Home large families Practical Money Saving & Making Ideas for Living on One Income

Practical Money Saving & Making Ideas for Living on One Income

by Kelly Crawford

If you are a mom trying to figure out how to stay home but are concerned about your family’s finances, I want to offer some practical help and suggestions. I used to be one of those women. But guess what? YOU CAN DO IT!

I believe three factors are involved in the process of converting to a one-income family:

  • A renewed way of seeing your material life (including the determination to do whatever it takes)
  • Saving money
  • Earning extra money

An expectation makeover

I think a lot of women can’t see the possibility of slashing the family’s income, because they can’t imagine life any differently than the one they live, materially speaking. It is as certain as the sun rises: a family will spend what it earns. A $100,000 income family will usually spend all of that and a $30,000 income family will spend all of that. Both will say (because it’s true) that they “live paycheck to paycheck.”

If and when husband and wife decide it’s important for her to come home, and really believe it, they will do whatever it takes to make that happen. It may even mean moving to a lower cost-of-living state. Sounds drastic, but I’ve heard of it happening when the desire is strong enough. But a little less drastic, may just mean a good look at expenses and budget surgery.

The first place to start is a look at how much money will be saved just by the wife coming home. Gas, clothing, lunches, less eating out due to more time at home, child care, etc., all needs to be calculated. If she makes $35,000/year, that is not the actual figure that will be deducted from the total income if she were to quit her job. After expenses are taken out, you get a clearer picture that might be surprising.

The other thing I like to remember is, every dollar she earns is taxed; every dollar she saves is not. A penny saved is more than a penny earned!

Saving Money (remember every little bit adds up to a lot!):

  • Are there extras you can do without?
  • How many times do you go out to eat? (This is one of the biggest money-eaters.) And when you do go out, ordering water saves money. Our family saves about $15 just by ordering water to drink! Also, there almost always coupons if you look for them.
  • Do you have two cell phones? You should be able to get by with one now–drop the other one or shop for lower rates.
  • Look at the grocery budget, and decide how you could bargain shop now that you will have a little more time. Consider purchasing in bulk. Buy less convenience foods (it’s cheaper and healthier), and purchase what’s on sale, creating your menu around that.
  • Dry your clothes on the clothesline when weather permits.
  • Look into making homemade Christmas gifts–it’s not as hard as you might think!
  • Shop yard sales and thrift stores. This is probably our biggest money-saver.
  • Learn to be content with less–great for the budget and the soul!
  • Try simple medical remedies first. An ear infection can usually be treated with peroxide. The same goes for tooth aches.

After your obvious expenses are cut, revise your expectations. Are the shopping sprees you’re accustomed to going to matter more than being at home with your children when you are 80? And you can certainly be assured that your children aren’t going to suffer because of less money. They may whine if they’re accustomed to certain things, but they’ll be better for it. I love this quote:

“If you want your children to turn out well, spend twice as much time with them, and half as much money.”

I highly suggest getting Dave Ramsey’s book “The Total Money Makeover.” It motivated us SO much! He has great advice on how to pay off debt and get back on track with your budget. I wrote Finding Financial Freedom which summarized Dave’s advice along with our personal story of getting out of credit card debt.

Another good book is Amy Dacyczyn’s “The Tightwad Gazette“–lots of great tips and tricks for saving money.

Making Money

Then, there’s always the option of a home business. I named the post “living on one income” because that’s what people are searching for to find posts like these, but staying home doesn’t mean you can’t have additional income. It can actually give you many opportunities for earning extra money.


We started a homemade skin product business one year when things were really tight. It was born out of my plan to make homemade skin products gifts for Christmas. That business (born out of dire need) gave birth to this blog, which is now a second income for us and was a great income for us for years. (We eventually closed the skin product business.) Internet marketing has changed the face of opportunity in America. What you need now is a product, some basic internet marketing skills and you have potential to get your product in front of thousands of potential customers.

If you enjoy writing, write an e-book and sell it.

Sell stuff on E-bay or Craigslist. This was a fairly easy, straightforward way to start making extra money fast. Once I offered to sell things for my friends/family, keeping half of the profits.

Think about what you like to do, and then see if there’s a way to make money at it!

There are so many frugal ideas out there, if you just become aware of them. I shared once about my recent purchase of checks. I found a website where first-time customers get a discount. I got 2 boxes of checks for $18.00. BUT, they also offered a rebate for signing up with some other company. I signed up, cancelled before I owed anything (they said I could), and got a $20 rebate in the mail. So I actually made $2.00 on my purchase!

There are lots more for the serious frugal zealot!

I just wanted to throw a little encouragement out there for those of you serious about wanting to come home and cherish those fleeting years with your family. It’s been worth every penny and then some.

I would also love any of your suggestions for our readers (you never know who may be reading, desperately looking for hope to come home)–so let’s hear ’em!

Get my ebook, How to Get Out of Debt & Live Financially Free, to see how we paid off $38,000 of debt on one income!

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Mrs. Anna T July 20, 2007 - 4:39 am

Great advice! I always love reading suggestions for frugal living, to prepare for the time when I get married and become a homemaker.

Traci July 20, 2007 - 9:47 am

Great post! I agree completely with what you said! As a Pastor’s wife my dh and I do counseling and I lot of couples come to us with financial problems. We give them the principles and practical ways of carrying them out ie: cut things out of your budget, bargain shop. Most of the time they are unwilling to make these cuts. They seem to think the extended cable is a need. People need to be willing to make sacrifices of their “wants” if they want to get out of debt or have the wife stay home, but unfortunately most are unwilling or have a skewed view of “needs”. It took me a while to understand the reality of this. I was raised to think that the cable, the newest car, the cute outfit, etc. were needs. I wasn’t willing to make the changes needed until God got a hold of my heart and showed me I wasn’t being a good steward of HIS finances and I wasn’t being a very submissive wife in the area of finances. Now we are on a budget and most months I even get under budget with my bargain shopping skills. Thanks for the post, it is desperately needed!

Mrs. Anna T July 20, 2007 - 10:29 am

PS: Just wanted to add that of course, while preparing for marriage we can exercise our skills in being frugal, not just read about it! I plan all the grocery shopping in my family and I’m always on the lookout for bargains and creative solutions!

Word Warrior July 20, 2007 - 11:09 am

Anna–What a beautiful example to other “ladies in waiting” of how they can be preparing for their calling AND blessing their families. Y’all are going to be so far ahead of most of us!

Traci–thanks for your sharing…so true, your words!

Kayla July 8, 2015 - 6:14 pm

Haven’t had a chance to read it yet but along these lines and for preparing the future, Preparing Sons by Maxwell is supposed to help prepare our sons to provide for a single family income. Which would make it a lot simpler at marriage.

Breaks my heart to hear momma’s wish they could stay home. I know it was a really hard journey to cut out all the unnecessary but we did it and it was so worth it!

Shelly July 8, 2015 - 6:53 pm

With 10 kids still living at home and one income, things can be pretty tight, but we’ve become pretty savvy with saving money. We only own one vehicle which we bought used, so we have no car payments. Most of our clothing is given to us by other members of our church family, and our church also has a clothing closet which is also a great asset to us. Our church also gives free haircuts every 2 months, so there’s lots of money there, too. Our neighbor goes to a church that has a food bank which she works at, and every week they have to clean out everything that is almost outdated, so she often brings us stuff- anything from non-perishables to baked goods donated by Panera Bread. One issue we come across often is that because of us having so many people in our family, admission prices to things like museums and zoos may seem very reasonable to smaller families but end up being too expensive for us. I found that by purchasing a family membership at the local zoo so that our family can have free admission for an entire year costs only a little bit more than if we would just pay regular admission for one day. We also only visit the art museum on Sundays because it’s FREE every Sunday. Our daughters have also attended such a wide variety of art classes (drawing and painting, flash animation, narrative illustration, and ceramics) through a scholarship program offered at the local art school. I could keep going so I’ll stop here, but you get the picture!

Laura July 9, 2015 - 2:41 am

I second everything you have said, Kelly! I will say, however, that I am finding it harder to stick to a tight budget now that my kids are getting older… and if they eat like this when they are teenagers, we are in big trouble… 😛 It just seems like there is always something needing to be replaced, something lacking, something broken, a birthday invite etc… SOMETHING that ends up needing money… This week I discovered that our tall glasses are nearly all gone–as in BROKEN… picked up 6 more at thrift store for $2.50… I was spring cleaning and ran out of cleaner… We look around during homeschool one day and realize we can’t find ANY pencils with a viable eraser… a child gets several bad bee stings and needs some extra attention with hydrocortisone and benedryl… child comes to me and says, “mommy, i don’t have any pants that fit” (and upon checking, he has indeed sprouted up 2 inches and everything is short on him)… and while we shop at Goodwill for most things clothing wise, and do many things to save money, even those expenditures add up… and they aren’t things you can necessarily predict exactly… I totally need to get revamped on the budget… I did a tight budget for YEARS to the penny… but the more kids we had, the more life got complicated and time just flies away from me it seems… and figuring out how to prioritize things, when so many things seem urgent (right now in my kitchen, the underside of my counter around the sink is disintegrating from water damage and is also probably moldy, and living on a slight slope, when it rains, water sheds off the roof, flows downhill and right into our garage(basement), causing mold, which during this wet spring, is making the basement reek, and the overhead door to rot), so we really need some sort of gutter for the roof edge… and so another expense… 😛

lauraashley July 9, 2015 - 9:00 am

I understand. Even if buy all your cleaner at the dollar store and all your clothes at Goodwill there is only so cheap you go with home repairs. Even you can do them yourself, materials alone are expensive. You feel like all your nickle and dining was pointless when you get a single bill for thousands of dollars. It is discouraging. I bet that is why so many have a hard time with being frugal.

I’m going to lose a front tooth soon. It died due to tramua. I tried a root canal. It failed. Now it must be extracted, I’ll need bone graphing and an implant. WITH insurance, it will be $2500. Nothing I can do about it. I even looking into going to Mexico. You can get cheaper dental work in Mexico. But I need 4 seperate appointments, so it won’t save me money.

Shelly July 9, 2015 - 10:29 am

Like Laura Ashley, I can definitely relate to you too. My husband also needs to have some major dental work done which will cost about $800 even with insurance. Thankfully, it’s not very noticeable, so he’s planning on waiting until income tax time to get it done. Little expenses can definitely be a hardship, too. Our 15-yr.-old just got his only shoes that still fit him wet, so now they’ve shrunk and don’t fit him either. We’re really not in a predicament to make any purchases right now, as my husband’s work has been extremely slow, and he hasn’t worked a full week in 2 months. I’m just going to trust in God’s provision for this because He always seems to come through. Last week as I was driving home after picking up some milk, I was stressing over the fact that we weren’t going to be able to get any groceries that week, and our food supply was already low. While driving I prayed a quick prayer asking for God to help me to trust in His provision. When we got home my daughter asked if she should get the mail. There was a brown envelope from our church. In it was a letter thanking us for sending our kids to VBS and 12 coupons for free kids meals at Chick-Fil-A and 12 coupons for free Italian Ices at Rita’s Italian Ice. Talk about a quick reply! While that alone obviously wasn’t enough to get us through the week, it was definitely a great reminder to trust. And we did make it through the week just as I always knew we would. Don’t ever underestimate what God can do.

Sue M. July 13, 2015 - 10:54 pm


What size shoes does your son wear? We have more men’s shoes that aren’t needed any longer than you can shake a stick at. I may be able to help and would be willing to mail them to you.

Love in Christ,

Shelly July 15, 2015 - 2:32 pm

Thank you, Sue! My son actually has very small feet- only size 5- because he is what the doctors like to call a “late bloomer.” God bless you for your thoughtfulness!

Shelly July 9, 2015 - 10:55 am

Regarding the cleaning supplies, diluted vinegar can replace most other cleaning supplies and is safer to have around the house if you have little ones. And when we’re really in a bind (like right now actually), I use baking soda and vinegar to do the laundry. It may not have the pretty smell you get with detergent and fabric softener, but it’s clean, and at the end of the day, that’s what matters the most.

Kelly Crawford July 9, 2015 - 11:19 am

I was going to recommend the homemade cleaners too. Mostly, we use a 50/50 solution of bleach and water for most surfaces. I actually love that clean smell and it’s cheaper.

Shelly July 9, 2015 - 11:24 am

That’s a great idea. My neighbor just gave me a bottle of bleach, too.

Shelly July 9, 2015 - 10:43 am

I just thought of something else we’ve just started doing which is a big help. We have a “supplies” bank in which we put any change we have and whatever change we may find around the house. This is used for any art or “school” supplies we may need because I really do try to relieve some of the financial burden on my husband by asking him for as little as possible. Yesterday we cashed in our change at a Coin Star even though the bank only had a few inches of change in it because we’re starting to do some math and other activities (I hate to call it school) next week, so we needed some things. Our little bit of change yielded us $16 and Wal-Mart is chock full of inexpensive school supplies right now. .17 for notebooks, .25 for crayons, .50 for markers, etc. The kids are so excited to use their new stuff. We even had enough left over to run to Barnes and Noble (homeschoolers get a 20% discount there) to buy my 5-yr.-old a math workbook. Although I really dislike workbooks, which is why most of my kids use Life of Fred for math, she LOVES to do math problems. (Even though it was supposed to be started next week, last night she asked if she could do some pages, so she completed either 6 or 8 pages already last night.)

Kelly Crawford July 9, 2015 - 11:20 am

I didn’t mention this in the post, but you all need to sign up for Swagbucks if you haven’t. You get points for your regular internet searches and when they’ve accumulated, you can buy gift cards, etc. Every few weeks, I accumulate enough points to buy a $5 Amazon gift card, from where I usually purchase a book for school or something.

Shelly July 9, 2015 - 11:25 am

I’d never heard of that before. I’m going to check it out right now. Thanks!

Elizabeth July 10, 2015 - 8:00 pm

For those that have smart phones, there is an app called Shopkick that you can scan items in the store and earn gift cards. I also use recycebank to earn a gift card a few times a year.

Plasma “donation” is another way to earn about $200/month, if any adults in the house are able to.

Near my house, there is a place that offers taste tests. Every 45 days, you can qualify to taste fast food items that local restaurants are thinking about addibg to their menus. You taste then answer a vrief survey, and are paid $30 fot your input, which only takes about 20 minutes.

All these little bits add up and help get through from week to week when one income is a bit lacking.

Jackie July 16, 2015 - 10:53 am

Hi, just came across this post and wanted to share what our family has been up to lately in the frugality department:

We decided in June that we would try do go a month without buying any food! No grocery store trips, just as if the stores had all closed, and we had to get by with what was on hand.

We are 16 days in, and it has been very eye opening, and SO good for us. Sad(or happy!) to say, I really have not missed anything. We are eating more variety as I go through the cupboards, and we appreciate our food so much more. We’ve still had people over for meals (x5). We have only been to one family dinner outside the home, and one night eating out with my siblings – all other meals have been from home.

We live on 5 acres, and we do have a milk cow, and fresh eggs. We butchered a turkey, and have some things coming in from the garden. We have bulk bags of rice, beans, and grains, because that’s just how we do things. (Much better prices that way) But even with all of that, I normally would’ve spent about $500 for a month. The last 16 days have shown me that I really don’t need to buy all the things that I’m buying at the store. I haven’t missed the tortilla chips, the dried fruit and nuts, etc.

I highly recommend this exercise for everyone, just to see what you actually NEED. Maybe you can’t do it in quite the same way – that’s ok, try your own modified version. Maybe you will only buy milk, and eggs, or whatever 🙂

The Saskatoon and Blueberry season is almost upon us up here in Manitoba, and I plan to go berry picking with a friend – if you’re willing to go into the bush, or campgrounds, and pick them yourself, you can get some really healthy “super foods” for free!

Near my parent’s house, there is a neighbor with an apple tree full of apples that are always left to fall on the ground and rot. This year I plan to go over there and ask if we can harvest them.

When you start thinking differently, you begin to see so many new possibilities!

Kelly Crawford July 16, 2015 - 11:26 am

I love this, Jackie! We have stretch for a while, out of necessity, but we haven’t had a 1-month store-free yet.

Dear Young Mom: Why Leaving Your Baby With a Stranger is Not Normal & the Sacrifice is Worth it | Generation Cedar September 10, 2023 - 2:39 am

[…] Did we make sacrifices? Oh boy did we ever. Vacations were a one-night stay at a cheap, local hotel, ordering pizza. Cars were old. There were no manicures. No paper plates or paper towels. We dried our clothes on the clothes line and rationed our food. I sold things online. I wrapped homemade Christmas gifts in old atlas maps and brown paper bags from the grocery store. Decorated with pressed, wild flowers, of course. You can read more about our money saving and making ideas for living on one income. […]


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