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18 January 2010

Simple Living Series - Living on one income

Getting finances organised and controlled is one of the early actions of most simple lives, even for those who have no need to budget their money. There are many people who strive to live more simply while earning a good living.  They need to practise moderation and reduce the stuff they're surrounded by.  The challenge for these people is to live to their values and, like those of us who do budget, get the money organised so we can concentrate on the important task of living.

 The last bowl of summer's  fresh green beans.

While not everyone gets married or lives with a chosen partner, most of us do and that can be an important part of a strategy that supports and assists living on a budget.  It is a common assumption nowadays that it takes two wages to raise a family.  But for many families, where it has been decided that one parent should be at home with the children, they have made it work on one income, even with a number of mouths to feed.  If you are undecided about whether this would work for you, sit for a moment and work it out.

If you have to pay for child care, transport, work clothes, hair cuts, makeup etc, and your job pays a minimal amount, it will probably save you money not to work.  Always do the sums.  Don't just assume that any job will be good for your family.  Make sure it will actually be worthwhile.  If your work related expenses add up to $300 a week and you're making $350 or $400, ask yourself if that is a valuable use of your time and efforts, because there is another way.

Real raspberry jelly.

If the parent earning the smallest wage stays home, it is then their job to run the home like a small business.  It is their job to make a budget and stick to it, scan the flyers for grocery bargains, stockpile, learn the skills necessary to make healthy bread and nutritious meals from scratch.  On these things alone, the home will function on less money.  If you were going to earn fifty or a hundred dollars from that job you were offered, you should be able to save that amount with prudent shopping and cutting back.

Unless you are super organised, your grocery bill will increase when you work.  You'll buy different foods because you need the convenience of them.  You'll need to streamline your household activities because you won't have as much time to spend on chores and the children. Convenience foods usually make an entrance in those circumstances.

If you're in the position now of trying to decide whether to work, give this a try before you make the decision.  Of course, there will be those who tell you that you should work, but you don't have to listen to them.  If you're young and have always thought of yourself as a worker then being at home with your children will be just the challenge for you. You will be taking control of your family money and it will be your job to buy everything you need to stay happy and healthy on budget, you will pay the bills, on time, now and every month, you will make important choices every day about what your family consumes and it will be your job to stretch every penny until it hurts.

This is an interesting and significant job.  You'll re-skill yourself in the kitchen, you'll learn to sew, mend and knit.  Instead of buying new curtains or dishcloths, you'll make them.  Gone are the days when you'd clean with spray and wipe chemicals, in your home that cleaning is done in a gentler way.  You'll be cutting up old sheets for cleaning rags, sewing on buttons, repairing rips and generally making everything last longer.  If you've never taken control of your home before it will be very liberating and exciting.  Despite what your friends say, you won't be bored because your days will be filled with a purpose - to make you home comfortable and warm, to teach yourself life skills and to show your children, by example, how real life is.

Hopmemade soap and natural bristle scrubbing brush.

If you're trying to decide on whether to go back to work, or if you're already working at home but have stalled a bit because you have no role models and are unsure of your first or next step, I'm here to say that being a homemaker is enriching and life enhancing.  It can help make your family a strong and tight unit,  it can help provide the warmth and security necessary for a growing family and it might be the making of you.  It was for me.

This way of life is not just for those who choose to stay at home.  If you're newly married or in a relationship with no children and you're both working, try living off one wage and using the other to pay off debt. I know Little Jenny Wren and her family have always lived this way, even when she was working outside the home.  I think those of you who read her blog would agree, she has built a beautiful and joy-filled life.   This is not just a great budgeting strategy, it is a good way of moving towards the life you want to live.

So if you're at this point of your life, dive in.  It will not be easy - you'll work more - but it will be satisfying, enriching and life enhancing work.  You'll be stepping away from what is expected of you, but that will give you the unique opportunity to build the life you want, instead of trying to fit into the one size fits all life that is on offer in every shop, on every main street, in every Western country.  Don't listen to the naysayers - building a life at home is an active and positive step towards a way of life that gives more than it takes.  Dive in.


  1. An excellent post. :-)
    Oh yes, there will indeed be those that say you MUST work - "what do you DO with your time?" - but these are often the people who feel shaken when others go against the trend that they follow. The pressures are often about their own insecurities.
    Sadly, such pressures occur mainly among women AGAINST each other. It seems apparent that it is politically incorrect (not to mention rude, and yes, it is) to question a woman's deicion to work outside the home, but that it is not considered so when challenging a woman's decision to NOT work outside the home. (sigh - so much for sisterhood!)
    The drive for double incomes seems to have pushed prices up in many areas (housing, other consumables). This is perhaps a factor that few people consider.
    Thank you for reinforcing and validating (as always) the worth of homemakers.
    Tracy (Brisbane)

  2. Hi Rhonda,
    I've recently been thinking about the to stay or not to stay at home decision as we are due in a month, and have also been writing about it(yet to publish). Another factor to take into account if someone is in Australia is whether the Family Tax Benefit will make the difference between working and not working and on the flip side, how the childcare rebate will affect the decision to go back to work.
    We've lived on one income for a year now, it's hard, but not impossible (even on a relatively low wage and with a mortgage).

  3. Great post! I had a very good job in London and earnt good money. When I gave it up we noticed the loss but not as much as we had thought we would. As you say, working comes at a cost both financially and emotionally. Once we had accounted for the train fare, childcare and clothing etc there wasn't that much left.I still struggle with the feeling that what I do isn't as worthwhile but the children are happier and the house runs much more smoothly. Not to say that it is right for everyone :-)

  4. While I read each post you publish, I don't often comment, mostly out of... oh, I don't know... laziness?

    But this was a very profound post for me to read. Thank you for being such a stable income of encouraging words. I am a newly-ish married (two-and-a-half years)American girl who works only part-time at a small quilting shop in a small town. While it is relatively common for moms to stay at home with young children, it is very uncommon for any non-moms to stay at home or work only part time. Sometimes, when chatting with girlfriends about work schedules, I feel lazy. Then, sometimes within those sometimes, I remind myself of your encouraging words about keeping a happy and healthy, well budgeted, clean, organized home. I look forward to being more active in my home making, as my year's resolution is to nest here in our first-bought home.

    Thanks again for your kind and wise words.

  5. beautiful post! and so very true. thank you.

  6. Rhonda i wish i had someone like you around 27 years ago when i was starting out in life as a newly married. Things may have turned out so differently for me if there had been. Great post. :)

  7. Hi Rhonda,
    I, together with my previous husband, lived on a small boat travelling the world for 15 years, bringing up two little girls along the way. It is amazing how little one can live on! I brought in extra money by sewing, writing etc. always with the girls alongside. this supplied the basics, nothing else, but that was all we needed. What a joy to share so much time with them, and there was many a time I would be sewing clothes and end up making barbie doll clothes with the scraps. With no TV they grew up to be avid readers and are both now studying for their doctorates!

  8. Good refresher post .. and hopefully new food for thought for the younger generation. Hubby and I have four children (one with Down syndrome requiring lots of hands on care). We have lived on one income 26 of 29 years. Been through layoffs, bottom of the barrel to top of the hill. Always living with a purpose. To live at or below our income.

  9. Great post! When my son was born we decided that we did not want to go the daycare route, so we decided to work opposite shifts. I worked part time evenings and my husband worked the day shift. We did this for a few years until we came across a assistant managers job at the apartment complex where we lived. I stayed home with our son and was able to live RENT FREE by taking care of a few of the buildings.

  10. Hi,
    Reading this post, I just had to let you know, that I have decided to stop working too and try to lead a simpler life. I had been at home for 6 years, but due to my husband being on sick leave and us not knowing where it would lead, I started to work again. I have done so for nearly a year and then my contract could only be continued for 6 months without any certainty. In the meantime my husband got disability and now I decided not to take the new contract, but try to be frugal and try to worjk with the money we have. I am a lot happier now that the pressure of work is gone. My husband and I do a lot together in the house too, cleaning etc.
    My husband is still young, only 47 and had mixed feelings about his disability, but now he wants to make the best of it and so do I. Thank you so much. You are a great inspiration !!!

  11. My youngest child will be starting Prep in a few weeks and so many people just assume that I will be returning to work asap. They seem genuinely suprised when I say that I have no intention to return to the workforce. We as a family really value the benefits of me being at home. And yes, it is work but so much more satisfying improving our home and life each day.


  12. One of our financial goals is to be completely debt free including our house before our children begin college. So at the moment, that means two incomes. I would like to be home full-time, but my husband doesn't really share that vision.

    Despite working outside of the home, I make it a priority to cook meals from scratch. We also thrift for our clothing and thanks to moving my Mother in with us, have avoided huge childcare fees. It's not an easy balance, but it's where I find myself at this season in life.

  13. Hi,Except for the two times when I have helped my husband get two small business of the ground I have always been a stay at home Mom.I have 6 children and if not b for the principles of permaculture we would not have made it all this time debt free. I have many things to add here but I need a bigger chunk of time.There is one thing though which has been so vital to our family I feel I have to share it. Our economic motto has always been this: DON'T THINK IN TERMS OF HOW MUCH SOMETHING YOU MAY WANT COSTS ,INSTEAD THINK ABOUT HOW MANY WORKING HOURS IT COSTS. I GUARANTEE IT WILL KEEP YOUR HANDS OUT OF YOUR POCKETS EVERY TIME.I HEARD ALL THE USUAL COMPLAINTS FROM MY KIDS ABOUT THEIR FRIENDS HAVING THIS OR THAT AND AT TIMES I EVEN FELT BADLY ABOUT IT. THE INTERESTING THING THOUGH,THREE OF MY KIDS ARE OLD ENOUGH TO WORK AND THEY PRACTICE THIS PHILOSOPHY ALL THE TIME TOO.I HAVE SO MUCH MORE TO SHARE WITH ALL OF YOU BUT I WILL END WITH THIS: THANK YOU Rhonda and all of you posters for affirming what I have always thought,an extra 5-6 thousand dollars /yr is not worth it to have other people raising my children and the aquisition of another useless thing.This is not always an easy lifestyle and I do slip but in the end having the common sense to put the wellness of your family and the planet first pays bigger dividends than the pursuit of materialism. Lynn

  14. Thank you for this post. You said everything that I would have said. My husband works and I am without a job. We have been living on one income for 2 years and the world did not come to an end. LOL

  15. We have no children but have retired before the mainstream retiring age and we have to budget very carefully. All I can say is it can be done but you must write down all your expenses so you know where your money is going. It's a challenge but it can be done and its also quite good fun. Thanks Rhonda, once again great inspiration.

    Blessings Gail

  16. Just wanted to say that this is a wonderful post, and extremely timely for my little family. We want to both continue to work, yet live on one income, reducing debt with the view for the future to be for me to stay home down the track. With the help and guidance of the D2E family I am confident that I can get there.

  17. WOnderful post.

    We have been living on one income since we were married 21 yrs ago. I think if you put your mind to it you can.

    It all comes down to a choice. I have been able to be home for our son as he has grown up.

    Now at this point in our lives--yes I could go to work. I just happen to enjoy the work I am already doing. I am and always will be a proud homemaker. ---Krystal

  18. Thank you so much for being such a motivator and inspiiration!
    I chose not to go back after the birth of my second daughter and it has not been easy. You do have to re-think a few things. I had to learn to set myself daily lists to keep myself going(I get very stressed with the amount of "things to do")and just keep it flowing from one day to the next!
    I love what I do in a way that I never had before. I finally feel fulfilled and it is because I am a Homemaker! I do have fun with it, too...I NEVER had the opportunity to sing and dance while at work in the corporate world! Who need stockings when I have my apron!!

  19. We have been a one income home for 40 years. Our income has never been very high but we have no debt, even cars paid for in cash and the house was paid off many years ahead of time. Being at home I could concentrate on using our income to its best advantage. I made it a game to see how we could have the best life on the income we had. There are always new things to learn and life has never and will never be dull. We have never regretted our choice. I am still home even though the children are all grown and having families of their own. I vouch that it can be done and is a wonderful fulfilling life for your whole family. Our grandchildren now have stay at home mothers too. Betsy

  20. Thank you for speaking up for us homemakers and stay-at-home moms. Your posts about this topic never fail to make me feel even better about my role (even though I just have to take a look at my happy toddler to know that I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be!)
    What struck me most was a sentence "humanists for humanity" posted in the comments: "an extra 5-6 thousand dollars /yr is not worth it to have other people raising my children and the aquisition of another useless thing." SO simple but oh SO true!

  21. I also go on a blog and she too totally agrees with Rhonda about the joys of keeping a home. Many women there too say others have tried to discourage them from staying home to care for their own home. They have talked about this several posts back and discussed this issue in the many comments to the posts. Don't let others tell you how you should live your own life. We dyears ago and there is no way working compared to being home. Some have even told me women in years past were made to stay at home, that it was not their decision. Sorry but that statement was never something I ever saw or heard about growing up. I talked to them then and later in my life. They Wanted to be home, loved it and wanted to encourage young women to stay at home. As Rhonda said sometimes it works out that the husband should be the one to stay at home. That is your decision. Thankyou Rhonda for posting about this and so many other encouraging and informative things. Trina {USA}

  22. Yes I agree and we have used the thinking Humanist for Humanity wrote about. Good comments as usual. Thanks Rhonda for opening up this topic.

  23. A fabulous post! I spent the first five years of motherhood at home with my two children, on benefits admittedly because I'd got divorced, but have never regretted that time. When the second child began school I went to university to retrain as a teacher, out of necessity as I didn't want to remain on bebefits. It would have been great to spend longer at home, but needs must work, and teaching at least gave me appropriate hours and holidays.

  24. Thank the deities for working tax credit in the UK! Without it I'd be in much more dire straits but now I receive that, Carer's Allowance, and DLA for my son, so I'm much better off, my son has everything he needs, and I can save my energy for my house, my business, and my child.

    I think it's harder as a single parent because if you don't have a job out of the home, people assume it's because you're lazy. I'm not on the dole, but contrary to popular belief, not every single-mum on the dole just sits about watching telly waiting for her cheque to come in. Some have made a choice to give their child all of their attention in their early years, and that is WORK.

    Some women I think benefit from having jobs outside the home - I don't believe that every woman is a natural-born housewife, any more than I think every woman is a mother-in-the-making. Still, I think there's room out there for the man to be the stay-at-home if he chooses (probably more stigma against that scenario than even a single SAHM!) while the woman works. Cutting back, being creative, and doing what you love regardless of what others might say about it is the whole point.

    cheers again for a great post!

  25. I really enjoyed this post! Thank you! I feel like you were writing about my life! We are a one income family. (I feel it is my role to stay home and care for our children and keep the home). We don't have a large income...but God has always (and I mean ALWAYS) provided for us. People don't understand how I have "time" to make homemade noodles or breads or the like. They think I am super mom...but I am truly not. I am just a wife and mama who tries to care for her family as best she can! Most people around me live on two incomes and although I love simplicity and am truly content...I do sometimes feel the arising of "want" in me. But passes and I pray and it's all good.
    Honestly, I feel bad for those mothers who work outside the home. I can't *imagine* not being around as your children are growing! It truly baffles me when people would rather have money or a *nicer* way of life rather than spend that time at home...with their children! They grow tooo fast!

    I must say, I am truly grateful...God has provided me the chance to be the tax collector in our small township. :) This will be a way for me to remain at home and still earn some extra money to contribute to the family! What a blessing that is!

    Oh goodness...I have rambled and I am sorry! But thank you so much for this post. It was encouraging and lovely!!! Have a wonderful week!

  26. People usually show disapproval , when I say I don't work, and they wonder how one could live this way...but working at home, is more work than a regular job, but so more fulfilling and rewarding. I can only see the advantages and love it more each and every day!

  27. I love that you kept this post gender-neutral! Of my friends (in late 20s, early 30s) more of the husbands/dads stay home than the wives/moms. A lot of times, they feel like odd men out, literally. But these same guys also say it's really amazing to be able to bond with their kids on a whole different level than men ever used to. My husband and I plan to take turns, so niether loses too much ground career-wise.

    Also, I'm a big fan of piecemeal work-from-home, like writing, graphic design, craft sales, etc. Excellent way to boost the budget.

    Great post!

  28. My husband has a colleague whose ENTIRE salary goes to pay their mortgage. I would find that soul destroying!! We manage (more than manage!) on his income and my Carer's Allowance. I asked him what the people at his work spend their money on because they are always moaning that they 'have no money'. Holidays, car payments, clothes, eating out, etc etc. I do feel sorry for them, because a number (including the lady whose whole salary is a mortgage payment) would love to stay at home. For me, every single day of not being able to afford a car, a holiday, clothes, meals out is a wonderful day because I am at home creating a beautiful life for my husband, my mother and my self. :)

    Thank you for your inspiration, Rhonda.

  29. When we had young children I did stay at home but now that they are teenagers (in a tuition paying school) I work FT outside the home as does my husband. BUT, we still work hard with a garden preserving almost all our vegetables and purchase fruit from local farms to be used for jams/jellies and frozen fruit. We do not buy convenience foods and cook every meal we eat including making our own sandwich bread.

    For those wishing to try going down to one income try this:
    put one entire paycheck into a savings account and do not touch it. Try it for a while or try starting by putting away 1/4 of it then gradually work up to 1/2, then 3/4, then the full amount. I put my entire paycheck into savings as we have learned long ago that we used to make it on one paycheck and still do. I tell everyone I don't get a paycheck because I never see it. But I am saving for my future retirement.

    I reinforce both the stay-at-home and the working mom but it is essential to not waste the money earned. It must be used wisely.

    Thanks Rhonda for another excellent post.


  30. This is so true.
    DH works at a good job, and I stay home and run things. So many people ask me "So, with no kids, what do you DO at home?" Too many people assume that there is nothing to do- there is so much! I believe homemaking is a much more involved job than others believe. There are so many duties and things to manage, it's a lot to just organize it all. I'm kept busy, but it is a good busy- I absolutely love my job. I'm never bored, and one of the best things is, is that when I need to I can take time to relax, and yet still be productive because I can knit, crochet, etc. Thank you for this encouraging post- it's so nice to be reminded that others agree!
    The Girl in the Pink Dress

  31. Thank you so much, Rhonda, for taking the time to write this post. We need all the encouragement we can get on our simple living journey. I'm sending along this link to a very similar message I wrote and posted on my Facebook account back in September. I hope you enjoy reading my thoughts on the subject.

    Blessings, Patti

  32. Thanks Rhonda,

    There's two of us here, and we both work part time. This gives us both the ideal balance of outside work, time with each other, time alone, and time at home. It also means we have to be pretty careful about money, but that's easier when you've both got time...

    For me the important thing is to think through as a family or partnership, or as an individual, what suits YOU. Ignore social pressures to buy more things, to have a bigger house just because you can, to put your children into childcare (or to have one person stay home all the time to look after them for that matter!)

    It's hard to work things out against that background sometimes - but I think such a big part of simple living is having time, that it's really important!

    Thanks again for your thoughts,


  33. Great post. I have an aunt and uncle who, when they were both working, always lived on one salary. They were able to pay off their home, and save quite a bit. This also meant that when my uncle was laid off, they were just fine on only my aunt's salary until he found another job. When they had their kids, my aunt was able to stay home with them because they had no debt and were already used to living on only one income. This was always something I found intriguing, and when my husband and I got married we adopted a similar model, living on his salary and using mine to build our savings and pay down our mortgage. We have not paid it off yet, but I now stay home with our daughter, and actually our expenses now--with her--are less than they were when I was working, so we are still able to chip away at the principal of our mortgage. As you say, it may not be easy, but it is absolutely possible and so worth it for us.

  34. Honestly, I feel bad for those mothers who work outside the home. I can't *imagine* not being around as your children are growing! It truly baffles me when people would rather have money or a *nicer* way of life rather than spend that time at home...with their children! They grow tooo fast!

    Not to be rude, but it saddens me a bit when people assume women who work outside of the home do so to acquire more "things".

  35. Do you think this way of thinking has seen the rise and rise of the WAHM?
    I have decided to stay at home with no 2, and sew for money for jam, because going to 'work' means too much sacrifice on missing out on all the fun when the kids are little. It's too high a price to pay.

  36. I was a SAHM for 12 years and recently returned to full time work when my youngest child started school full time. I don't know if others have struggled with this, but I was mentally bored at home. There was plenty to do, in fact I couldn't seem to ever stay on top of the laundry, cooking, cleaning, etc...but intellectually I was really bored. Now that I am working, it is very stressful at times and I haven't been able to find balance yet, after four months, but I'm not "bored" anymore. I wonder how others meet the need for intellectual stimuation as a SAHM.

    Elizabeth (USA)

  37. To Elizabeth, yes! I find it to be a completely different kind of living than my college years that were full of books and philosophical arguments and a challenge to constantly expand one's mind.

    Sometimes I find it incredibly dull.

    Online forums are a mental/intellectual lifesaver. I can't talk about literature and philosophy with my children in the same way I can with my peers. Sometimes it's nice to not have to put everything into overly-simplistic terminology. Or to discuss serious issues going on in the world that would needlessly upset or scare the kids.

    As my children are getting older, I've found it easier to arrange our schedules to allow for me to go do "me things". I enjoy being a SAHM; but I am not willing to give up the creative aspect of my self either.

    Deb (USA)

  38. I have just found your blog via Primrose Beresfords blog and how happy am I that I did!
    I am a homemaker-initially through circumstance not choice- having been self employed for most of the last decade- but we are now choosing to have me at home- despite the financial re adjustments!I am finding it more rewarding than anything that I have ever done.Because we do not have children I felt very driven work- despite the hours and effect that it had on our lives.
    Our lives are now richer,we eat better,live better and sleep better-my husband is coping better at work due to the calm home environment ( and better nutrition?) and though the financial hardships are going to need work and adjustment I am PROUD and happy to be a homemaker!
    I will follow your blog with interest.
    Warm Wishes,
    Cally x UK

  39. Hello Rhonda,
    First, let me say how much I enjoy and use the information in your blog, thank you kindly. I am particularly pleased to have the budget recap, that has been so helpful.

    Tonight I watched a documentary on permaculture farming. It's a beautifully done film, running 48 minutes, well worth watching in its entirety. I thought it would be something you might enjoy, it's so in keeping with the way you and your husband live. And if you don't know anything about the subject, it's quite fascinating. Here is the link:

    Cheers to you my friend,

    Alana, Oakville, ON, Canada

  40. Excellent post! It is so much healthier to live this way!

    There are miriad ways to make a small income while working at home, also. I don't say "staying at home" because taking care of a home properly is a big job. Cooking everything from scratch, doing all the mending, sewing and garden work is very time consuming.

    Raising a lot of your own food is a must for those on a budget. Making your own soap and cleaning supplies is a big money saver, as well.


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