is completely necessary. You have to know where every last penny of your money is going each month. 


Write all of your monthly bills on a calendar (on their due date). Then think of every random bill you can think of… Amazon Prime once a year, car tags once a year, the PlayStation fee every 3 months, oil changes… anything and everything you need to be prepared for. Then write those down and plan for them so they don’t surprise for you. 


Make sure you have money for all the bills each month and decide what you will do with the leftovers. This is where you put money into the spending accounts and saving accounts. Make sure you account for groceries, gas, personal items, hair cuts, etc. 


Have an account for all of your bills and nothing else. Let that account only be for the bills so you don’t accidentally spend the money that is meant for bills. 


Look Over The Bills Often


Don’t just do this process with the bills once and call it good. Do it every week or at the very minimum every time you get paid. Each month write the bills on the calendar and anything extra you know will need to be paid that month. 


Since you are staying home now it is your responsibility to be responsible with your spending. It doesn’t matter who is taking care of the bills just make sure you are communicating and that each person knows which money is for what… when to cut back on spending and when you have a little extra so you can breathe a little bit… go on a date or take your kids to the petting zoo. 


Also, if you have a family like ours you will get invited to a lot of birthdays plus there is Christmas… don’t get yourself into a financial bind because of gift-giving. Put back a little bit each month for future gifts. If even this is hard, you can find very reasonably priced gifts. Just don’t buy gifts if you don’t have the money… people are more understanding than we think. 


Cut Back On Every Expense


Once you have all of the bills listed out, look over each one and think of ways you can lower each one. Realistically there will be ones you can’t lower… you can’t do much about the mortgage… unless you want to downsize, which is actually an option if you are in the situation where one income won’t even pay the bills. 


Anyway, find ways to cut back on your expenses or totally get rid of them. 


Move to a cheaper phone company, cut the cable, end all of your subscriptions, turn the air conditioning on less, etc. 


Have a Strict Grocery Budget


Groceries can easily make or break your budget. It is so easy to overspend on groceries. However, you can spend very little on groceries if you try. 


Come up with some very simple meals that are very cheap and make these your go-to dinners when things are tight. Eat the leftovers for lunch. Eggs are your bff for breakfast and cheap dinners. 


You can still eat healthy as well. We aren’t the picture-perfect healthy eating family, but we do pretty well, most of the time. I worked it out so that when we really needed to we could spend under $50 a week on groceries for the 3 of us. 


I found that shopping at Aldi helps. Plus, don’t be afraid to use your calculator while shopping… in fact, I insist on it. 


We cut back on the treats, bought the essentials, and were still able to buy cookie dough each week. We were never without and still always had plenty in the fridge and pantry, plus our go-to special treat. 


Also, before you grocery shop… looking through the pantry and refrigerator and design meals for the up comping week based on leftovers. 


Here are some other tips on saving money on groceries.


Own Some Board Games


Use some of your extra money to invest in some board games. This will be a small investment that could save you a lot of wasted money on outside entertainment. You can play these with friends and with your spouse. 


When friends want to get together, invite them to your house to play some board games. 


You have a lot of fun and save a lot of money. You can offer cookies (from that cookie dough you buy each week with your grocery budget) and tea. Or there are plenty of cheap dinners that feed a bunch of people. 


You can even ask others to bring things to help with the meal. I find true friends and family are always willing to help feed everyone. 


Also, I find giving what we have (even if it’s not much) is such a blessing on its own. Spaghetti around the table with some board games is a much better time than eating out at an expensive restaurant or going to a movie where you can’t even talk. 


These are our favorite board games:


Have A Minimalist Wardrobe


I truly believe in decluttering your whole house and then seeing the benefits… which include learning how to not waste money on products you never use. 


It’s the number one way to keep your house clean and it’s the number one way to keep your spending under control. 


Which is why I believe so strongly in having a minimalist wardrobe


Declutter your closet, see how much money you wasted on things you don’t wear and then stop buying new things until you NEED them. 


Buy clothing that can go with many different outfits. Ask yourself… how many ways can I wear this and how many different places can I wear this? 


Stop buying fast fashion and be responsible for your wardrobe. This doesn’t mean it has to be all black and white. You can still express yourself with your clothing… you just don’t need so much. You don’t need that new dress… I promise. 


Unfollow Accounts On Instagram Who Make You Want To Buy


One random day I realized that I would see all these cute things on Instagram and then I would start looking through the website and then I would start planning out how I was going to buy this…


Don’t. Do. That!


Stop following those accounts. I get it… you want to support your favorite brands… but are they supporting you? Are they making you feel like you need their products for life to be “better?” 


Unless it is your best friends small shop… stop following. You’ll stop seeing those products and in turn, you will stop wanting to buy them. 


Related: Declutter Your Digital Life


Sell Your Clutter


I mentioned earlier that you should declutter your house. Not only does this allow you to see where you have been wasting some money over the years, but it also gives you a few things to sell. 


After going through my whole house there were a few high ticket items that we really weren’t using and were just taking up space. I put these on Facebook Marketplace and waited patiently for them to sell. 


Crazy enough, everything sold at the exact time we needed some extra money. 


I remember telling my husband… we have no money for groceries this week because some emergency spending had come up. We decided we would just make do with all the things we did have in our pantry/fridge. Eating Ramen Noodles really isn’t too bad. 


However, the very next day, someone wanted to buy something that had been on Facebook for months. 


The timing was always perfect like this. (more about this in my last point)


I should mention that having “no” money for groceries didn’t mean our bank accounts were down to zero. It meant that the account we allow ourselves to buy groceries from was down to zero. We still had money in other accounts such as savings and the account we buy gifts from. 


But it is very important to us that we don’t spend from those accounts… once you take money from an account that was designated for a different purpose… that is when you start a slippery slope and get yourself into holes that are hard to climb out of. 


We had random food in our house that could be eaten. Learn to make do with what you have. 


Tell People No


People will ask you to go places or do things that you don’t have money for. Or maybe you do have the money, but like us, we wanted to save it for our business or our emergency fund. 


You have to say no and you have to try not to be embarrassed about it. 


Honestly, you don’t even have to explain yourself. Just say you can’t, or suggest something that is cheaper or free, like coming over for board games. 


Just don’t lie because they’ll keep asking. It’s okay to let people know that you have made this decision for your family and that means less eating out or whatever the situation is. 


Let Others Be A Blessing To You


When it comes to birthday’s and Christmas make it known that you want practical gifts. While it’s nice to get a new dress or necklace, it’s even nicer to get a date night paid for or money for something that needs to be fixed. 


We have been able to go on a lot of date nights, and even Disneyland because of gifts from other people. These experience type gifts have really been a blessing to our family while we watch our spending. 


Also, don’t say no to your mom offering to let you use her Netflix login. 🙂


A few times it has even gone beyond this and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that this part has been hard for me a couple of times. Accepting generous gifts from family members who know we live on one modest income… my pride can often get in the way, but once again these generous gifts have always come at the right time. 


Accept the gifts, my friend… the gift cards, the cash that your mother-in-law hides on the nightstand, and the clothes your parents buy for your kids. 


Accept it and let them be a blessing to you. God has laid it on their hearts to be kind and generous to you… don’t refuse that because of your pride. 


I’m not saying run around asking for handouts and acting as a charity case… I’m just saying, accept the gifts. 


Have Faith That The Lord Will Take Care Of You


This has to be the case from day one. Just giving up the one income and leaping headfirst into the unknown takes a lot of faith in itself. I promise the Lord will bless you for following his calling (if this is what he has called you to do). 


It’s what he called us to do and we hesitated a bit and we’ve doubted, but we keep moving forward and try to be a good steward of the money that He gives us. 


You can’t expect big fancy houses, and steak dinners every night, but you can expect that you will always have everything that you need. God will take care of you and he will provide for you. Even when your dog almost dies and you have crazy vet bill, your toilet breaks, your basement floods… these things happen and yet we’ve always had a way to pay for it. 


We always have everything we need and MORE. Practice being content with what you have instead of focusing on what you don’t have. 


And before I go I do want to say this… consider giving your tithe to your church. Look it up in the Bible (or feel free to ask me questions) and pray about it. Tithing has been a huge blessing for us and a way of showing the Lord that we believe he will take care of us. I strongly believe our willingness to give back a piece of what is already His has been a huge blessing beyond anything I can even explain. 


The Lord is GOOD and has always provided us with what we need and more than that. We have never gone without and we are still living a very comfortable life. 


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Here are some more ideas I have on frugal living


My main passion is helping women build systems and routines that make homemaking simple. I find this possible through simplifying life, decluttering, and building routines that work for your household. If you love all of that or want to learn more you should jump on my email list. I’ll send you a bunch of info on how I take care of my house, free access to my printables library, and a weekly newsletter with challenges and tips. Hope to see you there. 


Either way, thanks again, and come back any time. 🙂 



1 Comment

  1. Debt Smashing

    September 18, 2019 at 12:49 pm

    These are greats tips. I’ve always wanted to be a stay at home, but when I got pregnant with twins, it was hard for me to actually go through with it since I was scared that we couldn’t make it on one income alone. Since then we’ve gotten more disciplined with funds, and hopefully soon I will be able to finally stay home with my babies.

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