What would you do with an extra 40 hours per week? Homeschool your children? Devote more time to getting off grid by planting a larger garden? Canning more, or spending more time learning skills you need to survive? Volunteer, care for your extended family, or help others?
Whatever the reason, for many couples, finding a way to live on one income has some major advantages. I know what you are thinking – you can’t afford it because you need both incomes. But maybe you don’t need as much as you think you do. Here are some steps to get you on the path to financial independence and also reclaim some of the time you, as a couple, are using to do things that are more important than that 9-5 job.
Getting your household spending down to a more manageable level is mission number one! It will take dedication, cooperation, and the ability to really know what matters to your family and what doesn’t. What is more important, your weekly take-out night, or prepping for the future? Seeing a movie in the theatre, or homeschooling your kids? Sometimes budgeting is all about those hard choices. Leave no stone unturned and get ruthless with your cuts.
- Food – Evaluate how much you are spending on eating out, both as a family and lunches at work. Pack a lunch. As for date nights and family dinners out, there are typically one of two reasons that happens: you’re too busy to cook, or want a really exceptional meal. To solve the first problem, always have a ready-made dinner in the freezer that you can throw in the oven or crock-pot on those nights you just don’t have time to cook. Buying even expensive pre-packaged items and cooking them at home (like jalapeño poppers, or mozzarella sticks) are still cheaper to eat than going out. And definitely still make time your date nights! Just drop the kids off at the babysitter take the time to cook something really special at home, candles and all.
- Utilities – turn off lights, turn down the heat, replace the incandescent light bulbs to energy efficient ones. Even little changes can make a big difference, and sometimes a little upfront investment can pay long-term dividends.  
- Clothing – This one is easy in theory, but hard for many people to implement. Buy only those clothes you really need. Shop at thrift stores and second-hand shops. Mend and care for what you do have so it lasts.
- Rent/mortgage – This is one spending area that many people feel they cannot change. There are always ways to save though. If you rent, constantly look for a better deal. In either scenario, evaluate what your needs are and see if downsizing would still meet them just as well. If you have a mortgage, see if refinancing might save you some money – although be cautious of adjustable rates and make sure you know the total upfront closing costs you will need to pay.
- Car payments – Can you sell your car and get something more affordable? Or better yet, with only one job to drive to, could you make do with one vehicle?
- Debt payments – Do everything you can to pay down debt before you go to one-income living. Can you consolidate to lower your interest rate? Wrap it into your refinancing of your home? Use a windfall or large lump-sum payout such as your tax return to pay it off once and for all? And once you get it paid off, keep it that way!
- “Extras” – Careful tracking of expenses may reveal some surprises. Did I really spend $15 on library late fines last month? Don’t just think about what you have to cut, find ways to replace the benefits you are trying to receive with something cheaper that still fits the bill. Cancel cable and watch streaming movies from your TV instead. Get your hair done at the local cosmetology school. Make your date a picnic in the park instead of a dinner out. Get creative and this budget cutting thing may actually turn out to be fun!
If you do not even know how much you spend where, then track your expenses for one month first. There are some things you should never cut (though shopping around can probably find you good deals), including:
- Life insurance – especially if you have children, you want to make sure they are provided for in the event something happens to you.
- Health insurance – all the planning in the world can be wiped out by one major illness if you do not have at least high-deductible health insurance to protect you from a catastrophic illness.
- Home insurance – I once knew someone who had invested in a $250,000 property that he paid cash for. When he needed to sell, it took some time to find a buyer. Because of the unexpected cash crunch, he felt he really couldn’t afford the insurance, so let it lapse. When the pipes burst and flooded the entire interior of his home, his entire investment was lost and he was forced to sell for pennies on the dollar because of the repairs that needed to be done to even get the property serviceable again. In actuality you can never afford NOT to have home insurance. Same goes for at least liability insurance on any vehicles you drive.
- Fruits and veggies – don’t sacrifice your health to save money. People who try to cut their grocery bill by buying all canned goods for example, are realizing a short-term gain for a long-term loss. Required medication, healthy food, a safe home, these are all things that you need in order to stay productive, which becomes even more important when you are living the one-income life.
Reducing expenses is the first big step to living off of one income. It can be a daunting process, but keep at it and know that every little bit helps. Get the whole family on board, and your kids may even have some ideas. Stay motivated, and once you get done with the chopping block, you can start laying out some building blocks!
(Stay tuned for more articles in this series of “The One-Income Life”)