Frugal Friday: Getting by on a Single Income

Frugal Friday single income

It’s Frugal Friday!  The time when we take a few moments to focus on tips and hints for frugal living.

Let’s talk a little today about what it looks like to be a family with a single income.  Sometimes families cut back to a single income by choice, when a spouse takes time off with kids or retires.  Sometimes the choice is made for families, when a job is lost.  Either way, the end result usually means an adjustment to a Shoestring Budget.  Our family was on a single income for 10 years, from the time our first child was born until this past school year, when I went back to work part time while my youngest was in preschool.  It’s not always easy, but it’s possible.  Here are some of my best tips for getting by on a single income:

Before (if you know in advance you’ll be making the switch):

  • Plan ahead: If you’re able, give yourself some time to prepare for the adjustment.  For many families, the switch happens when kids come, so if having one parent stay home with the kids is the goal, start implementing changes as soon as you get pregnant…or better yet, as soon as you start trying!  The more time you have to prepare, the better off you’ll be.
  • Start budgeting using just one income:  Start paying your housing, utilities, and food using just the income that will be coming in after the switch.  Can you do it?  If not, it’s time to re-adjust the budget or look for ways to get a little extra income after you make the transition.
  • Try to cut future monthly payments by paying things off: While it’s still coming in, try to use the second income to pay off recurring expenses so you won’t have to worry about them on a monthly basis.  Before my daughter came, we paid off my Master’s degree and one of our vehicles to eliminate those payments from our monthly budget.
  • Repair or replace while you can:  Set yourself up for success and take care of any costly car maintenance, home repairs, or other needs while you still have supplemental income.  These things will be easier to absorb now than when you’re on a tighter budget.
  • Save, Save, Save!  Anything extra during this planning period should be socked away into a rainy-day fund, with plans to save it for when it’s really needed in the future.

While you’re on one income:

  • Cut back on non-necessities: Some of the luxuries of a two-income family probably won’t fit into a single-income budget.  Brewing coffee at home rather than stopping each day, basic cell-phone plans rather than expensive ones, and eating in rather than frequent dinners out will all be more in line with the new lifestyle.
  • Enjoy the savings of one person being at home:  Lower gasoline costs and less car maintenance from not commuting, not needing “work clothes” or dry cleaning, and no childcare costs are all bonuses.  Hopefully the spouse at home can also handle some cost-saving jobs that might not have been possible when both were working–preparing more meals at home, giving more attention to coupon shopping and deal-hunting, and taking care of things on your own rather than hiring someone to do it.
  • Postpone some expenses, if you can: Around here, we had a “when Mommy goes back to work” wish list.  It made it easier to tell ourselves no sometimes, knowing that it’s not a “never,” but rather a “when we can afford it more comfortably” decision.  Things like a newer car, upgraded landscaping, or replacing worn carpet are going to have to stay on the back burner for a few more years, but we won’t have to wait forever.
  • Prepare for the future:  If going down to a single income was due to a job loss and that person wants to return to work, spend time each day doing something to achieve that goal.  Prepare your resume, network, seek out possible employment opportunities…make finding a new job your part-time (if not full-time) “job” while you’re out of work.  If you’re a parent who’s taking a few years off to be home with the kids while they’re little, but would like to go back when they enter school, keep in touch with your field.  Continue to keep tabs on former colleagues and current trends.  Understand what continuing education or qualifications you’ll need to get back to work when the time comes, and be ready.  Let friends and colleagues know you hope to return to work in a few years so they’ll keep you in mind if something comes along.
  • Take time to appreciate the things that are free, but priceless:  No matter what the circumstances of a drastic change of income, the change can be stressful for all involved.  But the bonus of one spouse not working is that that person has a lot more time at home.  Try to soak in some of the special moments you get to experience by being at home…those memories will offer perspective when you face financial challenges.

If you’re planning to on a shift to a single income, or if you’re already there, you can find lots more tips on frugal living in the previous Frugal Friday posts below.  Every little change helps when you’re on a limited income, but it’s possible to get through, and to enjoy life while you’re doing it!

Do you have any other Single-Income Living tips to share with Sisters or Misters in similar situations?  We’d love to hear them in the comments or on Facebook!

If you’re just joining the Frugal Friday series, check out these other posts:


Megan has been frugal most of her life, but has been really honing her frugal skills as the chief home economist for her family of six, surviving and thriving on a single (teacher’s!) income.  If she can do it, you can too!


  1. Beth the atheist says

    A very timely post! I was told that I (and several co-workers) may be laid off next year. We are preparing for the worst and talking about becoming a SAHM. Making our budget.
    Thanks for another great post.

    • Megan says

      Glad you found it helpful, Beth! I’m so sorry to hear about a possible layoff, but what a blessing to have a little lead time to prepare rather than getting blindsided. Preparing is a great idea–you’ll be as ready as possible, and if plans change and the layoff doesn’t come, you’ll be in better financial shape either way. Best wishes during this time!

  2. meg says

    I really don’t have any tips but just wanted to say that is is hard but can be done! My daughter is 24 and my son just graduated high school. I have always been a stay at home mom. It wasn’t always easy but we always found a way to make it work. There was a lot of scary times when you think how in the world am I going to have enough money to pay for everything and still save for two kids to go to college. With a lot of determination you can do it! My kids knew early on that they needed to work hard in school to get scholarships. And I am happy and proud to say my son will be going to a four year college on a full scholarship! All the scrimping and sacrifices we have made has been with every single moment.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>