Are you desperate to become a single income family? Do you need time to tackle the never-ending to-do list, your children’s needs, or even your own health? You are not alone. So many dual income families are overwhelmed and exhausted from trying to do it all.
But can you really make the change from two incomes to one?
If I could go back and drop some knowledge on my younger self, I totally would. Unfortunately, I don’t get a redo, but I can share what I have learned so you don’t need one. 😉 Over fifteen years of marriage, two kids, five houses, four cars, and our fair share of debt later, I have learned a few things. I have learned how to successfully live on a single income because the first go around we failed….miserably…
I don’t want you to be like us and fail the first time……. You totally got this. See the mistakes we made and learn how to make the transition the right way.
So, here is what Not To Do and what you Should Do if you want to succeed at living on one income.
How We Failed the First Time
The first time we became a single income family, it wasn’t completely intentional. We had always expected that both of us would work. Even when our first child came along, I knew that I would go back to work after my maternity leave. Honestly, I never saw myself as stay at home mom material. But as we all know, things change and life happens.
Enter life. I had just miscarried our second child, lost my grandmother, and was feeling overwhelmed and underappreciated at my job. So I asked for a raise at work and when it was declined, due to the budget, I left. With very little planning, I choose to leave my 8-5 job and make being a mom and wife top priority.
I abandoned my salaried, 401k eligible, full health benefits job for a flexible work week, no benefits, part-time job. Then after delivering our healthy second child, I left even that. Enter single income family. Can you say poor planning?
Sadly, after almost a year of only one income, we both admitted one income was not cutting it. We were collecting more and more debt, living paycheck to paycheck in a house that was mid-remodel with two kids. My husband was STRESSED and I was struggling for the adult time that we could not afford to have. So I went back to work immediately following our son’s first birthday.
Looking back, I still do believe I made the right move leaving my full-time income for our family (and my sanity), but I did it without making a long-term plan….and that is where we failed.
I didn’t truly take into consideration real life and all the expenses that go along with it. Which is sad to admit since I am a budget kind of gal.
Life Lesson: MAKE A PLAN
Failure Happens When You Don’t Make a Plan
Whether you have always known that you would be a single income family at some point, or are just now deciding that it may be best for your family, to succeed you need to make a plan that includes the following:
- What is your end goal?
- Ideally, when do you want to start relying on a single income?
- How long do you plan to live on that income? (Forever, 5, 10, or 15 years?)
- What savings cushion (emergency fund) do you want to have so that you feel comfortable making a shift in income?
- How are you going to achieve that savings goal?
- What are you willing to give up to make this work? What are you not willing to give up?
- How will your household dynamic shift once one of you is no longer working?
- How is your partner really going to feel when you no longer have drag yourself to work anymore?
- How are you going to feel when you no longer have coworkers to fulfill your social interaction needs and your partner spends the majority of their day at work?
Failure Will Happen When You Don’t Have a Budget
I can’t express the importance of a budget enough. But not only do you need to set a realistic budget, but you have to be willing and able to follow it.
In order to make your budget realistic, you need to know your income and ALL of your expenses…considering all times of the year.
Be REAL. For example, if you know you have birthdays and Christmas to buy for, make a gift budget and fund it. Don’t just tell yourself that you will stop buying gifts! Unless you truly have no money to put in a gift budget account.
Think through all of your regular (electricity, groceries) and irregular (new tires, holidays) expenses.
Don’t just leave the money after the bills are paid as “free money”, or it will get lost in spending and not be there when you need it.
Keys to a Successful and Realistic Budget
- Know ALL of your Income and Expenses
- Plan how all of your income will be spent or saved
- BE REAL – You will go on living even though one of you is not working. Plan for life.
- Review your budget quarterly or at least every six months
- STICK TO YOUR BUDGET
Failure Will Happen When You Don’t Live Within Your Means
We love our stuff…. new cars, new homes, fancy clothes, shiny shoes, cell phones…. Stuff.
Know your income and plan accordingly. Don’t plan for bonuses or raises that are not guaranteed. If that bonus does not come through this year, the cash you spent anticipating it has to come from somewhere else.
Your needs come first (shelter, food, water, basic clothing), then your savings, then your wants. Use that emergency fund savings only for emergencies and SAVE for your large expenses. Wants can wait until you have the money!
Lecture to my younger self…. You do not need that brand new minivan just because Thing 2 is almost here. You have PLENTY of room in that good old Honda CRV. And you are not going to be able to keep working to pay for that spanking new car, so just suck it up and run that CRV until the wheels fall off!
No matter how much you pinch that turnip, life happens and most of the time you need money to cover it.
Failure Will Happen When You Are Not Saving For the Future
Unless you are Superman or Wonder Woman, you will not be working until the day you die. Plan and save for retirement.
I am sure your spouse wants to feel confident that they can retire one day. And that the money is being set aside for that purpose. You don’t want to have worry when that day comes.
I have a lot of regrets on this one. In my twenties, it obviously never occurred to me that one day we would just want to enjoy life and not work! I understood the wealth snowball and still did not make it a priority.
Don’t do this. I know that you will be stretched as a single income family and that it is SO easy just to reduce that 401(k), IRA, or other retirement deduction to bring home some extra cash. But seriously, consider your long-term goals here, and the end result of adjusting a retirement contribution BEFORE you do it.
What you save now reaps rewards later.
This one may not directly result in short-term failure of living on one income, but you will pay for it when it comes time to retire and oops… there are no savings there.
Failure Will Happen When You and Your Spouse Do Not Agree
If you and your partner do not agree on being a single income family, then chances are you are setting yourself up for failure. If you are the one that wants to stop working leaving your spouse to support your family, consider how they may feel if they are not on board the single income family train:
- Why should I have to sacrifice my wants for a plan that I don’t support?
- What if I lose my job? Then what?
- Now I will have to constantly be at work to prove myself because I can’t afford to lose my job.
- If I am going to work every day then I should not have to lift a finger at home. My spouse is responsible for EVERYTHING else except bringing in income.
- Work is exhausting and I want to be a part of seeing my children grow up too.
The first time we ended up as a single income family, it was something that I wanted, but not necessarily something my husband wanted. As I mentioned, we ended up there not completely planning it. He was supportive and enjoyed me being home with our little ones. But it got to be too stressful for him. Being the sole provider at a job that he did not like, on top of not having any extra money after our bills were paid and needs were met was too much.
He wanted us to be a dual income family, with discretionary income, and relieve the weight off his shoulders.
You are in a partnership and it is always important to consider both of your opinions, concerns, and ideas.
Now We Are Successfully Living On A Single Income
I worked for almost four years and then I reached my breaking point with medical issues, long work days and juggling life with kids. This time we made a plan.
We ensured we had an Emergency Fund with 6 months of expenses. I made a budget that was realistic and we made the decision to cut the optional expenses that we knew we could no longer afford.
We prioritized where we wanted my husband’s income to go. For example, we have a nice size house with a big yard that includes a hefty mortgage (that was no problem with two incomes), but we wanted to stay in it. So we gave up our travel budget and drastically cut back our dining out budget. We wanted to keep the same level of contribution to Kory’s retirement savings, so we never even allowed ourselves to factor that into our spending income.
We don’t have cable, we don’t have iPhones, our kids no longer attend private school, our date nights are typically at home, and entertainment and travel is a splurge we rarely get to enjoy.
So, what do we do instead? We have Netflix, we homeschool, we cook nice meals for each other for date nights, have game or movie nights at home, and we work travel into our homeschool budget! Why not make traveling an educational experience?!? (And trust me, it is not like we are planning trips to Hawaii to learn about volcanos…in my dreams!)
I share these things with you to show the mindset you need to take if you truly want to go from a dual income to a single income family.
But the truth is our family is happier and now we feel like we are living rather than surviving.
So How Do You Succeed at Being a Single Income Family?
- Make a Plan
- Make a Realistic Budget, Stick to It, and Consistently Review It
- Prioritize Life over Stuff
- Save for the Future
- Set the Same Goals as a Couple
- Have an Emergency Fund
- Save for those Expensive Wants
Go and make being a single income family fun for everyone!
I want to hear from you. What is holding you back from making the leap? Or if you have already made the change, why are you afraid of failing?
Share your experience in the comments below so other moms can learn from each other!