Challenges of living on one income

Challenges of living on one income

There’s an obvious challenge to living on one income. Namely, living on one income. But have you thought about the non-financial challenges?

We became a one income couple last year when I got made redundant. We had been preparing for this potential eventuality and that preparation made living on one income possible. Though we worked hard for it, it doesn’t change the fact that we were lucky to have reached a position where one of our incomes would cover our essential bills.

Having designed our life and finances to be able to manage on one income, I foolishly thought we’d be in for an easy ride. Unbeknownst to me, I had a lot of hurdles ahead that my budget spreadsheet could not account for. Here are the things I found difficult as the new non-earner.


Oh wow. The immense feeling of guilt.

Without a job, I couldn’t help but feel guilty about spending money that my husband had earned. He did his best to relieve me of my guilt and I knew that if our roles were reversed, I wouldn’t want him to feel guilty. I’d be proud to be able to support us. But when you feel like the need to be independent, to not be a burden, is at your core, it is a very difficult mindset to change.

What I did find that I could do was guard our budget even more fiercely, making sure our source of income was being spent in the best way and wasn’t being wasted.


You would think being unemployed would lead you to a lack of things to do. It turns out that work was preventing me from doing a lot of stuff I really wanted to. Being unemployed also added pressure to get a lot of stuff done. All of a sudden I was more busy without a job than I had been with one.

Volunteering, job hunting, looking after the house, restoring an antique bench, launching a blog and looking after my husband as he recovered through two operations. It was difficult to not feel rushed off my feet, even more than when I was working!

Cooking every day

“I’ll have plenty of time to prepare amazing dishes every day”.

Me, before becoming unemployed.

Cooking every day become a thorn in my side, unwelcome punctuation each day that cut short the time I wanted to spend on other things. When our choices cease to be choices, they require rather more endurance. I enjoyed cooking less without a job than I did with a job, if you can believe that?

Saying goodbye to efficiency

It is so easy to waste time when you have it to waste. A 30 minute job would get done in 20 minutes when I was working, because I just didn’t have the time to waste. Not having a job means you can be more leisurely, and that often means you take longer to do things.

As time passed, I became less organised, in spite of my busyness. I wondered how the heck I’d worked full time and how on earth I would again.

Losing who you are

We spend a lot of time at work with the same set of colleagues. I honestly didn’t believe so much of my self worth was routed in my job.

It’s been a valuable experience just for this reason. I’ve developed a blog, I’m living more in the moment (but don’t worry, I’m saving for my future self!) and I’m investing time in my hobbies. From time to time, I think about who I am and how much of myself is linked to my job.

One day I will retire, and when that day comes, I want to have a strong sense of self.

General panic

When you get to the point of being able to manage on one income, you have plenty of spare cash to throw at savings, investments, or whatever else you fancy. When that money is gone, the feeling of flexibility goes along with the peace of mind it brought. Panic is perhaps a bit of an exaggeration but I certainly felt uneasy about the challenge we would face to replenish emergency savings if they had to be spent.

You need to be more than financially prepared

Being financially prepared allows you to survive on one income. But you need to be emotionally and mentally prepared to live and thrive on one income.

I think there is value in everyone experiencing this, even if it is only for a short time. It made me realise how much money I previously wasted. It made me realise that money is more important to me than I’d previously admitted. It made me realise how much my job defined me.

Do you live on one income? What challenges do you face and how do you deal with them?

8 thoughts on “Challenges of living on one income

  1. I can relate to all of this. When I first quit working (many, many years ago), I found myself doing everything I could to cut expenses and take care of all the daily tasks. I considered myself the Family CEO. I still do. I try to remove as much of the daily tasks off the list as I can so we have more family time when everyone is at home.

    But I still have the guilt. And I can’t seem to conquer it. I continually think – if I get a job, we could reach FI faster, or do this or do that. But, it would also complicate the day-to-day, which is why we continue to live on the one income. Communicating and respecting each other has been the ONLY way we’ve survived all these years on one income.

    Great post, Sarah!

    1. It must mean you have much more quality time with your family in the here and now which is worth more than money. I guess even we’re all driven by wanting more of something. For some, thats houses and cars, for others its freedom. There is always a what if? The way society is mean we think about what we’re sacrificing by not working. If I’m in the position again, I’m going to look at it from th perspective of how much I’ve gained. My circumstances were a little different, but not working did work well for us as a couple, if that makes sense. Thanks for stopping by and commenting 🙂

  2. I guess you just get used to having two incomes but I went from one income to no income when I got made redundant!

    Fortunately, I had a decent severance package and I think if I’d needed to, I would have been able to cover my essential bills with my matched betting income and Jobseekers’ Allowance!

    While I wasn’t working, I did keep myself busy but probably not as much as I could have and yes, jobs took longer to do as I had so much more time available! It took me a while to realise that I could go to the supermarket during the day when there was no one about!

    Apart from the first two months of unemployment, like you, I felt guilt though not guilt about spending money but guilt that I was enjoying my free time too much and that I was supposed to be spending my waking hours looking for a job.

    To keep my sanity, I kept to a routine of getting up at the same time, going to the gym, etc.

    It was good practice for when I do eventually retire – I just won’t feel guilty about having to look for another job!

    1. That’s a scenario that really would worry me, but then I am a worrier! I kept some cash coming in with matched betting but I was so busy doing other stuff, I didn’t have time to make as much as I wanted to or knew I could… How crazy is that?

      A routine is key, I made sure I got up and dressed before 9 every day… well, you gotta cut yourself a little slack while you have the opportunity! I stopped claiming JSA after 4 weeks. I was applying for stupid jobs just to meet their quota and ended up feeling guilty over that too. The good thing is, if you’re in dire straights, there are things you can do to keep the cash trickling in. Matched betting being a brilliant one 🙂

  3. My wife retired in her early thirties. I have always been a higher than average earner and of course left the choice up to her as to a career or staying at home. I was really secretly happy she chose to stay home and become the home CEO. She focused on the kids first, all who became brilliant students under her watchful eye to that point that they all got free rides through college because of their ACT scores. She was huge in my career by providing a warm safe harbor from the stormy seas of a high octane job. Now that I am also early retired and we are financially independent we continue to share our distance running, competitive tennis, off roading, hiking, fishing and travel hobbies. I tell her constantly how much I appreciate her and her choices and how they have paid off for us, our kids and our financial security. She is awesome and I am so lucky, 39 years married last Saturday!

    1. This is awesome to hear your perspective. It sounds like you have an incredible life, very much improved by her staying home. Sounds to me like you are lucky to have each other. Congratulations on that huge milestone!

  4. We will be dropping to a 1 1/2 income family by the end of the year. I am so happy and excited for my wife to be working part time. She will spend more time raising our child and spending time with our families. I am so happy to be able to allow her this opportunity.

    Very great article talking about these types of issues. Definitely gives me some things to talk about and notice if she isn’t fully enjoying the transition. We have talked eventually of her not going back to work. Our budget is completely in order but I am sure she will feel these same things. Thanks for sharing

    1. An exciting opportunity indeed! Though there are challenges, there are many rewards too, especially where it comes to bringing up a family. Thanks for stopping by and commenting 🙂

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