I've had several people ask lately about what our family does to be able to live on one income. We are no financial gurus, but I thought I'd share our tips in case someone else out there needs a little encouragement.
Let's make no beans about it: it takes sacrifice, but if staying home with your kids is your calling, it's worth it!
Here are my top tips for learning to live on one income:
1. Pray. I don't say this lightly. If you are tight on money, you'll find yourself on your knees anyway! Andrew and I spend a good bit of time in prayer together and separately praying for our finances. We want the Lord to guide our financial decisions, where our money goes, and what money comes into our pockets. We even pray before any big business meetings he has where money will be discussed.
2. Give. I'm no Bible scholar, but I only recall the Lord requesting us to test him one time in scripture. Malachi 3:10 says "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it."
Powerful, powerful words. Giving back to the Lord with your finances must be a priority--even when it seems like you don't have much to give. God explained that it's not about how much we give, but about the sacrifice we make in giving and the heart that goes along with it.
What we have is on loan to us from the Lord. I have learned through prayer and study that my home is not mine. That I should open it up to company when it's needed. That I should give of my food to others in my home when it's needed--even when it doesn't seem the funds are there to provide for more mouths.
Matthew 25:35-40 says:
"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'
3. Budget. Of course the basic step is to look at what money you have coming in and see where it's leaving. I know some people who do this diligently and know where every dime goes! We don't write ours out on paper weekly, but every few months we sit down with an Excel sheet and look to see where most of our money is going: mortgage, truck payment, school loans, groceries, gas, etc. This helps to see problem areas like "hey we ate out WAY too much that month!" or "how many Target trips did we make?! I know I didn't need that much stuff!"
4. Cut, cut, cut. This is where the rubber meets the road. Look at your budget and pick out the things not necessary for survival. When we started out with me staying home, we immediately cut out the satellite television. No more magazine renewals. No more vacations. Our eating out bill was DRASTICALLY cut down. (It was embarrassing how much money we gave to restaurants a month.) We no longer bought things we might used to throw into our shopping cart without a second thought--new eyeshadow, some random gadget for home repairs, a new shirt, etc. Those are things we mainly only buy now when we: 1) have a great coupon or 2) have birthday money or a gift card.
Right now we are looking at turning off our DSL. Instead, we can pay a one time $25 fee for PDANet and use our phone internet (which is not too terribly slow) and hook it to our computers. Another $40/month saved!
If you are spenders like we were, cutting out the fun extras is tough at first. It requires sacrifice, and it can be easy to get into the "woe is me!" situation, feeling sorry for yourself not being able to go and do "like everyone else." This is a whole other post, but at this point you have to remember your purpose on earth and that you are sacrificing for your calling and that every single sacrifice of another greasy hamburger or shopping spree is worth it!
5. Transportation. I'm going to say this in all honesty: having two vehicles is a luxury! It surely makes things easier with 2 modes of transportation, but we are looking at cutting down to one vehicle for a while. It's easy for us since Andrew works from home. Our plan is to take our tax return money, combine it with the money we get from (hopefully, prayerfully) selling our paid-off Honda, and paying off our truck note. That will save us car insurance on our paid for car, and put a lot of extra money in our pockets every month from the truck payment. After we're on our feet and get some money saved, we'll look into getting a used. family-friendly vehicle. Until then, Drew and I will have to find fun things to do at home! See if you can cut down to one vehicle. I know for some people, this will be impossible, but if you can swing it: go for it!
6. Coupon. I cannot stress this enough. Once you get into the swing of clipping, organizing, and buying with coupons, you'll never go back. I now hate to buy anything without a coupon--even the occasional night dining out. We go where we have a coupon! I'm about to jump into the Walgreens/CVS game to save even more money. We couldn't make it without couponing! If you're looking to get started, I wrote a post here, but there are also a lot of REALLY GREAT links on the right side bar towards the bottom.
7. Make Money on the Side. I'm really blessed that as a nurse I can find easy side jobs that are random and only take a few hours to complete. However, I've talked to girls who also babysit other children, repair computers, do web design, sell Avon/Mary Kay/Tupperware, freelance, work an occasional night/weekend shift if available in their fields, or work a mother's day out program once a week and take her kids with her. See if any of these options can work for you. Think out of the box.
8. Cook at Home. As I stated earlier, we spent an outrageous amount of money eating out before Drew was born and it was quite ridiculous. Eating at home is healthier, cheaper, and usually faster than driving across town and back with the food. We splurge every now and then, but it's few & far between compared to our old lifestyle. Meal plan at the beginning of every week so you'll know what meals you have when stomachs start growling around 5:00pm. If you have a list of what's available to cook, you'll be less likely to throw your hands in the air and head to Chick 'Fil A, our personal favorite. :)
9. Find fun on a Budget. We love our zoo membership! It was given to us as a gift, and it's our favorite way to get out of the house for a day for very little money. We also enjoy playing in the yard, walking around the neighborhood, going to the park, and visiting family. It's a change of scenery at least! We plan on eating dinner at the park when it gets warmer and heading to some swimming pools. Other people have suggested a membership to a children's museum when the child is old enough to engage in interactive or imaginary play. We'll be trying that out soon as well. While these memberships will cost 60-80 dollars upfront, if you use them often, they'll be worth it.
10. Don't Let the Stress Seep into the Marriage. I know this 500 times over from personal experience. If you constantly stress over (the lack of) money and allow it to corrupt your attitude, things go downhill from there! The best thing to do at this point is pray, read your Bible, and ask for others to pray with you. Listen for the Lord's answer and whatever you do--don't start taking it out on your spouse! Andrew and I can tell you this doesn't work! Share openly with one another about your overall feelings with your money situation and don't hide the tough situations from one another. I think it's especially hard on the male when money situations are tight because he wants to feel he's providing sufficiently for his family and wants the wife to feel like she's financially secure. And that's a good thing! But it's shouldn't keep him from sharing even the ugly parts of the financial situations. This has to be a team effort--or it won't work!
If any of you have any more practical advice on ways to cut back, I'd love to hear them! I hope this helps even just one of you out there...