You Can Be A Stay At Home Mom! How To Live On One Income

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Every day I get emails like this one from readers like you:

“My #1 goal is to be comfortable and have enough cushion that if we do have another child and I stay at home we will be able to make it work.”

In fact, there are over 100 responses to my iHeartBudgets Reader Survey from women stating they want to figure out money because their #1 goal is to be a stay at home mom.

This one hits home for me especially, as my wife’s mother made quite a few sacrifices to stay at home as much as possible, even as a single mom. And my own mother took a few years off after my dad passed away to be with us (and even quit her job when I broke my neck).

So, to me, this is one of the most important financial goals in life, and I want to help show that you CAN make it a reality.

How To Live On One Income

First Commit, Then Plan

When my wife and I got married, we were both on the same page that she wanted to be at home with the kids. In fact, even as a little girl, when her mom would ask her what she wanted to be when she grew up, her answer was always “a mommy!” So we both knew this is something we wanted to do. It wasn’t a question of “if”, but just a matter of “when.”

If you want to be a stay at home parent, the first step is for both you and your spouse to be “all in.”

Talk through the details of what you want life to look like, and once you’ve decided, you need to commit to it 100%.

Write down your reasons! This is important, because for most, this transition will take WORK, and you may want to give up.


Write down all the reasons you made this decision, and if you ever feel that it is too hard, sit down with your spouse and remember WHY you wanted to do this in the first place.

Start Right Now

Find a way to live only on your spouse’s income as if you were already home with the baby. In your budget, you need to mentally “quit” your job and find a way to make the numbers work.

If you are currently pregnant, this gives you some time to make a plan. And since you’ve already decided you want to stay at home with the baby, you can start living like it RIGHT NOW.

*Pro Tip: If you have not already, now would be the time to go through the SMART Budget Course to get control of your money!

Create a “Before” and “After” budget, and talk through what needs to change to be able to start saving your spouse’s full paycheck right now.

Here’s an example of what that may look like:

Income  $ 5,500.00
Rent/Mortgage $1,600
Groceries $600
Restaurants $400
Auto/Transportation $900
Monthly Bills $600
Debt $400
Other Stuff $500
Income  $ 3,500.00  
Rent/Mortgage $1,600  
Groceries $400 Join eMeals meal planning
Restaurants $100 Cash envelope, eat out twice a month. Use Groupon
Auto/Transportation $900  
Monthly Bills $500 Cut cable, switch cell phone to prepaid plan
Debt $400  
Other Stuff $400 Less discretionary spending
LEFTOVER ($800)  

This is just an example budget, but I’ve highlighted where some changes can take place.

As you can see, most of these changes are straightforward. Cut the cable, reduce grocery bills (with meal planning), and less discretionary spending.


But as you can see, there is still not currently enough in the budget to live on one income.

Now it’s time to…..

Take Drastic Measures, If Necessary (This Is Simple, But Not Easy!)

Most people with two income households are spending most of what they make and living paycheck to paycheck. This is simply the truth.

And if you find yourself in a place where you cannot imagine having enough money to go from two incomes to one, you may just need to change something you think is a “NEED”, when in fact it is a “WANT.”

There are 4 areas where money is “wasted” and these are NOT necessary for a healthy financial life:

  1. Car Payments
  2. High housing costs (rent/mortgage)
  3. Eating out/entertainment
  4. Debt

If you cannot live on one income based on your current financial situation, and even after some budget adjustments, the money is still not there, you will need to make some BIG changes.

But here’s the AWESOME part of this…..these changes CAN be done, and in a relatively short amount of time.

Sell The Car(s), Ditch The Payment

I have written about this extensively, but the bottom line is that you CAN get a safe, reliable used car for $5,000 (or less). I recommend selling anything with a car payment that you cannot pay off by the time baby arrives.

Car payments are the WORST investment ever invented, and getting away from them will change your financial life forever!



No really, I am serious. If staying at home is a priority (and for many, it is their #1 FINANCIAL GOAL), then moving is an option.

My sister recently did this, and wouldn’t change it for the world. She was in a HCOL (high-cost-of-living) area and kept her job to keep up with the bills. Once she had her baby, she went back to work for a few weeks, and decided this was NOT the life she wanted.

Her and her husband found him a job in a lower cost of living state, they put the house on the market, sold it and moved within a few months.

Obviously there are a lot of considerations for where you live, but getting out of a HIGH mortgage or rent situation is entirely possible, and can free up your budget in a SIGNIFICANT way

Stop Eating Out And Buying Junk On Amazon!

I’ve already shown the savings in the budget example above, but it truly is possible to NOT spend hundreds on eating out every month. Sure, enjoy a few meals a month prepared by a professional, but no need for this weekly, especially during the work week.

Think of it this way:

A packed lunch a day lets me stay at home one day!”

And this is SO EASY now that eMeals is partnered with grocery delivery services like Instacart.

Seriously. They will plan your weekly meals, automatically put your grocery list into Instacart (or Walmart, or Clicklist, etc.), and your meals are delivered to your doorstep, without having to leave the couch! And every meal comes with cooking instructions. THERE ARE NO EXCUSES! Sign up today for a 14-day free trial, and stop wasting time and money elsewhere!

And just go ahead and DELETE the Amazon App off your phone. Trust me, this can help curb your impulse spending in a HUGE way, and save a boatload!

Kill Your Debt

Here’s the best part about living on one income before the baby gets here. You can deposit your spouse’s paycheck DIRECTLY ONTO YOUR DEBT, and kill it quickly!

After making the above budget changes, take ALL the money you freed up and make a plan to kill your debt in the next 6-12 months! This is the BEST opportunity to get rid of it quickly and FOREVER.

And once it is gone, you’ll free up another LARGE chunk of income to ease the burden of moving to one income.

It’s a WIN-WIN!

Have A “New Baby” Savings Fund

New babies cost money. But they don’t have to kill your budget.

In anticipation of your new bundle of joy, start putting away cash for the first year of expenses. There is a handy “First Year Baby Cost Calculator” from BabyCenter that can help you budget for the first year.

But I’ll let you in on a secret: You DO NOT NEED everything on the list.

In fact, their default settings show a cost of over $10,000 for the first year. Which is absurd!

I went in and unchecked a bunch of the boxes and left only the stuff we needed for ours, and the cost was less than $4,000.

But in reality, we spent FAR LESS than $4,000.

The $4,000 number assumes you will buy everything new, and not receive ANYTHING for your baby shower. I guarantee you can get that number WAY DOWN.

In fact, I’ll show you how…

Be Creative

When it comes to baby items, there is a HUGE market spending billions (currently it’s a 73 billion dollar market) in advertising to get you to buy things you DO NOT NEED. They feed on your fear of being a bad parent. “I need this so my baby will_____”, or “if I don’t get this my baby won’t _____ “.


As first time parents, my wife and I bought WAY TOO MANY THINGS that we did not use AT ALL!

All a baby really needs I something to eat, something to keep them warm, and something to poop in.

Let’s talk about some creative ways you can get baby when they need WITHOUT spending thousands of dollars in the process.


Oftentimes a baby showers is thrown for the mother-to-be, and gifts are purchased to help usher them in to motherhood. This is a great time to register for things you NEED so you hopefully have less to buy later. For example; don’t register for a wipe warmer, butt paste spreader or pacifier wipes, but instead opt for a baby carrier, your car seat, or a good baby monitor.

Hand Me Downs

Babies grow so fast, and moms are often happy to pass along their baby’s outgrown clothes to a friend or family member. We’ve received hand-me-downs at EVERY stage of parenting, and we also love giving our used clothing as well. This can be a great way to save money and give generously at the same time.

Thrift Stores/Facebook Marketplace/Garage Sales

Kids clothing is so expensive, there is NO need to buy new. I recommend taking a look at your nearest thrift store to find some clothing staples for baby that can save you hundreds. Facebook Marketplace is also a great LOCAL way to find good clothing in your home town. And personally, we have found some GREAT deals at garage sales for our babies, so be on the lookout when spring arrives!

Buy Nothing Project

The Buy Nothing Project is a “hyper-local gift economy’, where people give away things they don’t need any more on Facebook Groups. This was a HUGE way for us to pick up FREE baby clothes, toys, gear, anything you can think of. It’s a fantastic resource that makes it simple to ask for something you need, or give away what you don’t need. You can find a local group HERE.

Further Reading: Buy Nothing Project: How It Works

As you can see, there are TONS of resources to get you prepared for baby WITHOUT spending your life savings. And you can continue these thrifty habits for your kids’ entire lives!

Count The Cost Of Staying At Work

Now that you have a budget, know how to save, and have resources for thrifty baby gear, you still might be thinking “but losing all the money I make will REALLY HURT our finances.”

I understand, and the decision to leave your job should never be taken lightly.

But you should make sure to run the numbers on what it will cost for you to STAY at your job, as the cost may show you staying is a poor financial decision.

I recommend checking out my post 5 Ways Being A Stay At Home Parent Saves Your Money. It was going to cost us over $2,000 a month in EXTRA EXPENSES for my wife to keep working, which almost cancelled out her income entirely!

Calculate the cost in your own budget, and see what your HOURLY rate would be if you added those expenses to your budget. Hopefully this goes to show that staying at home is not only what you want to do, but financially, what you SHOULD do!

Get A Second (Or Third) Job!

Now that we’ve covered budgeting, savings, being thrifty, and the true cost of staying at work, the numbers may STILL not add up.

Trust me, I get it.

When we got pregnant, we looked at our finances, and my paycheck basically covered the mortgage, and THAT WAS IT.

On paper, there was absolutely NO WAY we were going to be able to live on one income. We either needed to give up our dream, or I needed to do something about it.

I was working a full-time job (40 hours), so I decided to get a 2nd job preparing tax returns. I studying for the Enrolled Agent exam, got my license and starting working for a small tax firm.

I’m not going to lie, it was tough. I worked 70-80 hour weeks during tax season, and was completely burnt out.

But you know what would have been worse? Seeing my wife go back to work while trying to figure out low-cost childcare, and still barely scraping by.

It was worth every second.

I even started THIS BLOG just after our first was born, and it became a 3rd source of income to help get through when we didn’t quite have enough.

There are a ton of part-time job opportunities available (pizza delivery, retail store clerk, etc.) and also a TON of side-hustles you can do from home (just ask Google).

Pick SOMETHING and go for it!

You CAN Do This, And It Is Worth It

Moving to one income is not only possible, but can help you build character and exercise your frugality muscles at the same time. And what’s more, think of the gift you are giving you child of being there.

But it’s not for the faint of heart. You need to have the courage to make some BIG choices to set yourself up for success.

Are you willing to do what it takes to move to one income?

Just remember, it is worth ANY financial sacrifice, and you won’t regret it. Ever.

You got this!

Jacob Wade

Jacob Wade

Jacob Wade has been a nationally-recognized personal finance expert for the past decade. He has written professionally for The Balance, The Spruce, LendingTree, Investing Answers, and other widely-followed sites. 
He’s also been a featured expert on CBS News, MSN Money, Forbes, Nasdaq, Yahoo! Finance, Go Banking Rates, and AOL Finance.

In 2018, Jacob quit his job and his family decided to sell everything (including their home) to take off on an adventure. They traveled the country in an RV for nearly 3 years, visiting over 38 states, 20+ national parks and eventually settling in the sunshine state!

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