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How Living on One Income Made Me Re-Think Our Money

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Living On One IncomeWe have mentioned a couple of times but Scott was let go from his job last year. He got a working notice which was basically means that he was told the last day he had a job.  He got the notice in May of 2016 and his last date was December 31st.  As Scott mentioned here we took some active steps to help prepare ourselves if in fact he was not going to be able to get a job after his last day.  The most drastic step we took was moving to one income as of August, 5 months before he would have lost his job.  Living on one income taught me more than I ever thought it would.

 Changing the Budget:

This was the most difficult part as so many things got cut; regular RRSP contributions, going out, extra mortgage payments or vacations.  Anything that wasn’t a bill that we couldn’t get out of got slashed.  We had to explain why we couldn’t make it for dinner as much, weren’t spending as much when we were out with friends and why we cut out our cable.  Since we didn’t tell everyone that he was going to lose his job that made some of the above conversations a little tricky.

Moving the Money to a Safe Place:

While Scott had a job we started pumping the money into emergency funds.  We then used my pay to take care of all of our expenses.  This became pretty scary as now my job was supporting the household.  I never thought that my pay have to do  that.  A small amount of panic also set it because if something happened to my job or I became unhappy and wanted a change I felt stuck.  I had been privileged to never feel like that before and it was scary.

On a side note, I personally thought we would never be a one income household.  We went to school, worked hard and had jobs that we were good at.  I figured that even if there were some changes to our job situation from time to time it wouldn’t be as it was (privilege – I know).

Change of Mindset:

Once that shock wore off and we directed money every week to savings it became kind of freeing.  We had extra money coming that was increasing our safety net every week.  We got use to spending less and making our money stretch further.

Now with a baby on the way we are going back down to living on one income again for another year (plus).  Scott’s new job is great and after his probationary period is up in July we are going to re-incorporate his pay back into our budget.  That is just in time for my last paycheque to disappear.  We saved up a lot of money to cover off my income while on maternity leave so we do have a buffer to cover off our monthly expenses.  With all of the large expenses we have coming up covered (diapers, wipes, baby gear, weddings etc.) we are excited to be contributing to our retirement, planned spending and our little one’s future once again.

What did I learn?

Living on one pay I learned that we can do much more than I thought we could.  Since Scott got his new job in April we have been taking his pay and putting it into planned spending accounts and reaching those goals a lot faster.  Another benefit we see is that we are living on less, spending less and aren’t sad or feel deprived. I know that we made the right call to cut back as early as we did even though cutting out those retirement contributions was difficult.

It was helpful to me to understand how we can do things differently in the future even if we had two incomes.  That key takeaway helped re-shape my money picture.  But being more mindful of how you spend your money is a privilege.

 On Privilege:

Scott was out of a job for only 2 weeks; I understand completely that our situation is not a reality for most people.  We have safety nets on top of safety nets and it is unrealistic to say that “everyone can do this because we did”.  The reality is that many people can’t.  What makes this personal finance world so great is to hear all of the diverse stories.  What isn’t so great is the assumption that everyone has access to the same resources.  Not everyone has the ability to save an extra pay without losing their house.  I know now that our money can do so more than I thought but we were never in any real risk of losing our house.

We Thought Living on One Income Was Going to Be a New Normal:

After months of looking for a job with not so much as an interview we truly believed we needed to go down to one income.  We wanted to take the extra money coming in while we could to help us in the future.  Now that everything is stable again that money has helped us and will continue to help us in the future.  The lessons and new perspective that I have are greater than the money itself.  I know that we can make do with less and continue to do so.  We can reach our savings goals faster if we funnel one income to those goals.  Since we are now going to start year two of a single income household I know that these lessons will help us.

Have you ever been forced to change your money habits or behaviours?  Have you felt different after that experience?



  1. Church says:

    Kudos to you both for being able to adapt and thrive in a life of one income, even though it was a forced moved. Your disciplined habits paved the way for a transition that, in most situations, turn out to be horrific for all involved.

    My wife came to me last year wanting to quit her job and go back to school for an entirely new career. Not only did we go down to one income, but your second career doesn’t have financial aid or scholarships. As mentioned in your post, living off of one income, you realize how much you have been spending on “wants” versus “needs”. It’s quite the learning experience, I must say.

    Long-term, we view her new career as an investment for future cash flow. All of our spending, financial planning and retirement is based solely off of my income. It is a pleasant surprise knowing that there will be a second stream of income in the next 3-4 years that can be re-directed to college funding, early retirement etc etc (after my wife take’s her rightful share, obviously… HA!)

    • Couple of Sense says:

      Thank you for sharing. Definitely agree about the needs vs wants spending, it is amazing you two were able to go down to 1 income while also incurring the additional costs for school. That must have been really tough.

      Some people view budgets as restrictive but having one gives you the ability to plan out life changes like your investment in future income.

      Having started our double income budget draft last week you can really look forward to that day. Having the ability to cut is great, adding back in is super fun because it seems like “found money” in a way.


  2. Sarah says:

    We lived on one income for quite a long time but that was because one of us always seemed to be in school. It was also like that from the very beginning of our relationship so we never knew any different which makes it much easier. Once we both started working decent jobs we went a little crazy on spending at first (we felt flush with two incomes!) but were able to tone things back. Now we are comfortable while still being able to save.
    This shows just how important it is to get yourself into a good financial situation in case you do have to go down to one income.

    • Couple of Sense says:

      That period of going spend happy must have been fun, good on you two for having the discipline to return to smart money management after spending so much time having to be really careful. Comfortable while still saving sounds like a good balance. No sense working as hard as you do without having something to show for it at the end of the day.

  3. Oh yes. During the horrible recession here in the US back in 2009, my office was shut down due to malfeasance by my bosses. None of us staff were involved but the only way for them to oust the bosses was to shut down our local operation entirely. I knew that it would happen, just not when. I was also the primary income earner for my family of four (parents and sibling) so it was a fairly scary time for me since it took months to get an interview that panned out.

    About a year after that, my partner was incredibly unhappy at work and I realized that somehow there was a difference between providing for your nuclear family and being the breadwinner for the new family you were building. I wasn’t against it in theory but it was a whole new level of stress added to the dependents I was already supporting. The biggest lesson for me was that there really is a limit to how much I can personally take on alone.

    Luckily my spouse has since had lots of good changes at work so I’m not in danger of being the sole breadwinner again any time soon but the idea that we need a much more solid financial foundation before we can afford to be a one income family was planted and has driven a lot of our saving and investing.

    • Couple of Sense says:

      I’m sorry you went through that. I think we are given what we can handle even if we don’t know we can handle it. I also think that things are thrown our way until we learn a lesson from them. In your case the understanding that you need a more solid financial foundation made you change your behaviour towards saving and investing.

      Even though the recession was so long ago the impact of it to the job market has been long lasting and I’m not sure if things will ever go back to normal. But that’s a comment for another post I think. I’m happy you guys are in a better place now.

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