4 Smart Money Rules for Couples Living on One Income

UPDATED: April 2, 2022
PUBLISHED: March 7, 2022
4 Smart Money Rules for Couples Living on One Income

The median household income for families with two full-time working parents is just over $100,000, compared with just $55,000 for households where only one parent works full time, according to a 2015 Pew Research Center survey.

Managing that vast earnings gap can be challenging for single-income households. Living off of one income can be as emotional as it is logistical.

Those who’ve successfully navigated life on one income share their rules for making it work:

1. Surrender feelings of ownership.

When one partner earns all of the money, he or she might feel more entitled to spend it. Conversely, the partner who doesn’t work might feel as though he or she shouldn’t spend it. To combat feelings of income ownership, couples can adopt an “our money” approach in which all earnings are shared and jointly managed.

“The only way this relationship works is if the outside breadwinner recognizes the efforts and sacrifices of the person staying at home,” says David Stein, founder of Money for the Rest of Us, who became the sole breadwinner when his wife stayed home to raise their three children.

2. Designate responsibilities.

When Monica Louie first left her job to stay home with her children, she struggled with the idea of not contributing financially to the family. Although she was no longer earning income, she soon found another way to contribute by optimizing the day-to-day financials of the household.

“My role in taking control of our finances has allowed me to feel like I am contributing financially to my family because my husband gives me credit for staying on top of our budget to make sure we’re paying as much toward our debt as possible each month,” Louie says.

3. Make a plan for personal expenses.

Having an agreed-upon policy for managing personal costs is also critical for couples sharing one income.

Catherine Alford, who became the sole earner while her husband was in medical school, took that approach.

“When he wanted to buy something, he felt like he had to ask since I was the breadwinner, instead of just going and buying a pair of shoes with our joint account,” Alford says. The couple alleviated this problem by each having a prepaid debit card with $100 to $225 of “fun money” each month.

4. Communicate.

The golden rule of relationships holds true when managing money as much as anything else.

“Going into our marriage, we knew we wanted one bank account and had similar financial values,” says Eric Rosenberg of Personal Profitability. “Don’t wait for a problem to discuss your finances. Make it a frequent conversation and always be open and honest. That is our key to financial success on one income.” 

This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of SUCCESS magazine and has been updated. Photo by @hellomikee/Twenty20

Stefanie O’Connell is a financial expert, Gen Y advocate, speaker and author of the book, The Broke and Beautiful Life.