Adventures in Budgeting: Making the Leap to One Income

In October of last year, after years of working in some capacity after having kids, we made the jump to being a one income family. There were a lot of reasons for the jump, and I know that this topic can get touchy, so all I will say is that every family needs to do what is right for them in the moment, with the understanding that what is right for your family very likely may change on any given day. On paper, it was really hard for us to make the leap from a dual income family to one income. The logical part of my mind thought that B’s income had to completely replace mine before we could take this step, but as you’ll read, we have made it work with some diligent budgeting, foregoing some unnecessary expenses, and a commitment to frequent conversations about how the budget and our current setup is working for our family.


I’ve talked a ton about budgeting and our financial goals here, and you all know the story of how we got serious about our budget. But a quick back story for anyone who’s new: Just a few months after we got married in 2008, I got laid off from my cushy job at an internet start-up. Because the economy was so volatile, I was scared. Luckily, B’s job was pretty steady at the time (good old electric industry), but we took a good hard look at our spending and really reeled it in. I was lucky to find a new job within two weeks, but I was well aware that, by the nature of the start-up industry, job security didn’t really exist for me. So, B and I decided that we wanted to whittle down our spending so that we didn’t rely on my income so that everything I made went to retirement, savings, the occasional vacation, or a well thought out and planned expenditure.

9 months into our year of extremely diligent budgeting, we found ourselves unexpectedly expecting our first baby. We looked at the numbers over and over again, but on paper, the amount we’d be giving up for me to stay at home just didn’t make sense. There was a sense of security in having my income to fall back on, even though we were living on B’s income. At the time, my income was the majority of our savings, and the idea of putting very little into savings every month scared both of us. Right before I went back to work from maternity leave, B got a promotion and I began looking for part-time opportunities in my field. So, after being back at my company for a few weeks, I quit my full-time job to work part-time from home. About 7 months into my new job, some childcare issues lead us to make the decision that our kids needed to be at home. We hired a part-time nanny, and when she moved away, I worked part-time and raised our kids full-time.

That worked for us for a good 3 1/2 years, until last Fall when I was 4 months pregnant with Peter, juggling Thomas’s preschool schedule and trying to give Nell as much focus as I could before she was the middle child and we decided that it was time to bite the bullet. My company’s structure had changed which made working from home more difficult, and that third pregnancy wiped me out so that the best I could do was keep my eyes semi-open until that glorious 1 o’clock nap time rolled around.

Making the jump to one income was hard because it’s not like I could justify it with, “Well, three kids in daycare costs more than I make”, since, you know…I didn’t have my kids in daycare. But I knew that, for our family at that time, I needed to be focused on the kids. We reassessed the budget to make sure it was possible. We could cover all of our expenses and put some money into savings every month on B’s salary. But, to optimize that savings, we sat down and really evaluated our spending. Our once a month house cleaner that was really nice to have but absolutely not a necessity? We cancelled her. We called our cable company and cancelled some channels to lower our bill. The nice thing about my income was that it was easy to justify those kid expenses that tend to add up, and I knew that without my income to buffer those, I would need to cut back in those areas. When I was working, I had a membership to a kids’ gym where we could drop in any day of the week and let the kids run around, jump on the trampoline, and swing into the foam pit. You know what it turns out is significantly less expensive than a kids’ gym membership? The park one block from my house. Sure, there’s no foam pit, but it’s amazing what kids can do with their imaginations and some tough knees. I had looked into signing Nell up for a music class that the two of us could do together on Tom’s school days since I had taken T to a music class when he was Nell’s age, and instead I committed to taking her to the free story time at our local library where they sing songs and shake shaker eggs just like the music class T and I did. I do splurge and let her put a dime in the model train at the library every week after story time – but I figure the budget can handle that fifty cents a month :). I’ve started to ask for memberships to the zoo and children’s museum for my birthday and Christmas, so when we need an activity that gets us out of the neighborhood, we head to one of those.

And you know what? I don’t miss the music classes. Or the gymnastics free play. And only on bathroom cleaning days do I miss our cleaning lady. But the smiles on my kids faces when we wake up and can do whatever we want that day – go to the zoo, build a fort in the family room, pretend my yoga block is a diving board, read every Franklin book our library owns – are moments I wouldn’t trade for all of the activities in the world. It was a leap of faith three and a half years in the making to switch from two incomes to one, and it involved some trade-offs, but we’ve made it work because it’s what needed to work for our family. I don’t know what “working for our family” will look like a year from now. I don’t even know what it will look like five minutes from now, but I know that at this very minute, this is working for us.

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This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of SunTrust Bank. The opinions and text are all mine.