How to Live on One Income and Still Live the Good Life

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The dual income family is quickly becoming the norm. According to one study, even as long ago as 2002, only 7 percent of U.S. households were single income families in which only the husband worked. In 2017, the demands of debt, car payments, and other money stress have made it even harder for families to live on one income.

The dual income family is now normal. But you can live on one income without poor quality of life. In fact, you can live the good life! Read how we lived on a single income while still having fun!Dual income households have some advantages over single income households, but I firmly believe the choice largely comes down to personal preference and individual circumstances. But the choice to live on one income doesn’t have to be as restricting or depressing as it may sound. It’s very possible to live well on a single income even if it is modest.

My wife and I are proof that it is possible to thrive, have fun, travel, and live on income all at the same time. Today, we both work multiple jobs – like Dave Ramsey says, Live Like No One Else So Later You Can Live AND Give Like No One Else – but our life was radically different in 2010.

Operation: Live on One Income

My wife, Meg, and I were married in July 2010. I had completed my first year as a music teacher and she was a college senior. I was laid off by my school district because of crippling budget cuts shortly before our wedding, so when our pastor said the whole “richer or poorer” line during our vows, it took every ounce of strength I had in me not to laugh out loud.

I spent the first month of our marriage collecting unemployment and interviewing for jobs without any luck. One week before school resumed a huge weight was lifted our shoulders when I was offered a return to my old job out of the blue.

Getting my job back was a major victory, but it still gave us one income stream. Some people in our lives doubted that we could live on one income, but to be honest, we were just thrilled to have an income! Still, we knew that life wasn’t going to be perfect or easy.

How We Did It

At times, living on one income was stressful and even depressing. I wasn’t bringing in fat stacks of cash as a second year teacher, so we had to be very intentional about how we spent and saved every dollar I earned. We also decided to focus on the big things in our budget and doing everything we could to keep them in check. We didn’t overlook the little things, either, but we knew that we could find more bang for our bucks by focusing on the big things.

First, we made a unique budget every month and pledged to stick to it. I tracked every single transaction every single day using Gazelle Budget so we could always have an accurate picture of our spending for the month. When all of the budgeted money had been spent for a category, we literally didn’t spend another cent. If it was crucial, we decreased the budget for another category to add more money to categories in need.

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Second, we constantly looked for ways to save as much money as possible on groceries. This category was the second largest part of our part next to our rent, and we knew that keeping food spending under control would be important. We shopped mostly at Aldi and picked up sale items at a few other local stores. Leftovers became our go to meals a few nights per week, and we never went out for lunch. On average, we spent between $350 and $400 per month on groceries. Some months we really stepped up our game and spent as little as $250.

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Third, my wife and I found a place to rent for far less than the average rental price in the area. Before we got married, I spent at least five hours per week searching listings and making phone calls about available apartments and condos. My hard work paid off when we found a nice 3 bedroom, 1.1 bathroom condo for rent for 25% less than the area average. Avoiding corporate apartments saved us thousands of dollars over the four years we rented.

What We Didn’t Do

Now that we both work and own a home, I often think back to the days when we lived on one income. We were definitely frugal in many ways, but we could have cut back even more in many areas.

First, we paid for cable TV and DVR service with Comcast. It was one of the few luxuries we allowed ourselves, to be honest, and even though our cable and internet cost us around $90 per month at the time, it served as our main entertainment. We rarely went out to the movies, checked out concerts, or even went bowling.  So even though cable was expensive, it probably helped us avoid temptation to spend more money.

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Second, we still ate our at restaurants once or twice per month. Looking back, I can’t really justify this spending. It would have been cheaper to cook at home, but we honestly cherished the few nights out each month. And most of our meals out were using discounts found on Groupon or Restaurant.com, which usually helped us eat out for under $20.

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Third, we still stopped for an occasional trip to Starbucks each month. It’s obvious that drinking coffee is much cheaper when you do it home, but we did a good job of keeping coffee spending in check overall. Again, we knew that focusing on the big things would have a bigger impact on our budget so we didn’t sweat the occasional $4 latte.

You Can Live Well on One Income

If you gain anything from reading this article, I hope you see that it is possible to live on one income without accepting poor quality of life. My wife and I only lived on one income for a little less than a year, but we could have done it much longer. We didn’t suffer or go without necessities. We didn’t even pursue ways to make extra money!

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21 Simple Ways to Make Extra Money Even If You’re Busy

Maybe living on one income is your choice, and maybe it’s not. It’s important to remember that more money isn’t always the answer to your problems. Dual income households have problems, too. How you will live comes down to personal preference and individual circumstances whether you have one income stream or several.


Do you live on one income? What tips and tricks help you to do so?

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6 thoughts on “How to Live on One Income and Still Live the Good Life

  1. I think it’s perfectly fine to have little treats here and there. We’ve been on super-restrictive budgets before and we fall off the wagon much more quickly. Building in little niceties like internet service and restaurants allow you to feel like you aren’t depriving yourself while you’re saving money.

  2. This is a great story. Thank you for sharing. I am guessing that it probably was helpful to your money story to start your marriage in a tighter place rather than getting used to a bigger lifestyle and having to downsize later. Seems similar to the advice to try to keep your college-level spending for as long as possible after you get a job.

    My wife and I both work, but try to keep our spending down to a level where we could get by without dipping into savings if one of us lost our job or felt like we needed to quit for whatever reason. This has multiple benefits – high savings rate, less stress from fear of job loss, more options if we want to leave or take other jobs. We haven’t had to live on one income yet, but it is good to know that we could if necessary.

  3. We live on one income. Married almost ten year with two young children (7 and 4) we own our home and as the primary caregiver I haven’t worked since our first child was born. We have saved tremendously on childcare with me staying home. Food is our largest monthly expenditure! We started by weekly meal planning, when we know what we are going to eat, using mostly what we have in the house, planning for the leftovers and only buying fresh ingredients more often than not, has been a big money saver! We also shopped sales, stocked up on good prices, coupon and our primary grocery store has a point system that you can cash back the points for money off your purchase. When we know we need to stock up on household items we use our points to reduce our bill at the register

  4. I buy most of my clothes at goodwill, walk the dog for exercise, and use the public library for books and videos. I usher for two venues for free entertainment and perform community service in the meantime! I live 5 minutes from a riverside park, and picnic there with my mom and sister. We buy takeout for less than 5 bucks a piece – still a treat without a hefty restaurant tab and tip.

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