Living on one income

7 January 2014
Written January 2010

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 have to 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.

Homemade 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. Rhoda I am so glad I found your blog, because I very much want to simplify my life. It is a good thing my husband and I are pretty much on the same page when it comes to finances. We are both walking towards a debt free life and I seriously want to quit the rat race. Not so much retire all together, but considerably reduce the amount of stress in our lives.

  2. This is an excellent post. My husband and I have lived on one income for 25 years. We have raised 4 children, homeschooled them, and then went through a horrific year where my husband had an accident and had a year of recovery. My years of frugalness paid off as I was able to stay at home while Bill recovered.

    Although he is in a far less paid occupation, we took our lives from the suburbs to a tiny corner of the desert in New Mexico (USA), which has allowed us to maintain our one income family on a small farm. I truly believe perspective is what makes one income work the best, as one sees that new now need not be most important, as homespun, handcrafted and gently used fill the need ever so well.

  3. I experienced that "creeping in" of convenience last year when I worked almost full time and it did cost a lot more. I have always cooked most things myself but when I went back to work almost full time last year, convenient things like take-away meals crept slowly back in because I was just too exhausted when walking in the door at 6p,m., having forgotten to defrost something, to even boil an egg felt like too much effort.

    I've reduced my work days this year and am now enjoying being back in my kitchen.

  4. A good post, Rhonda, and a helpful guide to many, I'm sure.

  5. Thank you for reminding me that work in my home is not just okay, it is wonderful. I often struggle with the idea that this is my dream job and find myself searching for validation outside my home.

  6. Yup. We live on two incomes again, despite our simple living move a year ago! Renovating is an expensive game. Luckily, I have the freedom to work from home and late at night, so most of what I earn ends up in our pocket (although Lucinda does do daycare now). I try and run the household off what I earn while ALL Dan's wage after paying the mortgage and our insurances goes into the renovation. This way, we've been able to buy most of our materials without loans. We're looking forward to six months from now when most of the expensive work is behind us and we can slow down a bit again!

  7. Being a single gal I've not had the option to not be in paid employment, however, I fully support those that have made that choice. For myself, having worked 38 years full time, after having cared for my father these last 6 months, I've decided when I get a job it will definitely will be part time -- life is too short!
    One factor often not mentioned in these discussions is superannuation. With ageing population and reduced government support in retirement the 'home maker' may well need their own superannuation policy…….with fairly frequent government changes with regard to superannuation accounts, how much/when to start if you do ….would be personal choice. As Rhonda said, we need to take all costs into account.
    Thanks, Rhonda

  8. Brilliant post..we have lived on one income and then two..then back to that time we had 4 children and they all had a good life at home..convenience food started to creep in and then other stuff...all of a sudden we found ourselves expecting another baby in our late 30's and our priorities changed..the simpler things crept back in and then a LBM..we liked being now we have 2 small children 4 grown up children and 4 grandchildren and a whole new income and a whole lot of good times..growing our own,making and mending and i am home schooling our 2 little income living is good..i am so good at budgetting i should give our chancellor tips..budgets are good..

  9. I have found this myself over a period of years, that the costs of the second person going to work can be quite expensive. Childcare fees, the cost of convenience foods, travel to work expenses, daily bought lunches and takeaways on those days when too exhausted to cook.
    These days, my husband goes to work outside of the home while I work at home, taking care of my home and family, we have home cooked heathy meals, we have time for friends and exercise, bake my own bread, make all my cleaning products and make my own clothing.
    We are a much healthier, happier family, living on much less income, but enjoying a much higher quality of life.

  10. When we got married some 20 years ago we made a decision that when we had children I would be a housewife. It was very controversial at the time and though there were occasions when I took on freelance or occasionally part time work my income was never part of the budget. We had to learn to live on what my husband earned. My children are now 18 and 15 & 15. My husband's retirement is on the horizon. We are used to working at home together, we are used to living on a single income. Retirement is not something we are fearing but looking forward to.

  11. Loving these posts Rhonda, they are firing me up all over again! :) Big hugs, xxx

  12. Totally the reminder I needed to read tonight, thank you very much x

  13. It felt so good to read this post. My name is Kara and I am 26 years old. I have been happily married for 8 years and we have a beautiful 6 year old daughter. I have worked since I was 15. My world came to a hault about 2 years ago when I realized my daughter would start kindergarten and our free time together would soon end and any time together will be homework, dinner and new friends. So I decided to become a stay at home mom. To my family, the woman has ALWAYS earned more money than the man. To not work meant I was 'giving my husband all the control' and I was being 'lazy'. I spent the year before kindergarten taking her out with me on volunteering, seeing the ocean, picnics at the park, etc. I loved it. It was the most mentally and physically draining job but the MOST rewarding. She is now in school and I want to stay home. See her on the bus, pick her up, be there at a moments notice if she gets sick, rather than worry about what my boss will think, etc. My husband is supportive but its no secret another income would help. But I am really determined to stay. My mom didn't. She was getting a divorce working 3 jobs. I have the ability to stay with my child and yet my family constantly nags about my resume, my job search, and finally earning a college degree. Reading this made me take a nice deep breathe. This job isn't easy. And it feels good to know I am not alone, not old fashion, and not labeled. THANK YOU.

  14. Thanks for the words of wisdom and encouragement. Matt and I hope to live on one income someday...hopefully someday soon. Already we've been able to let Matt reduce to part-time. And boy do we love that extra time together and to work on things around the house.

  15. Thank you so much for your blog and sharing your thoughts and day to day experiences. I like reading you and learning. It makes a lot of sense to live this simple life. I am just starting at it, and learning and enjoying every step of the way.


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