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  • Writer's pictureCasey Girard

Five People. One Paycheck.

There is no magical recipe for raising a family in this fast paced and materialistic world on one income. If it were easy everybody would be doing it. I worked full time for my first four years of motherhood. After years of playing catch up, and trying to balance the perfect home and work schedule, I decided to stop juggling it all. I quit my job, and we took our children out of daycare. At the time, we had no idea what we were doing, or how we were going to maintain our current lifestyle on half of the income. And the truth is, we couldn’t maintain that lifestyle on one income. Instead we took a leap of faith, and we have been figuring it out as we go. So far that plan has been working out pretty good for us. Every day as a stay at home has been a learning experience. I have learned more about my personal weaknesses, strengths, and core values raising children as a stay at home mother than I have during any other stage in my life. Here we are two years into our American dream, and I look back on the days when we both worked and think, “Why didn’t we do this a long time ago?” .

We had no idea that me stayinghome with the kids would change our life so dramatically. Sure, we knew the decision would impact our finances. We hoped me staying home would mean more time together as a family, but we had no idea this decision would lead to so many other lifestyle changes. It is all of these small changes, and shifts in perspective that we have to thank for a successful transition into a one income family.

It feels nearly impossible to wrap this journey up into a pretty little blog post because the actual experience has been a messy (but beautiful ) ride. Some days are harder than others. As you read, please know I am in no way a financial expert. I'm not telling you what to do with your money. I'm sharing a story. I’m sharing our experiences and discoveries along the way. What works for us may not work for you, and that is okay. It takes all kinds.

For the past two years we have been (and still are) working towards a simpler, slower, and minimalist life style. We do not get trophies for being busy and burnt out. Living that way is a choice, and I am proud to say our world does not revolve around money. Here is how we raise two (third one is on the way) kids on a modest single income:

1. Priorities

The day I quit my job our family priorities drastically changed. My husband, the avid Bruins fan, canceled cable. I ended my Etsy subscription. We stopped going out to eat regularly, and take out coffee became a rare treat instead of a daily habit. We took a look at our cell phone bills, insurance plans, internet, etc. and made sure we were getting the best deal possible. Raking through our bills and extra expenses with a new perspective made Jake and I take a hard look at where our money was going, and it was clear too much of it was being wasted. Wasted on impulsive purchases. Wasted on unneeded subscriptions, throw away items and useless entertainment. Once we dove deep into the numbers we realized we had been living on one income, and wasting the second income (on daycare and convenient luxuries) all along.

Jake and I are not perfect consumers. We do not drive the newest cars, but we both have reliable vehicles and an auto loan. We both have student loans. We have a small amount of credit card debt. My point is, we have made money mistakes, and here we are two years later paying down our debts AND living life on one income. If we can do it anyone can do it. It's all about your commitment to the life style. How bad do you want to be a stay at home mom? For example, my Nissan Rouge is almost paid off. Our third child is due in April. I can not count how many people have asked us if we are getting a newer, bigger vehicle? You know, one with a third row? My answer is no. Hell no, even. Sure a third rowwould be convenient, but you know what else is convenient? Not having a car payment. My Nissan just crossed the 100,000 mile marker. She has plenty of life left in her. We do not need a new vehicle. Three car seats fit fine in the one we have. We do not need a bigger boat. We do not need a bigger house. Bigger is not always better.

Someone once said to me, "I wish I had less responsibility, I'd be a stay at home mother too". I did not process the statement fast enough to respond with a witty comment at the moment. I was too bamboozled. The comment bugged me for days. Less responsibility? I have two kids, a husband, and a home to maintain. My bucket of responsibility is full. After much thought I realized what my friend must have meant is she wished she had less debt, not responsibility.

We are raised in a world that makes us think we need new cars, phones, leggings, and gadgets to be happy. As a society we chase materialistic things. These "things" get mistaken as necessities. I mean, it is 2018, we NEED that new Iphone right? Sure, a smartphone could be argued as a necessity in our modern world, but we damn sure don’t NEED the newest IPhone just because it has a dope camera. Yes, we need a roof over our head, but do we need a 2,000 square foot house? Not really. It defeats the purpose of being a home, if we are always at work (or stressing ) to pay for it. Which leads me to my next point...

2. Live within your means.

This is going to sound blunt, but the trick to raising a family on one income has a lot to do with living within your means. It is so important to know how much money is coming in, and how much money is going out. Whether you rent or own, it really doesn’t matter, as long as it is within your limits. It sounds simple, but for some reason so many of us put ourselves into debt trying to keep up with the Joneses. Screw the Joneses. Once you kick the habit of competing/comparing your journey to others you’ll wonder why you ever cared. Trust me on this, it is liberating.

We know what we can and cannot afford. We do not put ourselves into debt for Christmas, toys, birthdays, or vacations because it is not worth it. We have a small boat, and a snowmobile, but neither of them have monthly payments. We do not have toys with loans. Living within our means is single handily the biggest piece of the puzzle to successfully living on one income.

3. Stop buying shit you do not need.

This step ties into the first two. Shop, shop, shop. It is what we do. Everything from grocery shopping, Amazon deals, vacation souvenirs, big white tent sales, the list goes on and on. It is hard to resist a good deal. I hate to break it to you, but just because it is a good deal does not mean you need it.

Chances are good your house is already filled with stuff, and chances are even better that stuff isn’t making you any happier. A new Christmas center piece isn’t going to bring your soul any peace. Another pair of boots to add to the collection of 50 pairs aready in your closet is not changing your life for the better. Those throw pillows are not fluffing up your mood at all. More clutter is not going to make you feel complete. Stop looking for satisfaction in material items. Instead, take a look around and be grateful. Be grateful for what you already have, and more importantly who you share it with . I find myself giggling under my breath when I witness other people scrambling for the newest trenD in hopes it will make their life easier.

We have also traveled more these past two years than we ever did while we were both working full time. Even though in the past we had more money, we had less time, and more stuff to maintain. Our fun money was spent on eating out, extra clothes, decorations, furniture, electronics, birthday parties, and everything else in between. Last April, our family of four took a ten day road trip from Maine to Florida. We spent ten days eating drool worthy food with friends and family, visiting fresh water springs, at the beach, and kayaking down rivers. We saw wildlife in their natural habitat, and spent time with the people who mean the most to us. We laughed. We explored. My kids mention a memory from that trip almost every day, and it has been nearly a year. The entire trip cost us $1,700.00, and not a dime of it was put on a credit card.

This summer we explored our state, and our neighboring states adventuring to New York to see Niagra Falls, and Letworth State Park. Between the months of May and September we spent 24 nights in our tent, under the stars. 24 breakfasts cooked over a camp fire. 24 nights together as a family. I’m telling you about these adventures because I think everyone should know it is possible to travel on a single income, even as a family. It is simple, the less money you spend on stuff the more money you have for bills (if need be) or better yet, more experiences.

4. Time is money.

Convenience comes at a cost. There is no place this rings more true than at the grocery store. If you are buying snacks, and meals in a bag, you’re paying extra for that package. You are paying extra for the convenience. When I started staying at home with the children we stopped paying for conveniences of all sorts, and this included convenient foods. I take pride in what our family eats. Providing them with wholesome meals and the proper nutrition is my job. I’ve always taken my role seriously, but now I have the time to feed my family exactly as I please, and that is a luxury I do not take for granted. Our grocery bill has always been one of our largest monthly expenses, and I’ve always just accepted it, because well we need to eat, right? Here is the thing, when Jake and I were both working full time jobs, we needed convenient meals. There was barely enough time in the day to complete our duties, let alone spend 2 hours a night cooking. I didn’t get home most nights until 6 pm. We needed convenient foods in order to keep a sliver of our sanity. Now with me at home, we do not need the convenience. We, well I, have the time to cook without the short cuts, and prepackaged assistance. Imagine my surprise when I started spending less money at the grocery store, but I was bringing home more food. How? Meal planning.

I’m not trying to sound like a Pinterest mom, but meal planning has saved us a boat load of money (and stress). Once every two weeks I pick up a meat package from our local butcher (local, grassfed, and wrapped in paper instead of plastic), and I base our meals accordingly. We will have chicken breast and veggies one night, and white chicken chili the next, or something along those lines. Nothing gets wasted, and I’d like to think I’m pretty creative with our family menu. I have made meal planning into a game, and I’ve grown to enjoy the process and satisfaction of a week on schedule. I am not super woman, I don’t forecast meals two weeks in advance. I have found I am most successful at sticking to our meals when I plan 2-3 days in advance. Anything more than that is overwhelming. When I go to the store I get what is on the list, and only what is on the list. The list is gold. If you have the willpower to keep items not on the list out of the cart you will be rewarded with a drastically decreased grocery bill. I have also discovered we waste less produce if I make frequent small trips to the grocery store instead of one large weekly trip.

My point with all of the food talk is Jake and I may be bringing in less money than we did when we were both working, but we are spending it with intention. We are realizing our time is just as valuable as the paycheck we work for. Not working gives me the opportunity to bring something else to the table. I have time on my side. When I use that time wisely, and adjust our spending habits to work for us I do not miss the money, or the convenience. There is a certain sense of pride when you do something yourself. It is satisfying to know I’m stretching our funds to their full potential, and not getting caught up in marketing schemes. For example, vegetables taste better from our garden. When something in our home breaks my kids eyes light up when they watch my husband fix it instead of replace it. Pride burst from my veins when I think of all the traits, skills, and experiences we are gifting our children. To me, time is better than money.

5. Don’t be wasteful.

It is no secret that we are a wasteful society. Disposable everything. Use it once, and throw it away because it is easy. How much money do you spend monthly on single use items? Also, I hate to point out the elephant in the room but our planet is crying for help. Disposable everything is not sustainable. We should all be trying to consume less even if we are not trying to save money. We only have one planet. It’s common sense. I’m not saying I am a saint. We are a big camping family, and I have used my share of paper and plastic products, but those days are behind me. In our house there are no paper napkins, paper towels, paper plates, or plastic silverware. Remember what I said about convenience? Convenience comes at a cost, and all of these little exspenses add up. I hate washing dishes just as much as the next mom, but if paper plates add 5 dollars to my grocery bill (and keeps unnecessary garbage out of landfills) than it is a convenience I do not need. Choices. Some may call them sacrifices, but not I. To me staying at home with my kids is totally worth the extra sink full of dishes.

6. Work Smarter, not harder.

I remember the agony well. It’s the middle of winter, and a blizzard would hit. Daycare would closed, and we would find ourselves in a rock, paper, scissors match trying to decide who was going to call out of work to stay home with the kids. Who was willing to take a write up? Jake and I both work(ed) for large corporation. Big companies do not give a rats ass if daycare is closed. Neither one of us wanted to let our jobs down, bit we couldn’t just duct tape our kids to the wall and both go to work. I will not get into sick days. I don’t have too. Any working parent knows how stressful balancing sick children and work is.

Now that I am a stay at home mother Jake can give his all at work. Sure, it is super annoying when they demand mandatory Saturday shifts without any notice. It is frustrating when he has a long day, but it does not cause chaos. Jake is able to rise through the corporate ladder because he can be 100% focused on work when he is at work. The days about stressing to get to daycare before they close are over.

I said we live on one income, and that was a white lie. Forgive me, but “Five people. One paycheck“ sounds better than “ Five People. One Paycheck and Some Side Hustle”. Like I mentioned before, it is important to make my time count during the day at home with the kids. Some ways I do this is by earning a little extra money. I babysit part time. I write for online content mills. I have cleaned houses. When an opportunity comes to make a little cash Jake and I jump on it. The extra cash helps to pay for vacations, holidays and other special occasions.

7. Teamwork makes the dream work.

Last but not least, living on one income has to be a team effort. None of this would be possible for us if Jake and I were not on the same page about our financial, and parenting goals. This journey has to be a shared vision between you and your partner. In our case, working towards an off grid homestead and transisitioning to a simpler lifestyle has brought us closer together. It would be easy to feel like we are missing out because we put an extra 100 dollars towards our student loans instead of using that cash for date night, but when you have someone cheering you on knowing it is bringing us both closer to our dreams, it is worth it. When my husband comes home (from a long day of physical labor at work) to a home cooked meal, a semi-clean home, and happy kids he is always appreciative. He makes it known my work at home is just as important as his paycheck. If it were not for his love and support, I’m not sure I would be as successful as a stay at home parent. In fact, I know I wouldn’t be.

Being a stay at home mother is the most challenging experience of my life. The work is repetitive and never ending. Eighty percent of my day is spent in front of the stove or sink. Wash, dry, fold, cook, and repeat. If I did not have my husband, and a good group of girlfriends, to talk to I’d go insane. Teamwork makes the dream work, it is corny, but true.

Long story short, we have been able to raise 2 children (our third baby is on the way) on one income because we have become more conscious consumers. It is as simple, and as complicated as that. We have decided what is important to us as a family, and that we would not take no for an answer. It is impossible (and no fun) living a life by someone else’s rules. So don’t.

I’ve heard from too many friends that they are “stuck” in their current position. Instead of making the changes to change their life they choose to complain about it. I have little patience for that. We only get one life, and what are we teaching our children if we don’t have the courage to go after our own dreams? Even if those dreams are as simple as financial freedom, an off grid tiny house, and days together as a family. The older I get, the more I realize life is about the simple pleasures, and I do not want my children to be thirty before they learn the same lesson.

How do these small changes to our every day life make such substantial difference in our finances that we were able to go from two incomes to one? Easy, we didn’t have a choice. In the beginning we made cuts to our budget, fun money, and monthly exspenese because we had too. We had to sink or swim. Later we continued the cuts, changes, and simplifications because they feel good, and make our life easier. Jake and I dove into this adventure head first with not much of a back up plan. I do not think each indiviual change, or shift in perspective would not have been as influential, but together they have given us financial freedom. Don’t knock it until you try it. I did not go into this adventure planning on becoming a no waste, second hand buying, tree hugging mother, but look at me now! Nothing is impossible. If you want to be a stay at home mother bad enough the choices will become easier as you go along and start to see the rewards pile up. I promise, once you commit to a less materialistic, less competitive, and more wholesome lifestyle you wont look back.

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