How to Live on One Income and Pay off Debt

Budget Debt Payoff Family Money

Deciding to stay at home was not an easy decision to me. Besides putting my career on hold, I knew we would have to tighten the reigns on our spending when we went down to a one income household. We had always lived on a budget as we worked to pay down debt, but this was a whole new ball game to me.

If I am being honest, I had to work hard to get over the guilt of not bringing home a paycheck to our family. Luckily through the encouragement of my husband and some serious soul searching, I have since learned my value as a stay at home mom.

But trimming our budget and cutting our expenses so that we could live on one income and save money was no easy task. It took some work to find what worked for us, but it worked and we are able to do what we felt was best for our family.

Living on one income is not easy. It take some work, some compromising, sacrifice, and grace, but it is so worth it.

Our Personal Budget in a One Income Household

Our budget is a moving target. It changes constantly based on our needs, our income and what we feel is a priority in that month. We use a monthly Zero-Based Budget, meaning every cent of our income for the month goes toward either our monthly expenses, paying down debt, or savings/investments.

Here is an actual look at our outgoing money:

Cash Budget Category

*Groceries – 400

Toiletries – 25

Clothing – 30

**Household Items – 15

Gifts (Christmas Savings) – 25

Eating Out – 65

Personal Cash 100 (50 each)

Car/Gas – 300

Gym – 65

House – 1150

Dollar Shave Club – 9

Internet – 50

Car Insurance – 95

***Utilities – 100

Total Expenses: $2,429 per month

*Our monthly grocery bill ranges from $300-$400 depending on what we have going on in a month and how much we are hosting people.  

** Our budget for household items is currently low because we just moved and are renting, once we own a home again this will increase but it currently only includes toilet paper, dish soap, laundry soap and other miscellaneous household supplies.  

*** Changes monthly, this is an average


When you live on one income, it is important to sit down with your spouse and look at your budget. Talk about what is important to you as a family and where you can cut back. Cutting back certainly is not easy, but it is necessary when you make the decision to live on one income.

Sometimes there are bigger areas that your family can or needs to make sacrifices.

For example, in the area of a vehicle, can you get by with just one car, or do you need two? Getting rid of one car may sound extreme but could save you $100 of dollars each month in a car payment, gas, and insurance. Yes it requires coordination and the ability to get creative but it could be a necessary sacrifice that you could make if you are wanting to stay at home with your littles.

On the other hand, if something is important to you, like healthy eating and buying quality food, sacrifice in other areas so you can account for that priority to your family. There are still ways to eat healthy on a budget but it may require a little more money each month.  

Learn the Difference Between Wants and Needs

In the age of social media, wants and needs are easy to confuse. Be aware of the decisions you make and always ask yourself, “Do I need this or is this a want?” You will find yourself putting that extra item in your cart back on the shelf more times than you can count!

I’m not saying that you can never buy the things that you want. If your budget has room for such purchases, then by all means, go for it! But you need to go back to prioritization and remember what is important to you and what your financial goals are. If you go into each purchase with your financial goals on the forefront of your mind, you will find yourself naturally becoming more frugal.

Find Enjoyment in the Free Things

As a Stay at Home Parent, you will not always be going out to do expensive events, seeing the latest movies, or checking out the newest restaurant in town. You will get really good at finding free things to do around town. Check out Facebook Mom groups for your area, ask around and find those free things that will allow you to save money but still have fun.

When you have young kids, or even kids that are a little older, they will find enjoyment in the simplest of things. Go to a park, check out a free museum, go to the mall play area, check out your local library, or even stay home and do a craft or play a game! The options are literally endless. In my experience, when you find enjoyment in the simpler things in life, you are able to enjoy the people you are with much more and make deeper and lasting memories. That’s the goal, right?


As a stay at home parent, your ability to make something that you once had to buy is endless. Pinterest is a great place to find ideas for DIY projects. Try making your own laundry detergent (you will spend less than $10 to make a detergent that will last more than a year), Sew clothes instead of buying new clothes. Make your own household cleaners. Do some of those household projects yourself rather than hiring out. There are many options to do something yourself rather than hiring a professional or buying a product. Start by evaluating what money you spend on convenience and ask yourself if that is something that you have the ability to do yourself.

Travel Frugally

When you are living on one income, travel naturally falls to the wayside. Memories are made through travel and every family needs an opportunity to make those memories with their families. Travel on a budget is possible if you plan ahead and make smart and budget conscious decisions. You may not be able to do everything you normally would do on vacation but you certainly will be able to make the memories. See more tips on how to travel on a budget here.

Trim your Budget, then Trim Some More

Sit down and look at your budget. I’ll wait here……

Ok, now, what do you notice about your monthly bills? Are they all necessary or is there anything that could potentially have a cheaper option or something that you can cut? Can you go to a cheaper gym? Do you really need cable or will internet be enough?

What about your cash budget? Are there areas that you overspend on convenience items? Is there something in there that is more of a want than a need? If you are serious about wanting to stay at home, you have to take a serious look at your budget. Go over EVERY. SINGLE. AREA. Ask yourself what you can cut or cut back on. Every dollar counts, so take a look and make a serious commitment to cut back so that you can live the life you want to live. Read more about trimming your budget here.

Limit Eating Out

Eating out is convenient and fun, but let’s face it, it is not necessary and it is expensive. Think about how much you can make a meal for versus what you would spend if you went out. Let’s say wanted Italian. If you make spaghetti at home, you spend money on ground beef, spaghetti sauce, noodles, maybe a side salad and bread. To feed your whole family, you will spend about $15. If you take a family of four out to a restaurant, you will be spending at least $10 a plate. That is IF everyone chooses something cheap. If you added drinks or any extras, you are getting to a very spendy night. So while eating out is worth it every once in a while, it will be limited if you want to live on one income and pay off debt.

One Final Note

Living on one income is a choice. It is possible for almost anyone if you make a commitment to make it work for your family. I have seen people make it work on as little as $1,200 a month. Yes, you have to make sacrifices. But if this is what you feel is right for your family, the sacrifices are incredibly rewarding. It will be an adjustment at first, but soon you will begin to see the value in the simple things in life. You will realize that the only things that mean anything cost no money at all.

There are few things in life you will never regret, and spending more time with your family is one of them. Remember, your role in the home is invaluable. You are not only saving money, but you are making memories and loving on your children. That time is worth more than you will ever know to your spouse and your children.