The “impossibility” of living on one income

A couple of days ago, I received a comment saying it’s impossible to live on one income alone in our day and age. This touched a nerve (in a positive way!), because most people would probably say it’s impossible to manage on our monthly budget, yet we have been doing it for a while now.

Just for the record, this post only focuses on the practical side of a wife at home; the spiritual is a story onto itself, along with the husband’s obligation to provide for his family. My husband always says there is no true financial blessing when husbands rely on their wives to provide.

I’m probably not the most frugal-savvy person there is, though. I know many people who have been living on one small income for quite a few years and have raised/are raising large families this way. I’m not an expert on budgeting, coupon-clipping, and discount-hunting, but if there’s one thing I can tell, it’s this: living on one income (and one far from large!) is definitely possible.

The greater part of it is in the mindset. Letting go of what I call “the entitlement syndrome” will almost immediately lead most people to think of whole lists of things they have previously regarded as necessities or legitimate needs, yet, in fact, it’s entirely possible to do without them. There are so many ways to cut down costs in the usage of electricity, water and gas, grocery shopping, entertainment, and many other things; time and space currently don’t permit me to dig into them. I’ll just share one main principle – enjoy what’s free; think twice before spending.

Another important thing I would like to mention is the importance of being debt-free from the beginning. My husband and I were blessed to start out that way. Of course, it’s more difficult (though not impossible) to manage on a small income if you also have debt to pay.

The notion that women can’t afford to stay home because that second income is so badly needed is a false one. It’s a myth perpetuated by those who are interested in pushing women out to the work force – where they more likely will benefit someone else than their immediate family. The fact is, there are many people living on one income. Take for example single mothers (whose rampantly increasing number is a direct outcome of feminism). While fathers are legally obligated to pay child support, the fact is that many single mothers get none and support their children themselves. No one tells them they “can’t” do it. But in a family where the wife is healthy and hard-working (and therefore able to do beneficial work for her family in her home), they are told they “can’t afford” for the wife to stay at home.

The notion is that the wife’s working outside the home will automatically double the family income. This idea is in most cases a false one. To start with, women generally earn much less than men. Not because of so-called “gender discrimination,” but because women naturally choose the less lucrative fields and invest less vigorously in their careers. In most families, the husband is the one who produces the lion’s share of the income anyway. I know many families where the wife’s paycheck is viewed as pocket money and is spent on luxuries and “extras” – most of them meant for her personal use alone.

Of course, in many more families the wife’s income is only directed towards what is considered necessary. I had one woman tell me the surplus of her salary, gas costs deduced, is only enough to pay for daycare for her two-year-old. For this family, daycare for a two-year-old was believed to be an unquestionable necessity; not for a moment did they stop to consider the possibility of just keeping their boy at home. Why is that? Because we were led to believe that “properly trained” people are better at caring for toddlers than us, their own parents. In Israel, especially, it’s very unacceptable for children over a year old to still be at home. It always boggles my mind to think how many families with two children under three (in religious families, this is nearly a status quo for many years) could afford for the wife to be home if only they considered keeping their children at home as well. I’m not even talking about full-fledged homeschooling, just the delay of shepherding the children off to institutions from very young age.

Naturally, daycare and gas costs are a no-brainer when we try to calculate what is actually left of a wife’s salary at the end of the month. By the way, I’m by now thoroughly familiar with the feminist argument that said costs should not be deducted from the wife’s salary, but rather, from the combined family income. Such theoretical calculations are utterly useless if what we want to know is how much the family will gain or lose by sending the wife out to work.

There are, of course, many things a wife at home can do directly or indirectly in order to cut costs. An example of a direct way to save is having more time to plan menus and shopping trips and to cook from scratch and in bulk. An indirect way of saving is providing a joyful, pleasant place to be in by investing many hours into home keeping – thus making the home more attractive for the family. A family who loves being home is less likely to dash out at the first opportunity. Being out and about usually means spending more money, on gas, eating out, and different temptations that always present themselves on such outings.

I’m not saying a family will never lose out financially if the wife doesn’t go out to work. For sure, for many having a wife at home means giving up on certain material benefits (even if those aren’t nearly as large as the world would have us believe). Yet it is possible to make it on one income once you decide that a wife and mother at home is a more important asset than the paycheck she can potentially bring in.

9 thoughts on “The “impossibility” of living on one income

  1. I went to college early in our marriage, and was already a mother! I believed the lie that I could/ should put off raising our children. Or rather- that raising children really had nothing to do with their spiritual upbringing, and their emotional needs would just take care of themselves. My husband’s mother had been a SAHM- and most folks looked down upon her. All women worked in her neck of the woods. My husband wanted me to stay home but my family didn’t have SAHM’s other than my Granny who raised all of us grandchildren, and most of the great-Grands. I have been at home now for 11 years, and been homeschooling them for almost 9 years. We are raising our daughters “on purpose.” There are of course incidental things they learn, but we have intentions towards raising them to know and love the Lord. It is our purpose in life- to know Him and make Him known.


  2. quiltermama sounds a lot like me. in the years we’ve been married, only one of those years have i had a job – ironically, teaching 2.5-4 year olds – while my parents cared for my own kids. that year was miserable! even though i didn’t have to pay for child care, i doubt my measley salary much more than covered the gas and extra money that was spent on food and conveniences i didn’t have time to prepare myself. in addition, i didn’t have time/energy to properly care for our home, making it less-than-desireable to be in. the comment in the post about a family who likes to be at home being less likely to dash out – thus spending more money… SO TRUE!!! God surprised me with a pregnancy that year, which made up our minds that i should stay home. what a blessing – in so many ways. God-willing, i’ll never be back in that world! i love being home with my family, and can’t fathom why people would choose to do something else!


  3. Feminism has left women worn out and over-worked, has left children to the State to be raised, has left men emasculated and has broken up families and marriages.

    It is refreshing to see a movement back to more traditional roles.


  4. My husband and I have debt. I’m a stay at home wife. My husband makes more than enough money to pay the bills so we’re climbing out of debt on only his income. With prayer and financial smarts, it can be done!


  5. I was raised in a “backward” household. My mother earned far more than my Dad, and she essentially “ran” things. I was expected to follow suit, especially considering that the man I married was not a huge go-getter who was content with a career in military service just as his father and his father before him. It was always in the back of every conversation that i never “made anything” of myself because I never went to college or even held a paying job after marriage.

    My children have not suffered; they are far better off than I ever was, as a matter of fact!

    My best friend has only one child; she has worked full-time since before his birth, and took a job at his school when he started kindergarten so she “could be close to him”. She tells me all the time that raising a child is just too expensive, and she “has” to work, all to ensure that they have two NEW cars (reliable transportation necessary because they both work in two different counties), work clothes for both of them, a fashionable wardrobe for their son, plus all the amenities a school-age child “needs”, like a cell phone, video games, and a professional saxophone.

    It’s ironic, actually, that I can barely see this best friend of mine, considering that she and her husband don’t even have enough money in the bank to afford the tank of gas to come see us…while we (and our seven children) are all doing quite well on my husband’s salary alone.

    It’s all a matter of perspective, for starters! If one doesn’t have her heart set on HOME, budgets and financial smarts will do no good whatever.


  6. Oh sure, sounds like you’re managing at present, but what do you plan to do come retirement, or if your husband gets sick? Are you one of those parents who figure popping out a few babies equals someone to take of you when you’re senile? Go visit any palliative care home and you’ll find an inordinant amount of elderly (especially women) who had stayed at home to take care of the kids, and have now been dumped unceremoniously by said kids in a facility to rot away.


  7. I do agree that it is better for the child to have mom raise them. I worked until I gave birth but quit to raise my daughter. Why have kids just to have someone else raise them? Just to give them brand name clothes when Wal mart brands will do or toys they don’t need? Keeping up with the Joneses I think is boastfull & fills the need to be vain, which is a sin.
    However I find myself bored often now that my daughter is in school full time. I live in a small house, which I can only clean so much. I don’t think it would be wrong to work a few hours a week to keep occupied, providing it doesn’t take time away the famiy.


  8. I know this post has been up for a while, but I have to add my two cents about something the author said. I have been a SAHM/homeschooling mom since we were married and have gone without a LOT for the last twenty years, always believeing that staying at home was the best. I am college educated and have a profession that would have paid well ocver the years if I had stayed in it, but we made the choice many years ago to have me stay in the home full time because we believed that it was the right thing for me to do. But as our children have gotten older and started going to college, I have had to deal with a lot of bitterness over the fact that many, MANY scholarships are given to the children of single moms, while those who are in two parent families are not rewarded, despite outstanding academic work. I have a son who is a 4.0 honors student, and a member of two honor societies…and yet he has, to date, gotten NO real scholarship assistance, despite outstanding character references from his instructors, etc. (Maybe this year will be different, but I’m not holding my breath!) He has been in a junior college the past two years because we are adament about him accruing as little debt as possible, and preferably, NO debt! He will get a small scholarship for being an honors student when he transfers to the next university in the fall, but trust me when I tell you that the big money- the real money- is reserved for the athletes and those who are from single parent homes. The system REWARDS people who make wrong moral choices at every turn and, frankly, I don’t buy the argument that single moms always have it worse. They qualify for EVERYTHING, from free and reduced priced school lunches in our public schools, WIC programs, government checks….the list is endless. I have truly wept at times over the past few years, in both anger and frustration, at the fact that because I have stayed in my marriage, did not get pregnant before I was married, and have stayed at home and raised my own children, that my children qualify for essentially nothing. I recently asked an admissions counselor if my son, realistically, had any chance of receiving one of the scholarships, and she told me point blank that the many scholarships they have are almost always awarded to children from single parent households, women and/or minorities, even if their grade point averages were poor, meaning that, once again, we/my son were penalized for doing what was “right”, namely, working very hard to earn his good grades!!! I say all this while still believing fervently that being a SAHM is the right choice, even when it means going without, and I have lived the life that proves that. But I think it’s wrong to assume that most SAHM have it easier than the single moms of the world because, in all reality, they often don’t. Sometimes, I think it demoralizes a SAHM a lot, and makes them wonder what they are doing wrong, when even a single mom seems to be able to send her kids to colleges and private schools while those who are pinching every penny cannot. Anyway, this is just my two cents on a subject that has gotten a LOT of discussion in our home over the past two years.


  9. Instead of me getting a job outside the home, my husband and I found ways to cut things out of our expenses until it added up to what I thought I would earn. First to go was the second vehicle. A second vehicle, even if you don’t have a car note, means more maintenance, gas, and insurance. We said goodbye to cable and it was easier than I thought. My husband installed a thermostat thingie that he could program and that lowered our utility bills. There were other things here and there. A bit here, a bit there. In the end we eliminated over $500 from our monthly budget. I only wanted a part time job anyway so this worked out great. The icing on the cake was when a neighbor asked if she could pay me to teach her daughter sewing and cooking. By the end of the summer I was making $200 a month and had several students lined up. Add that to our savings and we were doing great. I am very well educated with a master’s degree and I also have a long professional career in a male dominated field in my past. I was never as fulfilled or content as I am listening to the convictions of my heart. It isn’t always as I had expected, most of the time it’s better!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s