29 December 2008

20 tips for living on one income

It was a strange Christmas in Australia. The expected shopping downturn didn't happen and people kept spending just like they always do. I know in the UK, in Europe and the US, Christmas sales were down, which I believe is a truer reflection of the economic situation than what we saw here in Australia. From what I read and see on the TV news and from what I see at my job, 2009 will be a tough year for many people.

There are predictions of job loses, hundred of thousands of them, as many countries go into recession. That will mean families who currently live quite well on two incomes will have to change and survive on one income. So what do you do if you need two incomes to survive and one of you loses your job?

Your main goal is to keep your home, feed your family and pay off your debt. It won't be easy, but you'll learn a lot and grow strong because of it.

When I closed my business down I didn't know if I could keep us going on what Hanno was earning but I was sure going to give it a try. We had already paid off our mortgage but we had a small amount of debt on our credit cards. I have to tell you now that my decision to close my business, although we were walking in unknown territory and had absolutely no clue about what would happen, was one of the best decisions of my life. It pushed us toward this beautiful life we now live. You may find you thrive living with less. So keep an open mind and remember it's not the end of the world. What I'm writing here is what worked for us, and still works for us now.
  • Start tracking your money so you know what you both spend. I have written about it here. Start that immediately because it will take you a month to know where you money is going.
  • Sit down with your partner and work out a plan. Both of you need to be working towards the same goal. Financial problems can break marriages apart, you'll have to talk to each other and stay strong. Promise each other that you won't use your credit cards. When you get through this, you'll be a stronger couple for it.
  • If you have children, depending on their ages, explain the situation to them. Work out ways they can help cut costs. The loss of income will effect them too, so respect them enough to talk it over with them and see what they can do to help.
  • You must continue paying off your debts but if this becomes difficult, go to your bank and talk about what you can do. There will be solutions, many other couples will be in the same predicament and your bank may already have programs up and running. Talk to your bank, don't hide, that will just get you in trouble.
  • Make up a budget, both of you, sit down and expect to take a couple of hours doing it. There are many posts on budgeting here. This will be your working plan for the coming months; both of you need to contribute to it, both of you need to know what it is. What you're hoping for with your budget is to cover all your expenses and have a bit of money left over. That's probably not going to happen so you'll have to cut your cost of living.
  • Get rid of everything that is not essential. Cable TV, phones, eating out, convenience food, downloading music and movies. If you have a second car, sell it. Be strong.
  • And keep talking to each other. Tough times bind people together. You will see each other's strengths and help each other with your weaknesses.
  • Have a look at all the accounts you have and try to get better deals on your phone, Internet, insurance etc.
  • Check every bank and credit card statement that comes in. Banks make mistakes, so make sure they haven't overcharged you.
  • You will both have distinctive roles to play. The person who goes out to work must take lunch, coffee and snacks from home. That person must not spend anything while they're at work, no matter how tempting the coffee smells that your colleague is drinking, don't buy one for yourself. That magazine only costs a few dollars, but you still can't buy it. Every cent counts.
  • The person staying at home has a very important job. It is their job to save as much money as possible at home. Check what food you have on hand. Are you a good cook? If you aren't, now is the time you'll learn. When I came back to my home I took great pride in being able to lay our table with tasty nutritious food that cost a fraction of what we used to spend. It can be done. There are many frugal recipes on my blog and millions of them online. Start looking for those you know your family will enjoy.
  • Make up a menuplan.
  • Get the flyers and work out the best place to shop. If you have an Aldi nearby that will probably be the cheapest supermarket. Don't reply on supermarkets for your fruit, vegetables and meat. Often the green grocer and butcher will have better prices. Check out all your options.

  • Try to cut down on the number of times you go out. Can you set up a car pool to get the children to school? Shop once a week, but try to go two weeks without grocery shopping. When you are out, do everything you need to do, like go to the library, post office, doctor, or whatever.
  • Learn how to read your electricity and water meters and use them to help you cut down your usage.
  • If you have the space, plant vegetables.
  • Learn how to make bread. Not only will your bread be healthier, it will be cheaper.
  • Forget brand loyalty and buying something because you always buy it. Buy generic brands, buy in bulk, buy whole foods. Find a farmer's market nearby and check out their fresh produce.

  • Organise yourself. Make up a home management journal where you keep all your new information.
  • Don't waste anything.
  • Rediscover your library. If it's been a while, you'll find a nice variety of media available like books, DVDs, comics, magazines, talking books, the internet, games and music CDs. This will provide you with some cheap entertainment.

I know my frugal friends here will have great tips to add to this, so come back later and read the comments too, they'll also help.

Tomorrow I'll write about preparing for the recession.

Where to buy Australia's cheapest groceries

Household survival tips - part 1
Household survival tips - part 2
Recipes and meal plans from Aldi products
What does cooking on a budget mean?

How to eat organic on the cheap (USA)
Saving at the Supermarket
Frugal Food - UK


  1. Excellent suggestions. I will be re-reading to make sure I am applying them all.
    At the moment we live on one income as I prefer to be home when my kids get sick or have holidays and I have been unable to find suitable work with that kind of flexibility.
    A good friend of mine is also a stay-at-home mum and she told me to think of it as your job. So although you have flexibility, you need to let other people know that just because you are home during the week does not mean that you have loads of free time. All of that baking, growing and maintining of the household takes a lot of time. It is just like a paid job, except the salary is in the savings, rather than the earnings.
    And just as you may take a course to further your paid work, you can educate yourself to further your unpaid work. Learning about food, meals, health, gardening, parenting, sewing, budgeting etc. from library books, community courses, and precious blogs like this one is the on-the-job training.
    Apologies for the long winded comment. :)

  2. Does Aldi carry organic food?

  3. I love long comments, Joanne. :- )

    I totally agree with your friend. I see my work at home as my job - it is my job to save money and provide good food and to do it in the most frugal way possible.

  4. Rebekka, Aldi does have some organic food but not much. It varies in each country. Here it's honey, pasta, tea, tomatoes.

  5. Rhonda,

    These are some great suggestions! My husband and I try to save through-out the year and this year was one of the hardest. Everything seemed to go up, up and up.

    My husband has a feeling there might be lay-offs at his work. Do you have any suggestions on how to be prepared for a lay-off? (I do not work outside the home.. so we already live on one income)

    We have cut back a lot! We have lowered all are bills... our house payment is the highest and it will be a while before we can pay it off. We don't use credit cards.

    I am trying to clean and organize everything so we know what we have. I don't want to be wasteful!

    Thank you Rhonda for taking your time to write this very timely post!



  6. What a really interesting and useful post.....we are having a tricky time...so i'm finding this info VERY useful...thank you!xxx

  7. Right now we have two incomes but are planning to go down to one or two smaller incomes. We've implemented many of these solutions and it's really enabled us to stockpile our nest egg as well as learn new and valuable skills. It also helps us ease into the idea of a smaller income instead of an abrupt change of lifestyle.

    Next year we are going to pay off the last car and the only debt we will have is our house. That's rented out through 2010 and we will hopefully be able to sell it after that.

  8. At this time of year in the southern hemisphere I will be stockpiling cheap (mostly free)fruit! Sometimes you can get whole boxes of fruit from your local markets for as little as $5 a box.
    A lot of people out there have fruit that just rots on the ground. Ask around at your workplace or put a notice on your local notice board. Offer to go and pick the fruit and clean up around the tree, in exchange for a share of the pickings. One of my best friends has an awesome apricot tree and I will be bottling/preserving lots of apricots to use throughout the year. We use it for crumbles, muffins and just the fruit with ice cream as well. I might even have a go at making some jam next year!
    Rhonda has info on preserving/ bottling on her blog as well as their being a wealth of info on the net.
    You can also dry or freeze the excess fruit or make it into jams or chutneys.
    Hope this helps.

  9. We recently went from two incomes to one by personal choice. I chose to stay home to be with my son, and what we did notice was that since I was able to cook more, budget more, and become more frugal, the loss of income wasn't that noticeable. Of course we had to give up some luxuries, but now we have home cooked meals every day, a clean home using less chemicals (which is healthier too), and I am able to spend more time with our family. One of my most favorite things to do is mix up batches of our favorite cookies, scoop them out onto cookie sheets, and freeze them as raw dough. I then put the dough balls into freezer bags and toss them into the freezer. When we want a fresh snack, we can throw 6 cookies on a tray and get better than bakery fresh cookies any day for fractions of the cost compared to a bakery. Living frugally doesn't mean you have to eat bad food. We actually eat better, healthier, and home cooked food as a result of being frugal. Being at home is the most rewarding and most important job I have ever had. Thank you for the important post - I hope all the stay at home moms and wives realize how important their jobs are! :)

  10. I just thought I'd add trading in here. I make jars of chutney and preserves from my garden and will often trade them with friends for eggs, bags of fruit etc.It is amazing what I have been able to swap!

  11. Rhonda, you've done it again! Your home management journal is a great idea. Better actually than the computer because it is easy to take it where ever I'm working.
    For those of you who get great deals on fresh produce at the store, I'm envious. Our grocers will throw it away before selling older produce. It may be because of the fear of making someone ill or being sued or violating a FDA rule, but it would be great to catch the occasional break.
    Thanks again, JudieJ

  12. I am glad that you posted this. I have been a stay at home wife for 21 years now. Often I have felt "how quaint" from those who have two incomes, as I make everything and make do. But my thriftiness allowed us to never buy except with cash(that I would set aside). My husband has taken a meal to work for all the years except when he was in the army.

    The convenience issues never bothered me. I am the keeper at home, and work diligently to appreciate every bit of money brought home. My frugalness first came from knowing that my husband put on a weapon each day to support us(he was a police officer). On 1-1-05 he had a car accident on duty and our lives changed to becoming even more self sufficient.

    We sold our house in the burbs, and bought a rough and tumble farm in the desert southwest US. We now raise our own chickens, geese, ducks, goats, sheep, and turkeys.

    I know for a fact that one income has been a blessing for us. I have never felt slighted, and have seen my own personal talents increase year by year. I came into the marriage quite spoiled not even knowing how to cook, and now I cook, can, preserve, sew, craft, build, paint, repair things, and muck out pens.

    My four years at college taught me nothing compared to these past two decades. I know that anyone can switch and learn to prepare.

    Life is not about money, and it can be wonderful with little or none.

    I apologize for running on. Thanks once again for sharing so many neat tips.

  13. Another good post! You are right about renewing your aquaintance with the library. After years of buying books (secondhand usually) I downsized my library to research books and books I use often and got a library card. I take out DVD's, borrow CD's and read to my heart's content. There are more magazines than I could ever read that are available for use in the library. There is also the interlibrary loan system for books you can't get locally.

    Sorry to blather on but for a book-lover the library was my first helper in downsizing!

  14. Over the past eight years a weekly menu plan and planned household organisation have enabled Tony and I to live on a sixth of our former combined teaching incomes.

    I keep a perpetual grocery shopping list under a magnet on the fridge. When we run out of something I mark the list straight away and then buy only what is on the list. Waste is a thing of the past and my grocery bills are low.

    Rhonda, are you aware that you are the fourth most popular Australian woman blogger? I stumbled across this fact this morning during some holiday Net surfing. See

    Technorati is the basis for the computation. Congratulations! :-) Best of all it shows how many people are wanting to live simply!

    Cheers, Rose

  15. I just want to say thank you. I am a new reader and a stay at home mom.
    Last June I went back to work for the first time in 7 years after having 2 kids. Well after becomming comfortable with the extra cash that became on hand, I am now NOT working, and havent worked for over a month due to the economy.
    Trying to get back in the groove of things BEFORE I worked is hard but we are doing it. The tips you give are extremely valuable.
    So far everything Ive read in your blog is great! Keep em' commin! =D

  16. If anyone is not seriously worried about what's going to happen in the next couple of years, or believes that what the politicians are doing is going to work, can I recommend https://www.poptech.org/juanenriquez/
    This talk struck me as being a bit like Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth - a simplified explanation that everyone can understand.

  17. Thanks so much Rhonda for another helpful post. This week I am making my own cleaning products, next week we're re-starting the vegie patch, and the following week we're cutting up the credit cards (thanks Mr Rudd!).

    Your post on community service was great, too - very important!

  18. Some suggestions from a mother of 3 little boys:

    - at birthday and Christmas time, do they have older cousins who have outgrown expensive toys? Can those toys be handed down? (eg: leap pads, nintendo games, lego, blocks etc)
    - most schools operate clothing pools where uniforms can be purchased at a fraction of their new cost.
    - shoes: look out for when the big retailers have a buy one, get the second pair free promotion. This effectively means both pairs are half price
    - use cloth nappies for baby
    - give your kids outgrown clothing to friends with smaller children. Others will see you doing this and pass their old things onto you
    - let the kids go mad with the contents of the recycling bin. You don't need to buy that many craft supplies if those imaginations are let loose. Cardboard, scissors, sticky tape, glue and paint are the core requirements.
    - use the net for finding fun preschool activity sheets and colouring pages

    For car and house insurance - you'll often find that if you bundle all of your policies together with the one firm, you'll get a great discount.

    Keep an eye on roadside fruit and veg stalls. Often, if you buy a bulk lot of stuff, they'll throw in extra things.

    Freeze and preserve your excess from the garden during Summer. Save all those glass screw top jars during the year.

    Just one last thing: it's ok to say "no" to children. It isn't about being mean or stingy, but about teaching them to learn that temptations are everywhere (lollipops, better video games, chocolates, chips etc) but just because they are there doesn't mean you have to have them.

    Lisa x

  19. thanks to everyone who added information here.

    Renee, there may be something in tomorrow's post for you.

    Rose, I did know I was working my way up that list.

  20. Thank you for the post! A lot of the stuff you have up really is based on common sense strategies, but it's surprising how much we forget about! I love re-reading these kinds of things as a reinforcement exercise for me. The more I hear it, the easier it is for me to remember to do it. I know I was really shocked when I went to our local green market and found out how much cheaper and better tasting their vegetables are. Instead of spending $4 for a small package of mushrooms that I may not get through in a week, I can pay $0.40 for a handful of them. It's amazing. I look forward to your next post!

  21. I have a caveat where children are involved. My mother did this and I plan to as well.

    She did let us know that there were things we could not do because money was tight. However, she never made it a worry. It's good for a kid to know that Mom isn't made of money. It is not good for a kid to lie awake wondering if he's going to get a meal tomorrow.

    Whenever I'd ask about that, my mother would tell me that it was not mine to worry about. She said that the home was secure and the food was too. This, I learned later, wasn't always entirely the case, but it is her belief (and mine) that some burdens are not for children to bear.

    Basically, I agree with you, I just wanted to add that little caveat. :)

    You know what one of my favorite grocery tips is? Fruit in season. In my 'modern culture' area, you can get any fruit at any time of year, but fruit goes in and out of season, and in-season fruit both tastes better and costs a LOT less. I think it's good for a diet to have a varied amount of fruit and veggies, and I know it's good for the pocketbook to keep the prices down! I won't buy fruit at the store unless I can get it for under $1/lb.

    Right now (I live in NE USA) the fruit on sale are California oranges, which is an excellent way to stay healthy during the winter. One a day.

  22. We have an Aldis here in the midwest of the U.S believe it or not. You can get all kinds of food and paper products there but they are not as full service as yours in Australia.
    I have been tracking the rise in cost of many of our favorite items that were once cheap (canned baked beans for example) and making these things from scratch. One bag of beans costs very little and can make five side dishes to feed 4 people or two main dishes,for a fraction of the cost of cans.
    The link to buying organic cheaply in the U.S was also interesting to me because in actuality, buying Whole Foods store brands is not buying fresh produce but cans and frozen items. They do nothing to help save on organic produce around here. One option is to buy shares in a farm (must wait till early spring)or find a local health food stores that does year round boxes.
    For the U.S readers who don't care about organic you should check out Angel Food Ministries. They are a monthly food bank that provides enough food for a family of four for one week (meat and produce) for 30 dollars.

  23. Thank you for these great suggestions!

    We're trying to see the changes we are having to make in our lives as exciting challenges, rather than a pain. I'll be coming back to re-check those points again!

  24. I LOVE Aldi!! We recently got one in our town, and I've been doing our weekly grocery shopping there ever since discovering it.

    A question - do you feel they are "greener" than a traditional supermarket? I know they are with the smaller footprint of the stores, and how you have to bring your own bags, but as far as their distribution network, are they more green? I've become concerned with how many miles my food travels to reach me and wonder if they have a more efficient distribution network in place than a traditional grocery store?

  25. You've covered alot on your blog so these may already be well-known...
    *Recycle as much as possible. Cans & bottles for the 5cents adds up and plastic and other glass is free (if you have to pay for dump use like we do). My husband has taken apart our old dishwasher, snowblower and air conditioner and disposed of the metal in the proper container.
    *Join your local freecycle and donate things you don't want and get others' things you need for free.
    *Cut your children's juice by putting in twice as much water for frozen or same for bottled. Do slowly and they'll get used to it. It's better for them, too.
    *Take showers every other day and use smaller amount of shampoo.
    *Make good use of the park playground for an outing.
    *Set up an afternoon tea or picnic in the backyard instead of driving to the park.
    *For many anniversaries my husband and I bring a cold chicken picnic to an area park and sit in the middle of a field on a blanket (all alone!) and just enjoy the peacefulness, scenery, and each other.
    *We get a $100 gift card to Chile's from my brothe & sil each Xmas and they were shocked to learn that we make it last all year! It's my dh & my special night out. We each order a salad, one appetizer that we split and water. It's good, filling and cheap!
    I could go on and on... I've been living this way for the 25 years I've been married & on one income with 7 kids. Maybe I'll do a post about it! It's a great way to live!

  26. I love your blog Rhonda and we are effectively living on NO income. The toughest time of my life.

    BUT we have to stop as a nation sending all our money and jobs overseas. Because as we have sucked up cheap petrol discounts, in just over 4 years nearly all the competition has been eliminated. Many many individual businesses gone and in years to come we will pay higher prices because there will be no competition. Cheap imports from China decimated our own manufacturing industry in a matter of decades.

    Walking through Aldi I was shocked at how much comes from a long way away. FOOD MILES! My need to save is great but I can't and we, as a country, cannot continue to give away our futures by taking the easy options now. We have done that for years with the environment and the economy. Aldi is not a good choice. Support the smaller retailers, your local stores, look at your food miles. All the other things you suggest make so much sense.



  27. Great tips. My husband and I are living on one income and have found it to be very liberating to let go of old spending habits!

  28. Thank you so much for continuing to write through Christmas, Rhonda...it keeps us all focussed on the New Year. I have already managed to reduce my working week to three days, and am aiming for two- and the secret is, as you have described, to cut and cut again, and to keep reviewing everything you spend to see where else savings can be made.I really like your clear simple goals-am thinking maybe they can go up somewhere in big letters-keep your home, feed your family, reduce debt. Simple, straightforward, achievable.And life really is better by doing so!
    Thanks again, and happy holidays to you both.

  29. Great comment, Joanne. When I was young, the stay-at-home partner-our mum-contributed an enormous amount to the household budget. Everything was grown or made,even school jumpers were all hand knitted. The result was that we had a secure, comfortable childhood, and my parents continue to have what would be described as a comfortable middle class lifestyle, despite having been retired for the past twenty years.Women were incredibly skilled in housekeeping way back then, and it is great to see people remembering the importance of those skills and using them to live well now..

  30. Helpful list of suggestions. I'd say that, for us, the most successful has been number 1 - tracking expenses. We were shocked at what we spent and were nickel and diming ourselves.

  31. A big money saver for me is grocery shopping only once every month or six weeks. It cuts down on caving in to the temptation to grab things that aren't on the list. I got started on this pattern by using up all the forgotten bits and pieces in the freezer and pantry for a month while I saved the money to make a bigger shopping trip. I also have built up a store of home-canned and dry rice and legumes.

  32. Hi from Ireland to Rhonda and all the contibutors who made the excellent comments.We also have Aldi and Lidl outlets here.They are much cheaper for fresh veg than the bigger supermarket chains but they pitch their prices just under the norm in every country they operate in, here they import a lot of continental food products but have started buying some local produce now.
    Budget and buy/cook/freeze for an 8 day week then every 7 weeks you should have a 'free' week.
    Put all cooked leftover veg and potatoes etc in a bag in the freezer. When it is full defrost, add stock, heat and whiz in the food processor to make a nourishing veg soup.
    I have been making notes of the various tips here too

  33. Hi Rhonda,

    Great post and great blog! Thanks for linking to my two articles, I'm glad you like them (and have seen much of your readers visiting my site, so thanks for that too!)

    I am a subscriber now, will be coming back for more. Happy New Year, everybody!

  34. Thanks so much for all the advice here....great ideas and several that I need to implement...now!

    As for the last suggestion on cheap entertainment....I have found a great site for swapping books...Paperback Swap (http://www.paperbackswap.com/index.php).

    I love to read and our local library is pretty lame so now I get loads of books for free, keep some (cookbooks) and pass others along.
    It's a wonderful way to recycle!

  35. great blog (known it for a while)- but very timely that i should stubble on this particular "thread", - i live near the market and only buy whats in season (cheaper & tastier) - further, on holidays or end of weekend shopping days - i can get kgs of fruits/vegetables for next to nothing, ie tomatoes - i either use and if i don't, i bung them into the freezer for the ever useful tomato-based stocks! i have friends who have fruit trees!! so will definately be visiting some, come harvesting time, great for the kids, and as i am already reputed to give food gifts (jams etc.,) they'll understand - thanks for reminding for what i have!!


I welcome readers' comments. However, this blog never publishes business links or advertisements. If you're operating a business and want to leave your link here, I will delete your comment .

Blogger Template by pipdig