How to Live on One Income and Still Feel Loaded

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My wife hasn’t worked outside the home for eight years.

Still, I hear people talk about how it’s “impossible” or “practically impossible” to live on one income in America today.

To that my only intellectual reply is baloney.

What does it take to live on one income in 2013?

God’s blessing along with focused and Intentional living.

I’ve always believed that a penny saved is more valuable than a penny earned.  Why?  Because every penny you earn is subject to tax.  In other words, if I can find a way to save or cut $100 out of my budget, that is financially more valuable than earning $100 more.

I’m not sure which of the following has allowed us to afford to live very, very comfortably on one income, but here are some things we do:

  • Buy clothes second hand.  There is one negative side affect of buying clothes second hand; the idea of paying $10 for any article of clothing sounds outrageous after you start shopping second hand.  I’m guessing that my family isn’t the most fashionable crew around, but we’re OK with that as long as we’ve got the money we need for the things we truly value in life.
  • Avoid debt at all cost or pay it off aggressively.  I think it’s been about 14 months since we’ve had any form of debt.  It’s been 11 years since we had a car payment.  Our cars aren’t the fanciest vehicles on the market. They would have been cutting edge 10 years ago, but they’ve since lost their luster. Guess what? They function as they ought and get us from point A to B.  To me, the idea of buying something that you don’t have money for is unfathomable.  If you have debt, focus all your financial effort and resources there.  Keeping up with interest is hard work.
  • Keep giving as a part of your financial plan.  We’ve been blessed to be able to give a portion of our income since we each started to earn a paycheck.  Giving provides multiple advantages.  Perhaps the biggest is that you learn to look outside of yourself.  You learn that saying no to your own needs isn’t a bad thing, and it’s healthy both spiritually and financially.
  • Cook food at home.  Not all of you are as blessed as I am, but my wife is a true domestic diva.  Her cooking is better than any restaurant, so we eat most of our meals at home.  Despite the fact that we made far more than we spent, we still only allocate $65 per month for dining out for our family of five.
  • Eat lunch at home or eat leftovers.  We’ve been spoiled in that I’ve always been able to eat lunch at home.  I know a lot of folks who will spend $5 – $8 (or more) every day for lunch.  If you’ve got the financial resources to do it, good for you.  Otherwise, you ought to be eating something your own hands hath provided from the kitchen.
  • Make small and consistent investments.  The other day when I was helping the kids invest, we looked at their college savings funds.  Since the first day they were born, we’ve been putting $100 per month into mutual funds or index funds.  Both my son, age 6, and daughter, 8, have more than twice the amount we’ve invested.  A lot of that has to do with the 08/09 market downturn.
  • Agree on a scoreboard.  We all look at scoreboards.  This is how we know if we’re winning or losing in life.  Your scoreboard might be the size of your house or the age of your vehicles.  Your scoreboard might be in comparison to your neighbor.  Whatever you determine as winning in life will flow into how you spend your money.  Our scoreboard is how much time we’re able to spend together, how much financial freedom we enjoy, and how much we’re able to give.  What are your financial priorities? Align all your spending with those priorities.
  • Hunt for deals.  I actually consider this to be a hobby of mine.  If I’m going to buy something, I’d like to get it for the lowest price possible (which is different than the lowest quality possible). If you’re not currently doing this, you can probably just devote an hour or two a week trying to track down money saving blogs and websites.
  • Embrace simplicity.  Allow your standard of living to be your standard of living.  You don’t need to keep up with the Joneses or compete with anybody.  Learn to be comfortable with what you’re comfortable with.
  • Buy less house than you need.  This was a hard one for us as we didn’t know exactly what that looked like.  In the end, we were able to buy a house at the bottom of our range, and it suits us perfectly.  We feel tremendously blessed to have the home we have, and we didn’t even need to break the bank to buy it.  Don’t try and buy as much house as you can.  Buy as little house as you can.

I hope you can use some of these tips.  If your’e considering living off one income, I’m here to say it’s possible.  It’s possible to do it and feel like you have more than you deserve.  Every day I’m thankful to God for how much he’s blessed us.  I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Live focused and intentional lives, and don’t listen to people who say living off one income is impossible.  It’s possible – with a lifestyle adjustment.

Comments

  1. Wes Smith says

    Thank you for the insight Craig. My wife and I have lived on one income for 17 years, it took deliberate effort and choices on our part but it has been worth it! A big part of it was the choices we made when we had two incomes. From the beginning of our marriage, all of my wife’s income went to savings. This allowed to avoid some debt and not “miss” the income as much when she became became a full-time Mom.
    The one income also makes it much easier to follow the commands in Dt 6:7 (You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise).

    • says

      Wes,
      I think you’re highlighting an important aspect – making the decision before you have kids. I do know a lot of families who took on a lot of debt before having kids. The result is that between trying to pay off debt and live off one income it’s difficult to make the math work. I guess the sooner a person decides if they want to live off one income the better it will be for them.

  2. Praveen Aaron says

    Thank you Craig for useful tips to single income people. For a long time I have been blessed by your insights. Please do continue to think and write on these topics. God bless you. Praveen Aaron. Freelance Bible Teacher. Pune. MH. India.

  3. says

    I consider this one of your better posts Craig and while you didn’t tie anything directly to scripture, the essence of your message here is certainly based on a great understanding of the Scriptures. Your point “Make small and consistent investments” is wise in it’s intent but not quite so in your application. Playing the stocks as a form of investment is a poor form of investment – it might be profitable to some and it may retain or gain SOME value but you would be far wiser to teach your children to invest $100.00pm into people directly. This ties in much better with the heart of the Torah where guidelines for godly living were/are first laid out. It’s also what Jesus taught and practiced. If any are challenged by the concept that investing cash into people is wiser than investing into stocks, bonds or the markets, consider the heart of biblical teaching from the first five books of the bible which enlighten us to God’s take on social responsibility and His ideal for social interactions; plus the practice of the early Christians, whereby individual ownership of assets and resources were actively shared, including capital requirements. There are myriads of ways to do this, directly & openly; directly but overty; in structured ways leveraging others, indirectly but openly and indirectly annonymously. All of these exercise faith in vehicles not manipulated and controlled by those who do not share the same Christian values. There is a hint here in your advice of the desirability of passive increase (which is generally achieved through interest bearing activities). This thinking is of course entertains thoughts contrary to the Scriptures. Overall though I enjoyed reading the post and nodded in agreement with all the rest!

    • Praveen Aaron says

      Investing into people as per scriptural teaching always the best way to invest into the Kingdom of God. Thank you ! Praveen Aaron. Pune. M H India.

      • says

        > Investing into people … always the best way to invest into the Kingdom of God.
        Yes but I think that it’s much more than that Praveen. It’s a financial investment as well for when we do it in faith we are entrusting the Lord to return the financial benefit in the future when the need is there. Essentially we entrust the power of the Holy Spirit to return to us working capital or meet our living needs when the time is right, tomorrow or in the longterm. How this is done is infinitely variable but the principle is taught clearly in the Word that faith in God is much wiser than reliance on the economic systems of the world. We just struggle to apply the teaching, because we’re proud; have limited vision and are fooled into trusting systems that appear good on the surface but are funamentally ungodly. Notice that people help people outside of the mainstream investment options whenever they fail due to war, depression or criminal activity (the Great Depression and more recently Greece etc). Far better to apply what we are taught rather than follow the pack, lose it (as I think Craig has noted in his own investments [08/09 downturn]), and support ungodly usury based systems. Creating value outside of the cash economy through investing into people is inflation-proof and increases value in downturns. Playing the stocks is the reverse – subject to loss and devalues in tough economic times. Our challenge is to find ways to apply biblical teaching but the principle remains that a system that is rooted in evil will always have ungodly consequences, and a system based on obedience to the Word will ALWAYS be blessed.

        A note also that investing into people does not necessarily mean investing into Christians which you seem to have assumed. We bring the Kingsom of God when we act in obedience. Note that Nehemiah rebuilt the wall using the resources of the enemy (Cedar trees from Labanon were authorised by the KIng – lit. the “keeper of the forests”) for his working capital.

    • says

      Dennis,
      Thanks for the comment.
      I wanted to follow up on something. Are you saying that you think Torah forbids a person from using money to turn a profit? In other words, all investing must in the form of benevolence to another?
      Do you look at the principles regarding charging interest or something else to make these conclusions?
      Thanks.

      • says

        > Are you saying that you think Torah forbids a person from using money to turn a profit?
        No. There is no problem scripturally with turning a profit per se (that I know of) from managing resources such as land, nature, human or indeed spiritual, BUT there is clear instruction to avoid profit from money, lending or the use of money. The terms interest and usury describe this activity. People generally don’t use the term usury (unless they have studied the matter) so I try to soften my approach to help enlighten. Sorry if I wasn’t clear.

        > In other words, all investing must in the form of benevolence to another?
        No, and while investing for benevolence is good, I actually didn’t intend it that way. I mean a straight investment into human capital/relationships/benefit as an INVESTMENT. In one parable Jesus spoke well of the people of the world who invested into relationships, and doing this in faith puts the ROI (Return On Investment) firmly into the Lord’s hands.

        I have however an aversion to clinical calculation of ROI in any form of investment. When I look over my lifetime of giving and investing it is more the pattern of obedience that seems to unlock ultra-high, immeasurable and godly returns more than a specific act of investment into one particular person or situation, however when the ROI does materialise I can usually track it back to one act that has in retrospect been anointed and blessed.

        > Do you look at the principles regarding charging interest or something else to make these conclusions?
        I think I’ve answered your question already but there are a three things we have touched on with this interchange:
        1. Investing into the stock market – I think this lacks wisdom.
        2. Gaining an ROI from interest-bearing activities – totally prohibited in scripture. The Catholic Church actually taught that practising usury was a mortal sin for more than a century until the matter was obfuscated a few hundred years ago!
        3. Investing into relationships – a much wiser, and if done in obedience/faith a healthier return in both quality AND quantity.

        May I elaborate on the third point for a minute Craig? Please, I am not wanting to ‘ping’ you in any way, rather stretch you and your readers faith if I can. Here is a hypothetical parable teaching the value of investing into people, in faith.

        PARABLE BEGINS

        A mother had two sons who in turn both gave her plenty of grandchildren. Every week she slipped $10.00 into a bank account for them all. The first son trusted the banking system and knew the importance of saving. The second son however distrusted but understood the importance of investing into people. Both sons in turn taught their children according to their values.

        Mother was proud of the first son, as she heard how happy his children were to see their bank balances grow year after year and especially so when her son also matched her contribution and asset growth for her grandchildren was strong. Given time they would certainly have a nest egg ready for their schooling and buying their first home.

        From the second son however there was nothing; no investment news; no reports; nothing. She did however always get little gifts in the post, birthday presents, thoughtful notes and thank yous from people she had never heard of before. For each time his children received a gift, the second son encouraged his children to find something that helped others – investing into people. They would take the monetary gifts from grandma, then pass them on increasing the value in the process. “This gift came from grandma,” they might say. “One day you might be able to help her, thank her, or whatever”.

        Sure enough when times got tough, grandma had a stream of guests, caring and helping her in return for the lifetime of little helps that she had given them all from the second son. Grandma was proud of both her sons – one for wise investing, but the other for wiser investing. Come time for her will, she split her possessions equally, but . . . she slipped an extra major asset to the second son who knew how to really touch her heart.

        PARABLE ENDS

        Investing into people does NOT mean charity although charity is obviously good. It does not necessarily have to be in any particular form and it can also be with conditions (such as employment or a contractual arrangement, or in the case of the Grandma above, an obligation to help grandma in the future). Helping someone with needs may also carry an expectation of help in the future. The secular world can call this paying it forward, karma and a myriad of other things, but we Christians take it one step further and ascribe the ROI to the Lord when we act in obedience.

        There’s nothing wrong with setting an obligation on a recipient of a gift. We do this all the time . . . parents to children, employers to employees, charitable organisations to beneficiaries. Honesty and motivation are much more important however than the nature of the investment or expectations of an ROI .

        In my own life as an example, I live in a third world country that is historically very strong in the Gift Economy. I deliberately choose to invest into relationships NOT financial returns. While I could easily sell produce from my plantation, I deliberately choose people whom I know and love that will be able to help me when I need help. It is planned and calculating BUT it is also natural and genuine. Thus I take a high chief taro, pawpaws, bananas, home baking, even young puppies when he needs or wants them. I lend to and borrow from him week by week ignoring the bankers entirely. I bring my guests to see him and invest my time into teaching him the ways of the “outside” world and the deeper meaning of scriptures that he’s heard but has no real comprehension of to date thus increasing the value of my visits to him enormously.

        In various ways I do this with dozens of others around me and have had neither bank account nor savings for a long time in a foreign country with no family or steady income streams as any backstop.

        This is just one example of how I apply scriptural values and invest into relationships in my world. Doing this in ANY country or culture is possible, can be very practical and is certainly wiser form of investment.

        My point is this – Jesus asks us to put our faith in Him and of course the Scriptures.

        If I am reading the Word right, we can (and I believe should) deliberately invest into relationships for the purposes of a receiving an ROI. Sometimes one investment may not return a benefit, ever, but the potential for a godly and anointed ROI always exists (some may say it’s a certainty) if we exercise faith and do this. It NEVER exists however when investing into impersonal ungodly schemes of which some would say the stock market is, or borders on.

        I trust that this answers your question and makes more sense than my first short post! Again I do not want to put anyone down, rather to challenge and lift us to greater, better, wiser living choices.

        • says

          Dennis,
          Thanks for taking the time to respond. I appreciate it.
          First, the idea of investing in people or investing in the stock market does not necessarily need to be a either/or decision. I think a person can responsibly do both. As such, it might be a both/and decision.
          In your parable, I think the mother would be honored if the kids provided her with kind actions throughout the lives and had the resources to help care for her in her old age (perhaps through investments).
          Secondly, if wisdom is the guiding principle about the stock market, I’d say that investing in the stock market is a wise thing to do. I’ve been very happy with the returns on all my investments. In a comment you said, “Far better to apply what we are taught rather than follow the pack, lose it (as I think Craig has noted in his own investments [08/09 downturn].” To clarify I didn’t remove any money during the 08/09 downturn, but instead invested more. I’m a proponent of long-term investing and I don’t withdraw money when a market moves downward. In the last nearly 20 years of investing I’ve never lost any money because I didn’t withdraw money in a downward market (doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen). As such, I’d consider investing wisely as a wise thing to do, which I don’t assume you would. Either way, it’s a discussion about applicational wisdom not biblical authority.
          Thanks again for clarifying your position.

  4. says

    Something that I struggle with on a monthly basis is my fixed expenses like rent, college loans, insurance, and savings. These are things that are hard to reduce and get rid of because they are necessity in order to live.

  5. says

    I have stayed home with our kids for 20 years. I have a degree in journalism and have always offered my writing skills for free to charitable groups as part of our annual giving. While I still donate time and some writing projects, I coordinated a transition to a paid writing business while my youngest was in her senior year. We may not have as much saved for retirement as we would have if I had worked outside the home, but this was the right decision for our family. Looking at your list, we accomplished it much the same way you did.

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