Thursday, January 22, 2015

Living (and Thriving) as a Single Income Household

When Brandon and I got married (Jan. 2014), we were both working full-time. At that point, our plan was to put as much of our income towards debt as possible. Although we were both working, we really only "lived" on my income (the lower one) to be able to push towards our debt goals. Within 6 months we had paid off both of our cars and my undergraduate student loans - what a great feeling! 

In September my federal clerkship ended and we re-located to Minnesota. At this point, knowing that I had back surgery scheduled, I took a very loose approach to job searching and instead embraced being a stay-at-home-wife (which will get a whole post of its own another day - God truly blessed us with my months at home!). During this period our financial plan switched a little bit - now we really were living off one income, while still putting money towards debt, as well as saving for the medical bills we knew were coming our way.

Next week I'm headed back to working away from home. Again, God showed us his perfect timing and I'm going to be working for a local non-profit. Although we will essentially be a dual income household once again, our plan is to stick with our current budget while setting aside my entire paycheck for savings and a down-payment on a house. Someday, Lord willing, I will stay home with our children, and in the meantime we want to focus on making the most out of this season of dual incomes while still committing to living a one-income lifestyle.

Over the last year we have learned to embrace being a single income household. We have more than we need and have actually had a lot of fun figuring out how to make the most out of the gifts God has given us. 

Here are some of our favorite tips for living and thriving on a single income:

1. Budget

This is a no brainer. Brandon is the budget king in our household. I hate numbers and balancing the checkbook makes me sweat, so he has graciously taken on this task! One thing I have learned (as the primary spender on fluctuating expenses - food, clothes, gas, housing necessities, etc.) is to treat our budget as a max. Instead of thinking, "I can spend x$ on groceries this month" I like to think, "how can I spend less than x$ on groceries this month."

Additionally, continually re-evaluate your budget. After a few months of marriage, Brandon realized we were budgeting more than we really needed to in certain areas. Cutting back allowed us to have a little more wiggle room in other categories, and put more towards savings.

Tip: To make sure I'm sticking to my budget (and make calculations even easier), I like to take my receipts and highlight the items according to category (i.e. food, Julianne, Brandon, gas, household, etc.). This helps me know (and be able to easily see) where our money is going. I have found this to be especially helpful for when I shop at Target, which can often be a bottomless spending pit!

2. Meal Plan

This goes hand-in-hand with budgeting, but it has been such a great tool! Thankfully, my mom was a great example of this, so it was something I started doing from day 1 of our marriage. By meal planning, buying in bulk (yes even for just the 2 of us!), and shopping around the sales/seasons I can easily feed our family for less than what Brandon was spending on food during his bachelor days!

3. Avoid Making Comparisons

While we were engaged (actually even before that), Brandon and I talked a lot about our values and goals for the future. We knew that what was most important to us was living a life serving God and others and raising a family to love and seek the Lord. That mindset directs all of the choices we make for our family - including how we spend the money that God has entrusted us with. 

That said, it can be tough to avoid the "wants" or feeling sorry for yourself when money seems to be tight. Beautiful houses, fashionable clothes, exotic trips - some people just seem to be able to have it all. But if you are going to thrive on a single income - you have to stop comparing. Embrace where you are are what you do have, not what you don't. Focus on investing in things that are "free" - relationships and your spiritual walk.

Tip: I have a really hard time with this at times. One thing I do that helps keep me in check is to limit social media. While I want to be happy for others, jealously surfing through another's exotic vacation pictures isn't helpful when I need to get my heart in check!

4. Creativity

Need something? Is there a way you can get it without going to the store? I'm learning to love buying used, give homemade gifts, and finding out how to repurpose what I already have. 

5. Cheaper isn't Always Better

This is one of those lessons my dad taught me. When it came time to make a medium/large purchase in the Cole household the process was typically (1) research, research, research (2) purchase (3) use purchased item until it literally fell apart! From cars to clothes, I've learned that just because something is cheaper, doesn't necessarily make it a better option. Do your research, read reviews, talk to others, etc. before making a big purchase.

6. Keep Talking

Once a month Brandon and I sit down and go over our budget together. How did we do? Where can we improve? Are their any expenses we need to prepare for for the upcoming month? When we are on the same page, everything flows smoother!

7. Give

No matter what your income is, remember that everything we receive is a gift from above. We are only stewards of gifts that God provides. As stewards, it is biblical that we give a portion of what we have received - to the church and to others (2 Corinthians 9:6-7). Brandon and I have found that when we give back to God first, and with a cheerful heart, blessings abound. 

"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money."
Matthew 6:24


  1. These are great tips, and are right along the lines of how my husband and I are making living on one income work. Avoid making comparisons is one of the hardest ones, personally. But it's so important to keep your eyes on the direction God has given *you.* Each person and each family is different and He gives us different paths to walk on in life. Some may have much, some may have little. But at the end of the day, God has given us what we need, "our daily bread." And that is a lot to be thankful for!

  2. just found your blog and excited to read these ideas. We are nearing our 8 month anniversary and I currently work part time outside the home. All my earnings is set aside for some future needs and savings so we don't get used to living on a whole lot more. Looking forward to reading more!

  3. I am very grateful for all the provisions the Lord has given us at this stage in our life, which make it possible to have a large family and also have some "extras" and to meet the many crazy expenses of Addison's specialized care. However, I also very fondly remember our early days... we were so very broke. We learned to make due and appreciate and we were so thankful! We took not a thing for granted and worked hard to scrimp and save. We saw so many blessings in those lean days when we decorated with milk crates and a date was buying a candy bar and sharing it while we went grocery shopping. I think young couples who start out with everything just right are missing something so sweet in building and trusting together and watching as the Lord provides along the way. kudos to you.