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Living One Income Less

Updated on July 10, 2014

Live With One Income

For the next 3 or 4 months, my husband, John, and I will be living one income less. With the sudden loss of 66% of our income, we've spent the last couple of weeks thinking of ways to lower our bills, save money on groceries, and live within our new budget. We've had to give up many of the comforts we were used to and for those we weren't willing to give up, we had to figure out how to make them more affordable.

Image Credit: Jeroen van Oostrom

A Little About Me

My husband and I have never been rich. But we've always been comfortable. We've always had everything we need, some of what we want and a little of what we desire. We're not wild spenders. I actually pride myself on saving money when we can. I'm no stranger to couponing and if I want something that's too expensive, I've been known to wait over a year until I find it at just the right price.

Recently my husband broke his foot when he ran over it with a forklift (bless his heart) and now he can't work for we don't know how long (but we've been told it could be 3 or 4 months). This leaves us trying to survive by living with one income. I have to say, it's been a shock. My usual money saving efforts have been pushed into overdrive and I'm actually quite proud of how well we're doing.

I've filled this page with the money saving ideas we've already utilized, plus a few that don't apply to us, but might work for you.

Step 1 How To Live One Income Short

Make Plans

Budget Your Budget

This probably seems like the most obvious step, but it's also the most important one. When my husband quit working, our income dropped over 66% and that's a huge change. The first thing we did was to figure out exactly how much is coming in and how much is going out. Thankfully, we still had enough coming in to pay the rent and the "important" bills. And yes, there's a difference between important and unimportant bills. Rent is important. Utilities are important. Everything else is on a case by case basis. In the end, we decided the internet, Netflix and cell phone were also important bills, while everything else would have to wait until we got back on our feet. So we figured out how much money would be left over after paying bills and we divided that figure by 4 (or 5 depending on the month). That was now our weekly budget. After getting over the shock of having our weekly shopping budget reduced by 80%, we once again, had to decide exactly what was important and what wasn't.

Nicety or Necessity?

With our budget being so low, we had to do whatever we could to save money. So basically, it came down to what we're willing to do. What conveniences and treats were we willing to give up? As it turns out, not many. But at least we were willing to compromise.

Was I willing to hand wash our clothes to save money at the laundromat? No. But we're willing to wear our pants twice and to reuse our bath towels so we didn't have to wash as much. This cut our laundry bill down to $6 a week.

Was I willing to walk everywhere in order to save gas? Yes, but that's impossible with Johns broke foot. So instead, we run multiple errands on one trip to save gas.

Were we willing to give up cable? No because we didn't have to. Did you know that for just $7 a month, you can watch all the thousands of movies and tv shows that Netflix has to offer? It's waaaay cheaper than Dish or Direct TV and well worth the little bit of money it costs.

We're we willing to give up the cell phone? Nope. It's our primary phone. But as it turns out, we didn't need to. We have that Straight Talk plan through Walmart and we pay only $30 a month. You don't get much cheaper than that!

Were we willing to quit smoking? Not on your life, but we're willing to make our own cigarettes. That cut our cigarette bill down to $20 a week.

All that left was the internet and since I work online, that one's a no-brainer.

Once we figured out how much all our extra little necessities were going to cost us, we knew how much we could spend on groceries and household supplies. This was the toughest part for us. So once again, we're back to deciding what's important. But we'll get to that in a bit.

Stock Up to Worry Less

Because of the time of year and the circumstances, we had our full income coming in for an entire month after my husband quit working. This allowed us to prepare for what was coming. We sat down and made a list of everything we didn't want to run out of in the next couple months. Toilet paper, gas, laundry soap and feminine products were at the top of the list so we filled the gas tank and then bought enough "staples" to last 2 months. This will give us that much less to worry about in the coming months.

Since we knew we had hard times ahead of us, we also decided to return a few of our recent purchases back to the store. For some of it, we only got store credit but that's fine. Store credit spends the same as cash. By the way, any extra money goes straight to the bank.

Step 2 How To Live When You're Poor

Shop Smart

Start Stripping...Your Shopping List

In the past, I always saw everything on my shopping list as vitally important. We HAD to get the Glade Plug-ins because otherwise our house wouldn't smell all flowery all the time. We HAD to get paper plates and plastic cups because it was a hassle to do dishes. We HAD to get expensive pre-cooked meals because sometimes I just don't feel like cooking.

Well, guess what? When it came time to decide between eating or having our house smell good, all of a sudden those Glade Plug-ins didn't seem so important. We had to go through the list many many times, but eventually we stripped out everything that wasn't a necessity. Then we compromised and found even more ways to make it cheaper. Here's a few of the things we did:

  1. We sat down and came up with a list of super cheap meals. This includes Spaghetti ($3.50 for the both of us), fish fillets (with veggies and potatoes, it comes out to around $3 for the both of us), and chicken strips (with veggies and potatoes, it comes out to around $4 for the both of us). Of course, there's always hotdogs, Ramen Noodles or a cheap can of soup, but we aren't that desperate yet.

    Once we had our list of cheap meals, we were able to make a calendar of the weeks meals and then plan our shopping accordingly. This way we're only buying exactly what we need and nothing's going to waste.

  2. We took expensive soda off our list and replaced it with much cheaper koolaid (and saved even more money by buying store brand instead of name brand)
  3. No more pre-cooked meals! After doing the math, I realized some of those meals cost 5 times as much as buying the raw ingredients and making the meal myself.
  4. We buy in bulk. Meat is always cheaper in bulk (and we save even more by buying whatever has the discount sticker on it and freezing it as soon as we get home). We buy soup in bulk. We buy canned vegetables in bulk. We buy eggs in bulk. And we buy our fish fillets and chicken strips in bulk.
  5. We took junk food off the list. This includes chips, snack cakes, candy and cookies. That saves us about $15 a week.
  6. We switched to frozen orange juice. That cut our orange juice bill in half!
  7. We switched to cheaper brands. I'll admit it. I'm a name brand junkie and for a lot of things, I'm not willing to switch (seriously. If they can't even make it look good on the box....). But I went through the list and switched at least half of our normal products to either store brands or just cheaper brands. Bread, koolaid, canned veggies, milk, orange juice, peanut butter, spices and anything found in the baking isle are now off-brand.
  8. We quit using the more convenient, more expensive products. I'm a big fan of those touchless soap dispensers (we have 3) but the soap costs over $3 a bottle. So to save money, we switched back to the old Softsoap pump bottle. It may not be as cool, but it's 66% cheaper. We also skipped past the pricey Glade Plug-ins and got a $1 bottle of air freshener instead. It's 1/3 the price and will probably last longer.

Coupons Are Your New Best Friend

Do you remember that time when you were in a hurry at the store but the lady in front of you was taking forever because she had so many coupons? Well, that lady was me and guess what? Now that lady is you. Hold on, before we go any further, let me get all the excuses out of the way.

1. Coupons aren't worth the time it takes to cut them out. How are you calculating your time? Do you get paid to sit in front of the tv? Are you getting paid to talk to your friend on the phone? No. Hmmm. The next time you sit in front of the tv or relax on the front porch, bring your stack of coupon papers to look through and cut out. Multitasking doesn't cost you a penny.

2. The amount I save isn't enough. Sure, each individual coupon may seem small but when you add them up, they really make a difference.

3. I'm too embarrassed to use coupons. Get over it. Using coupons doesn't make you poor white trash (or any other color trash). Using coupons means you're smart. I mean, just think about it. The stores are basically giving you free money in exchange for cutting out little pieces of paper and handing them to the cashier. Does paying full price make you smarter? No. It makes you broker.

Okay, so that's that! Now are you ready to learn my couponing secrets? I really messed up when I first started using coupons. First of all, I cut out every single coupon I saw. And then when I needed a particular one, I could never find it. Plus I was cutting out coupons for products I didn't normally use and even worse, I was buying the product just to use the coupon! My first couple weeks couponing cost us more money than I'm willing to admit. But that was then and this is now. Now I have a little coupon organizer (that I made out of a $1 photo book) and I only cut out the coupons that I'm going to use. When I make my grocery list for the week, I plan the meals according to the coupons I have. And if I can somehow save even more by matching my coupons to the stores sales, I do a little fist pump.

The Best Things In Life Are Free

Freebies have been a lifesaver for us. I've spent the last 4 years ordering every freebie I came across on the internet. But instead of actually trying out the free products, I've just been throwing them in this big box. And now I have at least a months worth of shampoo, lotion, deodorant, toothpaste, feminine products and dishwasher tabs. If you can get something for free, DO IT! I've been ordering free dishwasher tabs for years, even though we didn't have a dishwasher until last month. I knew I'd use them eventually and now those freebies are saving us money when we need it the most.

I bet if you were to go look in your kitchen cupboards, you'd find reward codes on at least 25% of your groceries. From Coke to Kelloggs to Stouffers, so many companies are offering rewards like discounts and free stuff just for using their products. Plus, if you keep an eye out, you'll find tons of bonus codes online so you can earn rewards faster. Some companies even have programs dedicated to giving you free stuff. Kraft will send you coupons for free food in exchange for your opinion. And last week CoffeeMate sent me a $50 Walmart gift card just because I'm willing to tell people how much I love it.

And don't get me started on all the store reward programs. If you take a few minutes to sign up for them and if you keep an eye out for their sales, you'll save a bundle! Here's a pretty good list of the rewards programs available from various companies and stores.

Step 3 To Living Poor House Style

Save Save Save!


Earn Earn Earn!

There's No Such Thing As Extra Money

The first time I managed to not spend our entire budget for the week, I got all excited because we had extra money to play with. Whoa! wait a minute. Slow down. Extra money? No no no. There's no such thing as extra money. If there's money left over at the end of the week or if we make a bit of money from a side job, it goes to one of three things. I can use it to pay one of those unimportant bills. I can add it to the next weeks money. Or I can put it away in case of an emergency.

Oh, and your pocket change? Yeah, that needs to go straight to the change jar. Believe me, if the time comes that you need it, you'll be thankful you saved it.

I Know Where You Can Get Free Labor

Do you realize how much we pay for simple products and services that we could do ourselves (if we weren't so ..ahem.. lazy)? We go to a car wash and pay money to wash our car when we could do it for free in our own driveway. We drive all the way to McDonalds and pay $5 just for one cup of coffee, even though our coffeepot works perfectly fine. We pay the neighbors kids to shovel snow, rake leaves and mow the lawn, when we could be doing it ourselves. Well, no more. Just now, as I'm writing this, I made a decision that if it's something I can do for myself, I'm not gonna pay someone else to do it for me. What a waste of money!

Did You Know You Could Get Paid For That?

Do you know how I make money? I work online, from home. I started working online just because there were no other jobs available. I never thought I'd make any real money. But now here I am, supporting my family. There's always ways to make extra money from home. The thing is, you need to tell yourself that every little bit counts (otherwise you'll convince yourself that making a little money here and there isn't worth it).

  1. Recycle. Yep, we save any cans we find on the side of the road. We were also lucky enough to come into some copper so our next trip to the scrapyard will net us some decent cash. If you're willing to put in the effort, you can actually make some serious cash by scrapping metal.
  2. Sell your stuff. No, I'm not talking about the stuff you love and use every day. But that stuff that's been in the box in the back of the closet? I bet someone out there is willing to pay for it. Or how about that gift card that's been in your wallet for months? Declutter your life and at the same time, you can earn some much needed cash. Although Ebay will always be the biggest online auction around, I don't like paying all their fees. So I sell my stuff at Listia instead. It's a bit different since it uses credits instead of cash, but I don't mind, because I use the credits I get for my stuff to bid on gift cards.
  3. How do you feel about surveys? While you won't get rich, doing a survey every now and then is an easy way to pick up some quick cash. Here's a few websites I work with when I need a few bucks.
  4. Work from home. There's plenty of jobs you can do from home on your spare time. You can become an Avon rep. Or you could be a party host for Passion Parties or Jewel Kade
  5. Can you knit, whittle wood, paint, sew or draw? Do you have any talent that someone might be willing to pay for? Sell yourself...on Etsy or Fiverr!

Step 4 To Surviving An Income Loss

Even Poor People Have Fun

Be A Cheap Date

If you totally cut yourself off from all fun, believe me, you'll drive yourself crazy (been there, done that, got a t-shirt). The trick is to find free or cheap things to do for fun. This could be anything! A trip to the local park. Window shopping at that store you couldn't afford even before you went broke. Hiking or walking. Trips to museums or art galleries. A game of baseball at the local baseball field.

If you can't think of anything, ask friends and family for ideas. And make sure to check the local paper for any activities going on in your area.

Wait For Deals

Unfortunately not everything is free. Sometimes we have to pay for a little fun, but I can guarantee we aren't gonna pay full price! Heck no! I scour deal sites every day looking for any local deals cheap enough for us to enjoy. Last week I used Groupon to purchase concert tickets for $10 (but only because we had Groupon credits... and because it was Johns birthday). I also just recently learned about a website devoted to offering half off meals at local restaurants.

Another way to save money is to wait for deals (or sniff them out). Most businesses offer specials like 2 for 1 deals or half price discounts on certain days of the week or certain times of the year. Find out when these deals are and you could have oodles of fun without spending too much.

Step 5 How to Handle Severe Income Loss

We Have To Buy What???

Fine Furnishings

I think I already mentioned about moving into a new place and having to partially furnish it. Well, I'm not exaggerating when I say we were sorely lacking in the furniture and kitchen departments. Our furniture consisted of a couch, a small table I built, a bed, dresser, a nightstand I built and a bathroom cabinet I built. No coffee table. No shelves. No side tables. And although we have plenty of bakeware, pots and pans, we didn't own plates, glasses or silverware.

Before we landed in poorville, I had this nice set of burgundy china dishes all picked out, plus this beautiful set of Pfaltzgraff silverware and this glassware set that I just fell in love with. When John hurt his foot, I knew buying those things would be put on the back burner, but I also knew we couldn't keep buying disposable dishes (it was costing us a fortune!). So I settled on a cheap set of dishes, glasses and silverware from Walmart. Altogether it cost less than $15 and was worth every penny.

And because I can't live without tables and shelves to put stuff on, I started scouring second hand stores for any great deals. I bought a coffee table and 2 end tables for $5. No, it doesn't look the best. But it'll do for now. Now we're to the point where we actually enjoy going to the secondhand stores (you never know what you're gonna find!). If you find yourself needing to buy any big ticket item, try the secondhand stores first!

Gifts and Regifting

Guess what's coming up next week? My daughters birthday. And she has a whole big list of stuff she wants! After checking her list, I've spotted a few ways we can make her happy on her special day without breaking our bank account. I noticed one of the things on her list is a wig. Well, I just happen to have a cute curly blonde haired wig that I never wear. So that's one present down. She also wants barbie clothes and baby blankets for her dolls. I'm pretty handy with a needle and thread so I'm going to attempt to make the barbie clothes myself. I believe I can also make the baby blankets she want too. So that's 3 presents down and we haven't even spent a penny!

Johns birthday was a few days ago. I fretted and fretted and then at the last minute I found some way discounted concert tickets on a daily deals website. I've been so worried about how to deal with birthdays during our poorer than poor period, but the birthdays are actually working themselves out.

Are you currently living with a single income?

Are you currently living with a single income?

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Photos and text; © 2013 Catherine Taylor. All Rights Reserved*

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Do you have any tips or advice for living on a single income?

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    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I love this article, I have a really cheap side and like to find ways to save money. If you ever run out of air freshener and don't won't to spend the money on more you can try adding some cinnamon to a bit of water and boiling it on the stove. Your house will smell amazing! It looks like you and your husband are doing a terrific job of holding things together until he recovers and I'm sure this article will help others think of ways to cut back during tough times.

    • LisaAuch1 profile image

      Lisa Auch 

      5 years ago from Scotland

      My hubby ws made redundant from a very good job last year, he tried to Squid but that didn't work out however what we have done now is joined forces, he helps and take care of most of the house hold stuff (day to day) hes become a mean cook! he builds me props and is quite creative so I write about it. We have made a great team however it can be tedious sometimes, so I send him out to do odd jobs for people, I created business cards online and printed off adverts for a handy man! he did get a surprise when all these people started phoning asking him to do jobs! But he loves it now, and even takes the small jobs like a little lady who just wanted a picture up that her family had sent to her a year ago and she was not strong enough to put up (as it kept falling down on her) - my husband refused to take payment, BUT we woke up the other day to a basket full of fresh vegetables and some plant all home grown in her garden! she has became a good neighbour and we help her out and she drops off some fruit /veg and plants - so sometimes its not about money I think we could return more to a world where we did jobs in exchange for produce etc. good luck and do let us know how your getting on and hope hubbys foot heels quick

      PS we are happier NOW than we have been in a long long time, its funny what you really find value in when you lose an income

    • Erin Mellor profile image

      Erin Mellor 

      5 years ago from Europe

      It's comforting to know that many of the money saving ideas are better for health and the environment. It's also interesting what's a red line for different people. You won't quit smoking, I won't quit drinking! Helping someone else out with their budget recently I was amazed that 2 people were spending 30% more on their groceries than we were for 4 people, and they told me they had to because they were now only dining out two nights a week. We had very different views on what counted as a necessity.

    • Othercatt profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      @marigoldina: Oh, I forgot about that! We've been buying lemons and strawberries and adding them to our water. It really helped with our switch from soda.

    • marigoldina profile image

      Heather B 

      5 years ago

      Great article, Catherine. We are in a similar situation, not because we've lost one of our two incomes, but because we have to financially support my mother-in-law. I've found that drinking lemon water instead of soda and juice can make a huge difference to how much you spend. I also make sure to buy only that which is necessary for the week so I don't end up wasting food.

    • Othercatt profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      @Andrea RM: I'm actually glad we're going through this. We're just now getting used to frugal living and it's not as bad as I thought. When my husband goes back to work, I plan to keep living frugally so that we can start saving money again.

    • Andrea RM profile image

      Andrea RM 

      5 years ago

      You have really great advice, I'm surprised you don't have more comments. I remember when I was laid off years ago and had only my savings to rely on. i had a really hard time learning to budget, but cutting corners ended up being second nature to me.


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