Living on One Income: How We Made it Work

Frugal Living Motherhood

“Oh, well, I have to work.”

“We could never afford that.”

“What a nice luxury.”

Whenever I talk to moms about staying home or homeschooling, I often hear comments like these. Honestly, I was probably the one saying these things to others a few years ago.

But, then the Lord put the desire on our hearts to have me be a stay at home mom, caring for our children full time, and home educating. And, when the Lord ignites a passion and conviction in you, I believe He makes a way to make it possible! 

Before staying home, I worked in mental health, and, I loved working—the satisfaction of finishing a mile-long to-do list, the ability to help families in crisis, being a resource and support to my team—it was great!

There was a large part of me that didn’t think I would ever be cut out to stay home all day. By nature, I love fast-paced days, productivity, problem solving, organizing and list-making, researching, advocating for others and structure. Being home was a huge adjustment, to say the least.

But along with the canyon of mental & emotional adjustment to staying home all day, came the financial adjustment. When we made the decision for me to stay home we cut our income nearly IN HALF. 

While many families make it work by supplementing their one income with nannying, side-jobs with varying schedules or working from home options, we were not one of them. We truly were a one-income family and here’s how we made it work.

family of 5 standing in the kitchen

How to Live on One Income


The first step in living on one income is budgeting. There are millions of resources out there for how to budget: apps, financial classes, and blog posts galore. Try a few, or try them all. Finding a system that worked for our family and using it made a big different. 

One strategic system that has worked for us is the “work backwards” method. There might be a real name for it, who knows. Basically, we list all of our areas of spending and then assign what percentage of our income we would ideally like to go to each line item.

We start with any areas that are set percentages (mortgage, loans, taxes, etc.), and then move on to percentages with items that are typically the same each month (water, gas, phone, giving, etc.) and then assign what is leftover to flexible areas.

Working backwards, we then identify what we’ve spent in the last 3-6 months in each given area and see how our ideal percentages line up with our actual percentages, and how we can adjust.

So, we may have lofty ideals of saving 10% of our income, but are actually only saving 3%. Or we may think we’re only spending 2% of our income on eating out, but really it’s closer to 9%. Whatever it is, the percentage method has been eye opening for us to see where we can adjust and budget more wisely.

We go back and re-examine all the areas we could be saving money. Many long and tedious phone calls to our cell phone company, various internet providers and local insurance carriers have resulted in saving us money.

It never hurts to ask if they can offer a better deal than what you’re currently getting. Many companies, if they know they’re buying your business from a competitor, are glad to give you a lower rate. They’re never short or fun phone calls, but can be worth it in the long run!

Once you’ve set an amount, stick to it. If that means only using cash or utilizing a budgeting app, do it. For some, it doesn’t seem possible to adjust to living on one income. To do so may require significant lifestyle changes.

I don’t want to downplay how difficult it may be, but I do believe it is possible if your family desires to. It could be selling and downsizing your home, becoming a one-car family, moving to another state, not eating out at all or traveling less.

These can be painful transitions, but if living on one income is a priority to your family, it seems like there is always a way to be found. 


As a natural planner and list-maker, one of the most life-giving areas of budgeting is that of meal planning. When I worked, I didn’t put a whole lot of thought into meals. We went grocery shopping 2-3 times per week and bought whatever sounded good.

But the more times we went to the store, the more money we spent. I found that we ate more snacks too, rather than focusing on being filled by meals. When I started staying home and cooking more, finding ways to be resourceful in meal planning started saving us a lot of money.

Currently, I plan out 14 days of meals at a time, do two large shopping trips a month and 2-3 smaller shopping trips (small meaning, just basics like milk, fresh produce, eggs, etc.).

I look at my calendar and identify what nights we won’t need dinner made at home or meals we’re having company. I factor in leftover nights every week or so (sometimes more often if my meals are bigger), and then I go from there.

I plan my meals around similar ingredients, so that I’m not wasting produce and using up what I buy. If one recipe calls for pesto, I try to make a different recipe using it up a few nights later. You can find many recipes that call for similar ingredients but taste completely different (thank you, Pinterest!).

I stretch the meat I buy. For example, I might buy a large pork loin, and split that into pork chops, a pork roast and pork stew meat. I freeze what I’m not going to use right away and spread out the pork throughout the month.

I’m buying it once, making many meals out of it and also spacing it out enough so our family doesn’t get sick of eating the same thing. I may do the same with a large ham or a whole chicken. This helps the budget a lot. Also, we eat a lot of soups and stews (which are usually healthier for you and perfect for our cold climate) and often double the recipe to freeze for later.

Creativity is key, but so is knowing what produce is in season, where items are cheapest at and knowing when to say no to things not on the shopping list. Buying in bulk, working in a regular brunch/brinner meal and simply making meals with fewer ingredients are all strategic things you can do to minimize food spending. Plan around what you have in your existing pantry.

Check out a local scratch and dent store. Shop sales, but only buy what you’re going to use. Our family has food allergies, which can make lowering our grocery bill tricky, but it certainly isn’t impossible. A little bit of research, intentionality and practice goes a long way!

shopping cart full of groceries


Living on one income isn’t always fun. When you start talking about budgeting and meal planning, it seems like everything around money is drudgery. By finding creative and strategic ways to save and spend money, it can take the stress off of an area of life that can be very stressful.

This, like all the other categories, requires a bit of creativity and research. Find things to do in your area for free. Call places beforehand and see what deals or specials they might offer.

If you’re meeting up with a friend, suggest the restaurant, or better yet, grab coffee or head out for a walk or picnic. Have people over for dinner rather than eating out. Swap babysitting nights with trusted friends and relatives. Many places that require a membership, offer free or discounted trials.

In some cities, you can rent passes to exhibits and museums from the library. Find ways to enjoy your city and time with others, that don’t cost money. Explore the outdoors!

Borrow movies, books, equipment, etc. rather than buying new. And remember that a small budget doesn’t mean you can’t save up and splurge on a beloved hobby or outing now and again. Make space for fun!


I remember I had this written and posted in my closet in college when I spent a year trying to live off of $300. Back then, I had most of my food and housing covered, but it still was a challenge to live on $10 per week.

In a season of life that didn’t allow for extras, my creativity expanded as I learned how I could “make do”. I borrowed, carpooled, learned to drink coffee black, made less trips to the store and appreciated gifts more.

I utilized the library, bought used and thrifted, and used up what I had (like that toothpaste that wasn’t my favorite, but got the job done). This taught me a lot of good lessons that I still carry with me—namely the ability to say “no”. 

If living on one income as a family doesn’t allow for extra things, you have to be strategic. Identify where your weak points are: Target’s dollar spot? Amazon’s 2-day shipping? Craft supplies? Books?

Make a plan for how you can spend less in your weak areas, or even avoid them all together if you must. Or maybe for you, it is gift giving. December might feel like a month where money runs out of your hands like water. Be strategic about buying gifts early, watching sales, being intentional and specific about the gifts you give, giving less, making gifts, or buying used.

I think we could all take an honest inventory of our lives and see how much less we can live on, and how much we really can do without. It is challenging at first, but truly gets easier the more you practice the habits of gratitude and spending less.


If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times “Organization is money”! This is my self-coined motto that I can’t help but live by. If I don’t know what I have or where it is in my house, that’s money that I’m spending as I go out and buy a product I may already own.

This can include everything, from knowing what is in my pantry and spice cupboard, to remembering where I stored my Christmas wrapping paper. It’s reading the books I already have on my shelf.

It’s checking what shoes I own in a size my child is growing into, and knowing what is in my closet to build outfits around. If your space and possessions are disorganized, extra purchases of duplicate items can really add up. Know what you own and use what you own!


Transitioning to living on one income is not for the faint of heart. It takes sacrifice, creativity, intentionality and a lot of self-denial. Some find that the only way this lifestyle is possible is to make extreme changes (like moving into a bus or moving across country).

These, on the other hand, are just small ideas on how to save money and simplify your life to make space for a one-income transition to happen. If there is a strong enough desire and will, there will be a way.

For us, that value of what we have received by having one parent stay home and raise our children, is triple-fold what any income could ever be. You can’t put money on time together, memories and experiences!

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