How to Support a Family on a Single Income

I often get asked the question – “How can my family live comfortably off of a single income?”. In my response, I always let people know that it is possible and is not that hard. My wife and I have chosen to support our family on one income (by me) and have her stay at home with our two children. While there can be some ups and downs and financial uncertainty raising a family from a single income, the benefits are well worth it.

Photo by Kevin N. Murphy via Flickr

So how can we afford to live a comfortable lifestyle in today’s society on a single income? Mostly by proper planning and having a good understanding of our financial situation. If you are interested in hearing more, I strongly urge you to keep reading. I have included a few examples of common daily activities that we use to make it work. Hope you enjoy!

Using Coupons & Shopping Clearance

Using coupons and shopping the bargains is one way that my family is able to live comfortably off of a single income. We are sure to scan the weekly ads to all of the grocery and pharmacy stores looking for the best deals of the week. This can become very time consuming, but taking advantage of websites like Money Saving Mom and Couponing 101 have really helped us to match up coupons with the latest deals. There isn’t a week that goes by when we don’t get something for FREE!

Besides groceries, there are other items that we try to save on. Shopping for clearance seasonal items usually help us find some great presents and gifts for upcoming holidays. We also take advantage of credit card rewards by banking points. These points are redeemed normally right before the holiday’s for gift cards that are used to purchase presents for family. We have been known to redeem over $300 in gift cards just from using these points!

If you decide to shop online, there are plenty of additional deals that you can find. Be sure to always look for a coupon code before you make any purchase. Look at sites like ours or RetailMeNot as a starting point. Even if there is no code, you can still use sites like eBates or SwagBucks to earn rewards for online purchases.

Alternative Income Streams

Creating alternative income streams is not a luxury, it has not become a necessity for single income families. Just look at what has happened with the most recent economic downturn? Unemployment is rising, people are losing their jobs, and families are struggling to pay their monthly bills. Adding additional income streams (other than your main income source) can help protect you and your family during lean economic times.

My wife and I have made it one of our goals to create these alternative income streams to help protect our finances. If you need some help thinking of ideas, check out 40+ Alternative Income Ideas and Resources for some really great tips.

Reduce Energy Costs

Do you own your own home? Are you a renter? Either way, you probably have had to pick up a utility bill at some point that can put a real strain on your monthly budget. There are electric costs, gas bills, water and sewer fees that typically come with owning or renting. Unless you want to live in a tent, these monthly fees are unavoidable. The key is to try and limit your energy and utility usage so that you can maintain a decent way of life without breaking your budget.

So how can a family limit their energy and utility costs? There really isn’t one solution that will drastically reduce your bill without shutting off the utility. However, there are plenty of opportunities that collectively will reduce your monthly payments and put money back int your pocket. Conserving and limiting your utility and energy expenses is an important part of surviving comfortably on a single income.

Use Windfalls Wisely

What do you do with financial windfalls (large sums of money) you may get from time to time? Do you invest this money or put it into your savings account? Maybe you use it to buy a new television or car? If you are living in a single income family, this money can actually be put to good use by paying down debt, paying off additional principal on your mortgage, or even purchasing some dividend paying stocks. The key here is to use any windfalls to your advantage instead of squandering them on frivolous items.

Don’t think you ever get back any financial windfalls? Getting back money from your tax return is a good example. This is money that you probably had not expected, so avoid the temptation to spend it and put it to good use! Every year my wife and I put our federal tax return money directly back into 529 College Savings plans for our children. This allows us to continue to live on a single income while still investing in our kids future.

What tips can you provide for raising a family on a single income?

About the Author

By , on Aug 31, 2010
John Schroeder
John Schroeder is a personal finance blogger who enjoys writing about passive income, debt-free living, and financial independence. He also enjoys sharing his experiences in raising a family on a single income, while his wife stays home with their two children. Aside from writing about money, he is an avid runner and enjoys spending time outdoors with his kids.

Leave Your Comment (10 Comments)

  1. Pemba says:

    Amazing tips. I am too running my family on a single income source. It does become difficult at times but then its a part of life. Its not necessary that if a family that runs with multiple income sources will never have difficult time. Be it single or multiple income, it the way the finances are handled counts the most.
    Once again thanks for the amazing write up.

  2. John – you it the nail on the head with this post. You can support a family on one income with proper planner. It is so important for kids to be raised by a parent rather than a day care. Yes I realize not everyone can do that, but you have shown here that it can be done, there are so many ways to cut back on spending, living below your means and being happy with what you have. Congrats to you and your wife!

  3. John says:

    @Jason – Thanks! I am glad that you mentioned communication. Without proper communication between you and your spouse, you could be fighting a losing battle.

    @Abigail – These are just a few of the tips that work for my wife and I. There are many factors to consider when discussing living on one income. The cost of living, salary, existing debt, number of children, etc. all can play a big part in being able to survive on a single income. I think everyone’s situation is a bit different.

    @Robert – We live off of one income by choice, although I agree that it is important to have multiple streams of income, regardless of where the money is coming from.

    @Kate – That must be a great feeling knowing that all your income is going to pay down debt and increase savings!

    @Financial Samurai – Yes, I have heard of several stay at home moms and dads making great money to help make ends meet. The only problem is having the time to actually build enough income streams to reach that $30K. I can tell you that my wife has a full time job at home raising our children and is worn out by the end of the day.

    @A.B. – Great point. I must admit that I did feel a lot of stress back in the winter of 2009 when my employer at the time was making job cuts. I guess that is why it is important to work towards becoming financially independent so you don’t have to worry about others deciding your financial fate.

    @Amy – I would disagree. Windfalls seem to come up from time to time and it is important to use that money wisely when you have the chance.

  4. amy says:

    you’re not really living on one income if you use windfalls to pay off debt you have accumulated.

  5. A.B. says:

    Not to nitpick, but the minute you add alternative income streams, you are no longer living on one income. The truth is it is extremely difficult to live on one income merely from the stress perspective; during times of economic uncertainty, you have the added panic of losing your only source of income. That being said, it is possible to drop to a single income as long as you have a complete plan.

  6. I think it is very easy for stay at home moms or dad to make $30K+ a year if they don’t work in the normal setting. It’s the 100K+ a year that’s hard, but who needs that much anyway? :)

  7. Kate Kashman says:

    My family was one income for about 10 years, until I recently rejoined the work force. We do not use my income for our living expenses at all, but for debt repayment and savings. (We save the equivalent of my pay every month.)

    Robert, there is a school of thought that thinks of those “unemployed” moms as a form of economic insurance. If you are basing your financial plans on two incomes, and lose one, you have a large loss. If you base your plans on one income, and it is lost, the other spouse may have the opportunity to return to work to pick up some of the difference. It is certainly a different way to look at it.

  8. Robert says:

    It is always better if you and your wife have an income instead of a single income. This can give you the leverage when you lost your job in a sudden. With the advent of internet, moms at home can have an alternative income right from their home with the use internet. Work at home moms can earn up to $30k a year if they do it right. Not that much but can certainly help your family.

  9. Abigail says:

    Um, not to be a downer, but I really wish people talking about “living on one income” could be a little more specific.

    I understand you probably don’t want to say what you make, but “one income” means a LOT of different things. Up until April, my husband’s and my income combined was about $36,000 — which I assume is rather less than most families living on *one* income are used to.

    It seems to me that an awful lot of families who survive on one income do so because the one income is healthy, to put it circumspectly.

  10. Jason says:

    John, all good tips. My wife and I have been living on a single income for about 5 years now. Along with some of your tips, we have found great success in living on one monthly income by having a monthly spending plan for our money. We also try to talk about our plan and how we’re doing each week. The other thing I would mention we did to set us up for success was paying off debt. We hit our debt plan hard 5 years ago and paid off two car loans and put credit card debt behind us many years ago. Living debt free, having a spending plan and communicating with your spouse are critical to living on one household income.

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