Money Talks, So Should You

Jana Says: 4 questions to ask before deciding to live on one income

Jana L.
by Jana L., Dimespring 30 (@saysjana)

About six months ago, my husband and I started living primarily on one income. It was an unexpected decision, as I had always planned on working a traditional full-time job. But life got in the way and together we made the choice for me to leave my job. Moving from a two-income family to a one-income family has been an adjustment, and a hard adjustment at that. We’ve managed to do it successfully, but believe me we’ve had our bumps. It didn’t come as easy for us as it does a lot of families.

However, before we agreed that I would leave my job, we had a number of in-depth discussions. We combed through every scenario and option before I handed in my official notice because we needed to be sure we could handle the loss of income. It wasn’t a decision that we took lightly given the tremendous impact it would have on every member of our family.

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Here are some questions that we went through:

1. Is it doable? You and your spouse need to sit down and have a very serious discussion about your finances. You need to examine every line in your budget and determine if one income can, in fact, cover all of your basic needs. If not, you need to compromise on what can go, what can stay, and what you’re willing to alter (for instance, in my family, I was willing to stop going out to eat every week). If no one is willing to compromise, then maybe moving to one income isn’t the best choice. And that’s okay, too.

2. Is it what you both want? There are number of families where the potential at-home spouse would actually prefer working. Staying home would breed resentment, hostility and anger, and quite frankly everyone would suffer. If one spouse is going to stay home, you need to make sure that you both want this and it’s not being forced. You need to make sure that everyone will be happy and benefit from the change. In my case, I wanted to stay home and my husband completely supported it. Had it been forced, I don’t know that the transition would have been as smooth.

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3. Is there potential for additional income if needed? While on paper it may seem like your expenses align with the household income, life happens. Housing payments increase. Emergency costs arise. Hours are cut. There are a number of factors that can affect your ability to meet monthly obligations. You and your spouse need to decide if there is a way to bring in additional income if necessary, whether through overtime, freelancing, tutoring, babysitting … anything that can help bridge the gap. I’ve kept my part-time job, and we bank my paychecks for those “just in case” scenarios.

4. Is there actually a loss of income? This is not a new concept, but it’s worth repeating. After weighing all the expenses that come with both spouses working, is the loss of income really that great. For a while, my income was much greater than the expense of me working (including daycare). But then we started factoring in how much of my income went toward debt repayment and we realized that we were basically living off of my husband’s income anyway. So losing my income really wasn’t that bad (since we paid off the debt and ended daycare).

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I’m sure there are a number of additional questions a couple can ask before deciding if one spouse stays home. In my case, I was lucky because not only could we make it work financially but it’s what we both wanted for our family.

And for that, I am extremely grateful.


Jana is a freelance writer and founder of the blogger mentoring program Bloggers Helping Bloggers. She's also the creator of Jana Says, a general lifestyle blog discussing money, life, family, pop culture and everything in between. Jana is a member of the Dimespring 30, a community of bloggers sharing their thoughts, experiences and perspectives on personal finance.