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How to Live on One Income

Updated on January 18, 2011

In mid-2009 it started getting harder and harder for me to finish shifts. After numerous visits to an unempathetic doctor (to say the least) I reluctantly shortened my shifts from eight hours to four, from four to none. First my full-time job gone, then my part-time and my husband and I were living off our meagre savings. Finally, early in 2010 I received a diagnosis and a realisation. It would be along time before I could work again, if at all.

For more than a year now my husband and I have been living off of one income of 1200$ a month. Amazingly, most of the time I don’t feel the stress or strain of what was once our ‘money troubles’ and is now simply ‘frugalicious’. We have changed and adapted our lifestyle in many ways and if your facing a similar situation whether from health issues, lay offs or simply a desire to spend more time at home you can too.

Though you may find many of these suggestions helpful it is very possible, even likely, that you will not be able to employ all of them. My husband and I had a leg up as at 19 we had no debt, no children and only an inexpensive cat relying on us. Although like I said, with little time to stow cash away, we also had very meagre savings. Regardless, taking advantage of any of these ideas will help you to stretch your dollar. Some of them may sound a little (or a lot) drastic but loosing a whole income, whether it be 500$ a month, or 3000$, calls for pretty drastic measures.


In British Columbia even moderate drinkers will see a sizeable portion of their monthly income going to the BC liquor store. My new doctor had advised me against drinking even socially, and my husband had never started, so we were already saving money.

I remember when a friend asked me to join her for drinks not long ago. When I told her I didn’t drink anymore she stared at me wide-eyed and exclaimed, “You must have so much money!” If you can curb or eliminate your drinking altogether, especially if you live in Canada, you will be saving a lot of coin.

Try replacing hard liquor with an inexpensive bottle of win and allowing that bottle to stretch to a couple of days. Drink each glass slowly and savour the taste and smell. Drinking may even become more fun.


My husband is the most incredible grocery shopper I know. He has a near encyclopaedic knowledge of grocery store sales and prices and almost never buys anything that’s not on sale. While it maybe a lot to ask to index every shop in town you can try to focus on only buying things that are on sale (within reason) and only if you would have purchased that item anyway. Buying something that’s on sale for 8.99 that you wouldn’t buy at 10.99 is you really just putting out an extra 9 bucks.

Similarly skip the expensive specialty items, only buy them for special days, holidays or dates and you will be able to shave a little more of your grocery bill.

Eating out:

your keeping busy eating out is often your only option to get in enough calories before your next appointment but now that one of you is staying at home that one can get familiar with their oven. Making chilli, soup, spaghetti and rice stir frys are inexpensive and delicious. Produce is not too pricey, add as much as you can to make your meals super healthy. Scoop the left-overs into a container for a brown bag lunch for the working half-of the couple and you can save plenty.


You may be cringing at the idea of skipping your morning coffee, latte or cappuccino but there may be good news. If you can give up you fancy 4$ morning drink you can save a ton. Don’t have a coffee machine? A French press is an inexpensive and delicious way to make coffee in your kitchen every morning. If you absolutely need that latte consider buying an espresso machine. You can get a decent machine for 100-200$. But if you drink a pricey drink every day it’s paid for itself in about two months. Cutting out that morning latte in exchange for an espresso machine can save you about 500$ a year.


Regular dates are vital to maintaining the intimacy and fun in any long-term relationship. When you and your partner are already facing of the strain of a changing financial situation the last thing you want to do is cut out your time to be romantic together. However when your pinching pennies you need to find a way to avoid the expensive ones.

Instead of 100$ dollar dinner dates with lobsters and sizzling steaks try having a 30$ dollar lunch date and finishing the date ahem…at home. Still too expensive right now? A couple PB&J sandwiches by the water or at the park (when the weather is nice) can give you some lovely cuddle time. Another option is to light a couple candles, put on your nicest outfits, romantic music and cook dinner together.

Health Care:

In Canada most healthcare is provided by I know that north of the border getting sick can be ridiculously expensive. Be proactive, especially if you enjoy good health now. Eat well, maintain a healthy weight, don’t crash diet, exercise daily and floss regularly to keep yourself out of the doctors office. That being said, don’t ignore a big problem for the sake of cash.


If your monthly income is taking a big hit you may need to consider moving. My husband and I gave up a lot of space to move from a 1000$ apartment to a 650$ one but you know what? It’s easier to clean and we realized how little space we actually needed. Moving out of your home is a big decision but it may be a necessary one especially if your saddled with debt. I know a couple who had to make the decision to move out of a three quarters of a million dollar home into a mobile because of the debt they had accumulated, and at 500$ a month rent, they found themselves no less happy for it. In fact, eliminating the stress from impending mortgage payments has made their lives even better.


Having excessively high stress can lead to health problems, depression and unintended spending. Finding a way to de-stress, whether it’s drawing, exercising, writing or crafting can curb the impulse to buy junk food or engage in retail therapy.


Trust, especially when it comes to whose spending what and why can put a huge strain on relationships and finances. You and your partner need to be on the same page when it comes to spending and saving. Take some time to discuss goals and comfort levels when it comes to money. One person impulse buying a hot pair of shoes or a new game console while the other is brown bagging it and cutting coupons can put a lot of strain on your relationship. You are in this together and you need to make sure you are sticking to the same goals. If you both embrace your new lifestyle you may find that it’s not so down and out. Having less money, when handled well, can even foster new intimacy when nights cuddling in bed replace silent evenings at the movies.


A wise man once said that happiness is living below your means and within your waistline (sue me, I really don’t remember who, any help?). Money is not the key to happiness, however much it may feel, sometimes. like it is. Having an Iphone, or a new computer, or a fluffy dog, or a new dress, or a Wii Fit will not make you happy, it will only distract you which may sometimes feel like the same thing. Living on less can help you to realize the joy in simpler things (not trying to be corny) like old rented movies, dancing in your kitchen, playing with your cat, exercising daily, knitting, cooking, drawing or writing. There are so many things you can do with your time that will feed your mind and your creativity that we ignore in our over-stimulated world.

You never know, living on less may be the best thing that ever happened to you.


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    • ar.colton profile imageAUTHOR

      Mikal Smith 

      7 years ago from Vancouver, B.C.

      Thanks a lot Nell, glad you enjoyed it.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      7 years ago from England

      Hi, this is great info, I am also not working at the moment, and it is hard, but by cutting down it certainly makes a difference, bookmarked and rated up, cheers nell

    • ar.colton profile imageAUTHOR

      Mikal Smith 

      7 years ago from Vancouver, B.C.

      Thanks Rich. I had a similar experience in Bolivia. It's silly how often we start to use the word "need" to describe material things.

      Glad you enjoyed the hub!

    • richtwf profile image


      7 years ago

      The man who knows that enough is enough will always have enough. Lao-Tzu.

      We really don't need much to live and enjoy a happy life. Our health, our family and friends and the belief to achieve our dreams for the future are probably all that we need.

      After my voluntary work overseas in Central America and Africa, I realised that we need very little to make us happy, and the less we have, the less we have to worry about.

      Keep working hard and I am sure that your efforts will be rewarded.

      Inspiring hub.

      God bless.

    • ar.colton profile imageAUTHOR

      Mikal Smith 

      7 years ago from Vancouver, B.C.

      Certainly, and especially if you have kids and debt. Which, like I said, we didn't have. But once you get used to it it becomes so much simpler. I'm still not working and my hubby and I have widdled down our spending so much that we are talking about starting a family :)

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      8 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Frugal living is a reality for a lot of us now. It seems that it's better for you, though the stress can be daunting.

    • ar.colton profile imageAUTHOR

      Mikal Smith 

      8 years ago from Vancouver, B.C.

      Thanks guys, glad you enjoyed the hub. It's so true Simone, happiness is cheap! And priceless!

    • profile image

      Apostle Jack 

      8 years ago

      You said it well.Keep inspiring others in goods ways and good will return to you.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      8 years ago from San Francisco

      This is a wonderful, thoughtful, helpful guide. Though I am currently lucky enough to not be financially strained, I still do a lot of the things you mention above - not because I necessarily want to be frugal, but because I enjoy simple things more! When it all comes down to it, expensive flourishes that we think we must have are utterly superfluous- a wonderful life needn't cost much at all!


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