Realistically Speaking...

pevideliFebruary 27, 2009

Can a family with a 1200/month mortgage and two kids, realistically live off of one income (about $60K/year) in today's economy? I live in a two income household and together my wife and I make a little over $90K a year. We've always lived off of two incomes. We have no car payments, no major credit cards to pay and a small loan to pay off. With the high cost of utilities, insurance, kids' extra curricular activities and basic childcare expenses etc., I'm wondering if we can successfully pull this off. Any thoughts?

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I am a family of one (and a cat). My income is $15K a year. I have no major credit cards, very small mortgage, no car payments. Yes, I am financially challenged, but able to pay my bills (so far). Looking to downsize house as I have rooms I don't live in. If I had as much as you have to live on, I'd be on my way to Europe right now (cruising).

    Bookmark   February 27, 2009 at 8:16PM
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It's doable; many families of four get by on a lot less.

If you haven't already done so, what you have to do is sit down with a legal pad and tote up ALL your monthly expenses - mortgage, property taxes, loan repayment, insurances, gas and routine vehicle maintenance, food, utilities, phone, cable, newspaper delivery, health, daycare, eating out, entertainment, Starbucks, impulse buys, toys, clothes, activity fees, charity, church offerings - in other words everything a dollar goes out the door for. Nothing better to give you a picture of what you're actually spending in relation to your income.

Your lifestyle and what you're willing to cut back on in the event you had to would be a better guage than what someone else can manage to do in different circumstances. Also depends on how savey you've managed to be in having available financial cushions and emergency funding.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2009 at 8:53PM
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tishtoshnm Zone 6/NM

I look forward to the day when DH will get to do this. It can be done. We have done it before (right now we have other debts that we have to take care of). When I do not work it is my job to make the money stretch. We prioritize which activities we do and do not do. Generally, there are no other childcare expenses to worry about. I monitor utilities closely, stretch the food budget. We do not eat out very much (maybe once a quarter we take all 4 kids to a nice restaurant). The last movie I saw in the theater was the Polar Express (4 or 5 years ago).

Can it be done, realistically yes, but perhaps not at the same lifestyle that you may be accustomed to now.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2009 at 11:12PM
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Some of this depends on where you live -- cost of living in that area.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2009 at 6:38AM
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Chemocurl zn5b/6a Indiana

You have made no mention of any savings of any kind. Do you have an emergency fund in the amount of 6 months of your living expenses? Hopefully you have been able to do some saving with both of you working.


Here is a link that might be useful: City data-median income-average household size 2007

    Bookmark   February 28, 2009 at 8:05AM
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This is the reason we feel the need to do this. Savings have depleted on home improvements done in the past. We're trying to find a fast way to rebuild our savings. If we do it this way, my wife's earnings can go directly in the bank. Our biggest bank breaker and fear that it may be very difficult is childcare expenses... Children are just too expensive...extra curricular activities, new clothes, medical expenses plus college expenses are coming up in a few years!

    Bookmark   February 28, 2009 at 9:17AM
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We became a single income family a few years back after we had our second child. We were able to live within our means, but money was tighter for a couple of years. I rarely ate out, but that was ok with me. I kept food like chicken strips and French fries in the freezer for those days when I didn't feel like cooking a real meal. I didn't buy a lot of non-necessities. I price matched and stocked up on food when it was on sale. I bought a lot of toddler and baby clothes at the thrift store and garage sales. I tried to direct the relatives to clothes and usable items for the kids at gift giving times. I cut back on gift giving at Christmas. I asked others to do the same for us.

My kids didn't participate in expensive dance classes or every little league sport. Instead, we joined a playgroup, went to a local churches kid's activities, and attended free events library reading hour and activities at local parks. We did allow one $40 sport a year. A lot of this was done when dh was at work during the day so the kids had a busy schedule, but it didn't negatively affect our family time. My kids were little so we didn't have the social pressures that older kids have.

My dh was out of town for training a few times. We pickybacked and used those as a family vacation too. We also lived within a few hours drive of several state and National Parks. We camped a lot on weekends.

It depends on where you live and how you are willing to live. You would have to be a family that critically watches its spending. You have to be committed to watching that spending. It doesn't work if you have person who is a saver and cutting costs and the spouse is a spender who sees that savings as 'extra money' to blow.

Here are a few things to think about.
-Are you willing to have a budget and stick to it?
-Is someone going to be cooking at your house? If yes, is your eating style basically convenience items off the shelf or do you stock up when foods are on sale and have a lot of "from scratch" meals?
-How much eating out do you plan to do? Are you willing to cut that back?
-How much do you spend on entertainment? Are you willing to do the cheaper alternatives?
-When your kids want new clothes or other items, what limits are you willing to have?
-Are you willing to limit the kids extracurricular activities or do you see the costs going higher?
-What do you do for vacations? Are you willing to cut those costs?

Good luck!

    Bookmark   February 28, 2009 at 10:38AM
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I agree with Susie, that's a lot of income, but I would give up a lot before I became dependent on two incomes. I don't know where you live and that makes a difference. I am comfortable, I can travel, buy any thing I want within reason, but if I moved to the east or west coast my nice life style would go right down the drain. I would love to live in Vancouver BC. Beautiful country.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2009 at 10:43AM
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Chemocurl zn5b/6a Indiana

Children are just too expensive...extra curricular activities, new clothes, medical expenses

IMHO, to a large degree, the cost of raising children is whatever 'you' choose to make it.

Are the extracurricular activities necessary? What are they and do they really get that much out of them? Educational? Sports?...or is it just things to fill their time with classmates?

Is it necessary to dress the children in all the latest name brand trendy clothes?...or can they wear 'regular' clothing, or even good used stuff bought at thrift stores?

Do you now eat out a good bit, or buy a lot of more expensive processed foods for convenience? I'd be looking closely at all food costs, both groceries and eating out.
With a stay at home Mom (or Dad) nutritious meals can be prepared, cutting back on food expenses.

plus college expenses are coming up in a few years!
though it is something to be considered, lots of young folks get scholarships, loans, grants, and work themselves to save and pay college expenses.

Are your teens working now? If not, that it something to be considered.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2009 at 10:48AM
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Based on what everyone's saying, it seems that we can pull it off. We live in Florida. At this time, we don't entertain very often. Weekends are usuallys spent at home. We probably eat out about once every six weeks or so and cooking isn't a problem. The kids' extra curricular activities include learning an instrument. They both have been playing instruments since they were very young and are doing really well. They love taking the lessons so we would hate to see them reach this far and give it up. For clothing, we shop at Walmart or JCPenney since they have really great prices.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2009 at 1:30PM
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Well, it seems that your idea is more of an "experiment" than a necessity - insofar as attempting to see what it's like living on a reduced income is not due to a job loss, etc. Just because you bring in X amount of income doesn't mean you're obligated to spend the whole thing and can't make a stab at saving.

A no brainer...try banking your wife's salary each payday and see how well things go and what you can do on your income alone. Set up a budget based on your income. I certainly wouldn't deprive the kids of their music lessons - even if they never play in symphony orchestras, being able to play an instrument is a life enhancement.

In today's economic climate, not having a backlog of emergency funding would scare me the most.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2009 at 2:10PM
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You can probably do it, but why do you want to? I'd rather keep working and bank one income for college, savings, whatever may come along.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2009 at 1:28AM
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Doable? Yes, but the question is do you want this badly enough to make the sacrifices necessary?
I don't know the answer.

My son has supported his family of 5 (stay at home wife and three kids) on less than $40K. Although the youngest child is 11 now, his wife does not want to work outside the home. They have no debt other than a mortgage of $75K (on a home valued at about $250K). They drive older cars that he paid cash for. Their furnishing are mostly things I've given them when I replaced mine. They shop for clothing and toys at thrift stores and garage sales. The kids are not in expensive extracurricular activities. I buy the kids new clothes and shoes for birthdays.

They rarely go to movies. They DO use the public library extensively for books, music and DVD's. They have the very basic telephone service (dial tone - no frills), the very basic cable and use a dialup service for internet access. They heat their home with a wood burning stove.

Vacations are camping. They go hiking, clam digging and on picnics in the summer.
So I think, yes, it's doable, but it's very much a personal choice.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2009 at 11:10AM
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Not to start a war, but if Zone8g'ma's son got hit by a truck, his wife might have to work outside the home whether she wants to or not. With the youngest kid at 11, why doesn't she get a part-time job, and buy those shoes herself, rather than relying on Grandma?
They might be living on one salary, but it sounds grim and drab, IMHO.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2009 at 2:12PM
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I've been a stay at home and have only had to work 3 years of my life (single). Other times I worked because the kids were in school and I was bored. I worked the same hours they were in school. I applied that money on the mortgage or Christmas expenses. when I look back I see it was an unconscious goal not to move backwards or worry constantly about money and bills. We had a new house, one that we could easily afford and I only used CC's for a short term. Our life style was not drab. The main thing is we were secure, never worried about going hungry or doing without. Now I live a frivilous, wasteful life. LOL

    Bookmark   March 1, 2009 at 3:58PM
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Today, the only rub for Zone8's DIL would be finding a job having been out of the market presumably for years and with competition pretty steep with all the unemployed and underemployed that are out there. Skillsets get rusty.

ideefixe, what you call grim might not be grim at all - there are those who do quite well without the latest electronics, who are capable of entertaining themselves in the great outdoors, etc. Lots of people who can well afford "luxuries" choose not to indulge in them for a variety of reasons. Lots of grandparents choose to buy practical gifts for grandchildren.

It's the OP who posed the question of realistic. And I still maintain there's an easy way for him to find out - and that's by setting aside the wife's salary in a savings account, money market, whatever and seeing what it's like living on his salary alone. Seems a simple test to me. None of us can do it for him - and if the sacrifice proves to be too great, go back to using the combined incomes.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2009 at 4:27PM
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I have been a stay at home mom for most of my life. When I did work, we found we actually lost money when we considered the extra gas and wear and tear on the car. I had to buy nicer clothes. When I stayed at home, I cooked things from scratch instead of picking up take out or some easy to fix convenience food at the store. We ate out more. I ate out for lunch a lot. And to top it off, we found that my earnings put us in a much higher tax bracket. All in all, we were happier when I stayed home.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2009 at 10:48PM
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Like I mentioned in my earlier post, I worked until after the second child was born. When I quit my job, dh also quit his job and got a better paying one in another state. That job and the one before it became stepping stones for the dream job dh has now. I never thought that my attending college, getting a job and then ultimately giving up the career would be in the path to becoming more successful as a family, but it has. It has given us opportunities we would not have had otherwise. A lower income doesn't automatically equate to a lower quality of life. In fact,my kids have been more places and we've done more things on a limited budget than lot of adults.

We have more money than we did a few years ago, but I still don't run out and buy the latest and the greatest. We can better afford to buy things than most of our neighbors, but we don't. We want our kids to know what it's like to work for something and earn it. I believe there are lessons that money can't buy.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2009 at 10:44AM
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Well, I love my career and wouldn't give it up, so different strokes for different folks. I'm not trying to start a stay-at-home vs. working moms war, but I wondered about the original poster's reasoning.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2009 at 2:42PM
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I would suggest you enroll in Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University. It completely changed life for my family.

YES you can do it - $60K is actually pretty high for 4 people. We live on $70K for 5 people.

You have to live YOUR life, not the life your family or neighbors think you should live. Part of FPU for us was deciding on the life WE want to live. And it is not the "standard" life in my community! Some of the things we decided:
1. Our kids do not do any travel sports, only rec leagues that cost %45-60. The travel leagues are $400-600. Everyone will tell you that your child has no chance to make a HS team unless he plays on a travel team starting in 2nd grade. Guess what - my 3 sons have only played rec leagues, and the oldest just finished Varsity Basketball. Every parent wants a super star and the travel teams prey on that - but it's really your kid's natural talent that will get him on a varsity team in HS. Remember too - travel teams are FOR PROFIT - the owner is making $$ off it - rec leagues are usually nonprofits.
2. You CAN survive without a new car every 2 or 3 years. My husband's van is 8 years old. My car is 7. We do routing maintence and repairs as needed.
3. You CAN survive without eating out. WE only eat out about 1 x/month and don't miss it at all.
4. Treats are TREATS. We don't buy junk food except as a special treat. Junk food is super expensive & adds to your dental bills in cavities and medical bills in obesity related illnesses!
5. There are tons of free activities - you don't have to pay for entertainment. The playground and park are free and healthier than sitting in a movie theater.
6. When you do go to the movies, go to the bargain theater, buy one large popcorn & split it. Drink water.

You will be surprised how quickly your kids will adapt once you communicate your entheuism to them. Our boys would rather have their dad at home than junk food!

    Bookmark   March 2, 2009 at 3:27PM
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Part of your exercise might be to figure out all of the extra costs associated with your wife's working - as someone stated, when they figured out all of those extra costs, they were unwilling to have her have employment income after deducting all of the extra costs.

When I've investigated this situation with some families as a personal/family financial advisor, and asked some women how they like working for, say, $3.00 per hour, their reply was, "No way!" ... but when we checked out all of the extra costs associated, we found that was about the rate of compensation which she was earning, after deducting all of those extra costs.

That would be especially true, I think, if one or more child(ren) were in child care.

That's an important part of the equation, too.

If you know a couple or more who are fairly smart ... and rather open (not secretive), they'd have some useful advice to offer, I'm sure. Sometimes people feel good to know that their friends have enough confidence in their judgment that they'd ask for such advice/discussion: it might enhance your friendship.

I don't remember the exact figure, but my rough calculation regarding your mortgage cost was that it was under 20% of your income, which is a lower percentage than many families have to cope with.

The various costs associated with living in your area have a great bearing on the possibility of making it easily or under pressure, as those casts vary greatly depending on the area of the country/ies in which one lives.

Good wishes as you investigate the various aspects of your situation and its possibilities: I hope that you continue to be pleased with your choice. There's a better possibility of that being the case, I think, if you investigate the various aspects of the situation thoroughly before getting into it.

ole joyful

    Bookmark   March 5, 2009 at 5:56AM
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It can be done. Once you analyze all of your expenses, it will be clear if you can afford the loss of one income.

Now, with this economy, do you want to give up that income or potential income? No one can answer that but you.

I gave up working 13 years ago for the family. (Four years of college, worked 10 in my chosen field, then quit) The things I asked myself were (1) is hubby covered for disability/death (2) is our marriage solid (3) will family be better off with me at home (4) could I go back to work if I had to (5) was hubbys job secure (6) could we afford it

If I had to make that decision today, I would probably work one shift a week around hubbys schedule. I would make that decision based on the economy, and the fact that my hourly pay would have kept up with inflation. I am now remembering something that I was told when I quit - "Your kids won't be young forever." This person meant that I am driven, so I would need a career when the kids were older, but it also seems to work as an argument for staying home. I know my decision to stay at home is good for the family, but for me as an individual, I'm not so sure.

I wish you well in whatever path you choose. I beleive there are no wrong choices as long as you work together and put the needs of the family first.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2009 at 2:42PM
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I think it depends on where you live and how you live your life. I'm a single parent with 2 kids, with child support I make a little bit more than that and do just fine. My mortgage with taxes and insurance is just over $1000 per month.

The one thing that has helped me is by reducing my debt so that I now have money to do the things I want to. We're able to go on vacation this summer, we eat out occationally, go to movies occationally. But, we are living on a budget, a written one so I know what I spent every dime on.

I'll be completely debt free except my house by the end of the year and will then have no problem paying for my son's college tuition the following year.

My kids don't have expensive extracurricular activities like cheerleading or sports so that does help.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2009 at 2:57PM
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The current income limit for eligibility for CHIP (children's health insurance program) is $60K. That's kind of a blanket statement as it also depends on your family size. You should definitely research the income requirements for CHIP in your state (it is federally funded but state administered). If you drop to one income, you can come out significantly ahead by keeping below the CHIP limit so that you don't have to pay for private health insurance. Keep in mind that not all pediatricians (especially specialists) take CHIP.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2009 at 3:40PM
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