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9 Tips For Families Living on One Income

By Casey Slide

Making Your Dollars Stretch In A One Income FamilyIt has been really difficult lately for many people to make ends meet, and this is especially true for one-income families. Many families are confronted with a family member unexpectedly losing a job and going through unemployment. On the other hand, others deliberately choose to be a one-income family because it is the best decision for them overall, despite the financial challenges. I, for example, have recently quit my job to be a stay at home mom. Whatever the reason, making ends meet on one income isn’t easy.

Whether you’re a member of one of these families, or have friends or relatives who are, take a look at these 9 tips to help keep single-earner households on good financial footing:

1. Make a Budget
The first step for any family wanting to take control of their finances is to make a budget. A budget will allow you to understand where your money is going and enable you to adjust your spending by designating how much you can afford. Creating a budget is a good idea for everyone, but especially for families with limited income. Write down your budget, with specific categories of spending, and stick to it. Try using the 5S budgeting system to get started and stay organized. Or you can try out some of the great online budgeting tools available like Mint.com, You Need a Budget, or Mvelopes.

2. Live Within your Means
Be honest with yourself about what you can afford. Don’t go into debt to get a brand new BMW when you can only afford a used Corolla. Don’t go on a shopping spree and rack up bills on a credit card. If you should lose the one source of income that you do have, how will you pay off your debt? (Incidentally, you should build an emergency fund, in case that should occur.) Aim to pay for everything with cash instead of with credit. If you do not have any cash to buy something, it’s especially important to understand the different between needs and wants before using credit.

3. Cut Down on Expenses
When my husband and I were planning for me to leave my job, we looked over our expenses to see what we could do without. The first and most obvious expense was cable. We were spending over $80 a month and wasting a lot of time watching pointless television. So we canceled cable and stop watching TV. We also got rid of our gym memberships and started finding alternative ways to exercise at home and stay in shape. If you’re a gym rat, try to negotiate gym membership contract deals and prices.

4. Earn Extra Income
If you cut every expense from your budget that you possibly can but still can’t pay your bills, consider finding ways to bring in some extra cash. There are many things that you can do to earn extra money at home working just a few hours a week, such as freelance writing, web design, and babysitting. Consider starting a small home-business, but watch out for work from home scams and get rich quick schemes.

5. Use Coupons
At one point in the past year, I considered looking for a part-time job that I could do from home. To get a better understanding of what it would be like, I spoke with a woman who has worked from home part-time for the past seven years while raising her two kids. Her advice to me had nothing to do with whether or not to work, but was  instead all about couponing. She told me that extreme couponing could save you more money than what you’d make at some part-time jobs, especially when using free discount grocery coupons.

6. Downsize
We Americans like to have a lot of stuff. But do we really need it all? Do you use everything that you own, or is there something in your home that you could sell online on Amazon or eBay? Think about your home. Perhaps you do not need as much space as you currently have and can downsize to a smaller home or apartment. There are a lot of benefits to downsizing your home that will save you a lot of money.

7. Become Self-Sufficient
I am fascinated by the idea of becoming self-sufficient, although I am also intimidated by it. Of course, becoming self-sufficient is a process, and not an overnight transformation. Some ways to work towards becoming more self-sufficient include growing your own vegetables in a home garden, making your own homemade baby food recipes, and doing your own car maintenance. Knowing frugal life skills to “do it yourself” can save you a bundle. My husband and I were able to remodel our kitchen for under $1,000 by doing it ourselves.

8. Shop Around
I really do not like shopping and have a tendency to buy whatever I am looking for at the first place that I find it. But now that we are living on a much tighter budget, I have started to shop around more. When trying to get a good deal, remember to check out eBay, Amazon, thrift stores, and even the dollar store. You can find some great, never-been-used items at consignment shops for a fraction of the original price!

9. Sacrifice
Sometimes you just have to go without. Perhaps that means saying no to your friends when they want to go out. Or perhaps that means participating in free activities instead. Sometimes it is necessary to sacrifice some of your “wants” in order to make life better for your family. You will become a better person for doing so.

What advice do you have for families living off of one income?

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

Casey Slide
Casey Slide lives with her husband and baby in Atlanta, GA. She graduated from the University of Florida in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering and worked for a prominent hospital in Atlanta. With the birth of Casey’s son in February 2010, she decided to become a stay-at-home mom. Casey’s interests include reading, running, living green, and saving money.

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  • Heather Levin

    Casey, Just this month we went to a one-income family as my husband quit his job to pursue a dream. Yay!

    But it’s definitely been an intimidating change…we’ve always been a two-income family. I’m planning on growing a huge garden this summer to help cut our grocery bill down.

    I also love canning…if you have the time I’d highly recommend learning how to can your own food! It’s not nearly as difficult as you might think, and it’s actually one of my favorite things to do now. :) I’m even thinking of selling some of my canned goods on Etsy next fall, once I have a lot of backstock. Home canning is a great way to save money, or even make extra money on the side.

    Thanks for the great post!

    • Casey Slide

      I have never tried canning, but I will need to check it out. My husband plans to start a garden soon so I am pretty excited about that!

  • http://frugalbohemian.blogspot.com Olivia

    One thing you might like to try is keeping a price book for your usual food purchases. I’ve found in our area certain stores consistantly have lower prices on certain items. As I dislike shopping too, it’s allowed me the freedom to do a fast run in and out for specific things. And when there’s a blowout sale, you’ll be aware.

    Keeping a pantry is another help. That ties in nicely with Heather’s comments on canning and gardening. With two kids at home, we’re big tomato sauce eaters. If I can 35 quarts, that lasts the year. Rhubarb and green beans are frozen and go into the freezer. Preserving even goes for purchased foods. Peppers were ridiculously cheap over the summer and I chopped up and froze tons.

    If you plan to can the Ball canning book is a good one to check out. You might (as I did) be able to find basic supplies at yard sales. Sure beats retail.

    • Casey Slide

      Awesome! Great tips, Olivia!

  • Olive

    These are such good tips. We are expecting our first baby this June and I would love to be able to live on one income. We have been trying to cut back on expenses since we found out we were pregnant and one thing that you didn’t include on #3 is cell phones plans. We actually switched to Straight Talk from our contract plans and we are saving so much money. There are a few different plans, included unlimited, but to save money we have been trying the $30 plan with 1000 minutes and 1000 texts for the month. We can change it if we think we need more next month, as there is no contract. We are able to port our numbers too. So I hope people find out about this deal because I am so glad we did. We save over $100 a month easily. Good luck to the other expecting families reading :)

    • Casey Slide

      Whoa, $100 savings per month?! That’s awesome! Thanks for sharing that tip, Olive!

      Good luck to you and your family! I hope it works that you will be able to live off of one income once your baby arrives. A great way to prepare yourselves is to practice living off of one income now, and put everything else into savings. Not only will that prepare you to live off of one income, but you can also use the money you save as needed when your income is reduced.

  • Christy

    I am so happy I found this blog.

    While I am currently not expecting, my husband and I are struggiling to save money every month. Our contract phones were HUGE holes in our monthly budgets but unfortunately necessary evils. After reading this blog I did some research into TracFone and found that their unlimited everything plan for our phones at $45 a month STILL saves us tons of money every month compared to our current phones. Thank you Olive sooo much.

    While I know we can dumb it down further from unlimited, we’re big talkers :)

    Good luck with your baby!

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