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Whether going down to one income was a strategic decision or if it was something out of your control, it is a huge adjustment. Not only financially but mentally and emotionally as well. This decision usually comes with one parent staying home and the other one becoming the “bread winner”. Even the labels and terminology we use creates a negative connotation in the mind about what is actually happening. For each new role comes new responsibility and new challenges. And hopefully not resentment.
The Stay at Home Parent
The illusion of this title is that you are actually staying at home. It is now your responsibility to handle all the doctors appointments, classes, transportation, and then most of the cleaning and most of the shopping. This is a LONG day. Add multiple kids to the mix and you can bet on being literally exhausted. You don’t get sick days or days off. You may think how lucky your partner is that they get to leave the house/kids. You might have had the sinking thought that you have no income to call your own. You may feel like you don’t contribute to the family. Let me remind you that you have the most important job of them all- RAISING YOUR CHILDREN. It is thankless, payless, and draining. You will never do anything more important in your life.
The Working Parent
The “working parent” title sounds so important and fancy. The reality is that just like you do every day, you are going to get up, do the same routine, go to the same building, sit in the same cubicle, and do the same work that you have done for the last however long. Yeah, you get a paycheck but it is now your complete responsibility to make sure that happens. No pressure! You may feel like you are going to miss your children’s milestones. You may feel like your partner is lucky because they get to “stay at home” (see above.) But, you are providing for your family and by your hard work away from the house, you are ensuring that the people you love will be taken care of and that the time you spend together is enjoyable. It may hurt some days being away but keep your eye on the prize and remember you work hard for the people who matter most.
How to budget?
For many of us, going down to a one income budget meant creating joint accounts. This can be uncomfortable at first but a hard conversation must be had where it is understood and agreed upon that the family’s money does not belong to one person. Should you consult with one another about large purchases? Yes. Do you need to ask permission to buy a cup of coffee? No. Do however, agree on what constitutes as a “large” purchase.
If you prefer the old-fashioned method of pen and paper, be my guest. If you are tech-savvy, Excel is a great tool. Start with Column A and list every “shared fixed expense” you have. These are things like electric bills, mortgage/rent, water bills, gasoline, groceries, etc. Depending on your monthly income, this could also include things like gym memberships, subscriptions, medications, and services. These are the re-occurring needed expenses that you have every single month. Don’t forget to try to build in a small amount for saving! Now, in Column B, assign each of them a dollar amount. Some of these will be fixed numbers but some of them fluctuate as well. When a number fluctuates, choose the highest it’s ever been and then round up. So, if your electric bill is usually around $282, round up to $300. This begins to build in wiggle room and gives you whole numbers to work with.
Once your list is complete, highlight the costs and apply the Auto-Sum feature to see what your total monthly expenses are. These are the items you feel you cannot live without. Now, compare it to the amount of money you bring in every month. The difference is what you have left over for spending. Not matching up? Maybe you need to go back to your list and see what you can learn to live without! Most likely you will not be able to afford that landscaping service or house cleaners any longer. Decide what can go and work with your list until you are satisfied with your leftover money per month. With that “wiggle room” that we built in, I set up a reoccurring transfer in our online banking every month from checking to savings that moves our “wiggle money” into savings since we wouldn’t miss it!
Tips on Being Frugal
There are plenty of ways to save and thrifty ideas that will save you some coin and let you still have fun, too! It sounds bad but, “live like you’re broke”. If you spend like you are bringing in much less than you actually are, Voila! You will have money left over. Here are a few other useful tips on how to save:
- Coupons- Look online for coupon codes. Sites like RetailMeNot and Honey are great ways to save. Also, your local paper and mailers can have great deals and alert you to sales that are happening.
- Buy in Bulk- If you have a store like Costco, SAMs Club, or BJ’s nearby, these are great ways to buy the necessities (toilet paper, toothpaste, paper towels) as well as other items and they have coupon books often.
- Going out to eat- If you like to go out, do some online research. There are a TON of restaurants where kids eat free- so many that you could find somewhere every night of the week!
- Change Your Habits- Are you a coffee drinker? Instead of going to Starbucks, make yourself a thermos from home. If you work, be sure to pack your lunch and not buy out. You can make sandwiches for the whole week with the money you’d spend on ONE lunch out. Do you have a long commute? Consider adjusting your work hours to lessen time spent in traffic which = gas money!
- Hand-Me-Downs, Floor Models, and Discounts- There are SO many Facebook “yardsale” groups and Craigslist has always been great. Thrift stores are your friends and have so much more than clothes now. Need to buy a new appliance? Ask a sales person if there is a floor model or one that may have a small scratch that you could get a discount on. Also, shopping for big ticket items on holidays (Memorial Day, Black Friday, Labor Day) is a great time to find deals.
- Conserve- Turn off the lights. Turn down that thermostat. Bathe all your kids at once. Don’t let the water run when you aren’t using it. These are small things but they add up!
- Cook- Homemade meals are always cheaper than prepared meals. Ever notice how a package of cleaned and cut celery is twice as much as the whole stalk? Chicken strips are more expensive than the whole pieces? Save the money and cut the food yourself! Also, family packs are a great way to save- the price per pound is always less. Look for things that are on sale and that you have coupons for and plan your weekly meals around them. Yes, I said PLAN YOUR MEALS. This helps erase any unforeseen expenses throughout the week. And, a ton of grocery stores have apps now that help you build your list!
Being a one-income family is not the end of the world but it does take some finesse to plan and budget to allow yourselves to still have fun and splurge every now and then! With a little effort and a team mentality, you can make affordable choices, do activities together, and even manage to save.