When my husband and I first got married in July 2011, I was a homemaker and Joshua was working two part-time jobs that kept him away from home 16 hours a day. That lasted about a month before we realized his work schedule was not good for our marriage. I mean, we had seen each other for more waking hours before we got married! He quit his job with Riceland and continued to work for FedEx. Two years and two babies later, we were still making it on a single, part-time income. It was challenging and stressful at times. We often went without certain things that most people think of as necessities. But we were happy, our family was healthy, and we were living that way purposefully.
We had several things going for us which helped make it possible for me to stay home. We lived in Marion, Arkansas at the time, which is a relatively inexpensive area. We both went into marriage debt-free and didn’t have the stress of having to pay back loans. We also went into marriage with a little bit of savings built up (this ended up paying for our first homebirth). This all definitely helped, but even without these blessings we would have tried our best to find a way to let me stay home. It is so important to both the physical and the spiritual wellbeing of our family.
Once Joshua quit Riceland we were typically bringing home around $1600 a month. It wasn’t easy. It can be frustrating to live on a tight budget and have to watch every penny. It was sometimes lonely when everyone else from church went out to eat and we went home to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. But it was so worth it for me to be able to stay home with my babies and actually see and spend time with my husband!
I know that not everyone is able to live this way. This article is not intended to convince you that being a homemaker is best (although I believe it is). It is not meant for those who have no desire to remain home full-time. I am writing this article for those of you who deeply long to be home with your family but who need help figuring out ways to make it work financially. And for those of you who are already doing these things - keep on keeping on! I want to offer you the encouragement that it IS possible and that it IS worth the sacrifices it takes to live on one income.
Here are some of the things we did to make it possible to live on a single, part-time income for our first two and a half years of marriage:
1. I made everything I could from scratch, including our laundry soap, our dishwasher detergent, and (when I could manage it) our bread. I made my own pancake mix, taco seasoning, and cream of chicken soup. If I could make it, I did my best to do so.
2. We avoided buying commercial cleaners. I used mainly vinegar and baking soda to clean our home.
3. We drank mostly water. It’s surprising how much money one can spend on juice and soda!
4. We cloth diapered. If you’re planning on having more than one child, this is the way to go. Some brands are pretty pricey, but there are some very economical options. (DiaperRite is about $10 a diaper). You can always use the old-fashioned prefolds. We were extremely blessed with a friend’s stash of gently used Bumgenius diapers and did not have that expense with our first baby.
5. We didn’t buy commercial baby food. I was blessed with a great milk supply and was able to exclusively breastfeed Amos for 7 months and Joel for his whole first year. When we started solids, we simply mashed food from our own plates or waited until they were old enough to handle regular food.
6. We had one car, which saved on gas, insurance, and upkeep. This was also a blessing in that it kept me from overcommitting myself and needlessly running around town.
7. We tried our best to eat out twice a month or less. Due to my lack of organizational skills, we didn’t always manage this. Sometimes I failed to plan ahead and we would end up out and about at lunch time with nothing in the fridge to go home to. We both also really enjoy eating out on Sundays and this was a weak area for us. We gave in more than we should have, but we tried to eat out only when necessary.
8. We got creative with our date nights. A big date night for us included a movie from Red Box (usually with a “fifty cents off” coupon), a carton of cheap ice-cream, and a frozen pizza. That was splurging. We usually tried to find things to do that don’t involve spending money – which incidentally are things that helped us grow closer together as a couple. We took walks. We snuggled while Joshua read aloud. We played Monopoly or Risk. We simply sat and talked. A lot.
9. We didn’t buy much for the kids. Most of their clothes were either hand-me-downs or thrift store finds. My babies played with pots and pans and cardboard boxes and they LOVED it! They also liked to look at books. We had a set of blocks from their grandparents, a few stuffed animals, and a toy tool set that Joshua found at a yard sale for $5. We had a baby swing, a bouncy seat, a high chair, a stroller, car seats and beds for them to sleep in. That’s pretty much it as far as baby equipment goes. It doesn’t take much to keep a baby happy, safe, and entertained.
10. We shared a computer. I know that’s hard (and maybe impossible) for many. But when the computer I’d had before marriage died, we didn’t replace it, and we got along just fine with only Joshua’s laptop. Usually ;-)
11. We had a cheap phone service. We did pay for unlimited texting, but MyFamilyMobile is pretty reasonable.
12. We didn’t eat much junk food. Chips, popcorn, soda pop, cookies, and the like are expensive. Fruit makes a good dessert.
13. We lived in a small, cheap apartment. With two little boys, this was not our preference. But it was what we could afford and it was in a nice area. Being able to stay home with my children was more important than having a house with a lot of space.
14. We made things last absolutely as long as we possibly could. Joshua had holes in nearly every pair of shoes he owned, but they stayed on his feet so he kept wearing them. We tried to live by the old Depression era motto, “Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without.”
15. I rarely wore make-up. This was because Joshua usually prefers the way I look without it (although he does enjoy seeing it on me occasionally), but it does save a lot of money as well. I used the cheapest lotion and shampoo I could get away with, but I did buy a more expensive conditioner because Joshua liked the way it smelled J
16. We don’t feel the burden to provide for our children’s college education. I know this is important to many, but I’d rather be able to stay home with my children than work a job in order to pay their college tuition. It is possible for them to pay their own way. Children don’t have to go to college, but if they want to they can work hard and find the money to do so. We will help them financially as much as we can when the time comes, but paying their tuition is not one of our financial goals.
17. We didn’t have TV. It is an unnecessary expense, it is a time thief, and it brings junk into our homes. We watched movies on our laptop, but we didn’t own a television.
18. We gave to God first. Joshua has always been very generous in his contribution. God loves a cheerful giver, and He blesses those who give to Him first. Every month, that is the first thing we budgeted. That was nonnegotiable. I have to admit that sometimes I felt it was impossible to continue living on such a small income if we didn’t cut our contribution down. I definitely struggled with faith in this area. I brought it up several times to Joshua that perhaps we should consider cutting back just a little on how much we gave. After all, God doesn’t expect us to give money we don’t have, right? Joshua was always firm and adamant that we would continue giving what we had purposed to give and God would provide the rest. His reply has always been, “If we can afford to ever eat out, or have any little extra niceties, we can afford to continue giving this much.” And he’s right.
19. God took care of us and blessed us beyond measure. He put extremely generous friends – and even strangers – in our lives who looked out for us. Our church family cared for us as only a true family of God will. God provided unexpected opportunities to make money on the side. He blessed us with far more than we needed.
I believe that when you live on one income and trust God to provide, He will bless you over and above anything you could imagine. Often when I thought of something that we needed, or something that I just really wanted but can’t afford right away, a few weeks later it appeared in one way or another. I really wanted to get an Ergo baby carrier when Joel was born. But those things are EXPENSIVE brand new, and buying them used isn’t cheap either. We talked about it, but ended up not buying one. A couple weeks later, our midwife asked us if we wanted the one her son had outgrown. What a blessing! Almost everything we’ve wanted to buy but couldn’t afford was either given to us, or we found it for an unbelievably good price a few weeks later. God was, and continues to be, so good to us.
Living on one income takes prayer and patience, and sometimes means making do without. But you can do it, mama! The blessings are endless.
[image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net]