How We Live On One Income

Today I thought I would open up and share something a little more personal with you all and that’s how Jacob and I live on one income.* Now before you go running to leave me a comment telling me that it’s not a smart financial move, let me explain… This isn’t a forever thing and we know that. But, it’s right for us, for now. Also, hang on tight because this post is going to be long and detailed.

*The caveat to us surviving off one income is that Jacob is taking out student loans to pay for his tuition, books, parking, etc. What little bit is leftover after paying for that goes directly towards his gas for commuting.

A Little Backstory

To tell you how we do this, I have to tell you how we got here. Jacob and I had been together for about 2 years, and we knew it was the forever thing. Swoon. I was working at a job where I was spinning my wheels and didn’t have much if any, room for growth. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been a wonderful stepping stone in my career, but it wasn’t going to benefit me in the long run to stay. Every day was a battle with some very frustrating co-workers and I knew I was underpaid just because of my age. We were both living with our own parents and hanging out whenever we could.

At the same time, Jacob was working two jobs and going to school for his bachelor’s degree in engineering, so our time together was limited. I was living out of a suitcase a couple of days a week for almost a year so that we could spend more than a few hours together at a time. We were both really exhausted with the back and forth…so I started casually looking and applying for jobs. I ended up finding one that was over an hour away from where we were living. And, I knew that if I applied and got the job, we would have to move closer. I didn’t want to go from having a 45-minute commute to one that sometimes could take over 2 hours to get home. We also knew that Jacob working was negatively impacting his schoolwork, thus a pay increase was mandatory in order to be able to do this. And what do you know? I got the job. Handing in a two week’s notice has never been so bittersweet. I did really like some of the people I worked with there and miss some of them greatly, but I was ready for the next chapter.

Flat lay of iPad and notebook on desk.

Now Jacob and I had to get it together!

Up until accepting the job offer, I was throwing money at my student loans to pay them off. Don’t worry, I’m going to have a whole post on this coming soon (I’ll link to it once it’s live). I immediately throttled back to the minimum monthly payments only and started stashing as much money as I could. Also, I had pretty much nothing for an apartment. Jacob had a couple of things from when he lived with his friends previously, but in total it wasn’t much.

So during the last two weeks of my job, we spent some time checking out apartments online and taking inventory of what we had so we would know what we needed to buy. I can’t stress this enough… don’t spend money on something that you already have. It may not match anything else you own or fit in with your decor/aesthetic, but you can really build that up over time. Keep in mind that your inventory should include subscriptions like Netflix (you don’t need 2 accounts).

Onto finding the right place to live…

Finding the right place to live is critical for living off of one income. Rent is the largest recurring monthly expense, so it can’t be too high or the rest of your budget will be off. The real estate gurus usually say you should spend no more than 30% of your income on rent (including utilities!!). I took this number to heart. We built our entire budget around this number. If something happened, I wanted to know I’d be able to cover our bills for a couple of months. That’s more important than a luxury apartment with all the upgrades. Ya feel me?

After heavily researching online, we dropped by a couple of places nearby my new job. The first was a hard pass, but we immediately fell in love with the second complex. However, rather than jumping on it immediately, we took our tour, got all the information, went and got lunch, and crunched the hard numbers the complex gave us. It checked all the boxes and was within our budget window. So we got it!

Buying what we needed…

This was very fun for me, but also very stressful. Since we had made a list of what we had, I filled in what we needed and crossed it off as we went so we didn’t have any duplication. This also helped in prioritizing purchases. We were able to buy the more important items first, that way if money became tight, we would be able to wait for the next paycheck to get the rest. And, by that, I am in no way condoning spending your last dollar on moving out on your own. When I say tight, I mean my bank account was approaching my “cushion threshold” that I had set as a minimum balance in my account.

We really have had to take note of needs v. wants since getting our own place. There’s a lot of things I really would like to have, but until it moves into a needs category, it can wait for a holiday with gifts or until I have the money saved and allotted for that purchase. Example – I don’t go out and buy new jeans just because they look amazing. I wait until the ones I have are inappropriate for work – aka a hole in the backside by the top of the pocket. We want to get some new towels, but our old ones with the frayed edges still dry us off after a shower, so it’ll be on our Christmas list. You get the idea?!

One Income = Strict Budget

We knew there was going to be at least one big purchase made when we got our own place. We needed living room furniture. Jacob’s set was literally falling apart. Since this was going to be something we used constantly, we really wanted something oversized, cozy, and good quality. So we set a budget and spent some time looking at every furniture store around. We went in to test out our options and decide what we wanted. I ended up finding the set we got pretty quickly, but we didn’t buy it immediately. Once we decided to buy it, we financed it (with 0% interest – the only reason I agreed to finance it). We also had it delivered to the new apartment (a bonus tip for saving on moving costs). Spend the time to shop around to find not only what fits your needs and space, but to get furniture that is going to last through at least one move. Quality is very important. You don’t want to have to fork out more money in three months to replace something you just purchased.

In order to not blow your budget on a regular basis pay attention to what season it is. Are things on sale for back to school? Are they discounting holiday decorations the day after? Think about your needs and the timing of sales for various items. This is critical for us.

Be prepared to say no.

Practice it with me one time… NO! Unfortunately, you can’t have it all. We would love to go on a vacation to somewhere tropical, but sometimes you can’t. You have to be patient and wait. It’ll make you get a little creative with you stay-cations and date nights. I couldn’t buy the newest eye shadow palette even if it was to die for. Our walls are bare, with the exception of art I painted for them. Decorations weren’t on my list of necessities. I feel like this part is pretty self-explanatory, but it’s really important.

Everything has a budget!

I mean it. Groceries, gas for cars, fun things, etc. I can give a more specific breakdown of our grocery list in a separate post, but we have one. We have a budget for everything. I spend cautiously. When items that I know we will use/need are on sale (frozen pizzas, toilet paper, etc.) we stock up. While we might go a little over budget this week, but the next three will be a little less. It usually balances itself out. But, if I saved 30 cents on a frozen pizza and bought five this week rather than paying full price, I just saved myself $1.50 in the long run. That’s not a lot, but little savings add up fast. We come up with less expensive ways to celebrate events and birthdays, as well as going out on an adventure. Our local state park is 20 minutes up the road with free parking, beautiful picnic areas, and numerous hiking trails. BAM – you have a fun Saturday date for the cost of a couple of sandwiches and minimal fuel for your car.

Combining it all to live on one income…

I know I provided a lot of information, but combining it all is how we are able to live on one income. We started off on the right foot. We have a budget and we stick to it. It does mean passing up on outings sometimes, but this is what we wanted to do so we could live together. Now, to sweeten the deal, we have an agreement. Jacob does the grocery shopping, cooking, and most of the daily picking up around the apartment since I’m footing the bill for all of it. I do help with our weekly clean and reset, but for the most part, I come home to a clean apartment Monday through Friday.

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