Frugal Challenge: Living On One Income

In this space, I try to address ways in which we can rethink a lifestyle in hopes of saving a couple of bucks. Sometimes, the advice borders insensitive, especially when it doesn’t apply to a particular person or group. Today’s post definitely pushes the bar, since it is glaringly obvious to me that not every household has the luxury of having more than one income. But speaking about finance itself makes us all very privileged. To have the ability to access a computer, to have the time to sit down and read, to have control of where our money goes, to have money worth talking about, these are all very stark privileges as compared to people whose conversations surround how to get food on the table, how to keep their kids safe. May I be the first to say that privilege seeps from my life since the moment I was born, and I am hyper aware of it. That being said, I think it’s important to point the privileged towards a direction, so that we may use money (specifically) to push the needle towards a better tomorrow, rather than spend our excesses flippantly over trivial things for today. Conclusively, it’s important to limit the spending of our earnings on only the things that bring joys that have permanence, and one such way to do that is to dedicate only one income to lifestyle spending in the cases where there are two (or more).

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When I think back to my grandparent’s time or farther, I see a period when the traditional family dynamic of a stay-at-home mom and a working dad existed. Raising 8 children in a third world country off of one income could not have been easy. But they made ends meet. Even Mike’s grandparents grew up on a farm, with his great-grandpa owning a diner that sold burgers for $0.10 each. His grandma talks of wearing the same few shirts a week, and keeping her old furniture because it still functions. My grandma takes paper towels at family gatherings, washes them, and hangs them to dry over the sink for re-use later. These little indications serve as reminders that they don’t do it to be frugal, but rather, because that’s how they’ve always done it. It’s a lifestyle born out of a necessity.

I’m not saying that this way of living no longer exists, because it still largely does. But it is becoming less and less common. Today, it is becoming more frequent that households are dual-income, so before we get too carried away rejoicing at the larger sums of money we are taking home, may I suggest we act as if none of it has ever changed? By assuming that we still need to live as if we make only one income, we too can live this lifestyle. I’m not talking about washing your paper towels and hanging them to dry (since nixing paper towels all-together is really the lifestyle I’m trying to advocate). I’m only saying, be less wasteful, of money and other things. But especially, of money.


My biggest gripe with people telling me that I could not tackle my $575,000 of student debt was their assumption that with a bigger paycheck comes a richer lifestyle. “Let the loans grow, and just wait 25 years to pay it all off! I mean, surely you’ll need to worry about buying a grand house, a new car, a dental practice. Forget that the student loans will be over a million dollars of debt by the time your 50 years old, you can worry about all that later.” I see this all the time. People who have double the income are more comfortable with going out to dinner every night, buying new cars, purchasing homes, shopping every few weeks, racking up consumer debt. The people who have to worry about money, somehow, are more capable of getting by without having any debt. Better equipped, I would say.

Mr. Debtist and I both grew up in families with a single income. We had everything we needed to live happy lives and become decent people, even though our families were not exactly the richest family on the block. With this realization, we decided, well, how bad would it be if we lived off of one income? Dentistry comes with great pay, but we will need 100% of that pay for the next 10 years in order to pay down the loans. What if I worked for free for ten years, served my time, and we act as if it was a single income household like it was during our up-bringing? It would hardly be restrained living. We don’t have any kids to worry about if the cat doesn’t count, and Mr. Debtist makes enough money to support two people comfortably despite living in Orange County, California. Plus, we are very simple people.

It was this realization that allowed us to tackle the debt. As you may already know, the naysayers had me on the 25 year loan forgiveness plan for the first 8 months after graduation. It was in this time span that we tested out our theory: Living off of one income will allow us to pay back a debt that no one else believed we could. It only took a few months to prove to ourselves that this will work. The intentionality with money is really what propelled us down this path, and we started to accomplish something people didn’t believe we could. Switching loan forgiveness plans can save you thousands of dollars, but by switching from a 25 year loan repayment to tackling student debt aggressively, it will save us more than $150,000 dollars, and 15 years of our life. Which is why I am willing to risk the flack that I might receive for the insensitivity of this post.

Because nobody told us we could.
There wasn’t ever the suggestion to work for free.
People didn’t think to tell us to act as if we were a single-income household.
It almost felt like we didn’t have a choice.

And that’s a problem.

It’s important to speak about these things, because it’s the only way to empower people. For some, it may be obvious. For others, it may be offensive. But for others, still, it may be the only thing that will free them.

If you’d like to try and see if switching to a single-income household is a good life hack for you, try to start with creating a budgeting tool!

3 thoughts on “Frugal Challenge: Living On One Income

    1. Find a sustainable way to do it long term! I think knowing your “why” helps keep us on track. From an actionable tip perspective, definitely cutting down your fixed expenses as much as possible! Reconsider your housing, cars, insurances, groceries, spending habits, etc. For housing, consider geoarbitrage (moving to a cheaper location), co-housing, or living in a cheaper place. For cars, sell cars that have monthly payments, and buy a used beater. For dining out, do what we do and limit it to $100 a month for two people! I told someone that once, and they just about dropped their jaw. They shared that they spend $800 a month on dining out alone, for two. There are plenty of ways to save!

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