My Story: Living on One Income

contributed by Cathy in Australia

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I am married and have two sons that are 12 and 10 years old. I gave up work just before my first child was born 12 years ago. I love being at home, and even though they are now both at school, I cannot see myself going back to work as yet, as I am enjoying looking after my family.

It's funny to me reading particular stories of how people gave up working jobs to be a one-income family, how it seemed so difficult, and that they had to cook from scratch or had to go without. I have never thought about it like that before. I was married at 21 and my husband and I wanted to have children and we both wanted me to be at home for the family, while he worked. To us, this was never a hardship, but a dream come true.

When we married, we bought a small house in another state away from my family, but near my husband's family so we could buy a home on one wage. During the baby and toddler years, we did everything together. The kids and I went on walks in the pram, went to the parks around our home, to playgroups ($1), baby gyms ($3), reading time at the library, shopping, visiting friends and family. We had a wonderful time, playing in the sunshine, swimming in the local pool, catching bugs, or blowing bubbles, doing crafts, etc. Nothing cost us much, mostly just a packed lunch and lots of energy.

When the school years started, there was a lot of adjusting to do. My time was now my own, and sometimes I felt bored by myself during the day. So I started the new season. I began to work on a degree part-time (only 8 years to go!) and to help in the community by teaching Christian religion at a local public school (in Australia by law all public schools are required 30 minutes of religious education per week). I have a walk each day and I joined a ladies group, which meets once a fortnight. Now after the normal chores of the day, running the home and garden, the time is now mine. The home is always clean and tidy, and there is always something yummy for after-school snacks. My husband returns home from work to look forward to a peaceful, clean home and a lovely hot-cooked meal, and the evenings are ours to enjoy together. I have the time to run the children to music lessons and sport training, and I never have to worry about whom will look after them when they are unwell or on school holidays, as I'm always available.

So how do we do it? Well, we live within our income. We always make a budget for each pay and stick to it. Personally, we have made a decision to give a portion of our income to the church and community, pay off the credit card bill in full each statement (receiving points which we spend on ourselves for entertainment, clothing, etc.), save a portion each pay and pay extra off our mortgage each payment. With the rest of the money available, we then use that for living expenses, such as bills, groceries, entertainment, presents, etc.

We always buy our clothes at sale time, for extremely low prices. When family or friends ask us what we would like for birthday or Christmas presents, we ask for clothes or if they could give a gift voucher or money towards the cost of a particular item we might like to have. We have never bought expensive furniture. Instead, we have chosen to have people's hand-me-down furniture when they replaced their new pieces. Actually, most of the items within our home have been someone else's hand-me-downs. Our home looks beautiful and everything matches and co-ordinates perfectly. People just say, "Hey, I have this lamp I don't need and I think it would look great with your stuff. Would you like it?" Mostly, I never refuse anything I'm offered. If I'm not sure if I need it, I ask if I can pass it onto someone who would like it. They always say yes, and I always know someone who would like it. Everything I've ever got I've had to wait for, so I'm extremely patient. When my friends had a new $16,000 kitchen installed, I had a kitchen that took two years for us to complete but only cost me $2,500, including new appliances. Where others buy expensive plants for their garden, I mostly use cuttings or ask for pots and plants for gifts.

Where others have been buying clothing, convenience foods, take away meals, expensive entertainment, furniture, going to the beautician, we have used our money to pay off our home, upkeep our home and invest the rest. This has given us more financial freedom than all our family and friends around us. Many people think we are rich because I don't have to work. Many cannot believe we have been overseas to the USA and China on one wage. But it actually comes down to what your personal priorities are and where do you want to spend your money. Personally, I would rather take longer to "receive our stuff," travel and invest than to have the newest sofa on the market. People say how can you afford it? My keys are:

  • Pay your income first onto assets that appreciate like your home, an investment property, shares, etc. (It takes time, but it will set you up for life.)
  • Buy a car and keep it until it dies.
  • Be content with what you have. There will always be someone with more than you and someone with less.
  • Remember to take control of your finances. Don't let them control you.
  • Learn to think outside of the box. Would I be better off buying that new leather sofa or paying on my mortgage? Those luxuries can come later. Eat what's on special at the grocery store, mix and match your wardrobe, buy cosmetics when there is a free gift with purchase, use your credit card (paying off each statement in full) to gain points and use them for travel, entertainment, clothes, etc.
  • Read, read, read. Gain knowledge on finances and how others have attained financial freedom. This really excites me and always keeps me focused. It really helps when I sometimes feel that I would love that brand new sparkling car or a bigger home or a new pair of shoes.
  • Use the public school system. It's really just as good as the private. It's what you put into your own education that counts.
  • If being at home with your family is what you want, go for it. You can always downsize your home, sell one car, go out less, or do cheaper options. There is always a way.
  • Financial freedom is not an overnight thing. It takes many years of spending less than your income and putting money aside for the most important things.

Remember that it's your life and you can live it the way you want.

"My Story" is a regular feature of The Dollar Stretcher. If you have a story that could help save time or money, please send it by

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