How to Live Frugally on One Income (8 Big Steps)

You CAN save money and live as a single-income family. Here’s how to get there. Big changes and small tips to help you live frugally on one income.

stacks of books on floor

If you are preparing to live on income, you need to make a budget based on the income that’s staying.

Write down all your expenses and see if you can make it.

I’ve found that we tend just to spend what we have for many people, myself included. So when a big portion of the income goes away, most people will need to make cuts.

Here are eight habits to take a close look at in your life and see what changes you can make.

1. Evaluate your big expenses first

You can cut out all the lattes you want, but if you have a mortgage or car payment that is beyond your means, you’ll never get anywhere.

Making a big change in your monthly expenses means you need to look at the biggest parts of your budget. You may need to make changes that are uncomfortable or even scary.

The following expenses make up the biggest portion of most people’s budgets, and they all deserve a long, hard look:

  • Mortgage– can you move to a smaller house? Refinance to a lower rate and lower payment? Save really hard for a year to put a big lump sum down that will lower your payment?
  • Car payments– if only one person is working, are two new cars necessary? Could you have one nice family car and one old commuter car? Do you live in an area where bike riding or walking is realistic?
  • Health care– sometimes spending more money on health insurance lowers your overall health costs. Sometimes it doesn’t. Often a lifestyle change can lower healthcare costs too.
  • School tuition– private school, is a huge expense. If you are becoming a one-income family, is homeschooling an option? Is private school essential?

Does this mean that moving and selling your car is a must to live on one income? Of course not! But sometimes, living frugally on one income means making big sacrifices and doing things you don’t want to do.

We personally did this about five years ago. We sold a big, comfortable suburban home and moved to a house under 1000 square feet that was in terrible shape. It was really hard at the time. But it allowed me to continue staying home, and we were able to save money and build a nicer house years later.

I just want you to know that a sacrifice like that is possible. It is hard to do, and I won’t pretend it was fun. But it turned out to be worth it.

2. Save money on food

   After the big, fixed expenses, the most amount of money goes to food. Luckily, this is a category that makes it easy to save money. It takes a little creativity, but almost everyone has room to cut in their grocery budget. Here are some things to try.

  • Consider grocery pick up… even if you have to pay a small fee for it. This might sound strange, but ordering my groceries online has totally revolutionized my grocery bill. There are no more impulse purchases, no more extra trips because I couldn’t find something, no cookies tossed in the cart to placate crying children. I can watch the total as I add things and subtract if I go over budget. It is delightful.
  • Use sales and coupons wisely. As a former extreme couponer, I think extreme couponing is nuts. But there are ways to be intelligent about shopping sales to save you money without making you crazy.
  • Stop going out to eat. Like, at all. Totally quit for a month and see how much money you save. Suppose it’s a luxury you enjoy, budget out a small amount that you afford on one income and stick to that budget. There are ways to cook at home every night that are practical even for busy people.
  • Build a pantry that you can “shop” from when times are especially tough.

🌟 Related: Frugal Kitchen Hacks that will help you save money every single day.

3. Get out of debt while you have extra income

Sometimes this isn’t possible, like when you are laid off or have to leave your job unexpectedly. But if you are expecting a baby and planning to become a one-income family, take the time while you still have two incomes to pay off debt.

There are, of course, all kinds of debt, some worse than others. When you’re preparing to become a single income household, think about paying down the following:

  • high-interest credit card debt
  • low-interest credit card debt
  • car payments
  • student loans
  • your mortgage

Do you have extra money left over? Use it to build up an emergency fund. It will give you extra peace of mind.

4. Shop less

   Okay, this is a hard one. It’s a little deeper than just saving money on groceries or other household supplies. I’m talking about those trips to Target because you need to get out of the house, those online orders for craft supplies because it feels good to order something.

Take a good look at why you are shopping. Are you bored? Does it make you feel productive? Are you discontent with your home or appearance and continually trying to fix it? This might require a little soul searching.

Most women find specific spending triggers like boredom, jealousy, or the inability to resist marketing tactics.

🌟 Read this now: find out why you shop so much, and then do something about it.

5. Consider a way to bring in income from home

mom on laptop

I am wary even to include this because many articles about making money at home are just schemes to make money from recommending blogging products. I don’t want to do that because it’s gross, and I don’t think online business is for everyone.

But if you need a little extra income in the long run and aren’t terribly short on money in the short term, blogging is a great option.

 There is real income to be made online, and blogging or starting a YouTube channel is the ideal side job for a stay-at-home mom who can work into pockets of her day.

But…. It can be time-consuming and attention-consuming, and you have to realize that you will not make any money for the first year. Worse than that; actually, you will lose money. But if you are willing to put in the work when there is no reward, money is to be made on the other side of it.

(You can read an income report from my recipe blog here.)

And of course, there are other mom-friendly income-generating ideas, like direct sales, opening at Etsy shop, and more.

Finally, if this doesn’t work for you, please don’t feel bad about it! You contribute greatly to your family in many ways without bringing in a single cent. It is often more productive to focus on your home and ways to save money instead of bringing in more.

6. Be happy with what you have

Here’s another tough one. If you grew up in a two-income household like me, you might be used to a lot of treats and luxuries. But when you transition to living on one income, you may have to say goodbye to many of those. That’s okay! Just consider your one-income lifestyle a big luxury of its own (it is!).

Stop focusing on all the things you can’t have anymore. That might mean staying away from magazines and catalogs designed to make you want things. Maybe you need to unsubscribe from certain emails or even spend less time with certain friends.

When you start feeling deprived or jealous, think about what made you feel that way and whether it’s something you need to avoid.

7. Stay home as much as possible

overhead view of couple playing chess

Here is a lifestyle change that you can easily learn to love. Instead of going out for entertainment, learn to stay in and enjoy your home.

Here are some frugal entertainment ideas you can do at home:

  • Watch a movie and make popcorn. Sounds boring to some, but if you set a designated movie night and time and cut back on TV in general, it can actually be very exciting.
  • Having guests over for a board game and inexpensive drinks can be very fun. Don’t make entertaining a big huge production designed to impress everyone. People are comfortable when you are comfortable, not when you are trying to show off.
  • When you are home during the day with just your children, make sure you’ve set your home up in a way that makes you happy.

8. Buy used when you can

First of all, a warning: if you have trouble with shopping and frugal living in general, don’t use thrifty shopping as a crutch. Even when you buy used and follow all the money-saving tips in the world, shopping is still spending money.

But when it comes to things you really do need, try to get them used when you can.

We have always had good luck buying used everything: from appliances to cars to books. Even before you’ve started living off one income, this is a good habit.

Here’s why:

  • It keeps you from expecting the best and newest of everything
  • It keeps you out of debt (please don’t get stuck with a monthly fridge payment!)
  • It can help you save money on taxes and insurance (especially on vehicles)

So, to get in this frugal mindset, try the following

  • Accept all hand-me-downs. Even if some of them aren’t in great shape, take them and donate them or throw out what you don’t want. Why bother to do this? Because when you gratefully accept other’s cast-offs, people remember that and keep you in mind when they have something else to get rid of
  • Be friends with thrift stores. There is SO much available out there at a huge discount. I have always gotten gifts and hand-me-downs for kid’s clothes. But a lot of people are skilled at getting clothes for the whole family at thrift stores.

You can live frugally on one income

Obviously, this is not every single money-saving idea in world! But I hope it’s gotten you started thinking about ways to simplify your life and your budget. Of course there are many, many situations when living on one income isn’t possible, or even desirable. But if it’s something you want, I hope this helped.