Single income families, how do you do it?

I wasn’t sure whether this fell more into Family life or faith and finances, so forgive me if would be better placed there. :slight_smile:

My wife and I are expecting our first child in April, and I think we’ve pretty much settled on the idea that she’s going to be a stay at home mom. Honestly, with the cost of day care, that would eat up the bulk of the income from her job anyway.

But I’m honestly scared that my income alone won’t enough. I’m in a situation right now where neither my title nor my salary reflects my actual duties, but I don’t expect a raise any time soon. I’m looking for other opportunities, but my industry is highly competitive, and a lot times can boil down to who you know, not what you know. If need be, I’m prepared to take a second job at Wal-Mart or something like that in the evenings, but I’d really rather not. I want to be able to have an active role in my children’s lives as a father, not spend all my time working.

Is there anyone here who can offer up some advice? How do you stretch a single paycheck out to support a family of three (and more at some point, God willing)? I realize it’s going to mean cutting out just about all the “extras”, but what about the basics? How do you deal with healthcare and such? My employer’s price for an individual is dirt cheap, but putting a child, or a spouse, or both on gets costly.

And, most importantly, can I ask for your prayers that we’ll be able to make this work? We have prayerfully considered this, and have come to the realization that this is what God wants for us, but that doesn’t make it any easier for me to put myself aside and follow His will.

Thank you all, and God bless.

Well you have some time before the baby is due. If it were me, I’d sit down with my spouse, track every single penny spent for at least a month to see where the money is actually going. Then you can see if and where you can cut expenses. I’d go to my library or invest in a copy of Dave Ramsey’s books. He has a syndicated show on the radio as well. His advice is excellent, IMO. The way you think and spend money is going to have to change. You’re going to have to educate yourself as much as possible and explore your options. But get it down on paper, just imagining what can and can’t happen in your head isn’t doing any good. I’ll pray for you and your family.

Look up the Tightwad Gazette on Amazon (three volumes). You’ll be go glad you did. I wish I had remembered to consult this series when we needed (or thought we needed) a new washer and dryer.

Or if you’re really a skinflint get it from the library! In this economy I consult it all the time.


you simply have no option on healthcare, that is the main reason you are working for an employer instead of yourself, you think your employer’s family plan is expensive, try shopping for it on the open market, probably more than you earn.

when the second spouse is working or when you receive income from non-employment sources, save it, invest it, or pay of consumer debt with it, never add it to the regular budget. Get used to living on one income.

No consumer credit beyond your mortgage, one car payment (try for a simple interest loan from a credit union) if there is no way to avoid it, one charge account used only for emergencies and travel convenience. Do not use this for purchases for which you have the cash, or for routine shopping and expenses. pay by cash using the envelope system, or if you are disciplined pay your bills on-line through your bank to you have a record of expenses. NEVER pay by credit card for something that is gone before the bill comes (restaurant meals, food, gasoline etc). Forget incentive cards, unless you engage in extensive business travel the benefits seldom outweigh the fees and interest that adds up because you are tempted to use the card to get “rewards.”

stay healthy
eat healthy
live healthy
shop healthy
stay fit
step away from the TV and computer and get moving, and get your family moving, preferably outdoors
get vaccines
do well baby checkups
drive safely
eliminate destructive habits and risk-taking behaviors

get in the habit now while children are little to make entertainment = family togetherness time, at home or at free or low cost outing destinations, again outdoors whenever possible. never set up a system of entertainment=spending money on food or fun we could have cheaper at home

if you don’t need it don’t buy it
if you already have one that functions well, don’t buy another one
get reasonable about family gift giving and discuss it with your extended family–most will be relieved to get off the gifts-buy-love carousel.

Ditto the Tightwad Gazzette I, II, and III.
It is amazing what we can do without.

Everything around us all day long convinces us to spend, and it seems almost odd if you don’t buy something everyday.

I agree, write everything down, and just see where your money is actually going.
An example: Yes a nice fresh deli sandwich tastes great for lunch, even when it’s made at home. But your old standby, peanutbutter and jam costs almost nothing compared to it.

One little trick is just buying the stuff for your weekly dinners from only the proteins and veggies found on sale each week. Another way I found that helps, is to make a grocery list and bring the amount of cash you figure your needs will cost. When you know you only have X amount of dollars, then you can only buy the things you really need.
Just start saying to yourself before you buy anything, “Do I want this, or do I need this?” Only buy the needs, not the wants.

When your baby arrives, there is nothing wrong with wearing used clothing. They grow so fast that it’s really silly to buy new clothes for them. My sister had three boys, and I got all those hand-me-downs when I had my baby girl. We laugh when we look at some of her baby pics, 'cuz around the house she always looked like a boy! Who cares?

As long as both partners are on the same page and commited to doing this all out, then it will work. If one of you cheats a little, then it flat out won’t.

Congrats on the coming new baby, and yes, I will keep you in my prayers.

forgot to add, don’t buy baby stuff until after your shower, and even then only necessities you will need for the first couple of weeks, because if this is a first baby you might get lucky and be loaded up with family gifts soon after she is born.

check previous threads on parenting for “what you do not need for a new baby” like intercom, changing table, designer diaper covers etc

You have received some great advice so far.

I think tracking your expenses is very important. I would also recommend trying to live on solely your paycheck starting now and put your wife’s paycheck in savings. Once you get used to it, it becomes easier. My wife never worked before our first child came along, so we never got spoiled with two paychecks, which made it easier in that respect.

You’re right, though, about the cost of daycare eating a large chuck out of the second income. Add to that travel expenses, clothe expenses, food expenses, etc. related to that second job and it eats away even more. There are lots of coupon/freebie type websites for moms out there, too. My wife is always finding great deals and saving us money. :slight_smile:

Dumpster diving!!! It is fun for the whole family, saves lots of money and you’d be surprised what some people throw out. :slight_smile: For example, people will throw out lawnmowers when the spark plugs are bad or throw out refrigerators when meat spoils inside it. Just keep an eye out for wasteful people.

Consider cutting out your cable, internet and monthly cell phone bills. If you need a cell phone for emergencies then get a pre-paid phone.

Eat less meat and junk food and cut out alcohol and tobacco use.

Use your library for books and movies rather than paying for them.

Don’t work yourself to death to get @#$% that you don’t need. Learn to want what you already have.

And be sure to get a library card.Lots of free stuff besides books: movies,magazines, cd’s,puppets, foreign language lesson cd’s,etc. Our library also had great free programs for moms & kids,too.
If you homeschool, there’s a wealth of materials in the library for your curriculum.:thumbsup:

Perhaps your wife will also consider babysitting another child for a mother that wants or needs to go back to work herself. It may not be the best income in the world, but every little bit helps, right?

Oh, I feel your pain. I quit my job to be a sahm, and was one for several years before I realized it wasn’t working for my family at all.

Your quote below really struck me:

My advice to you would be DONT take a second job to avoid your wife taking a first. It is so important to have BOTH parents in a child’s life and not just a mother. To see one parent rarely and almost never so that another parent can be there 24/7 is not fair to the child. Anyway, that’s just my experience and opinion, but you honestly have to figure out what’s best for you and your family.

Pray on it. A lot. He will answer. If you follow His will, you won’t regret any decision you make.

I will disagree a little bit, not too strongly with sharmin. Work hard, really hard in the early years to get ahead. When our oldest were little, between work and graduate school, it would not have been unusual for me to work 80-100 hour weeks, anything to get ahead and make it where we felt more secure with my wife staying at home with the kids. I used to try to make sure I was at home on sundays, to spend with the families. Besides that, not very much besides a week or two vacation every year. Would not change a thing. When the kids got older, I might slip away from work long enough to catch a soccer game or something like that. It worked out well, as time went on, it paid off and I was able to spend more and more time with the family. Now, my little kids probably want get rid of me. My grown kids like to tease me about not remembering things because I was always gone, but even they realize that it allowed a lot of higher quality/quantity family time as they got older.

When your young, you have lots of energy, can work hard, all in the effort to provide for the family. Insecurity about being able to provide for a family can be a great motivator, take advantage of it.


My husband and I work opposite schedules, me M-Th, he F-Su. But our combined income probably totals one salary (less than 50K combined, before his business deductions). We also pay for our family’s insurance (individual plan with a high deductible). Lately we’ve squeaked by each month which is by God’s Grace for sure.

Father of six here and sole provider. Frugality, Prayer and hard work. My Mother-In-Law (best ever) and mother of fourteen and devout catholic says that “every child is born with a loaf of bread in it’s mouth”. I believe that is true if you are faithful and sacrifice for the greater good of your family. Sometimes that means NO extras. The basics are good enough once you get past the culture we presently live in. Ask St. Joseph to intercede on your behalf and ask everyday, he is a good man and has helped us greatly, after 27 years of marriage I know. God Bless.

Learn to do things yourself. Bring the right attitude and you’ll be surprised how simple most things are in life. I just replace the cylinder head on my car over the last two weekends. Instead of paying $2,000 to a mechanic or new car shopping, I spent $400 in parts and now have a car that ought to be good for another 2-3 years. Not bad for a weekend of work. Same goes for house painting, plumbing repair, basic electrical, flooring, etc. Americans have become strangely helpless just a couple generations away from ancestors who were almost completely self-reliant. Weird.

Buy used whenever you can. Craigslist is a boon for this! So are garage sales, but don’t buy what you don’t need just because it’s ‘cheap.’

Learn to camp. Family camping vacations save THOUSANDS of dollars and are at least as memorable as more touristy/pricey destination trips. Moreso, IMO.

Credit is for suckers and true emergencies. If you can’t buy it outright, you can’t afford it. Thousands of years of human beings lived without dishwashers, AC, TV, stereos, etc. Put it off a couple years and save the payments to buy it outright. You’ll pass up your interest paying neighbors (same income) in quality of life in under 10 years.

Don’t pay for TV. Unless you live in the sticks, its free over the air. In the 11 years I’ve been married we’ve saved close to $7,000 in cable/satellite bills compared to our neighbors. Unreal to me that they don’t see it. Netflix and an antenna work fine for us.

There are two aspects to being a single-income family – income and spending.

With regard to income… I’ll echo another poster on here that rather than working 2 jobs, maybe you and your wife need to get a little creative, because children do need two involved parents. You don’t mention what field she is in, but there may be PT evening or weekend opportunities in her field. For example: one of my closest friends stays home with her children Monday through Thursday, then works 3 12-hour shifts Friday-Sunday as a nurse. Another friend quit her full-time teaching job but does some tutoring on the side to pick up an extra $200 or so a month… etc. Depending on the field she is in, this may be a possibility.

Allow me to share memories from my own childhood – my father was gone during the day (graduate student and teaching assistant), and my mother ran a daycare center in our home (for two other children). Three evenings a week, my mother worked, probably a total of 12 hours/week. The combined income from my father’s TAship and my mother’s daycare and PT job allowed our little family to stay afloat for several years until my father graduated. I don’t remember TV, new toys, or lots of “extras” in my early childhood – but I remember a lot of happiness.

With regard to spending, I echo everyone else…

Track every single penny that goes in or out for the next few months. Practice living on one paycheck now. Cut back where you can. Cut those expensive cell phone plans back, ditch cable (Netflix plus library DVDs worked fine for us during my SAHM years), reduce any expensive habits you have (e.g. Starbucks), comparison shop for insurance, and take a serious look at your household budget to see what can be cut. Before the baby comes, do a one-time purge and sell things on Craigslist that you don’t need anymore, then put every last penny of that money into savings. Wait until after a baby shower to buy anything for the little one, because it’s likely you’ll get most of the major things then. As someone else said, even after the baby shower, wait until the baby is born to stock up on things, because it’s likely some family gifts will come in after the baby’s birth. And when you do need to buy clothes for your little one, Craigslist or your local thrift store.

Couponing, shopping sales and meal planning. Chicken is buy one get one free? Guess what we’re eating for a week and freezing. On my most recent huge grocery store shop I saved $97 and change using coupons, bogo and accumulated store loyalty card points. On pharmacy items you can go to CVS or Walgreens. They both offer loyalty bucks back for buying certain things (shampoo for example) that you can then spend on anything else. I know a woman who never paid for diapers because she used CVS’s bucks program.

Thank you all for the excellent advice and ideas. It’s much appreciated, and I’m starting to feel a lot more confident that we can do this.

To answer a few questions, my wife is a special education teacher. She’s considering doing some tutoring part time, but we’ll see. We’re going to sit down sometime in the next couple weeks, re-work the budget, and start looking at what cuts we can make.

Thanks again!

You really can do it! I’ll even send you a pair of baby socks to start things off.

I’m really in favor of a free market, but people can fall into the trap of buying everything new and shiny and don’t realize they can ‘make do,’ especially to fulfill a bigger goal. They forget about barter, they forget about repair and do-it-yourselfing, and they don’t factor in the cost of a working woman’s food, wardrobe, transport, and ‘day care.’

If you read nothing else read the Tightwad Gazette! :smiley:

I dont have any advice but know I’ll be praying for you and your family!

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