If you’re anything like me, the decision to quit your job and stay at home with the kids was an easy one.
The thought of being there for each one of your child’s firsts fills you with joy. Also the thought of being able to stay in your pj’s all day. (I love pj’s, yo.)
It’s how to make that dream happen that’s the tough part. How exactly are you supposed to live off one income with a baby to take care of?
I’ve been there.
Before I even met my husband, I knew I wanted to stay home with my kids one day. I never felt a calling toward a career. I felt that my calling was to be a mom.
But shortly after we got married, I took a good look at our bank account and our bills (including one that had been shoved under a pile of papers and forgotten about) and freaked out. If we couldn’t afford to house, feed, and clothe two adults on two incomes, how would I ever fulfill my dream of being a stay-at-home mom?
Fellow mom (or mom-to-be), I don’t know your unique situation, so I can’t tell you exactly what YOU need to do to live off one income. But I can tell you what I did.
Hopefully, you’ll find at least one nugget of info that will help you whittle down your expenses and start saving up for a baby.
1. We Paid Off Our Credit Cards
After “the Great Bill Crisis” mentioned above, it was important to me that we start off with a clean slate before going down to one income. I called my mom (she’s an accountant and even more frugal than I am) and she helped me develop a plan of attack.
- I called all the credit card companies and got (not all, but) a few of the late charges waived.
- I consolidated all of our credit card balances onto one card that had a 0% APR for six months. Even if you can’t avoid paying interest, it definitely helped to get everything onto one card so it was easy to pay off.
- I borrowed some money from my mom and paid her back as soon as I could.
- I paid as much as I could every time the bill came in, not just the minimum payment.
We didn’t have student loans or tons of debt, so this didn’t take us very long. Your situation might be different. It might not be possible for you to pay everything off before you quit your job, but you should at least get your heads above water so you’ll feel a bit more secure about suddenly having to live off one income with a baby.
2. We Did a Trial Run
After that financial scare, I was super nervous to be a one-income family.
What if I didn’t do my calculations right? What if there’s an unexpected expense? (Spoiler alert: There’s always an unexpected expense.) What are we gonna do with no safety net?
But the best way to test whether you can live on one income is to just do it. Not by quitting your job and jumping in headfirst (although that’s a totally valid option if you’ve got the balls).
Instead, do a “trial run.”
Just start living on one income and save the other one. You can still dip into your paycheck if you need it, but try not to. You’ll be able to build up a butt load of savings.
If you’re thinking about how to live off one income with a baby, I cannot recommend this highly enough. Just make sure you follow a few simple rules:
- Your paycheck must go into a separate account. In order for your trial run to work, this money needs to be as invisible as it can. Don’t touch it except in case of emergency (i.e. the car breaks down, someone has to go to the hospital, etc.).
- If your employer has the option, choose to have your paycheck be direct deposited. Part of making your income invisible is making it automatically disappear. If you never see it, you’ll never be tempted to spend it.
3. We Save Like Crazy
My paycheck was a huge boost to our savings account. But we didn’t stop here. Oh no. We saved everything we got our hands on.
Husband got an end-of-the-year bonus? It went into savings.
Tax refund came in? It went into savings.
If I had inherited money from someone or won the lottery, that would have gone into savings, too.
And lemme tell ya…watching all that money pile up? Delicious. If we had spent it all as soon as we got it, we wouldn’t have had a cushion that one time we suddenly needed a new air conditioner.
Being able to say “we got this covered” was far more delicious than a cruise would have been.
By the way, we still do this. And I think it’s a great habit to get into. My rule of thumb is, if we can’t count on getting this money from this source every month, it goes into savings.
4. We Have (and Stick To) a Budget
This…hoo boy…this was the hardest thing to commit to. The word “budget” brings to mind images of pockets turned inside out, rice and beans at every meal, and saying “no” to everything fun.
But listen…you are the boss of your budget. You don’t want to give up weekly pizza night? You don’t have to. Just make sure your power bill, mortgage, and groceries are paid for first. It’s that simple.
In my opinion, the easiest way to do this is with Mint. This (totally free!) app tracks your purchases, shows you how much of your budget you’ve already used for the month, and even gives you tips on how to save money. It’s extremely visual, so you can instantly see where you are in your budget for where you are in the month. If you’re more than halfway through your grocery budget, but only a quarter of the way through the month, you’ll quickly see that you’ve got a problem.
5. We Cut Out the Extras
Most money-saving advice sounds like this:
Cut out that daily latte! Cancel your magazine subscriptions! Get a cheaper cell phone plan! Dye your hair at home!
But the fact is, cutting out a few bucks here and there isn’t going to make that big of a difference. As my friend Jane puts it on her blog Jane Saves, “Starbucks is NOT the reason you’re $50,000 in debt!”
Five dollars here and there didn’t put you into debt and it won’t build up your savings! (Disclaimer: Occasional $5 expenses aren’t going to bust your budget, but frequent $5 expenses will. If you’re the type to buy “a little something” every time you go out, your budget’s gonna feel the pain.)
To build up a nice cushion faster, you have to cut out big ticket items, large pockets of money that are eating up big chunks of your paycheck. Like Jane, we also cut cable and got a better deal on car insurance. We buy clothes and toys second-hand and only when we need them (Once Upon a Child is my new favorite store). We meal plan. We get movies from the library for free rather than spending $30 or more on date nights at the movie theater. I make my own cleaning supplies.
Get the picture?
Identifying and eliminating “extras” from your budget might sound “Scrooge-y” at first, but it is incredibly freeing. It’s also good practice for parenting. Kids grow out of clothes so fast it doesn’t make sense to pay full price. And just forget about the movie theater.
Figuring out how to live off one income with a baby is not an easy decision but, in my opinion, it’s totally worth it. (Day cares are so expensive that it’s sometimes not even worth it to go back to work.)
Are you or your spouse thinking about becoming a stay-at-home parent? What scares you the most? Let me know in the comments section below!