In an age of so many dual-income families, is it really possible to live well on just one income?

Absolutely! Trust me, I know. We are a family of six, living on one income–a military income. After I enlisted in the military, we decided it would be best for my wife to stay home with the kids; that’s when we made the transition. Now we are happily a single-income family. I’m going to show you how we do it, and how you can too.

Why one income?

Families go to one income for all kinds of reasons. You may want one of you to stay home with the kids. You may have calculated the cost and realized it cost almost as much as one of your incomes in daycare and travel expenses for both of you to work. You may want to live a more minimalist lifestyle and focus less on earning more money. Or you may not be a single-income family by choice. One of you could have been laid off, but the good news is that you can live well on one income–it could have been a blessing in disguise.

No matter your reason, here’s how to make it work:

1. Stick to the plan

Planning is everything. You can live on almost any income if you budget and make a plan for every dollar. And it can become fun to see how far you can stretch it. So what does this mean?

  • Set a budget. Yes, you need a budget. If you have one, stick to it. If you don’t have one, it starts simply by tracking your purchases for a month, then setting each category. See where you can cut back. If you’ve recently became a single-income household, you may notice that you’re spending much less.
  • Plan your meals. Meal planning is huge. You should know exactly what you’re going to buy when you walk into the grocery store, and you should know exactly what you’re going to make out of it. It’s surprising how much food we all have in our homes that we don’t eat because we don’t have a plan for it.
  • Plan your vacations. If you go on an annual vacation, you have an entire year to save for it. Figure out how much you’ll need ahead of time, and divide it by 12 months to get a monthly amount to save. Vacations don’t have to cost a lot; our family usually spends less than $500 on each vacation we take.

You’ve heard “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail” and this couldn’t be more true in your finances. You’ll be amazed at what you can afford if you plan. Joshua Becker says, when it comes to purchases, “ask when and why, not if”. Even on one income there doesn’t have to be trade-offs, but it is all about timing and planning.

2. Spend based on priorities

Are you trying to keep up with the Joneses? You shouldn’t be, because the Joneses are broke. Don’t make purchases to impress others, make purchases based on your priorities.

If you truly value family above materialism, do your purchases reflect that?

This is an important question for all of us to ask occasionally. It’s easy to get caught up in the consumerist mindset of earning more and spending more to be happy, but that’s a lie. Rich people aren’t any happier than the rest of us. There’s nothing wrong with having more money, but make sure your spending is lining up with your priorities. Just spend an extra few seconds thinking about each purchase to decide if you really need it. You’ll be surprised how often you don’t.

3. Cut the cable

Speaking of priorities, where is TV on that list? We cut the cable over five years ago and haven’t looked back since. We spend more quality time together as a family. We spend more time reading, which has led to much financial success (finance books are my favorite). There are a thousand reasons to cut the cable, and I have yet to find one good reason to keep it. If you must watch TV, consider Netflix or keep some DVDs around.

4. Move…or don’t

If you’re new to the single-income life, you may be ready for a downsize. We usually don’t need as much house as we think we do; however, you’ll want to calculate the cost first.  Moving isn’t cheap, so it needs to be financially worth it to really make the leap. That being said, if you’re living above your means, consider moving into a more affordable house. It doesn’t have to be permanent.

5. Learn to barter

What are you good at? Landscaping? Cleaning? Home repairs? That’s as good as cash. Reach out to your friends and neighbors, and figure out where you can trade your services. Bartering is the ultimate win-win scenario. This works especially well for babysitting, whether you need a babysitter for a date night or for running errands–find someone to swap with. You both get free childcare, and you both get more done.

6. Use your resources

There are resources in your city, you just have to find them. It could be a local food bank that is looking for volunteers, and, in exchange, you take some food home. Or you could be in a place where you just need to go to the food bank and get some food. There’s no shame in that; that’s what they’re for. From food banks to food co-ops to clipping coupons, know your resources and use them. The more resourceful you become, the more you will be able to live well on one income.

7. Dump your debt

If you’re new to the single-income lifestyle, you may be wondering how you can get debt-free on less money than you were making before. Dumping your debt doesn’t have to cost more money. That’s right, there are ways to make an impact without spending more. For starters, you can call and negotiate with your credit card companies to lower your interest rates and possibly even your balance.

If you’re serious about paying off your debt, and you don’t plan on going further into debt, consider a balance transfer to lower your interest rate. You must be serious about not incurring anymore debt or this just provides a way for you to go into more debt. But if you really are done with being in debt, a balance transfer can help. For example, if you can pay off your debt in 15 months, the Chase Slate offers 0% interest rate for balance transfers for the first 15 months, with no transfer fee. But you need to be sure you can pay it off in 15 months or the interest rate will go back up to the standard rate.

8. Prepare for emergencies

Emergency funds are a better option than a credit card when disaster strikes. Even if you can only save $50 each month, start putting something away in a savings or money-market account for unexpected expenses. Ideally you’ll want three to six months of living expenses, but $1,000 is a good starting place. Of course, $500 is better than nothing. The idea is to have some funds to dip into in the event of an emergency so that you don’t get into a worse financial spot by taking out a loan or using a card.

9. Sell a car

Do you have more than one car? Do you need more than one car? Maybe you do, but maybe you haven’t really thought about it. You may have needed two vehicles when both of you worked, but it could make sense to sell one now, especially if you have a car payment. Dave Ramsey always jokes that his show should be called the “Sell the Car Show”, because of how often that’s the most appropriate solution.

10. Save for big purchases

If you have to finance it, you can’t afford it. Instead of taking out a loan for a car or other big purchase, why not make interest-free payments into a savings account right now? Think of it like a layaway plan; you’re saving until you have the full amount. Then you can make the debt-free purchase. If this doesn’t seem possible for some things, you may be living above your means. The bottom line is that credit card and loan interest will destroy your finances. Anything you can do to avoid interest will set you up for success.

Featured photo credit: Crowd of People Crossing an Old Prague Road/Viktor Hanacek via picjumbo.com

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