One Income Family
by R.K. Relaford
My Story: Living on One Income
Maintaining the One-Income Lifestyle
A Single Mom's Secrets
"Your boy BIT me!" His voice thundered in my ears. A boy of approximately two years of age was bellowing in my face. He was about twice the size of my son, no mean feat. I looked behind the toy house at our indoor playpark and there was my son, cool as a cucumber, not the least bit upset. I, however, became really upset, but didn't let it show. The boy's mom was calm as I apologized profusely, "They're kids," she said, matter-of-factly. As I prepared my child to leave (You bite, we go bye-bye) I thought - Ok, I work my behind off to live on a single income for what reason again? Somebody remind me why I'm doing this myself instead of working full time and turning this headache over to a nanny? On these days, my life is a scene straight out of *Diary of a Mad Housewife*.
Actually, I think of that movie to remind me that my life could indeed be worse. Affluence does not spare you life's little inconveniences. So, why did we decide to live on a single income two years ago? It is an answer that we are still figuring out, but while we obsess, whaddyaknow, it's working! There's more money at the end of the month instead of the other way around. Our savings has grown, and we are paying down our remaining debts. How on earth did this happen?
We are a family of three living on my husband's income from being a high school math teacher and track coach. Pause. Yeah, that's right - not much! I was an elementary school teacher before my extended maternity leave, so effectively we are living on about half of what we could be bringing in as a two-income family. On the surface it may seem as though we chose the harder row to hoe, but we have been pleasantly surprised on many levels. So much so that I thought I would share a brief version of where we were, what we did, and how we live. I have come to believe that this lifestyle is possible for just about any family - it's all in setting it as a priority, keeping true to your vision, and ignoring those little voices in your head that are telling you that you're falling behind on the conspicuous consumption continuum.
I found out I was pregnant March 31, 1996. Between this delightful discovery and my son's birth on November 24, we survived losing my job and my husband almost losing his. However, we did not panic. We had been tracking our expenses and trying to stick to a budget for over a year with an eye to pay off debts and increase our nest egg. We had used our extra income to pay off all our high interest debts, leaving us each with one credit card in our own name that we paid off in full each month. My husband was in the process of completing his master's degree which would bring him 5-6K more in salary and he was going to be changing from a volunteer track coach to a paid position. Within a few months of his lay-off notice, he was rehired. I on the other hand, was not rehired at my position due to my pregnancy, and I had decided that I would not try to find another job. I would be visibly pregnant and I figured that if I couldn't get hired at a job where I was known and loved because of my pregnancy, my chances of landing a job elsewhere would be slim. I was apprehensive but felt I would try to work at living on my husband's income.
So, at the time of my son's birth, we had made some significant adjustments to live on what we had. Rather than bore you with details, suffice to say, we approached our spending with an eye to the value and necessity of the acquisition. I approach purchases with the question in the back of my mind "Is it worth having to go back to work in order to be able to afford this particular item?" When I considered going back to teaching briefly, a cursory cost-benefit analysis quickly made me realize that I would not be bringing home enough money to justify the time away from my son, the stress it would put on my husband and me to coordinate our son's care, and juggle household duties.
With me at home, we are more relaxed parents. Not only do I have the time to be a hands-on parent, but so does my husband, even though he works longer hours for extra duty pay. When he comes home, he doesn't have to rush around trying to help me complete what we didn't have time to do during the day, freeing us to enjoy family meals and a quieter, calmer evening with our son.
Now, we are not living in blissful idyll without a care in the world. We have had to postpone buying our first home because we didn't feel that it was worth jeopardizing my stay-at-home status just to be able to qualify for a higher mortgage. Our duplex is small, but we are in a good neighborhood and the rent is reasonable. This is one of those status things that is hard to let go of. The conventional thinking is if you qualify for a mortgage, then you really should buy a house. We thought about it long and hard and realized that the prospect of a house will always be there, but our son will only have one childhood.
I don't know that I'm a great advice giver, as I feel we haven't been at it long enough to be a proven success story, but I had some suggestions to pass along for those readers who want to live on one income, but are afraid to. These are the main things our family did. Many of these ideas came from the Tightwad Gazette books, and Your Money or Your Life. They have been adapted to our lifestyles, but I highly recommend these books for those who want to increase the life-energy in their existence.
- Know what you spend. We tracked our expenditures for at least a year before our son's birth. It was extremely helpful in that we always knew where the money was going. On the good side, we had few impulse items to report each month, on the down side there was lot of restaurant expenditures and several minimum monthly payments on some credit cards and credit lines. Having to look at it every month intensified the need to get rid of the high-interest debt. It also provoked some intense conversations about spending priorities. No, I don't recommend marital disharmony, but many people I know have money problems simply because they don't want to even discuss money. Bad, bad, bad. Go ahead - discuss it. If you find you're fighting too much - get counseling. Money is a big cause of marital friction, so deal with it, your pocketbook will thank you!
- Learn how to cook and shop for groceries. I rarely set foot in a grocery store until I was pregnant. My loving husband took on grocery duties, and did them quite well. But we were eating out too much and buying too many of our food items impulsively. A frequent scenario was looking in the fridge and realizing that we didn't have items that sounded good for dinner, then run to the store to get food for dinner, often including prepackaged items. Now, we have invested in a freezer and we shop sales and shop to stock up. Yes, this means comparison shopping which must be just about the most boring thing in the world. But, I choose to look at it as getting that grocery dollar amount smaller every month - kind of a contest with myself. This also means cooking from scratch whenever possible - this takes more time, but can save alot of money.
- Find inexpensive or free forms of entertainment. Being big movie-holics, (my husband and I met in a video store) we spent alot of money on movies, videos, and the accompanying expenses (popcorn, M&M's, soft drinks) We also spent money on books and CD's. Now, we belong to a book group, and check out our book selections from the library. I have started using the library much more, and my compulsive book buying has dwindled to practically nothing. CD's have just fallen by the wayside, as I changed to listening to the radio and checking CD's from the library. To feed the movie habit, we complained loud enough to our wonderful family about our lack of a social life, and they took pity on us and bought us gift certificates to the local movie theater chain as a Christmas gift. Remember, there are people who want to buy you gifts and a few well placed hints can save you money and make them happy knowing they gave you something you could really use.
- Buy used clothes! Enough said. Either you will or you won't.
These suggestions may seem a bit simple, but they started us on our road to single-income bliss. Thriftiness tends to become a bit addicting. As you begin to realize how much you are saving, it becomes a passion to see how much more you can accomplish. The interesting change is that being a cheapskate does not necessitate that you be miserly. I have become a more generous, giving person since I've had less money. Sounds strange? I think it is because I have more time to invest in my family and friendships. I believe that if people could choose between your time and consideration versus an expensive, hastily bought gift, they would take the former. Something to keep in mind as you travel down that winding road to the single-income.