how to go from two incomes to one

Wondering how to go from two incomes to one? And what does it look like in other households? I'm going to share with you examples, plus how to prep, financially, for going from two incomes to one. 

I enjoy watching financial shows such as Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s ‘Til Debt Do Us Part, Princess, and Suze Orman. Over the years of tuning in I have found that one of the subjects that seems to repeat itself is the financial troubles households get into when they shift from being a two-income household to a one-income household (or to a no-income household when both partners are temporarily unemployed).

The reasoning for the change in income ranges from becoming a stay-at-home Mom/Dad, a partner being unemployed, starting a business, taking care of an elderly relative, health issues, just not wanting to work (they don’t call the show Princess for nothing), etc.

In each of the cases, the household typically does not flounder in debt because of the loss of money, but rather because the family fails to change their spending habits to reflect their new reality.

Preparing to Go Down to One Income

So, you want to go from two incomes down to one. And you probably have a bazillion questions about how to do it (plus a little anxiety).

I totally get it. My husband and I did this about 5 years ago, and it wasn't because we were having a baby (which we eventually did) — I took the leap to self-employment, without my blog earning a full-time income.

It can be really scary to do!

Let's make it less scary by talking about preparing to go down to one income.

How did my husband and I prepare, and what can you do?

Two Incomes Living on One – Living on One Income and Saving the Other

One of the best ways you can prep for how to go from two incomes to one is by conducting a little experiment. Can you live on one income right now?

Granted, you're not up against the wall right now. And we all know that when the going gets tough, you can make more sacrifices and deeper cuts.

But, can you do this as an experiment and see what it feels like?

When I was still working a full-time job, my paycheck each month mainly went into our savings.

This was great, although it's meant that while I've been working from home and raising our son, we've been able to save a LOT less money than before.

Still, practicing the lifestyle of living on just one income for awhile was super helpful in us making the leap for when I quit my job (early 2013) to work on my blog full-time, without it making full-time income.

What else did we do to prepare for a one-income household?

Use a going from two incomes to one calculator

When all else fails, it's best to see the numbers in black and white.

Use this going from two incomes to one calculator to find out what things would look like for you if you chose to do this. This calculator assumes you're going to be earning some money at home, and this one doesn't make that assumption.

Do you have shortfalls? Do you earn enough?

How much is your shortfall?

Don't stretch the numbers to make them work for you, because the reality might be hard to look at right now, but you can work with it. Not only that, but you don't want to make an emotional decision and live with the uncomfortable consequences.

For example, if you have a $500 shortfall each month by going down to one income…you now know how much money you collectively need to bring into the household each month. Your next question becomes, how can you get that?

Make Changes to Your Household Budget, Now

When we went from two incomes down to one, I was earning some income from my new full-time gig, so our household has not completely gone from being two-income to one-income.

However, we decided to budget according to just one, steady paycheck in case I do not make any money.

Wow did that take the pressure off of me!

We decided that we could not cut our retirement savings at all (this means we max out our two Roth IRAs as well as contribute 6% of my husband’s pay to fully take advantage of his company’s recently re-introduced 401(K) matching contribution).

So, in addition to the decrease in savings, we had to make cuts elsewhere.

We chose to cut the following:

  • Discretionary Spending (Mad Money) by 30%: Each of us gets a little mad money each week to spend on whatever we would like. We cut that by 30% to make the numbers work.
  • Cut Our Grocery bill by 16%: I cut our grocery budget, yet again, by 16%. It was a challenge with rising food prices, but one we were willing to take!
  • Gas Consumption: Since I wouldn't be driving to work 5 days per week, we cut out gas bill by probably $40/month.

Now, I want to share with you real examples from others who have gone from two incomes down to one, and how that looks for them.

Tips for Living on One Income – Real Stories + Examples

I interviewed several friends and colleagues of mine who have chosen to go from a two-income household to a one-income household.

I wanted to learn all their tips for living on one income, as well as their reasoning for doing it. How exactly are they dealing with their new financial reality?

  • Edward Antrobus’s household consists of himself, his wife, and two roommates. Edward has been “serially unemployed” throughout their marriage, working a series of seasonal/temporary positions. Because of going back and forth from two paychecks to one paycheck, he and his wife have budgeted only using her steady paycheck with varying results. They attempt to build savings while Edward is working, and then when he is not, special purchases, Christmas presents, and other financial upheavals tend to whittle away their savings. He and his wife faced difficulty while attempting to secure a mortgage. The bank was looking for two years of continuous employment as well as a minimum credit rating that they could not meet. They were able to purchase a mobile home with a 25% down payment. They have since sold their home due to some issues and lost a good chunk of that down payment. Edward and his wife now rent a home. Edward says that over the past 3.5 years their net worth has been largely stagnant, and currently they have savings of just under $1,000. They plan to rent their current home for several years while finding Edward steady employment and saving up for a down payment for a mortgage in the $200-$250K range.
  • Mike Collins from Wealthy Turtle has a wife and three children. Their initial plan was for his wife to continue working while his mother-in-law provided daycare. Unfortunately, health problems put a snag in this plan. Without Mike’s mother-in-law to offset daycare costs, they found that the cost of daycare would mean his wife was working to net only a few hundred dollars per month. They made the decision for her to stay home.  Going from two paychecks to one and from no children to children meant that there had to be significant cutbacks to their household spending. Mike sold his car and purchased an old clunker for commuting purposes. They went without vacations for several years, and eating out at a restaurant was a treat instead of a routine. Mike also got a part-time job and began working on websites to develop additional income streams for their household. Still, expenses rose for the two of them in between having more children, such as purchasing a home and experiencing a sharp, unexpected rise in New Jersey property taxes. He and his wife ate through a chunk of savings during this time, but eventually were able to move to a different town with smaller monthly payments and a bigger house (for their growing family!). In the end, Mike says, “It hasn't been easy and we still face challenges and decisions that a two-income family wouldn't worry about. But we've stuck together and found ways to make it work. We made the right decision for our family.”
  • Glen Craig from Free From Broke has a wife and two children. Glen’s wife decided to quit her job six years ago after their second child was born to spend time raising their children. The decision and preparation to do so started in the early months of her pregnancy, so they were able to gradually shift to spending less money before her paycheck came to a halt. They essentially lived off of one paycheck and saved the second one until their son was born, which provided a nice safety net. Without the cushion of two paychecks, they learned to cut back. They cut cable immediately and instead switched to a Netflix subscription. Going out to restaurants and movies was an easy place to stop spending because of having a newborn at the time. Glen admits that cutting out the luxuries took some getting used to; however, making the decision to instead consciously spend aligned with their priorities of having a parent home with the kids. All in all, Glen and his wife were successful at making this happen. They had planned to dip into savings from time to time as needed, but are happy to report that their savings have stayed intact!
  • Jen: Jen has a husband and two children. She had been a working mother for several years, but felt that she wanted to quit her job to spend more time with her family. She and her husband discussed the financial implications of this decision, and set up a budget to see how their new situation would look. Unfortunately, they came up $100 short per month without her paycheck. Still, they prayed together about this and after an unfriendly working-mom policy at Jen’s job, decided to give it a shot. Since making this decision Jen began selling Scentsy products. Her husband’s career has taken off. Throughout the entire process, even when money was looking tight, Jen and her husband continued to tithe.
  • Tom Drake from Canadian Finance Blog has a wife and two children. He explains that in Canada there is one year of maternity and parental leave that his wife took advantage of in 2009 after their first child was born. Once the year was up, they knew that they wanted to have another child and that her working part-time would only have covered the daycare costs. So she decided to stay home to raise their children. A cutback in income meant a cutback in spending in Tom’s household. They reduced their internet package and purchased groceries based on the weekly sales flyer. Also, spending on gifts for one another for birthdays and holidays was capped to a low limit. After their second child was born, money became even tighter. Since Tom’s wife had stayed home, the parental leave was available for him to take. He used six months of leave, which reduced their income. Tom returned last fall to his job and the two of them have been working to get back on track financially. All in all, Tom says they’ve been able to pull off one income instead of two, partly because Tom has been able to supplement the missing income with money he makes from blogging. Once both children are school-aged, his wife plans on finding at least part-time work so that they can increase their savings.

Each of these families had to make some sacrifices in order to take the leap from two incomes to one income, and several of them worked on finding ways to earn extra income on the side. There were setbacks, but once decided, each family found a way to make their priorities and income work for them.

Have you made a leap from being a two-income household to a one-income household? What were the challenges you faced, and were you successful? Perhaps this is the first time you've looked at the numbers…do you need more time to figure things out?

Another Article You May Enjoy:

I Handed in My Two Week Notice

Do you dream of being a SAHM (stay at home mom)? But how to go from two incomes to one? I share our own example of one income living, plus the live on one income tips from several other households that are actually doing it. There are lots of families out there who are living on one income, and while it may not always be easy, it is a worthy pursuit (if that’s what you want!). Sources of income | SAHM tips | SAHM life #sahm #livelikeyouarerich #family

12 replies
  1. JT
    JT says:

    This is a great summary of some of the struggles and considerations that go into moving from a dual income to a single income household. For us, we have essentially been a single income household for the past 18 years so there wasn’t really any transition. Nevertheless, it can be difficult to stay on budget. And we haven’t been all that great at it, either.

  2. krantcents
    krantcents says:

    Change is inherent in life, but you have to do it! Change is hard, but necessary. When I was an entrepreneur, I had to deal with people who did not pay their bill timely which affected my income. Many people think a business is just a money machine, but it has to be attended to, oiled and maintained.

  3. Shannon-ReadyForZero
    Shannon-ReadyForZero says:

    This is a seriously great list of stories, thanks so much for finding a wide variety of experiences to talk about! And I think it’s great that you and your husband are planning your finances as though there were just one paycheck – that’s a really smart idea and can leave you feeling ahead most of the time I’m sure. I’ve not had to deal with the idea of going to one income because of children, but my fiance does want to start his own business someday so we’re starting to talk about budgeting on one income now so we’ll be prepared should he have a chance to pursue this dream in the future, even if it’s years from now.

    • FruGal
      FruGal says:

      Hi Shannon!

      I am glad you enjoyed the article.

      That definitely seems to be the most ideal situation–having a steady income to live off of so that you don’t depend on variable income (especially when starting a new business). Good luck to you both! I would love to hear how it goes for him and you both, even though it may be years away.

  4. Khaleef @ KNS Financial
    Khaleef @ KNS Financial says:

    I really see a common theme here. Going from 2 incomes to 1, couples should try to live off of 1 before making the switch and use the 2nd to build up savings (if the move is voluntary). Then once there is only 1 income, a lot of sacrifices may be necessary in order to survive with just one income. I noticed several of the people interviewed had to sell items in order to get through the transition.

  5. Little House
    Little House says:

    Variable income or switching from 2 incomes to 1 can definitely be difficult. I struggle with this year after year. This year, I’m hoping to have one solid income stream so that the variable incomes are the “extras” I can apply towards debt and savings. I’m crossing my fingers that everything works out in my favor!

    • FruGal
      FruGal says:

      Hi Little House!

      I will cross my fingers for you. That would be wonderful (and great motivation) to throw your variable income towards debt/savings instead of counting on it for monthly bills.


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