Can You Survive As A One Income Family?

by Ron Haynes

The obvious answer is YES, you can survive as a one income family but that isn’t the real question. The real question is HOW? How can we make it on just one income? How can we pay all these bills? How can we make it on just one income when we seem to barely make it on two?

Having survived on just one income for over 15 years now with a wife, three kids, a cat, a dog, a home and payments galore (I’m just like you!), here are some of the lessons I’ve learned and how we’ve made it.

1. It isn’t easy, but it’s worth it to me. I like the idea that my kids can come home to a house with a parent in it. I like it more than I like the money my wife could be earning and it’s a sacrifice we’re both willing to make.

2. Living on just one income is riskier. Our income primarily comes from my job (though I have diversified into some other income streams). As a result, I have to insure my work-ability through disability insurance. I have the maximum amount I can get of disability and I also have almost two million in life insurance. The peace of mind is worth it, knowing that my wife and children wouldn’t have to drastically reduce or alter their lives if something were to happen to me.

3. Make preparations. We were thrown into this lifestyle by an unexpected pregnancy, but looking back on it, there’s only one thing I would change: I wish we had been better prepared. How should we have prepared? By living on one income (budget) for at least three months, six would have been better, and twelve would have been ideal. Not only would we have saved a huge emergency fund, but we would have learned a lot of self discipline. We learned it eventually, but is sure was tough.

4. Looking back on it, I wish we had been able to track our monthly expenses for at least six months, again preferably twelve. Knowing where you’re spending money is the first step to making decisions about where NOT to spend it.

5. Don’t avoid estate planning. If you’re planning on making the leap to a one income family, make certain your will is up to date. Ideally, each spouse should have a will, not just the income earner.

6. Sometimes, moving to one income will put you in a lower tax bracket. Be sure and check with your tax attorney or financial advisor so you can see the big picture. You may save more than you think.

7. One of the biggest pieces of advice I can give is to avoid high interest debt. The allure of all the false security of “things” that a credit card can give you is almost irresistible. Your life isn’t better with a huge TV, or a new camcorder, or a new car, or anything that a credit card can buy. Your life is worse if you can’t afford those things outright because you enter into a slavery contract with the credit card company. Yeah, yeah, I know, the “REWARDS” are so great, but only if you can use them and only if they don’t lead you into paying interest for the next umpteen years.

8. Don’t put off your retirement planning. Retirement isn’t a “one of these days” expense. It’s a known, upcoming expense and to fail to prepare for it is to prepare to fail. Don’t plan a financial disaster by ignoring your retirement.

9. Also don’t plan a financial disaster by avoiding preparation for those other upcoming expenses – new tires, auto repair, home maintenance, summer camp for the kids, annual insurance premiums, personal property taxes. You know those things are coming up, so put aside some money from each paycheck to cover them. Then you won’t have to resort to credit card advances to pay those expenses when you’re living on just one income.

10. It’s all about choices. You may have to move to a smaller home in a different area of town to make it on one income. You may have to make extra money in your spare time to make ends meet. You may have to give up on private school kindergarten or delay going back to finish your degree. You may have to cut back on eating out, or buying a new car, or learn to find bargains at the thrift store instead of Macy’s. But you know what? You may find that nothing changes that much by the time you calculate your savings on day care, “office” clothing, lunches out, fuel driving to work, the “everyone’s chipping in to buy Maureen’s daughter a wedding present” fund, the “please buy a giant candy bar for my kid’s school” fund, the quick trips to the drive through because you’re too tired to go home and fix dinner, and the little wallet leaks that inevitably happen when you’re out and about.

Sure there are times we wish we had the income my wife could be earning but we both know that what we’re doing is what’s best for our family. What’s best for yours may be an entirely different scenario and that’s okay. You and I have to make the best of what we have with the knowledge we have at the time. It still doesn’t hurt to plan and to prepare for different scenarios, but if you and your spouse think this is what’s best, make those plans, make those choices. If it turns out different than what you expected, welcome to life!

There are no guarantees and the key is to be flexible and make some different choices if those didn’t seem to work. There is no guidebook, there are no hard and fast rules.

Remember: 90 percent of what you worry about never happens and usually that other 10 percent isn’t as bad as you originally thought.

About the author

Ron Haynes has written 1001 articles on The Wisdom Journal.

The founder and editor of The Wisdom Journal in 2007, Ron has worked in banking, distribution, retail, and upper management for companies ranging in size from small startups to multi-billion dollar corporations. He graduated Suma Cum Laude from a top MBA program and currently is a Human Resources and Management consultant, helping companies know how employees will behave in varying situations and what motivates them to action, assisting firms in identifying top talent, and coaching managers and employees on how to better communicate and make the workplace MUCH more enjoyable. If you'd like help in these areas, contact Ron using the contact form at the top of this page or at 870-761-7881.

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Excellent advice and yes it can be done. We went from two to one income for the same reasons. I was a latchkey kid and got into all sorts of trouble because of it.


Thanks for the great advice. We have been living on one income for a year and just this morning I was looking at the budget and wondering how we’re going to make ends meet this month without dipping into the savings. There are so many things that we have put off thinking about, like insurance and retirement savings and estate planning.

From a female’s perspective, saving for retirement on a single income is a concern. Years off work to raise a family means very little retirement savings (superannuation is compulsory here for workers – paid by the employer, but historically at the expense of higher wages) and with the divorce rate at nearly 50% this just one of the financial matters that women need to consider.

Thanks again for your timely article.


We live on one income, however, we did not have to move to a smaller place. We just don’t incur debt.

Mortgage, utilities and insurance are the main expenses.

We also are able to take a vacation every year.


Good advice across the board.

I think that most people can “survive” on one income, it’s just really hard to make the choices that let us do it. It’s a challenge to change our mindset about what is “necessary” for survival! Thankfully, we’ve been able to do it and while things are tight, the rewards are innumerable.

Thanks again for the good reminders.

Bill in NC

Please consider having the “non-working” spouse work enough to keep their Social Security eligibility for those in the U.S.

That requires 2 credits out of the 4 possible in a year.

In 2009, $1,090 of earned income earns one credit.

It would have helped our family immensely had my stay at home mother had enough credits to qualify for SS disability (a big benefit is that one is eligible for Medicare within 24 months after becoming disabled) during her lengthy terminal illness (diagnosed in her 50s, dead at 64)

Nicki at Domestic Cents

We’ve been doing it for a year and a half and I can testify that you’ve got some good advice here :)


what about the single parents, my husband died – leaving me in no end of financial trouble, (no insurance) i struggle every month working full time there is no other option for me at present, my kids are great and the oldest does help out with the youngest when there is no other alternative, but i worry about them being ‘latchkey’ kids, i have almost paid off all debts (this has taken over 5 years), apart from the mortgage, but my income has dipped by over $500 from this month, and will stay that way for the foreseeable future, it all seems to be for nothing, just as i get my head above the water, something else happens and i am back to struggling AGAIN…. my income is less than $15,000 a year and my mortgage alone is nearly $800 a month, i am unable to sell as i owe more on the mortgage than the house is currently worth… I do like reading about other families that are getting through the daily struggles of life, thank you for listening.

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