How To Make It As A One-Income Family

how to make it as a one income family

My wife and I have been living on one-income since our first daughter was born in 2011. Being at home with our children was something that she has always wanted and though I was sure at the time that it would mean we could never own a home, I reluctantly went along with her plan. (This turned out not to be true, we bought our first place, a townhouse, in October of 2014)

My wife comes from an entrepreneurial family and is ambitious. At times, I’m sure that being at home with our children full-time has been tough on her. Though she is a stay at home mom, over the last six years, she has worked on and off as an instructor (she teaches natural horsemanship) and it has brought in a small amount of income, though not enough to really say we have a ‘second’ income.

Working with horses is a lifelong passion for her and is not financially motivated. She would do it for free.

Why Single Income

This is a tough thing to explain. Deciding to try and make it as a one-income family is a deeply personal decision. Depending on where you live and what type of work your sole breadwinner does, it can be a very expensive and difficult lifestyle to maintain. We live in a very expensive city in Western Canada and it has been a challenge with constantly rising costs and ever-consistent pay.

Most young couples that I know are at least intrigued by the possibility of living a single-income lifestyle. Many of them feel that it just can’t be done with the cost of living, payments, education etc. and so they just accept the way that things are. This post is written as an encouragement to anybody who is considering becoming a one-income family. In my opinion it’s not only completely possible, it’s totally worth it.

Planning Ahead

Planning ahead is going to put you in the best position possible when you give up your second income. I recommend living off of one income and putting the other into savings or a short-term investment for at least six months prior to making the switch. By doing this not only will you be accustomed to living off of less money when it comes time to switch, but you’ll have a pile of extra cash on standby in case something goes wrong.

Additionally, make sure to spend some time discussing what your priorities are. You’re probably going to have to change your lifestyle some and it’s important to make sure that you’re on the same page as your spouse. You don’t want to tell them the day after that they’re clothing budget it ¼ of what it used to be. To have the best chance of success, you’ll want to draw up your budget and live by it months in advance.

Where To Cut – Minimalism

I really enjoy finding new and interesting ways to cut costs from my life. If you’re going to make it as a single-income family, you’re probably going to have to let go of some luxuries or make some substitutions in your life. Here are some things that we did to make the switch a little easier the first couple of years:

  • Switched from cable to Netflix
  • Switched to a low-cost internet provider
  • Went down from two vehicles to one (later on, I upgraded to a 1991 Chevy Sprint)
  • Planned meals in advance and did freezer meals
  • Cut down on eating out for special occasions only
  • Got many of our children’s clothes from exchanges with friends
  • Performed household and car maintenance myself to save on costs
  • Started buying high-volume items in bulk from Costco (toilet paper, diapers, coffee etc.)

Extra Cash

Reducing your expenses is a great start. Another way to fill the gap when you become a single-income family is to earn some extra cash. There are countless ways to do this, I’ve listed some of my favorites below:

  • Buying and reselling items on Craigslist. I have done this successfully with appliances (thanks to Ryan at recraigslist), phones, electronics and furniture.
  • Selling extra stuff on Amazon or eBay
  • Use your skills to pick up some freelancing gigs. Some examples of things you could do are writing, editing, building websites, SEO/digital marketing or graphic design. You can start by advertising your skills on Craigslist, or check out some other places to pick up gigs.
  • Try driving for Uber or Lyft

If you’re looking into ways to earn some extra money at home I would HIGHLY recommend that you check out The Side Hustle Nation blog or podcast. Nick Loper interviews successful side hustlers (entrepreneurs) in various industries and teaches about different ways to earn money.

When you can find a way to earn $500 extra per month, and you’re able to cut out some of what you’re spending, all of the sudden the income loss isn’t quite as much of a shock as it could have been.


I want to encourage anybody who is considering moving down to a single income not to dismiss the idea because of cost. In my experience, most people have a lot of places that they can cut expenses and a lot of talents that they can use to make a few extra bucks on the side.

What’s been your experience? Is yours a single income family? How do you make it work?

I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below!

11 thoughts on “How To Make It As A One-Income Family

  1. We moved to a single income family a couple years ago. It was the best move for the family that we could have imagined. There was an immediate impact on our son, who was 7 at the time. He’s really blossomed being able to spend a little extra time with mom in the morning as well as come home to her in the afternoon.

    We saved on many of the items that you mentioned as well as not having the before / after school program costs. There were also immediate reductions in work related expenses for my girlfriend such as clothes, commutes, etc.

    The biggest change for us was food planning. Almost every meal is planned out now. Grocery shopping is now an art and nothing is wasted. We rarely eat dinners out any more nor do I eat lunch out. That was a big hole in the budget that was plugged quickly.

    It took some getting used to but it was completely worth it.

    • Thanks for the comment Colin! I appreciate you sharing your experience!

      The part that I find fascinating is the cost of child care. Where I live it’s not unusual to pay $800-$1000 per month, per child for care. in order for that to make sense you’d have to make a really good income. When you take off the cost of commuting and the incidentals associated with it (coffees and food on the go, oil changes, maintenance etc.) it seems crazy to have both parents working.

      I have some friends who have grandparents taking care of the children part-time and that seems to work.

  2. I lived as a single income family for over a decade. I was self-employed and worked as a contractor and earnt very good money. We also had a side income business that, fortunately, grew to a point that could be considered a “second income” albeit it had a big investment in stock that was stored in our garage. Still, despite that, I think it’s super important for couples to be on the same page and ensure you have financial goals to save and spend on the right things.

    I definitely agree it’s fun to find ways to cut costs, when you’ve set financial goals together it’s all the more fun to work toward hitting those goals faster in as many ways as possible.

  3. We’ve lived off of 1 income for a very long time, while we were also paying debt. Anything’s possible, as long as you find a way to balance your finances.

    When my significant other and I met, we were both in debt and the economy had just started to crash. So, it took a while before I was able to find a ‘serious job’.

    You learn so much by being a 1 income family. You learn how to better manage your money so you can ‘survive’, which leads to learning how nights our aren’t exactly a priority and new clothes can wait if you want to eat the following week 😀

    We kept most of the money habits from back them to this day. It’s amazing how much we used to spend on things we can very well live without.

  4. I could not agree more. We also live in a high cost of living area and became a one income family. The cuts were hard but very possible. So far this change has actually gotten us much closer to FI as we realized we can be just as happy with much lower spending.

  5. Been a single-income family since our oldest was born 14 years ago. Honestly, we’re so used to that setup, it’s hard to picture how we would manage things as a two-income family at this point.

    With that said, it wasn’t until well after we went down to one income that we actually put together a budget and paid off about $80,000 in debt ($30,000 alone on credit cards). We were spiraling out of control until we make the decision to get serious about that budget.

    It’s still occasionally tough to make everything balance (especially when the kids generate unexpected medical bills), but so worth it to avoid the financial stress of making minimum payments every month. I so do not miss those days.

    • Thanks for the comment David!

      We’ve been singl-income for a little under 7 years now. I agree that it’s tough, it’s totally worth it though. For us it boiled down to daycare. With daycare costs it just didn’t make sense for my wife to be working just to pay to have somebody else raising our kids. Almost all of our friends are dual-income. Some of them have much more trouble making ends meet than we do.

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