Post by John Miro.
One of the most interesting changes my family is facing is a transition to one income.
The other changes are more tangible, more easily realized by everyone in my family: my new job; moving 3 hours to a new place; downsizing from a large house to a medium-sized apartment; a new school. But this month marks a new challenge – living off one income.
Quick Back Story
For those who know our story, I got a new job nine months ago that pays almost twice what I was making before. So for the last six months, we’ve been earning a great deal of extra money. Most of this has went into the bank as savings for an emergency fund, but a lot of this has been spent as moving and relocating expenses.
We had to buy new furniture (yes, we had too for those who are rolling their eyes). Our couch was 8 years old and because it was a massive sectional, it would not fit in our new, smaller apartment. So yes, sometimes you have to spend money on new furniture, and as long as you make all your large purchases wisely and aren’t buying new stuff every other year, you shouldn’t feel guilty for having to replace them.
My wife is/was a teacher, meaning she can choose to take her salary for 9.5 months over a 12 month period, so for a few months we were still getting paychecks even though she was officially “retired.” That being said, August was a one-paycheck month for her (meaning we received half of her normal pay), and September will mark the first month where we will live only on my income.
Doing this would not have been possible if we still had debt. Yes it still feels strange to be able to write out the fact that we are truly debt free for the first time in our adult lives, for the first time since we started dating back in 1999. Back in 2012 we paid off all our consumer debt – credit cards, auto loans – as well as our student loans. That meant the only debt we had was our mortgage, which most personal finance advisors/bloggers, etc. consider to acceptable debt (I will not offer my opinion at this time, but I will say that housing is generally a debt that you will always have, unless you convince your parents to let you live for free with them forever).
Now that we are living on one income, we are essentially back where we were before I got this new job and salary increase. The only difference is that we only have one wage-earner, and we now live in a place with a higher cost-of-living. In fact, we moved from a city that was regularly listed as having the lowest cost-of-living in the country to one with one of the highest. This presents a challenge, but not a problem. Just as we figured out how to live within our past means and pay off debt, we can just as easily learn to live within our new means, and hopefully find a way to continue accumulating savings.
So why do we have to learn to live on one income?
To be honest, the answer is lifestyle creep. With our extra money and new living environment came a desire to have a little fun. That means we’ve been eating out a lot more than usual, and a hell of a lot more than when we were in debt payoff mode. We also have had a lot of visitors to our new home, which means dinners and tourist expenses. These are totally justified and I don’t feel guilty about it at all. Life is, after all, a balancing act, and if you don’t find ways to budget for the fun stuff and set aside money for fun, then what is the point of working and living?
Life is about finding a healthy balance in whatever you do. Spending all your money is just as mentally dangerous as hoarding all your money. Money is, after all, just a means to an end, a way to translate your hard work into physical goods, or even better, a way to buy yourself time. A fat bank account can buy you a new car every year, or it can buy you an extra ten years of retirement. What we buy comes down to a value judgment we all make. Many of us change these judgments only after we’ve been walking the wrong path for too long – and that’s okay.
This site has always been a judgment-free zone. This isn’t about shaming you into changing your behavior. If you want to shame yourself, that’s fine. Getting mad at the status-quo can be a powerful way to build up the energy you need to drastically change your mindset.
So I said earlier that we were going back to where we were before I got this new job, but I was wrong. Though my salary is the same as what we were both making together, I left out the critical difference – my wife is not working. We were able to buy this freedom through hard work, the freedom for her to stay at home and help our daughters transition to their new lives. You can’t put a price tag on this type of freedom.
This is why we engage in the self-torture that is personal finance.
We want to be free of money so that we are in control, not the other way around. We want money to be a way to make our lives better, not a ball-and-chain that keeps us shackled to a job we hate or a city we despise. When you successfully complete the journey, whatever the path you happen to lay before you – whether it be paying off all your credit cards, all your debts, or owning your home outright, we are really buying ourselves freedom. We are buying ourselves the chance to say yes to opportunities, or no to liabilities, and more importantly, we are opening our lives to all the options that exist.
So How Will We Transition to One Income?
Before we moved, we did the math, and it appeared that when we removed the childcare and other expenses associated with my wife having a job, we would essentially break even in our new life. As with any prospective prediction, we were probably fooling ourselves, but the truth is somewhere near what we thought.
So now comes the time to start caring about money again, to think twice about sitting down for that $30 lunch, or that $15 ice cream break, or whatever it may be.
Our oldest daughter has started school, so there will be less pressure to fill the days with excitement. Our lives are starting to become more normal just as our income returns to normal. My wife now tracks our income and expenses on our shared Mint account, and she has stopped shopping at the ultra-convenient and slightly more expensive Trader Joe’s around the corner in favor of Aldi, which is a ten minute drive away.
We got out of debt by behaving this way, and we can stay out of debt by returning to those old behaviors. They may be a bit dusty, but they still work. Your food budget is still the biggest place to find savings, and in our case, it looms large as the biggest target for cost savings.
This time we are prepared. This time we are choosing it not out of necessity, but because it is the smart thing, and the right thing to do.