Living on one income is a simple way to save money quickly. Here’s what you need to know about this strategy and how it's worked for me!

Saving money can be a challenge. But as a two-income couple, one choice can completely transform your finances.

Instead of spending the bulk of your combined income to fund your lifestyle, what if you could spend only one partner’s salary and save the rest?

It might sound extreme, but it is doable (I’ve done it!) and can save you some major cash.

You may even be able to pursue financial independence (early retirement, anyone?).

It will take creativity to put this savings strategy into action, but the potential savings could be well worth the teamwork required to save one entire income.

Let’s explore how you can enact this strategy in your own life, step-by-step. 

1. Decide which salary you want to live on

Living On One Income: How You And Your Spouse Can Save Some Serious Cash - Decide which salary to live on

First, you will need to decide whose salary you will live on and which one you will save. If you and your spouse have similar salaries, then this decision will be pretty easy.

If you and your spouse earn dramatically different incomes, it can be more of a challenge to decide which one you want to spend.

Let’s say you earn $60,000 and your spouse earns $40,000. Picking one salary or the other could lead to a dramatic difference in your annual savings rate. 

I recommend taking into account the following when deciding on a salary: 

  • The cost of your current lifestyle vs. the cost of the simplest lifestyle you are willing/able to live.
  • How much of a challenge you and your partner are willing to handle.
  • Your money goals – do they require a lot of cash?

2. Ease into living on one income

If the two of you find yourselves deciding between disparate salaries, I recommend that you start by living on the higher income first

After a year, look back on your spending and consider the possibility of dropping your spending down to the lower of the two salaries. 

The gradual transition into a lower budget can make for a smoother transition. Plus, you can choose to stick to spending the higher salary if the household is not comfortable cutting anymore spending from the budget

Tim Clarke, Director of Sales and Marketing and SEOBlog.com, has made living on one income a reality with his wife. Clarke says the transition was a conscious choice for them, but it wasn’t necessarily easy. He explains:

You might be guessing it was an easy shift if both of you agreed on that setup, but it still requires work and an adjustment period before you can set the tone of your finance together. But at the end of the day, our goal was the same – we want to prepare ahead for our future kids, pay our debts and finally retire early.”

3. Craft a budget that works

Living On One Income: How You And Your Spouse Can Save Some Serious Cash - Craft a budget that works

Once you and your spouse decide how much you are going to spend each year, it’s time to create a budget that will work. If your household is accustomed to a higher level of spending, these budgeting decisions can be a challenge. 

You’ll likely need to cut your expenses across the board. The best place to start looking for places to cut is within your major spending categories, specifically:

  • Food costs.
  • Housing costs.
  • Transportation costs. 

Additionally, cutting back in smaller categories will be an important strategy.

For example: paring down on your entertainment costs or switching to a budget travel style could help you find more room in the budget. 

4. Get creative to stretch your dollars further

Spending less means getting creative with the dollars you have available. If you are going to tackle living on one income, it goes without saying that you are going to need to shake up the way you meet your family’s financial needs. 

A few creative ways to get more value out of your budget include:

  • Shop with coupons.
  • Meal plan to save on takeout.
  • Consider vacations that are closer to home.
  • Try a no-spend challenge.
  • Curb impulse buys by waiting 24 hours before making an unexpected purchase.

With a frugal mindset, you can do a wide range of things to stretch your dollars further. But don’t take your frugal streak too far, or it might backfire

5. Be patient while your household acclimates to a new budget

Living On One Income: How You And Your Spouse Can Save Some Serious Cash - Be patient while your family acclimates to a new budget

A significant cutback on spending in your household can be a challenge to adapt to. Although both spouses may be on board with the idea, putting it into practice can still be difficult. 

With that, exercise patience with your spouse as you both adapt to a new spending environment. Dramatic cuts will naturally take some time to get used to.

As you both adapt to the new spending priorities, don’t be too hard on yourselves if you overspend here and there. Instead, recognize the pattern and seek proactive ways to break your old spending habits. 

For example: it can be all too easy to decide that you are too busy to make dinner one night. Unfortunately, picking up takeout is an expensive habit that many of us struggle with.

Instead of trying to fight the need to skip cooking some nights, plan ahead with some simple meals ready to go in your freezer.

With a few food options ready to heat up and serve, you might not be so tempted to break the bank on a takeout meal. 

6. Take pride in your accomplishment as a couple

The decision to live on one income will help you achieve your shared financial goals more quickly. However, it is without a doubt a difficult transition to achieve. 

Make sure to celebrate your success as a couple when you achieve the goal of fully living on one income. Mark the occasion to remind yourselves why you made this choice and reflect on the progress you’ve made towards your shared goals.

One couple worth celebrating, Brittany and Kelan Kline (otherwise known as The Savvy Couple) chose to live on one income and dedicate their savings towards debt repayment.

Kelan Kline says the decision to live on one income stemmed from the fact that:

“We have always been frugal and wanted to make sure our hard-earned money was going towards our long-term financial goals.”

Together, the couple has managed to pay off $25,000 in debt in only six months.

Why do some couples decide to live off of one income?

Living On One Income: How You And Your Spouse Can Save Some Serious Cash - Why do some couples decide to live off of one income?

There is no shortage of reasons why a couple may decide to live on one income. A few of the most popular reasons for this choice include:

  • Building an emergency fund. An emergency fund is there to help you weather any financial storms that come your way. Saving an entire income can allow you to build up an emergency fund quickly.
  • Pay down debt. Debt, especially high-interest debt, eats away at your wealth-building opportunities. With an entire income to dedicate towards debt repayment, you can eliminate any bad debt from your life. 
  • Save and invest for retirement. Whether you want to retire at the typical age of 65 or much earlier, saving one salary will allow you to hit that goal sooner. With the help of tax-advantaged retirement accounts, you can take your savings plan to the next level.

How living on one income can open the door to financial independence for two-income couples

Financial independence is often the goal of members of the FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) movement. As you might expect, the ability to retire early is very closely tied to the amount of money you are able to save.

If you are a part of a two-income couple, you have a financial trick up your sleeve. Instead of spending both incomes, you can choose to live a more modest lifestyle and save one entire salary.

Here’s how that choice could help you accelerate towards financial independence.

You can supercharge your savings

When you only spend one salary, that choice paves the way to supercharge your savings. The second salary can be tucked away to achieve your financial goals sooner. 

For example: let’s say that you are part of a two-income couple. You earn $50,000 per year, and your spouse earns $40,000 per year. To keep things simple, I will assume these numbers represent your take-home pay after taxes. Up until this point, your household spending has totaled $90,000.

But as a couple, you decide to start saving one entire income. To get started, you choose to spend $50,000 and save the second salary of $40,000. This one choice will allow you to start saving $40,000 a year as a team.

Imagine how quickly your savings will stack up with an entire salary being allocated towards your savings!

How living off one income could impact your life

Living On One Income: How You And Your Spouse Can Save Some Serious Cash - How living off one income could impact your life

Personally, living on one income has allowed my husband and me to save for big goals. After getting married in 2019, we decided to make living on one income a priority.

Of course, the strategy is easier said than done. 

It took some trial and error for us to spend just one of our incomes, but after two years of living on one income, we are proud of the savings we’ve been able to create. For us, we’ve chosen to save for retirement and purchase our first home together with the money that we have been able to save. 

Here’s an example of how this savings strategy could impact your life:

Assuming that you and your spouse each earn $40,000:

 Saving 15% of your combined incomesSaving one entire income
Year one$12,000$40,000
Year two$24,000$80,000
Year three$36,000$120,000
Year four$48,000$160,000
Year five$60,000$200,000

When can it make sense to live on one income?

The decision to cut household spending to save one entire income is a big one. Let’s consider a few scenarios when cutting down to one income could make sense. 

Both spouses earn a reasonable income

If you both have reasonable salaries that can provide for your entire household’s basic needs, it can make sense to live on one income. However, you’ll need to be clear about what is a need for your household versus what purchases are a want

One way to help you rethink your budget is to truly consider your household needs and wants. It’s obvious that those in your household need a roof over their heads, but you may still be able to accomplish this objective while downsizing to a smaller living space. 

Look for areas in your budget that have more luxury than is truly necessary. You might be surprised by the amount of spending you are able to cut. 

You want to create intentional savings for big goals

In almost every situation, it will be easier to spend the funds instead of saving them. After all, saving more will likely require cuts to your current spending. In some situations, it can be a very difficult transition. 

One way to make the decision easier to stick with is by creating shared goals as a couple for your long-term finances. When you have a shared purpose as a couple, the decision to live on one income can be easier.

You’ll inevitably both want to overspend at one point or another. But with a defined goal, such as paying down debt or saving for a down payment on your first home, it can be easier to stick it out as a team. 

Both spouses are interested in FIRE

As I said earlier, living on one income is an especially popular idea in the FIRE community. It is absolutely possible for you and your spouse to achieve FIRE while living on one income. However, you’ll need to look at the exact numbers of your situation to see how quickly you can accomplish that lofty goal.  

Luckily, Money Under 30 offers a free FIRE calculator to help you determine your FIRE age based on the increase in your savings. Play around with the numbers to find out if you and your spouse can achieve FIRE by living on one income. 

Summary

For a two-income couple, living on one income is a rather unconventional choice. It will always be easier to spend more money. However, the choice to live on one income can dramatically change the trajectory of your financial future.

As you consider this choice, you’ll need to have extensive conversations with your spouse about your options as a couple. Based on your shared goals, you may decide that living on one income is the right fit for you both.

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About the author

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Sarah Sharkey is a personal finance writer covering retirement, investing, debt, savings, credit cards, mortgages, and student loans. Additionally, she is the founder of Adventurous Adulting, a personal finance blog dedicated to helping readers tackle their money and take control of the adventure of life. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter.