23 March 2020

Living on one income and developing routines

On the weekend, I received a message from a reader, "Emma", who is about to leave paid work and will stay at home to manage the family. This is some of what she had to say:

"I was just wondering how you plan your days (if you do at all). 
My partner and I have decided that I will cease work out of the home this year and manage our little family! I just feel a bit lost and overwhelmed with what to do each day to keep the house/garden and hobbies ticking over. I know it will be different for everyone but just seeking some guidance as I enter this more simple phase of life."

Before I go on, I'd like to congratulate Emma on making such a big life change.  It'll be difficult at times but very rewarding.  I hope the suggestions given below will also help others who have been stood down at work and will be at home for the next six months due to the coronavirus crisis.

There is a common understanding in contemporary Australia that it’s financially wise for couples to work. While I believe that is true when there are no children, I don’t believe it’s true for all couples with young children. When you add up the real cost of having both parents in the workforce, taking into account child care costs, grooming, clothes, shoes and transport, it’s often financially sound to have one parent at home. And when I say “parent” I mean either the mother or the father. The partner who can earn the most money, for the least expense and the shortest time away from home, should be the one who goes out to work.  If both parents earn a similar amount, the one who wants to work should.

Even though you'll move from two incomes to one, both of you will have a job. One will go out and earn the money you need to buy what you need and have a roof over your head, the other job is to effectively manage the home and family. Both jobs are equally important. If you are the stay at home worker, you will be taking control of the family money and it will be your job to buy everything you need to stay happy and healthy on a 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. When I first started living this way, I thought of my home as a small business. I had a budget, goals and responsibilities and I had to work to make sure everyone had what they needed. Emma, if your at-home and paid job combine and you both work as a team with your partner, you could create a beautiful, slow and simple life.

Backyard eggs, zucchini, onions with fried potatoes and chilli jam.

One of the most helpful things you can do is to work to a routine that suits you. I think it's better to use the "before 9am" or "before lunch" type of routine. Doing that you give yourself a couple of hours to do a few things instead of having breakfast at 7 and cleaning the kitchen benches at 9. Of course, a lot will depend on the age of your children but as they grow, the more time you'll have. The following is a general example of basic routines that you can adjust to suit how you work and your workload.

  • Get up at 6 am - get dressed, let the animals out, feed the chickens and make a cup of tea. Make breakfast and a work lunch for your partner. Make the bed.
  • Before 9 am - get the kids up and dressed, make breakfast for everyone. Talk to the kids about what they'll be doing that morning. Organise them with books or toys while you tidy the kitchen, pack the dishwasher, wipe down the stove and benches.  Make bread and have that on the rise before 9am.
  • Before lunch - bake bread, decide what you'll cook for dinner, make any snacks needed (biscuits, cake, cut-up fruit etc), make the kids beds and teach them to do it as they get older,  do a quick cleanup of the bathrooms.
  • After lunch - naps, playtime, gardening, hobbies, playing outdoors and preparing dinner. Don't forget to use your slow cooker and cook two meals at once so you cut down on your cooking time.
  • Try to do as much as you can the night before for breakfast, lunch and dinner the following day.
  • Always clean the kitchen and pack the dishwasher after dinner. Leave the kitchen as you would like to find it in the morning.
  • The day before you do your shopping, check out the fridge, freezer and garden then create your shopping list.
  • Once a week or fortnight you'll need to shop for groceries.  You either do this in your "Before lunch" timeslot or wait until your partner comes home, do it after dinner or on the weekend so you don't have to take the kids.
  • If you're building a stockpile cupboard, read my posts on stockpiling and look for bargains every time you shop. Ideally, your stockpile will be made up of about 80 percent goods you got on special
One of the early things I did that was very helpful was to make up a normal week's shopping list, then go through that list and make a second list of the things I could make at home. My second list contained bread, yoghurt, cheese, crackers, biscuits, cakes, jams, sauces, dressings, spice mixes, drinks, cleaners, laundry liquid etc. For second list foods, you'll need to buy ingredients, not products. All these years later I reckon I've saved a lot of money doing those things and we're healthier because of it. We consume few preservatives here and we live with fewer chemicals than we used to.  There are recipes for all these things on my blog, use the search engine in the sidebar to find them.

Work out how often you have to do the washing. This might be everyday, three times a week or once a week.  The washing can be put on to soak overnight, can wash overnight so it's ready to hang out in you "Get up at 6am" timeslot.

  • Clean outdoor areas
  • Clean chicken coop
  • Turn compost
  • Clean gutters
  • Clean solar panels
  • Clean windows
  • Check for spider webs
  • Clean ceiling fans and airconditioners
  • Check all your insurances, phone, internet, electricity, water bills and do some research.  Find out if there are better deals, then ring your supplier, say you don't want to leave them but you're on a strict budget, then ask for a better deal. We do this every year in a polite and business-like way and it's saved us hundreds of dollars.
  • Etc ...
The examples above are meant as a guide only. You should work according to how old your children are, for example, babies and toddlers need more of your time than a 5-year-old does. Be realistic when you create your routines. It's okay to leave work you can't do and ask for help from your partner.  Remember, housework never ends, so when you've had enough, walk away.  It will be there waiting for you tomorrow. And be kind to yourself - take 15 minutes out for a cuppa or just to zone out at the kitchen table. Maybe you want to take the kids for a walk to the park and if that will keep you happy, do it.

This is an interesting and significant job. It's not just housework, it's managing your life and creating a safe haven for your family. You can improve your cooking and baking skills, learn to sew, mend, crochet and knit. Instead of buying new curtains or dishcloths, make them. Gone are the days when you'll clean with spray and wipe chemicals, in your home 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.  There are recipes for cleaners and patterns for dishcloths here on my blog, just use the search engine on the sidebar to find them.

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 your home comfortable and warm, to teach yourself life skills and to show your children, by example, that this is what real life is.

Here is a short list of some of the things you might want to do in the first few months:
  • Create a workable budget that is set in stone.
  • Save an emergency fund. 
  • Change your home to better suit you and the way you work. 
  • Monitor your water, electricity and gas usage. 
  • Get better deals on your regular bills such as insurances, internet, phone. 
  • Declutter and sell the excess - money made goes towards the emergency fund or savings. 
  • Set up a pantry and stockpile. 
  • Cook from scratch.
  • Learn to bake and preserve. 
  • Grow some food. 
  • Start composting. 
  • Reduce the amount of waste you generate. 
  • Give more and expect less.
  • Develop a habit of kindness.

There are so many things to do when you live a more simple life, you'll never get through all of them in one lifetime. But the most important thing to remember is to live your life, not mine, not your best friend's or your parents' lives, live your life. We're all so different, we're different ages, we have different types of families, different aspirations, values, incomes, needs and desires. So go slowly, work hard, identify what you want and how to get it. Try to build a life that recognises and celebrates happiness. By taking the small steps over many years, you'll build yourself a mighty fine life and I hope that on your dying day, you'll be proud of what you managed to achieve.

Teach your children as much as you can while they're growing up. One of the biggest gifts you can give your children is to love them and your partner, and show them that your family and your life make you happy. As you get older you'll go through a lot of life stages so don't be afraid to change as you need to. Just keep in mind your simple values and work out ways to remain productive for as long as you can. This is an enriching and significant way to live and it will change you like nothing else can. Good luck.  



  1. Very timely! I know this helped me, as I will be at home at least for another month and maybe longer. I appreciate these tips.

  2. Great post Rhonda and never ever before has "an emergency fund" come into it's own. Imagine if everyone were able to have 6 months living expenses in an account how it would comfort them in these very unsettling times. Stay safe.

  3. Yes, staying at home is a very busy life. It adds so much quality and comfort. I find it very rewarding.

  4. Maureen SchinkelMarch 23, 2020 12:13 pm

    Beautiful Rhonda Jean!

  5. It was good to read this Rhonda, Things I have learnt from reading your blog yet it is always good to refresh the memory and the 'do it yourself' spirit. Many things can cause one to become a little lax with routines and this was like a wee breath of fresh air to blow away the cobwebs of ill health. With everything going on around us presently, these basic things would make a huge difference to many lives if put into practice.
    I hope you and Hanno stay well.

  6. "give more, expect less" enough said.
    Thank you rhonda. Mandi

  7. The best suggestion I heard about division of labor is that for every hour the wage-earner is commuting and working, the stay-at-home works the same number of hours. Everything else is divided equally. This does not mean the stay-at-home gets to quilt or craft every afternoon while the children nap. Work is work, so divide it equally.

    1. It's impossible to compare stay at home work to a job worked outside the home. The stay at home worker does not get paid time off, a lunch break to her (him) self, mandated 15 minute breaks for every 4 hours worked or a defined work day. Caring for children and the home is a 24 hour, 7 day a week operation. A child that needs something at 3 am is never met with a response of "I'm off the clock". In addition, quilting and other crafts provide beautiful and useful objects for the home. Engaging in such activities also provides an emotional, mental and sometimes physical outlet that is needed for health. Please consider these thoughts before declaring "work is work".

    2. I don't disagree with you, but notice I said EVERY afternoon. There is always a happy medium. I speak from my own poor habits when my children were growing up.

  8. Such a wonderful post Rhonda. Never before has our work at home been as meaningful as it is right now. Home schooling for young families will now be added to that list too. My work and daily chores on the farm have never held as much value to us as they do now. Every drop of milk, every bit of cheese and butter, every vegetable grown, every batch of washing liquid etc, holds so much value to me. Especially so now that I can share them with others who can't find them on the supermarket shelves. Sally XX

  9. Here in France, we are confined because of covid19 !
    We don't know for how long, but I think it will be at least until the end of april!
    So, I'm very happy to know how to do a lot of things myself in my house ( sew, knit, make bread, cleaning products etc etc...
    So, your blog is very precious for me. Thanks, thanks thanks..
    Take care of you.

  10. Well said Rhonda.I am your vintage and I lived my life like you. At times I felt like a loser when surrounded by "career women" but now I am reaping the benefits.My 3 children are all working hard and all university educated.I am still married to my husband after 40 years and even though it hasn't all been plain sailing we are still there for each other.To be honest I think a lot of good will come out of this pandemic.The younger generations need to learn that life is not all about having fun!

  11. Thanks Rhonda for your commonsense approach. People will really be struggling now as their circumstances change maybe for the first time ever and this advice will be invaluable.

    1. Life is not all about having fun but staying at home can be fun! Enjoy this precious time Emma.

  12. the warmfireplaceMarch 23, 2020 6:56 pm

    Thank you so much Rhonda, I have been following your blog for years and have both your books, such valuable advise in these times, and so good to have a re fresh of ideas. Sue

  13. Your blogs are so helpful and I am so glad that I have learned from them. Keep healthy! Joan

  14. Hi Rhonda, I am now 63 and living on my own, I have been wife, mother, stay at home Mum, and now a carer, my income is now very low and after having been used to raising all our own meat and vegetables and really eating quite well, I am struggling to feed myself. Having to purchase food is one of my biggest expenses and I am wondering if you could please put your thinking cap on and give those of us struggling financially with a good weeks menu plan please. I have all your books and I do love the menu plan in the Down To Earth book but I can not afford to eat that well anymore , help please. from Judi

    1. With all your experience, Judi, I'm not sure I could come up with something you haven't already thought of but I'll give it a go. Hopefully, we'll come up with something that can work for you and other readers. Are you in Australia?

  15. This is wonderful!! I will surly implement some of these ideas in to my routine.

  16. I love it and especially this: "Teach your children as much as you can while they're growing up. One of the biggest gifts you can give your children is to love them and your partner, and show them that your family and your life make you happy."

  17. Just wanted to wish Emma and her family well in their change of lifestyle. I wish I had followed my instincts when my son was small, instead of complying with others expectations. Your post is very timely Rhonda as we enter this great unknown. I think the current situation will make a lot of people reassess what is important.

  18. Lots of people will be in a similar situation to Judi in these difficult times. A wonderful young woman in the USA called Leanne Brown has created cookbooks for people working on very tight budgets. They are available as free pdfs downloadable from her website. You can also read about her wonderful work raising funds so people without internet connections can receive free print copies.

    1. Thanks for helping. That sounds like a good website and it's easy to find. xx

  19. Hi Rhonda, yes I am in Australia, I have noticed over the last month a big increase in the cost of fresh produce here, thanks to the drought and bushfires, I really like to eat fresh but have given up having things like avocado on my salad as they are $4 each, I am looking for ideas from the 1950s when we ate a little bit more simply but most of the information you find on the internet is American and we eat different to them. It is quite frustrating and I am struggling with brain fog, that does not help. many thanks Judi.

  20. We are in lock down due to Covid-19 in the UK and I am working from home, some of the advice you have here will be possible for me to implement at home - thankyou. I have applied for an allotment (land to grow veg on) and am on a waiting list, hopefully when we are in happier, healthier times this will be a new start for us.

  21. Hi good advice. what a beautifull colour your lounge wall is may I ask what brand paint and colour it is thanks Janene

    1. I forget the colour now but it's Taubmans, in the blue-grey tones.

  22. Great post, I always get sad when people say stay at home mums are lazy. Its such an important job!

  23. Great advise, I always learn something new on your blog, in hard times like now we need inspiration and more than ever we need to teach our kids basic skills. From experience I can tell you that it is easier to teach young children then older, it will take more patience on your part but its worth it.

  24. I would recommend Diane in Denmark Youtube videos- she follows the flylady system but she is so fun to watch.

  25. What a beautiful post! As a teacher, today is my first ‘working from home’ day. My 3 kids and I, slowly pottering around at home for the next couple of weeks, or more, while Dad still has to physically go to work. I’m looking forward to teaching my girls some more skills around the home. Yesterday, I filled my boot with firewood from the side of the road. Instead of emptying it out last night, I left it. This will be our afternoon activity, slowly emptying it out, stacking it neatly and then cleaning the car. If it’s cold enough, I’ll teach them how to start a fire. Afternoon planned! Stay well, Rhonda. Jade xx

    1. A good opportunity to teach at home, Jade. Have fun!

  26. Great ideas! Thank you, Rhonda.


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