Running the Numbers: Living on One Salary
Whether you’re a single or stay-at-home parent or have a disabled or unemployed spouse, there’s something you likely have in common — your family is living on a single income. In a day and age where statistics show the number of working couples on the rise (not to mention inflation in terms of the cost of living), the notion of forgoing one spouse’s income sounds preposterous. It’s not impossible, however, as many middle class couples and families are managing just fine without the extra income. All it takes is some careful planning. (See also: Is Living on One Income a Status Symbol?)
If you're fortunate enough for this lifestyle to be a choice for your family (as opposed to a sudden layoff forcing a partner to stay home and look for another job), then you have more flexibility in deciding how to to go about living on a single salary. For budget issues, you can cut back in some areas of your budget and continue to splurge in others. However, even with this breathing space, a certain level of patience is required. Perhaps you're in a situation where one spouse wants to leave their job to fulfill their dream of becoming an author or go back to university to get their master's degree. In these cases, it's possible that the spouse working for a paycheck may feel resentment or envy for having to take on the role of sole breadwinner while the other pursues a different calling than paid work. This must be avoided at all costs, so before you make the leap and leave your job, make sure both spouses are content with the idea of living on a single salary.
If you are caught unprepared (in instances of disability or lay-offs) or your personal situation calls for it, you may need to look into downsizing your lifestyle. This can involve: moving into a smaller house or apartment (or to a more affordable neighborhood in your area), selling the nonworking spouse’s car, cutting luxuries such as movie rentals or pricey wine from your budget, and accounting for lowered discretionary expenses from month to month.
After constructing a new budget, now look to the workload shared between partners. Even if one spouse or parent isn’t working for a paycheck, that doesn’t necessarily mean they aren't working at all. To make this a fair and successful venture, the stay-at-home partner will likely be responsible for housework, yard work, taking care of the kids, and anything else to support the household while the other partner is away at the office.
If the nonworking partner has the entrepreneurial spirit or your family would like a little extra money so cutbacks in discretionary expenses won’t seem so severe, consider starting a small, home-based business or taking on side jobs to put your time to profitable use. This can involve: childcare, yard work, repairs, selling products, writing, web design, and more. Your options are limited to your imagination (a few stay-at-home parents have come up with great ideas that went on to earn them more than a salary at a regular job would have).
What about your family? Do you live on a single salary? If so, how do you manage? Tell us in the comments below!