On Being a Single Income Family

I cringe when people refer to being a “single income family” as if it should signify that they are struggling financially. It is certainly true that for a very specific group of people it would cost more than the second earner could make in order to pay for childcare. But these are not the people whom I see making the remarks about surviving on a single income.

We lived on a single income from September through December. This was a clear sign that we were wealthy, not an indication of struggling. Sure, we may budget a bit more precisely, but the ability to live on one income is an indication of great resources, not of deprivation.

The truth is that families who are really struggling can’t just budget their way into living off of one income. They find ways of utilizing extended family and trading childcare and working off-hours. It does not matter if the mother only earns minimum wage–she works because she has to. They do not work because they think that smartphones are necessities, they work because they know that smartphones are unimaginable luxuries.

If you are able to feed your family on one income, it should be counted as a tremendous blessing.

We all like to imagine that we are not rich because it spares us the burden of reexamining our lives and sacrificing to help those who desperately need it. But even if we must be selfish and stingy, we should at least spare ourselves dishonesty.

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10 thoughts on “On Being a Single Income Family

  1. Rebecca

    I think you should post every day all year :) – I’m loving this!

    I agree! We talk a lot ’round here about 2 incomes vs. 1 income should a small human become our responsibility. If we cut out everything that is not necessary, we could probably do it – and somehow I think my sanity would go out the door at the same time. BUT, I also know I am a “where there’s a will, there’s a way” kind of girl. When I look at how life would work realistically, it is much closer to what you described above – creative scheduling, relying on family members and minimizing costs for childcare to the best of our ability. There is also the fact that I’ve worked in child care and preschool classrooms and have a child development degree, so, well, we’ll just say “there is that” and leave it there as I don’t want to start a war on your blog :).

    Seriously, a post every day in 2013. Please? ;)

  2. Pingback: On Being a Single Income FamilyThere Is No Wealth But Life | The Expanded Kingdom | Scoop.it

  3. alison

    Obviously there are those that struggle on two incomes just as there are those that struggle on one. But really, it is paaiiinful to hear finances as an excuse when you know for a fact that it is a choice to live a certain way (when you are privileged to know more specific details of ones life). The fact that we give makeovers to victims of hurricane sandy just exemplifies how ridiculous most Americans have it in terms of what we consider “necessities”. I have family members and friends on food stamps who consider cable, HBO and showtime, biweekly manicures and pedicures and massages, and ipads and ipad minis as “necessities”. And yes, in the past year i have heard lasik surgery referred to as a necessity before one can “afford to get married”. It is crazy. While I once used to think “wow they must be rich! (Or poor!)” I now tend to stay away from assumptions because really, you can’t have a clue what people are willing to get into debt over from the outside and what money paid for what.

    1. alison

      I guess my comment may have been a slight tangent, I guess I’m just a little twitchy from said examples telling me that I am so fortunate and lucky to be able to stay home when they wont be able to do the same. Yes, we are fortunate to have a paying job+insurance between the two of us, but I’m never quite sure how to react when people say that they wont be able to do the same, especially when you already know too many financial details of their life. So I find it safer to stop using words like “need” and stop making assumptions about their lives as well.

  4. waywardson23

    Until recently, we’ve been in the “cost more than the second earner could make in order to pay for childcare” boat. Yes, we are relatively wealthy, even at our financially most desperate. Which is frustrating in its own way, especially when neither one of you is cut out to be a stay at home parent and you have little extended family (two only children) to help with childcare.

    Anyway, I second Rebecca’s idea. A post a day for 2013! Please. :-)

  5. Tarynkay

    This is so true. Especially the part about many families being unable to budget themselves into living on one income. Frugal living advice tends to start from the assumption that you have lattes and cable to give up. I also think that it is fairly easy to live on $50k when you are bringing in $100k or even live on $25k when you bring in $50k and then feel all smug about saving half of your income, never dreaming that there are folks for whom bringing in $25k feels like an enormous struggle.

  6. Joy

    Loving the frequent posts!

    I totally appreciate that the decision to leave the workforce has a much to do with personality, skill-set, and long-term personal & professional goals as finances so I don’t judge as long as the kids are well cared for; but I do think the income answer is an over used cop-out

  7. Jenna

    I have frequently referenced our single income status, but always in regards to how lucky we are to live that way out in the Bay Area. It is incredibly rare to have one working parent in this area and I really admire all of those who are juggling kids and daycare and jobs and school and all of the other necessities of life.

    Of course in private we as a couple will sometimes talk about how it’s difficult to keep up with some of his coworkers that have two incomes, and that it’s harder for us because he is more junior and we only have on income. But I think you are allowed to have different, more complex conversations in private with your spouse than you might in public :)

  8. Michelle

    I guess I’m in the camp where we have some things that have become sorts of necessities even though, i suppose technically they are luxuries. I’ve found that kids (well, their activities) cost more the older they are and then the more you have and you are juggling daycare expenses plus music lessons, volleyball team and swim team and throw in ballet. We’ll always be a 2-income family because my income is the most and my husband likes to contribute. I went down the road many a time trying to see how it works on one income, but fact of the matter is…we want to LIVE and we want our kids to have a few opportunities to do the same (club volleyball, swim team, ballet, soccer, music lessons, etc)…so we both work full-time so we can provide this for our family.

  9. Ralf

    I am writing from Germany, where the one-income-family still is the norm in many places – and is rightly so. It has been a demand of Catholic Social teaching from the very beginning (see Pope Leo XIII.’s “Rerum Novarum”) that it shall be this way.
    So if a family can live with one income only, it is a blessing, yes, but also the way it should be.

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