Going from Two Incomes to One

Dear Mr. Dad: Our first child is due in six months and we’ve decided I won’t be going back to work. How do we go from dual income couple to single income family without feeling the pinch too much?

A: Congratulations on thinking about this now—I’m always surprised at how many couples put off talking about money until they’re on the way home from the hospital, baby in hand.

The very first item on your list should be to pay off your credit cards. (If you don’t have any credit card debt, you’re already one step ahead). Next, start sinking your entire paycheck into savings and practice living off one salary. This will help you quickly identify any holes in your budget while you still have the security of two paychecks.

If it looks like surviving on one income is going to be tight, there are lots of ways to reduce expenses. You’ve already taken care of one of them without realizing it: No more commuting to work means no more bus and train fares and less gas. You’ll also be spending less money on your business wardrobe—purchases as well as dry cleaning. Your baby won’t care what you’re wearing, just as long as he can throw up on it.
Here are a few easy money savers:

  • Start clipping coupons. Frequently used items like diapers and formula (if you choose not to breastfeed) are expensive, so have everyone in your family register on line for baby-related discounts. Pretty soon your email and snail-mail boxes will be brimming with all sorts of money-off offers.
  • Consider investing in some high quality budgeting software.
  • Shop thrift stores. Why pay full price for something your child will outgrow in 3-6 months? You can often find excellent deals on new or nearly at local consignment shops or eBay. Or, ask your friends with older kids for hand-me-downs.
  • Watch the calendar. If you buy next-year’s winter coats or swimsuits six months in advance, you’ll be able to get brand new clothing at a fraction of the cost for new. Kids don’t care if they’re wearing last year’s winter coat.
  • Join a playgroup. Your child will be equally happy playing at an expensive play gym or a friend’s house.
  • Consider buying a membership to the local children’s museum or the zoo. Memberships often pay for themselves with just two or three visits.
  • Unplug. Hair dryers, toasters, computers, televisions, etc still use up electricity when they’re plugged in but not turned on.
  • Switch to compact fluorescents as your light bulbs burn out. They’re better for the environment, and can also reduce your electricity bill.
  • Meal plan. Planning dinners every day keeps you from eating out and you’ll spend less at the grocery store if you make a list and stick with it. Cooking every night also means leftovers for lunches the next day, eliminating the need for the working parent to eat out.
  • Cut back on packaged dinners. Once you’ve gotten parenthood down, it’s easy to create meals from scratch, meaning dinners are less expensive and healthier.
  • Use natural cleaning products. They’re cheaper and can often do as good a job. Vinegar and baking soda, for example, are incredibly versatile. Plus, fewer harsh chemicals for your baby to get into.

Finally, there are several items that are too important to scrimp on. Do not try to fill budget shortfalls by cutting back on your retirement savings. And talk to your financial advisor before canceling life insurance, although switching from whole life to term will save you quite a bit.