How To Successfully Live On One Income

Blog | May 13th, 2020

If you or your partner have recently lost your job, you may have to live on one income for a while. Although it may seem hopeless, you can get through this with a little discipline and hard work. In this article, we’ll break down how to not just get by, but how to live successfully and sustainably on a single income.

Step 1: You Need a Balance Sheet

You’ve probably heard it before a hundred times: you need a budget. And although this is true, you also need a balance sheet for your household. There’s no longer any room for treating your household’s finances like a game, or ignoring numbers. For now, your finances have to be run like a business.

Right now, grab a lined sheet of paper and mark a vertical line down the middle. On the right-hand side, list your debts, including student loans, credit card debt, lines of credit, or any other liabilities. On the left-hand side, list your assets, including your car, savings, investments, and the equity in your home.

If the sum of your assets outweighs your liabilities (or “debts”), then you’re not considered asset deficient and therefore are not immediately at risk of bankruptcy. That’s a good start! Next, consider whether any of your assets are non-essential and whether they can be sold to pay off debts that are accruing interest.

Consider liquidating any assets, especially depreciating assets like a car, to pay off your debts with the highest interest first. Usually, these are either credit card balances or payday loans. 

Step 2: You Need a Budget

Now, flip the sheet of paper over and create another two-column chart. This time, list your recurring expenses on the right-hand side and recurring income on the left. Your income includes any earned income in the form of a salary or wage, as well as any government benefits that you qualify for, such as unemployment insurance.

If the sum of your recurring expenses (e.g., mortgage payment, utilities, telecom bills, groceries) outweighs your income, you need to either supplement your income or cut your expenses. Evaluate your expenses and single out any non-essential purchases. Consider eliminating anything non-essential that doesn’t bring you immediate value.

Your $9-a-month Netflix subscription may not be worth cutting if the service provides you or your family with considerable value in the form of entertainment. However, cutting out your $50 premium cable television package may be financially worthwhile, especially if you have other, less-expensive forms of entertainment to keep you busy.

To financially sustain yourself, your income must be higher than your expenses. If you’ve run out of options for cutting expenses, you have to seek out ways to boost your income. 

Step 3: Supplement Your Income

First, the sole income earner in the household should speak with their manager or supervisor about their financial situation and ask for a raise. This handy guide to negotiating a raise can help you avoid some of the common pitfalls of asking your employer for more money.

If a raise is off the table, you need to invest in a side hustle to generate more money on the side. There are a variety of work-from-home or gig economy jobs that can be worked part-time by a member of your household, from Uber or Lyft driving to taking paid surveys (e.g., Survey Junkie or Swag Bucks). 

Learning and monetizing a valuable, in-demand skill such as graphic design, SEO marketing, or freelance writing can help you earn a lucrative income on a part-time basis while you’re at home. Platforms such as Fiverr or Upwork can help you get your business off the ground.

Related: 9 Ways You Can Make Money At Home During Quarantine

Step 4: Apply for Government Assistance

If you can’t earn an income on the side, you should apply for government unemployment assistance as soon as possible. Contact your state’s unemployment insurance program immediately after your income source has been cut off. 

In the United States, you’re usually considered eligible for government unemployment benefits if you are unemployed by no fault of your own and have met benchmark standards for wages earned or hours worked over a predetermined “base period” of time. 

Related: Here’s Everything You Need to Know About Claiming Unemployment

Step 5: Take Advantage of Free and Low-Cost Hobbies and Entertainment

Living on a single income requires a few significant lifestyle changes. For one, you’ve got to become comfortable with living a minimalist lifestyle that is free of frivolous expenses and lavish outings. Instead, opt for low-cost or free forms of entertainment that keep your expenses low. 

To live frugally, you must be content with less. Although it’s not a glamorous lifestyle, it can be a lot of fun to find low-cost ways to spend your leisure time. Below, we’ve listed a handful of cheap or free entertainment ideas to keep you busy while keeping expenses low:

  • Hiking local trails
  • Facetiming friends and family
  • Learn a new language
  • Learn a skill online, such as photography or painting
  • Yoga from home 

This lifestyle change encompasses more than just entertainment. To successfully live on a sole income, you should nix eating out and buying takeout coffees. Instead, learn to cook your own meals and start brewing your own coffee in the morning. These small lifestyle changes can result in thousands of dollars in savings over the course of a year. 

Putting It All Together

The key to living successfully on one income is to keep your expenses low and to stick to your budget. Although it requires you to exercise a little bit of discipline, living frugally can be a fun, gratifying, and rewarding experience that won’t leave you feeling deprived. 

By creating a balance sheet, budget, and adopting a few lifestyle changes, you can adapt to single-income living without having to suffer. You may even find a few new hobbies and find a deep appreciation for extra time spent with family!