How to Raise a Family on a Single Income

Other than our first 3 months of marriage, I have not worked.  I did substitute teaching a couple months while pregnant, to earn extra cash, but not enough to count as 2 incomes.  While my husband’s salary has increased with promotions in his naval career, we have always been a single income household on a modest budget.  So how do we do it?  Well it’s taken some perfection and planning over time.

Recently, I was at a meeting with fellow stay-at-home moms and we had a guest speaker on finance.  After he spoke, we broke into groups and talked about some discussion questions he had given us.  One woman at the table commented on how hard it is to go from two incomes to one.  Everyone commented in agreement, as they have been struggling too.

When we first married, my husband’s income was more than what we survived on as college students, so enough for just the two of us.  I remember the first week we moved into our apartment, we went over to a local coffee shop and made a budget.  We both have student loans, so we made a timeline to pay them off.  That timeline has remained the key to our plan.  When we wanted to buy a new car, or have a baby, we made sure the cost would not delay our timeline.  We have never ventured away from it.  In doing that we will pay our loans off 6 years earlier than the lenders’ plan, and a year earlier than our own plan.

Along with our debt plan, we made a savings plan.  We have retirement funds, emergency savings, house, and play money.  When our debt is paid off, we will start a college account for our daughter.  We’ll also consider college funds for a future child, when dividing the money amongst our different savings.  Our play money is for big purchases like new computers, cameras, or travel.  Every year we discuss what we want to do with our play money.  Is it a trip, camera, a new table?

Over the years as raises come along, it’s easy to get excited and think about all the new ways you can spend money.  STOP, right there though.  Instead of increasing your spending, increase your savings.  We keep our expenses the same, and put away more cash.  That doesn’t mean we don’t eat out a little more now than when we were first married, but we keep it in moderation.  We continually evaluate how we spend money.  Where we can spend less. Where we may have been unrealistic and made our budget too tight.

I think we’re most vulnerable to spending when we rely on our emotions.  My husband and I both love to enjoy life, and the different seasons it brings.  With those seasons it can be easy to think emotionally.  I know when I had my daughter I wanted her to have the perfect nursery.  That translated into dollar signs in my husband’s mind.  I thought to myself: what if this is the only girl I ever have?  I may never get to experience this again.  That is like many things in our lives.  I did get a beautiful nursery for her, but on a realistic budget we created.  Don’t let your emotions break your bank, but don’t be a Scrooge either.

Even if you are not a stay-at-home mom, it’s important to evaluate your families finances.  Challenge yourself to consider your home a single income.  Buy the house that you can afford on one income, instead of two.  In our economic times, there are families that are forced to cut back when a spouse is laid off.  Or, God forbid, the death of a spouse. To all the career women out there, maybe someday you will want to be a stay-at-home mom.  Raising a family on a single income is about knowing how the financial decisions you make now will affect you later, and sticking to the financial plans that you make for yourself.

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Heather Martinez
Heather Martinez is a stay at home mom of a toddler, and naval wife. Her calling in life is truly family. Although she may be domesticated, she's not your typical housewife slaving over a hot stove. Her passions include photography, interior design, party planning, reading, and politics. Making memories and creating traditions, Heather and her family kayak, are avid patrons of musuems and zoos, and unwind at the beach. Heather was born in Southern California and studied Political Science at UC Berkeley. Four years, 5 states, and 6 moves later, she now lives in San Diego County.