5 Tips For Living On One Income As A Couple

Over the past 5 years, my husband and I have navigated the terrain of living on a single income. What started out of necessity has evolved into our preferred budgeting approach as a couple.

Living on one income in a world designed for two isn’t a walk in the park, but the perks are worth it.

Living on one income: Tips and benefits

When you rely on one income, you essentially have a whole paycheck left over to sprinkle magic on your life. You can build a robust savings account, pay off lingering debts, explore new destinations, and more. Budgeting on a single income also opens doors for the other spouse to pursue further education, fulfill family obligations, or embrace the stay-at-home parenting role.

So, whether your single-income journey is a deliberate choice or a necessity for your family, let’s chart a course for your success.

5 Practical Tips for Living on One Income

As I mentioned earlier, the transition to living on one income wasn’t exactly a choice. As a fresh military spouse, I bid farewell to my job, moving from the east coast to the west coast – about 3,000 miles of culture shock.

Amidst the anxiety of acclimating to a new environment, I decided to take some time off before diving back into the workforce.

Illustration of How to live on one income with 5 steps along a road

Here are the five key tips that kept us not just afloat but thriving:

1. Establish an Emergency Fund

Being a naturally frugal spender, I had amassed a decent savings cushion. This provided us with a financial safety net during my non-working phase, allowing us to cover unforeseen expenses without diving into debt. Experts recommend having 3 to 6 months (or more) of your monthly expenses tucked away.

Check out how to kickstart your emergency fund here.

2. Craft a Budget

Creating a roadmap for your finances is crucial when embracing frugality. Careless spending is the fastest route to financial turbulence.

Sit down with your partner, crunch the numbers, and draft a budget that aligns with your income and necessary expenses. Need guidance? Here’s a straightforward guide on budget creation.

For additional motivation, feel free to review my family budget, operating on a single income and totaling $2,500 per month!

Once the budget is in place, be prepared to trim unnecessary expenses for a comfortable and sustainable lifestyle.

3. Trim Expenses

Here are the major budget busters we managed to rein in:

A. Housing

We scoured the internet for an affordable apartment, eventually finding a gem on Craigslist. It was small, but hey, it was just the two of us.

Downsizing not only slashed housing costs but also nudged us toward a more minimalist lifestyle, saving even more money.

B. Become A One Car Household

Leaving my car behind when we moved meant one less car payment, one less insurance bill, and fewer trips to the gas station. It may sound a bit inconvenient, but the savings made it worthwhile.

On days when I required the car, a quick drop-off at my husband’s workplace was a simple solution. Moreover, the infrequent instances where I opted for a ride-share were still more economical than maintaining a second vehicle.

During my job search, I specifically targeted opportunities that facilitated carpooling, public transit commutes, or even walking distance to further optimize our transportation costs.

C. Monitor Utilities

Small changes around the apartment, like opting for warmer clothes in winter, helped us lower utility bills without sacrificing comfort.

Come summer, our strategy involved utilizing fans and opening windows to welcome in a refreshing breeze. It’s not that we completely abandoned the AC or heater; instead, we adjusted them to more budget-friendly temperatures.

For more money-saving tips, check out my post on 40+ cheap living strategies.

4. Tackle Your Debt

With a single income, covering all monthly expenses can be challenging. While both partners are earning, strive to minimize debt. Paying off a few credit cards can significantly lighten the financial load and reduce stress in a one-income budget.

5. Embrace Frugality

With more free time on your hands, dive into frugal living by:

  • Saying goodbye to housekeeping and gardening services.
  • Opting for homemade meals over dining out.
  • Scouting for deals through comparison shopping.
  • Taking on DIY projects to cut costs.
  • Learning simple car maintenance.

The Bright Side of Living Frugally on One Income

Whether you’re stashing one income away for savings or only one spouse is working, there are remarkable benefits to both scenarios.

Pictogram of the benefits to living on one income

1. Facilitates One Parent Staying at Home

Being a stay-at-home parent sounds like a dream for many. By living on one income now, we’re preparing for an easier transition when kids enter the picture. Besides, think of the money saved on daycare alone!

Personally, I’m gearing up to enhance our savings further by engaging in various side hustles and exploring opportunities to work from home or part-time.

2. Trimming Expenses for Greater Savings

Having one partner stay at home can actually save a bunch of money and bring some financial perks! Here are a few examples:

  • Commuting Expenses: No daily commute means savings on car expenses such as gas and the frequency of maintenance.
  • Clothing Expenses: No need for pricey office attire when you can stay in your pajamas.
  • Home and Childcare: More time at home translates to reduced childcare and home management costs.
  • Eating Out Less: With a single income, the non-working spouse gains extra time to prepare home-cooked meals, curbing the impulse to spend on dining out due to fatigue. Packed lunches for work not only save money but also contribute to overall expense reduction. Explore budget-friendly meal ideas that yield six servings for under $10.

3. Speedy Debt Repayment

With only one income required for daily expenses, the other paycheck can be directed towards paying off debt swiftly. It’s a quick route to financial freedom, even if just temporary.

Picture this – if both you and your spouse earn $50,000 annually and manage to live on half of that, the remaining $50,000 can be directed toward debt repayment.

This approach provides a speedy avenue to financial freedom, even if adopted temporarily. For additional strategies on accelerating debt payoff, explore more tips here.

4. Amplify Savings

Having more money on hand opens up avenues for substantial savings:

  • Emergency Account: Enjoy the peace of mind that comes with not worrying about unforeseen expenses. Whether it’s a car breakdown or a malfunctioning AC in the heat of summer, you’ll be financially prepared.
  • Home Down Payment: Aspiring homeownership becomes more achievable on a single income. Saving for your mortgage down payment not only reduces borrowing but also minimizes long-term interest payments.
  • Retirement Savings: Securing your retirement is paramount in today’s financial landscape. By starting early and consistently setting aside funds, early retirement could even be within reach.
  • College Savings Fund: Mitigate the burden of student loans by proactively saving for your child’s education.
  • Leisure Savings Account: Embrace life’s joys and adventures, like our yearly excursions to both domestic and international destinations – from Paris to Italy. Allocating a portion of our income to a leisure fund allows us to savor life beyond the perpetual grind.

5. Financial Security

Frugal living on one income serves as a preventative measure against future stressors. If one spouse faces job loss or health issues, the family won’t struggle during that period.

As a military spouse, job stability can be elusive. By budgeting on one income, we’ve sidestepped the financial hurdles between moves.

By only budgeting on one income, we’ve prevented having to struggle in between jobs when we PCS (move).

Living on one income is possible with careful money management and a sprinkle of teamwork. Keep those goals in sight, and let the journey be both intentional and enjoyable!


Embarking on the journey of living on a single income is not merely a financial strategy; it’s a lifestyle that opens doors to a myriad of opportunities. From the practical tips on budgeting, cutting expenses, and reducing debt, to the profound benefits of facilitating one parent staying at home and accelerating savings – the path to financial freedom is clear.

Embracing this path not only ensures stability but opens doors to homeownership dreams, a secure retirement, and investments in your children’s future education. It’s a mindful approach that goes beyond surviving, allowing you to thrive and savor the richness of life.

How to live on one income

So, as you navigate this intentional financial journey, keep your goals in focus, work together as a family, and relish the satisfaction of achieving both financial security and a fulfilling life.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a good salary for a family of 4?

According to an article on CNBC, anywhere from about $54k in Mississippi to $88k in New York. The amount needed depends on where you live and the cost of living in that area. However, costs can still be greatly reduced based on how you budget and manage your money.

How do people afford to live on one income?

People can live on one income by budgeting and reducing monthly expenses (downsizing, couponing, monitoring utilities, etc.).

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