How We Learned to Live on One Income

by Sue Dobbins


First on our list was to decide that a one income lifestyle was what we truly wanted. Gary and I spent a lot of time discussing our individual goals and our joint goals. It is important to remember that in order for this type of change to be successful each partner must have a sense of personal accomplishment and satisfaction through their day to day activities. If either partner believes that his/her worth is tied to a paycheck and to the "things" that can be acquired with that paycheck, then this venture will only yield an unhappy and unfulfilling situation for both partners. Gary and I both had to believe that my being home was going to have value to each of us both personally and as a couple. I think that is the real key to making this a success.

Once we determined that a one-income lifestyle was for us, we then made a commitment to figure out how best to go about achieving it and how best to maintain it throughout the years. (We did this while I was still employed of course.) This process requires that you look at ever part of your life to determine if one income will afford you the lifestyle you want. We made a list of everything (a budget-type list would work,): groceries, housing , medical, auto, education, entertainment, clothing, vacations, new cars, retirement, safety net fund, Gary's career plan, etc. Once that list was complete we discussed each item and determined our basic needs and expectations and what resources would be required to fulfill them. Remember that resources does not always equate to money. In addition to money, time would be a factor if Gary wanted to go back to school in order to advance his career. Be thorough when looking at your list because the list evolves into your plan.

Now that we had a plan the next step was to put the plan to work and determine when I would be able to leave my paid employment. Our main issue was building up our safety net fund. Part of our plan was to have six months of living expenses in savings before we made the change. What we decided to do was to begin living as if we had only Gary's income and put all other earnings toward the safety net fund. This worked for us in two ways: first, we were able to build our fund quickly and second, by the time I left my job we were already used to living and working our new plan. This process really set us off on the right foot.

I believe the following popular phrase sums up our process: "You must plan your work and then work your plan."

We used a lot of resources in our planning the most helpful of which was the book "Your Money or Your Life," not because of the specific ideas on finances, but because of the money-relationship concept that it espoused. In order to be successful, whether you live on one income or multiple incomes, you must understand how money CAN and DOES affect your life. Although we looked at the lives of many well-known "frugalites" like Amy Dacyzyn of Tightwad Gazette fame we found that not all the things that worked for them worked for us. For instance, buying in bulk is definitely a good idea, but, we did not look at the time it would take us to consume the quantities, so some things went bad before we used them up. And since my motto is never leave a negative situation negative, we took that experience and learned how to buy food in the best quantities for us.

There are so many other things that we have learned, but I will stop with this. I could go on forever because this is a constant learning process and I just love the challenges we face together. I just love talking to people about this and trying to educate those who believe the myth that it takes A LOT of money to make it these days. I know that some will scoff at us because we have no children, but if we did they would have been factors in our list and in our plan and if we wanted to make it work we would have figured out how.


My husband Gary and I have been married for a little over ten years. Gary has always worked as a computer System's Analyst and I spent many years working as a Collection's Agent and later as an Electronics' Buyer. Our hectic job schedules kept us very busy and did not allow us the quantity or quality of time together that we both wanted. We got very tired of whisking in and out of the house at different times, eating breakfast on the run, dinner at the drive-thru and knowing only snippets of each other's lives. So, three years ago we decided to make a change to a one-income lifestyle that would afford us the opportunity to share time together the way we really wanted to. We enjoy hiking, camping, biking, but most of all just being homebodies, eating dinner together, taking a walk in the mornings or just having the time to do our own thing. I think the one thing we have learned from this transition is that time is a commodity that people rarely put a price on and yet it is probably the most valuable thing we possess.

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