Tips That Helped My Husband and Me Survive on a Single Income

by Kailey Hagen | Published on Oct. 10, 2021

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A man and woman sitting at a table on their tree-covered backyard deck and enjoying breakfast and coffee.

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Only one of us was employed for a third of this year. Here's how we handled it.

This year has been a strange one for my husband and me. While we both usually work, I started off the year with a three-month maternity leave. Since I freelance, we had to live off of savings and my husband's paycheck until I returned to work. Then, a few months later, my husband decided to change jobs and ended up out of work for nearly four weeks, so it was my turn to shoulder the weight of our expenses.

Fortunately, the whole thing went smoothly thanks to careful planning. Here's what we did to make this year's many transitions as easy as possible on our wallets.

1. We limited unnecessary purchases

We knew from the start that our budget was going to be tighter this year between my taking time off and all the new baby expenses. So we did our best to keep our discretionary spending to a minimum.

We still paid for our streaming services and a few other hobby-related items, but we didn't dine out very often or go on any trips. We focused on our essentials first, and that way, we didn't have to worry when the bills came rolling in.

2. We made sure we had substantial personal savings

As soon as I found out I was pregnant, I began stashing extra money in a savings account in anticipation of my maternity leave. I wasn't exactly sure how long I was going to be off, but I planned for around three months.

To prepare, I looked over my budget from the previous few months and tried to anticipate how much I'd need to save to cover all of my expenses during that time. It was a bit challenging because I also had to factor in as-yet-unknown baby expenses, so I built in a little extra cushion to be safe. Then we tried to adhere to that budget as much as possible.

With my husband's job change, we didn't have as much time to prepare, but we did know he'd probably be home for a few weeks before he could start his new job. So once again, we went back to saving so we wouldn't have any problems covering our expenses in the interim.

3. We re-evaluated our budget at every turn

Every time our financial situation changed, we took another look at our budget and evaluated what was working and what needed changing. This helped us stay on track and feel more confident in our ability to pay all our bills.

Over time, we got a handle on how much we were spending on baby items, and that enabled us to better predict our spending in the months ahead. This made my husband's month off of work easier to deal with.

During the time we were both working, we looked over our budget again to see if we could increase our spending. But our first priority was beefing up our emergency fund to accommodate our increased monthly expenses.

Once my husband began his new job, we also had to re-evaluate our long-term plans. His new job came with a different salary and benefits, so we had to figure out how we needed to shift our retirement strategy to accommodate this.

It might sound like we spent a lot of our year focused on our personal finances, but once we had our systems in place, it wasn't that time-consuming. Our little check-ins never took that long, and they enabled us to remain secure through all the ups and downs.

Our situation was only temporary, but the advice is still useful for couples facing a permanent shift to a single income. It can feel overwhelming at first, but if you take the time to build a new budget and stick to it, you should eventually be able to settle into a rhythm that works for you.

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