One-income living in a two-income world

Maintaining the One-Income Lifestyle

by Lucynda Koesters

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Many people have asked my husband and me how we have managed to maintain a one-income lifestyle for the past nine years. Our family includes mom, dad, a teen, a preteen, a preschooler and a dog with serious health issues. Dad is a commercial photographer. Mom is a home-based parent. We make a "middle" middle-class income. Keeping a parent at home for the family has been a priority as our family has grown. How have we done it?

It has not always been easy. Many times, Mom has felt that the path of least resistance would have been going back to work. However, each time the issue has come up, we have simply buckled down and gone back to the basics of frugal living instead.

We did a few things right in our early married life. These things have greatly enhanced our ability to maintain our lifestyle. We decided early on not to go into debt if we could possibly avoid it. Our philosophy has been to pay cash, not use credit. This has been our method of purchase for furniture, electronics, camping equipment, travel and even cars. We buy new or nearly new vehicles, but keep them 8 to 12 years. We also maintained a high rate of savings in our early years before children. We lived on approximately 70% of our income and saved 30%. We built up a large savings account, which eventually was invested for our future needs. When we built our home, we planned to have a mortgage payment that would require only one income. This is arguably the single largest factor allowing us to maintain one parent at home.

As our children have grown and their needs have increased, it has become more difficult, but not impossible, to manage on one income. We are not perfect in our financial management. Our savings rate has dropped to about 13% of income. Occasionally, we use up our emergency savings, overdraw our checking account, and go into debt with a credit card. This really bothers us. We don't let it go; we simply pay off the balance and get back on the frugal track as soon as possible.

In this age of high prices, we really have to buckle down and go back to the basics of a frugal lifestyle. This means shopping the deep discount grocery stores, using price comparisons and coupons when appropriate, and always shopping with a grocery list that reflects a planned menu for the coming week. We brown bag lunches and even suppers on soccer nights. The kids do not get designer clothes or shoes unless they come from the second hand store. We stick to a weekly budget for household spending. It's really just a lot of small frugal actions that add up each month, allowing us to live on one income. We do not feel deprived most of the time. Every now and then, a family member might complain about not having something, but we can insure each member that his basic needs will always be met. And everyone agrees that having a parent available at home each day is more than worth the trade offs. Having a parent at home helps keep our family life balanced and calm, providing an oasis from the daily stress and strain that is modern life.

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The bottom line is that it not easy, but it is possible for a family to live on one income even in today's "everybody works" two-income world. If you are just starting out in your adult life and think that someday you might want to have a family with the "luxury" of a stay-at-home parent, plan for it now. Save as much as you possibly can from your income. Build up your savings and then learn to invest that money for your future. Don't borrow. Don't use credit cards for day-to-day purchases. If you plan to buy a house, plan it with a reasonably easy-to-make mortgage payment as you proceed through life. These things done early on will go a long way toward building choices into your future.

Reviewed May 2017

Lucynda Koesters is the author of Finding Your Way Home, How to Become a Successful Stay-at-Home Parent

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