Before we were married, Mike and I made a goal that someday I would be a full time homemaker. We knew it wouldn’t be possible from Day 1 since we both had a few student loans that needed to be paid off. But fast forward to this time last year and we accomplished our goal! Transitioning our budget from two incomes to one has taken some getting used to, but with a lot of discipline and a little sacrifice, we are loving it! Today I thought I’d lay it all out there and share our top 12 budget tips living on one income. My hope is that this post will encourage you to take a look at your own finances and see how you can save more and spend less. (This post is full of a lots of information so if you don’t have time to read it now pin it to your budget board to read later!)
(Affiliate links are provided below for convenience. For more information see my disclosure, here.)
Before we get started, I just want to say that this post is in no way saying that we “have it all figured out”. These are just the strategies that have helped us improve our personal finances and that would be helpful for others to consider. We are so excited that we were able to accomplish our goal and if our tips can help someone else, even better! So if you’re ready to spend less, save more, pay off debts, and end the year in a better financial place than where you started – keep reading!
Ready to hear our tips? Here we go!
1. We saved up an emergency fund
Having an emergency fund saved up eliminates so much stress. It insures that we won’t have to go into debt if something major happens (like the furnace goes out in the middle of winter, or one of us gets seriously injured). We keep our emergency fund in a savings account that is readily available, but we never take money out for non-emergencies! (Tip: if you are still growing your emergency fund, setup automatic deposits from your paychecks so you don’t even have a chance to spend that money.)
2. We paid off debt
If you have read any of Dave Ramsey’s books, you may be sensing a theme here. Although we haven’t followed his Baby Steps exactly, we really believe in the common sense principles he teaches and a few of them will show up in this list. (If you haven’t read his book, Total Money Makeover, we highly recommend it!) Like I said earlier, when Mike and I married we started out with student loan debt, as well as a couple of credit card balances and a vehicle loan. We knew that living on one income would be almost impossible if we didn’t pay off our debt first. During the time we both worked in North Dakota, we made it our mission to put every extra dollar towards our debt. Two good incomes, Dave Ramsey’s Debt Snowball, and 3 years later – we are almost debt free! (Our only debt today is our mortgage.) Living without debt is so freeing. The Bible says, “the borrower is slave to the lender” and in today’s world it is so easy to become a slave to debt. If I could only give one piece of financial advice it would be this – get out of debt, no matter what it takes!
3. We spend every dollar on paper before we get paid
Ok, that’s a lie… we use an online spreadsheet, not paper. But let me tell you – this is a GAME. CHANGER. Without tracking every dollar, it is impossible to have a balanced budget. That’s why we created a super simple, customize-able spreadsheet that you can download for FREE! This is the exact spreadsheet we use each month to balance our budget, BEFORE we receive our paycheck(s). You can either open in Google Drive (Sheets) or if you prefer, you can download the worksheet for Microsoft Excel
Click one of the images below to open the Monthly Budget Worksheet!
Tip: If you choose Google Drive (Sheets), you will need to save a copy to “My Drive” to gain editing privileges. Click: File and then Make a copy…
When you download the spreadsheet, you’ll see a list of instructions explaining how to customize it to fit your personal budget. Obviously ours will look a little different from yours, so we setup this downloadable spreadsheet with some generic categories and amounts to give you an idea of how it works. Edit the cells using Microsoft Excel or Google Drive, and save to reuse each month.
Here are a few helpful tips to keep in mind when setting up your monthly budget:
- Include a category for EVERYTHING – don’t let any spending go unallocated
- Create categories for things that come out annually or are only needed sporadically (think gifts, repairs, seasonal decorations, etc.), that way you will have some money saved up when the time comes
- Allocate some fun money! To keep from getting burnt out, be sure to make a little room in the budget for some fun 🙂 Even if it’s only a few bucks a month for an ice cream date or two 😉
- Try to setup your budget to get ahead each month, not just break even! Saving even the smallest amount each month, will add up in a big way over time.
4. We use a cash envelope system
This tip may not work for everyone, but it has really helped us control our spending. Every month we put specific amounts of cash into labeled envelopes (we use this starter system and love it!) for each of our cash categories. Here’s a list of the cash envelopes that we use: groceries, date night, gifts, Mike/Ashley allowances, home decor, clothing, and travel. Then we work hard to stick to that amount. When the envelope runs out, we stop spending in that area. Some months we have money leftover and we leave that in the envelope to go towards the next month and build up a little surplus. There’s something about having to physically spend cash that makes you think twice about whether you really need that item or not. Swiping plastic evokes no emotion, but handing over a $50 bill is different. At least for me. (Tip: for larger “envelopes” that are going to build up quickly, consider keeping those amounts in a designated checking account instead. But only carry the debit card with you when you know you are going to need that envelope so you are not tempted to swipe! We do this with our vehicle and home maintenance funds.)
5. We got rid of all the “extras” in our budget
This list will look different for everyone, but these are the things we chose to go without in order to save each month:
- Magazine subscriptions – if there’s a magazine that you don’t want to part with, consider asking for the subscription as a gift! I did this with my Magnolia Journal (thanks Mom!)
- Gym membership – there are a ton of free online resources that can help you come up with an at-home workout plan
- Salon visits – I paint my own nails, get my tan from the sun (and go pasty in the winter), and I only get my hair professionally done once a year to keep everything blended (Mike gives me trims throughout the rest of the year! 🙂 )
- Satellite/Cable – we stream all of our TV shows/movies through Amazon Instant Video (available to Prime Members, try it for free here!), as well as through my parents’ Netflix/Hulu accounts (thanks again Mom 😉 )
- Subscription boxes – this is similar to the magazine subscriptions, except that I will sometimes buy one here and there with my “Ashley Allowance” (the amount that we setup in our budget to go towards anything I want! Don’t worry, Mike has one too 😉 ). Instead of signing up for an auto renewal, I will just buy one at a time as I am able to save up for it. My favorite one is FabFitFun! (You can use my link to get $10 off your first box!)
- Gas station treats – ok, this one might seem a little odd but I am including it here as an example. Let me explain… Before we lived on one income, both Mike and I had our “personal allowances” that I talked about in the last bullet point, and they were MUCH higher than they are now. Therefore, we are no longer able to make random stops at our favorite spots and mindlessly spend money. For Mike, this means no more stopping at the gas station on the way to work to buy a coffee and a few snacks for the day. Instead, he makes a coffee at home and I pack him a a few snacks along with his lunch. This option is not only way cheaper, but also a lot healthier too. (Tip: think of little purchases that you may be making out of habit, and consider coming up with a more frugal solution)
6. We use one credit card to earn reward points
Although we believe in using cash as much as possible (see #4), we have all automatic bill payments charged to one credit card to earn reward points. We use the same card for fuel (because buying fuel with cash is a pain), but that’s it! We don’t swipe the card for anything else. And here’s the most important part: we pay off the balance every two weeks NO MATTER WHAT. That way we never run the risk of paying interest and we are able to build credit while earning points toward travel miles. (Tip: if you’re tempted to carry a balance, we do not recommend this option. Paying credit card interest is not worth it!)
7. We cut our grocery budget in half
I have an entire post on how we did this coming soon, so stay tuned! But basically I learned how to shop the sales, clip coupons the smart way, and I now submit ALL of my receipts to the Ibotta app (you can use my link to sign up and get a $10 welcome bonus!). I also started buying more things in bulk. We invested in a Costco membership as soon as we moved to Montana (there weren’t any near us in North Dakota). The amount we save buying in bulk makes the annual membership fee more than worth it!
8. We drive an older vehicle
We recently sold our 2015 Ford truck and downgraded to a much older, more budget friendly pickup truck that we were able to purchase with cash. Even though our new-to-us truck is a little rough around the edges and not nearly as new and shiny, it gets us from point A to point B and saves us a ton of money each month!
9. We shop around to get the best rates available
Many of our monthly bills have been negotiated or price matched in order to get the lowest rates. This may not work every time, but it never hurts to ask your service providers so that you can be confident that you are getting the best deal. Below are some examples of how we do this:
- Internet – most internet service providers place a lot of value on you as a customer. At least once a year, we call around to make sure we are getting the best deal, and if we aren’t we try to get our rate lowered or we switch providers. More times than not, if you are willing to make the call and kindly ask about promotions or for a price match, there’s a good chance your current provider will be willing to lower your subscription just to keep you from cancelling.
- Cell phone plans – by paying off the installment plans for both of our phones, we were able to save around $60 per month. By doing this, we also are able to easily switch service providers to take advantage of promotions (this works in our favor since cell phone service providers are always competing to steal each other’s customers!)
- Energy audit – if you haven’t done an energy audit on your home, you should! They are usually free through your utility company and can potentially save you money each month on your energy bill and earn you tax credits.
- Vehicle insurance – every year we shop around to make sure we are still getting the best rate on our vehicle insurance. When we swapped out our newer truck for the older one, it actually cut our insurance bill in half! Double savings!
10. We only go out to restaurants on special occasions
In the beginning, this was a tough one for us. When we both worked, we got used to date nights at the local steak house and going out to lunch a couple of times a week. Now that we are being more budget conscious of how we spend our money, we choose to reserve our restaurant dining for special occasions. This makes the celebration even more special! And as for our weekly date nights, we have found other ways to spend time together without spending a lot of money. Some of our favorite activities are driving around back roads listening to music, playing board games together, and cuddling on the couch to watch a movie with a bowl of stove-popped popcorn!
11. We bought less house than we can afford
When looking for our first home, we decided on a budget before we talked to the bank. We knew we would be approved for more house than we needed, and it was important to us to keep our monthly payments low. This meant we weren’t able to get everything on our wish list, but we were willing to choose a house that needed a little work instead. (Little did we know that we would soon be sharing all of our home projects here in the wonderful world of blogging!) In addition to buying less house than we could afford, we also made sure to get the best deal possible on our mortgage! Thanks to Mike’s obsessive researching skills, we ended finding AimLoan.com and we can’t recommend them enough!
12. We talk about our budget… a lot!
None of the tips above would be nearly as helpful if Mike and I weren’t on the same page. It saddens me to read that the #1 reason couples fight is because of finances. In our marriage, we have found that the more we talk about our budget together, the smoother the conversations go. By having open communication and feeling free to bring up concerns in certain areas, we are able to work together as a team when it comes to our finances. This makes it easier to have budget meetings often to make sure we are sticking to the plan and working towards our goals!
If you’re interested in learning more about how to spend less, save more, pay off those debts and improve your financial outlook, checkout some of our favorite resources. We own each of these books and highly recommend all of them!
Using these tips we have been able to thrive on one income. It’s not always easy, but for us it is absolutely worth it! Do you have any tips for spending less and saving more? I’d love to read them in the comments below!