Given the high cost of education, housing, and health insurance, what can we do? How can we put on a cheerful face with Warren's statistics?
Apart from a "there but for the grace of God" situation like job loss or health crisis, here's what my family is doing to beat the two income trap:
- Scaling down our lifestyle to fit one income (bonus: less overall stress)
- Minimizing taxes where possible
- Staying in a job with decent health insurance
- Buying older cars for cash
- Resisting the urge to "move up" from modest housing.
Warren reminds us that it's not the choice of used cars or sale-price cereal which make or break us. It is our overall strategy of keeping up in a 2-income world.
However, I find that little decisions make the 1-income strategy easier and more enjoyable in the long term. What do you think?
I agree with the one income idea. My husband and I have always pretended that my income does not exist, so even when I'm working we live on his income alone. (We save mine and/or send it to student and house debt.) Just becuase you have two incomes does not mean you have to live like you do!
I look forward to listening to the lecture when I get home from work today! :)
Warren says that people are spending the two incomes on "necessities". However, I think more of us need to ponder the difference between need and want. I might think I need a bigger house, but if I got it, I would just spend more money to fill it up with more stuff. I might think I "need" a new car, but if I got it, would my insurance rates go up along with my car payment?
I like Dave Ramsey's advice to live debt-free.
Repeating this comment from below:
I think Warren is careful not to make value judgements on two-income families, or even families in which the wife is breadwinner.
Basically, the secret value of a 1-income household is that the 2nd person can add income if necessary--if a spouse becomes disabled or loses the job.
The danger is when a household is set up to NEED 2 incomes, and then one is lost. There is no margin.
However, she points out that the challenge is huge to live 1-income in a world that has grown to encompass the 2-income family.
To me, that's where frugality comes in, finding creative ways to make up the difference by doing it ourselves, enjoying free things, etc.
Your mentioning staying in a job with decent health insurance reminds me of something. My husband has at times considered either going into business for himself or working for a very small company. However, he has kidney disease, which means he needs good health coverage. We just can't afford for him not to work for a larger company. That's one drawback, I suppose, but he's with a good company and enjoys his work, so it's not a bad thing.
I wonder a bit if some of the middle class shrinkage is self-inflicted. Granted, things like health care and cost-of-housing (depending on local markets) may not be anything a family can do much about, but it seems like a lot of what she mentioned in her lecture about families struggling revolved around kids. For example, she said that a school rated a mere 5 points higher in standardized testing made housing prices in that district jump by the tens of thousands. A 5-point difference is negligible, so paying more for a house in the slightly-higher district may not be a wise fiscal decision. Buy the cheaper house, then sock away the difference for the kids' college funds.
But that's easy for me to say since I don't have kids. Theory and practice don't always match up.
Meticulously maintaining our cars, which were purchased new years ago, seems to be working well for us. Also, my being at home works extremely well for us. We practically throw money away when I work simply because we're both too tired to deal with everything that needs to be done.
I agree! It is all the little things that add up...$1 here or there, being happy with the car and house you have...not keeping up with the Jones'. I think that society "tells" us so many things that we "need" but we really don't...people are always astonished at what we are able to afford on one income...because my car is paid for, we spend only what we have, our debt is going down, I use our money wisely as much as can, we wait for deals, etc.
I agree with you, Meredith. For us it is learning to joyfully make the little decisions (sale-priced cereal, second-hand furniture) that makes the larger decisions easier (cash for used cars, no pricey mcmansions). I'd say that living on one income in a two income world is definitely an overall mindset that transcends all of our decision making.
The other thing I forgot to mention is that my husband has to work for a large-ish company for life insurance. Because of his kidney disease, he can only find coverage that an employer offers, which requires no medical exam and is equal to one year's pay. It's not nearly enough, but it's something. Kidney disease is the big black mark in the life insurance industry, and no one wants to insure anyone who has it.
Thanks for the link to the lecture. I found it very thought-provoking and although not especially encouraging it gave some validity to my feelings that the one-income road we are one is indeed an uphill one (at least financially).
I agree with you, Meredith, I think the little decisions do make this lifestyle easier. Also, it is in the little decisions that you build the discipline to delay gratification and think creatively. And those little decisions also bring perspective to the larger ones (i.e. do we want to take on a larger mortgage or downsize so that I will not need to find that sale-priced cereal for the next 50 years?).
Thanks so much for your blog! It is a refreshment and encouragement to me.
My husband and I are getting ready to transition to one income (baby due in October), so this rests heavily on my mind. When we bought our home, I was the only one working and I chose a home that one mortgage could afford. I am SO glad for that choice. Our mortgage payments are blessedly low, so we are able to get our principal way down while we have two incomes and will be able to handle the payments on one. God was clearly watching over us in that decision.
I agree that the little things one can do to save do make a difference. It's so easy to impulse buy and forget the purchase later. I also envision us eating out less (we're 1-2Xweek people) and making a more peaceful, smooth-running home benefits of the one-income situation.
Homeschooling is a worthwhile consideration. A parent at home may be able to provide a first class education without considering schools in the search for a home.
I listened to only a bit of the lecture b/c my computer was being ornery. Could someone please explain what she meant by saying that grocery prices and housing (I think) were LOWER in '03 than they were in a previous generation?? I don't get it! I remember milk at 69c/gallon. Of course, back then my husband only made $2-something an hour. But LESS??? What??
I have raised three children on one income. I always felt I was worth more at home, managing the home, be conscious of where the money went, taking care of clothing, cooking, etc., etc. Granted the world is different today than 35 years ago, but the mentality can still be the same. Do you really need so much stuff just because everyone else has it?
I could have justified going to work as most of the time when our children were young, my husband made just above the minimum wage. Also, remember the gas problems of the 70's and the recession in the 80's? A lot is about attitude and what you really put as your priority. Being with my children was my priority. Some how they always managed to have what they needed, regular dental care (no dental insurance, glasses (no vision insurance), and braces (again, no dental insurance). The insurance we had never paid for office calls or prescriptions either, and my kids were sick a lot.
Even trying to cut back and buy a smaller or older house is hard to do in these times. House prices are out of this world, and even with one member of the family making in the 90k range as the sole bread winner does not equal the ability to afford a home in some areas of the country (namely here). I don't need a fancy new car, we bought our car outright and it's a 98 and works wonderfully. I don't need the big McMansion with granite counters, I just need something that works for my daily life. I don't need the fanciest clothes and I certainly don't need the fanciest jewelry. There are many things I do without that some people would happily put themselves into debt over. Yet, we still struggle. We have more money going out than coming in, and most of that money is going to rent and health insurance costs.
The world is not an easy place to live in right now and I can't see any way out of the hole our country is in economically. We're heading for the bottom and I can barely see any light anymore. I wonder if this is how people were feeling during the great depression.
I agree with the thought "but for the grace of God..." The little decisions do add up in my opinion. I just wish I knew what I know now at the beginning of my marriage. We're like you: No new cars, modest (paid for) housing and careful budgeting are so worth it!
Like Jan said above, it's not just the money you're spending today, it's what that purchase is going to cost you in the future too. A bargain dress isn't a bargain if it has to be dry-cleaned. A great deal on a fancy cell phone is expensive if your monthly costs go up.
I focus a lot on minimizing those recurring expenses that can begin to seem "normal," like cable TV, dry cleaning, magazine subscriptions, more appliances, even a bigger house.
We can afford treats once in a while, but we try not to make them treats that will keep costing us in the future. It's nice to know that our budget could be scaled back without causing a lot of upheaval to our lifestyle, since we haven't allowed our lifestyle to expand with every raise.
My computer won't run the video (urg.) but I am married to a financial planner (cue choir of angels). He's a good one too. I am not a person that would typically get labeled "frugal" on the surface of it. But, we live in a house we can easily afford, we buy "previously owned" cars and buy them outright, and we could live on his income tomorrow without having to sell anything, like a spare kid.
That said, he makes WAY more money than I do, but still, if we weren't living below our means we could get to a place where my income was not just disposable/investable "extra."
He makes sure that we have a sizable emergency fund, so that if something happened to his job we'd be OK for a year while recovering.
I think it's very hard for many people to live below their means and this creates some of the problem. Of course, now it's also true that a gallon of gas costs as much as that latte from Starbucks. What's the world coming to? Soon we'll have to all go back to horses and Folgers anyway.
These are good posts! If you are paycheck to paycheck Dave Ramsey is absolutely worth listening to. If you have some disposable income and a more complex situation, get to a good financial advisor. They are not found in banks. Get someone with a CFP designation, call references, and pay a fee. Some people don't like having to pay a fee when someone else will do your plan for free, but think about that - you get what you pay for. Get someone who people are willing to pay fees to! I've known a lot of financial planners. Trust me on that.
I would caution that each of us make sure exactly how good our health insurance really is. Read and understand the fine print in your policy.
My husband and I thought we had excellent insurance until Parker was born. Then we learned that while our insurance covered my pregnancy well, it DIDN'T cover Parker's needs well.
Our insurance is one of the few I know that won't touch a cent for any of Parker's feeding needs (Neocate) while in the hospital or at home for that matter. Considering that the hospital charges way over $100.00 a day for less than $20.00 dollars of Neocate alone....well it adds up.
And that is only the beginning.
But before we had Parker we never dreamed that we would even need to deal with nutritional needs while one of our children were in the hospital.
It never hurts to make sure we really understand exactly what our policy covers.
True, the little things don't make that big of a difference. Choice in housing, cars, and insurance are the make-or-breakers. So we have tried to set up our fixed expenses so that we can afford to live on one income (we're thankful to the Lord for enabling this).
But frugality -- small choices like choosing to eat at home vs. eating out -- makes the difference between barely making ends meet and being able to put away some savings for the next car, a computer, etc.
It is the difference between being able to be generous to others and having to be a Scrooge.
It enables us to put people first because we can afford a last minute trip to a funeral without having to go into debt or say no to going.
I definitely agree -- the small choices make the one-income lifestyle much more pleasant. :)
I need to send a copy of the book to my stepmother-in-law, who said (when we decided I'd stay at home with our first child three years ago) that she didn't think it was a wise financial decision. It was crushing at the time to get that response, but we feel better every year as we continue to make it -- and are three years into paying off the five-year bank loan we took out to pay off our once-terrible credit card debt (which we accrued while both working).
I firmly believe that my children (our second is due June 9) will benefit enormously from the fact that they're at home and not spending 50 hours a week in day care. So what if our house is 1100 square feet and our car is 14 years old? We're happy, not constantly stressed and on the run.
This blog continues to make me feel great about our one-income decision. Thanks for the reinforcement!
I agree with you meredith. It is all those little decisions throughout the days, weeks, months and years that add up to making life affordable on 1 income or not. Many people aren't willing to sacrafice and say those decisions are too hard for them to make and that they could never do that. Which I disagree with for the most part. Where there is a will there is a way - most of the time.
this sounds crazy (and off topic) but i had to tell you. i had this dream where i was watching a movie and several of the actors were wearing backpacks with the label "like merchant ships" on the back. i thought to myself (in my dream of course) that meredith is so money saavy that she's found a way to get her blog in the movies!
I already knew some of this but other parts were a real eye opener. My father has been talking about the fall of the middle class for the last 30 years! I have 4 children, two of which will graduate from high school next year. I will try a get them to watch this!!
this is a first time comment. i am 62 and remember the seventies and the beginning imperative for the woman to work. i have worked off and on throughout the years because i have a MA in a highly desired field. but we never had child care issues (3 kids), bought too much house, and always had inexpensive but reliable cars. my husband has been a good earner and we both have been good savers with lots of gratification but little immediate. we have always followed the tightwad gazette suggestions which were meaningful to us. over time we have become comfortable, sent 3 kids to college and look forward to a secure, but frugal by choice retirement. thank God also that we have been very healthy. love your blog. anita
absolutely agree on that. We do the dave ramsey thing and we don't own a home. we rent a home and it is a tad small for our growing family, but we have adjusted and simplified to make it work at its peak efficiency. Except for a Katrina disaster relief loan we have no debt. that is a huge relief. One income takes some work, but it sounded to me like 2 incomes took a lot of work too.
Haven't watched the lecture yet, but I've heard these analysis in the past and agree. There are so many costs involved with that second paycheck, that it could end up costing you to earn it.
We too bought far less house than the bank said we could, we do bi-weekly payments to get the mortgage paid off faster, we do buy newer used cars and run them until they basically die.
We homeschool and can pick and choose what we want to spend, and can be resourceful.
We use a lot of private label brand items, and they work just fine. We've really cut down on eating out (we go in streaks with it) and continually look for ways to do more ourselves, do things less expensively or do without.
I think one of the keys is to stop listening to society's messages (more, consume, buy, deserve, entitled, best) and look to the Lord to provide for our needs.
The only time the two income life worked for us was when we had one child (a compliant, first born, independent girl) and I made a very good salary at a corporation.
Even then, I believe it worked only because it was God's will at the time. I can still remember the day I KNEW God was telling me to leave work and stay at home with my (then) first grader. She is now thirty and the mother of our kids... it was a wise choice.
Otherwise, when I attempted to go back to work from time to time when we had a financial crisis (before homeschooling our son), it never worked out... ended up costing more in hidden costs than it was worth.
I believe the lifestyle needed to live on one income is worth learning these days with increasing prices and possible shortages. Those are skills everyone will wish they knew.
Yes, it is true that a gallon of gas is as expensive as a latte at Starbucks. That is why Starbucks is going under pretty quickly.
The one income household is stronger in the long run- IMHO. You have to work at it.To think it was easier 20 years ago when we did it- is sort of silly. We rented our first 16 years. Our kids did the grandparent toys (now wishing I had asked them to contribute to college instead). I knew very few SAHMs- most worked.
It was possible then- it is now. I am happy to see people are willing to try!
I just saw that she was in a film about American debt called "Maxed Out". It's also a book. Perhaps your library has them.
I watched the video too, and even though I am not living in the States, it made a huge amount of sense to me. I got married in the 70s, and am part of that original demographic...stay at home mum, with one income.
But my husband died unexpectedly when I still had a child at school 2 years ago, and even though our home was paid for, I had to go out into the workplace to earn enough to live on. And I did. I do. Not a great deal, but enough.Thank God we were not already living on and spending 2 incomes at the time.
However, the one thing I want everyone of you young ones to know is that you absolutely need to get rid of any credit card debt/loans etc as soon as is humanly possible. I wish that I had known how crippling it could be 2 years ago.
I am intelligent, articulate, financially savvy, and still underestimated it all. Now I am living on a cash only basis, and what I can't pay for does not get bought. I cancelled things like Sky TV subscriptions, gym memberships, papers etc, and cut every corner I could, and it will still take another 3 years or so to be completely free of all debt, but it will be so worth it in the end.
I wish I had had all the info available now through all these frugal blogs 10 years ago. Thanks Meredith. You have no idea how much encouragement I get from visiting here.
Little things do add up but if I am understanding her it's going to take more than cutting down here and there to make it in America. If an income earning man today makes $800 a year less than his father did and a two-income family is spending less over all than the one-income father who made $800 more than our husbands...it's time to wake up and smell ourselves.
"Could someone please explain what she meant by saying that grocery prices and housing (I think) were LOWER in '03 than they were in a previous generation??" She is adjusting for the rate of inflation. Our parent's dollar went farther than ours.
That lecture has been a topic of much discussion around here!
In an odd juxtaposition of timing, I was 10 in 1970 (the comparison starting point in Dr.'s lecture), my daughter is 11 now.
YES, things are harder for us as a 1-income family than for my parents. I have struggled to understand why, even though my husband's income is comparable to my father's in 1970.
For us it is ABSOLUTELY the health care, private Christian education and exhorbitant housing costs (for the same size home in which we were raised). For instance, we own our own business and best health insurance prices for family of 4 around here: $2000.00 a month. Not counting out of pocket med expenses! Not counting what we must pay as an employer to retain good help!
Oddly comforting to see it "on paper", in a dark sort of way.
Maybe the reason house prices have risen so much is that with two wage earners houses are priced at what the market will bear ?
One thing that hasn't been mentioned much here is how to save in regard to education. My husband and I both work in higher education (I'm part-time and stopping when our baby arrives this summer). But we have come to see that so many students in college today are here just because it's the "next step." They don't really know what they want to do and while college can CERTAINLY help with that (that's been my job!) it can make costs rack up as students switch between majors and extend their time in college. Likewise, I am a big advocate of community colleges. My husband and I both have 4 year degrees from large state institutions, and a graduate degree. I was blessed to have funding throughout, but we had to work on my husband's debt when we graduated. We had a friend who got the same master's degree as we did, paid for her entire education herself, and ended up with a higher level job after graduating and she had no debt because she spent her first two years at a community college.
Just some thoughts!
Speaking from experience, 2 incomes is a trap. We bought our house based on two incomes, before we had kids. I thought that teaching would be a good job to keep once I had kids. I taught one school year, and then stopped. I was pregnant with the second child, and daycare at a decent (not good) place would have cost half my check. We sold our house, rented something much smaller. I started using cloth diapers. We started doing a lot more bargain shopping and doing without. We started a garden (still learning to make it actually produce), we cut back to one vehicle (my husband drives a company vehicle to his job, and the rest of the time we just go together or one of us stays home.) Recently, we have almost had to cut out leaving home, except for church, b/c we live in the country and gas into town adds up. But we are much happier than when half my checks went to keeping me in the workplace (daycare, formula vs. breastmilk, disposable diapers, more clothes for everyone, convience meals, gas, etc.)
Mrs L. I believe the answer to your question is that the percentages are lower now as salaries were much lower in the 70's than now.
My first job was in 1974 and I only made $1.96 per hour. My daughter is making almost $9 per hour at her first job.
Cost on individual items maybe higher but the overall percentages are lower.
Our daughter was seriously ill for the first 9 years of her life. We paid off her (after-insurance) medical bills in time for her to go to college next year. We've also had a period of joblessness. Because of this, we've always lived on the cusp. My husband has a decent corporate job and I'm self-employed. Even so, an unexpected expense or job loss would cripple us financially once again.
The lecture left me with conflicting ideas:
1. if it's so difficult to stay in the middle class, what's the point in trying?
2. all the little decisions mean so much more when the deck is stacked against us.
The lecturer said there were five large areas of increase:
1. Housing -- we can live below the 'normal' level of housing or consider co-housing
2. Taxes -- become a well-informed voter and help to educate others
3. Health care -- in this nation with epidemic obesity, we should address our health issues preventitively
4. Child Care -- a one-income family won't have child care costs
5. Multiple cars -- can we learn to live with just one car again?
When I feel overwhelmed with worry, I remember that there's a God that I choose to trust with my future.
Thanks for the thought-provoking post. This subject will keep churning in my head for a long time, I'm sure.
I haven't yet had a chance to watch the video but have it scheduled for this weekend. After reading some of the comments as well as your take on it, I couldn't agree more.
I have peace in the fact that if anything were to happen to my husband, I could pick up some extra money on the side. Hubs can work an extra shift if things are tight. When you live to the fullest with 2 incomes, there is no wiggle room. That would stress me out.
Small decisions do make it easier to live a frugal lifestyle. But let's not forget some of the bigger things. Think of the home maintenance areas where you can save. There are so many "how to" instructionals online or even through your local Home Depot/Lowe's. We have repaired some simple plumbing and electrical issues (like switching out a broken outlet or installing a ceiling fan.. nothing dangerous) and saved hundreds of dollars.
As for the children's schooling, we live in an area where we could afford a home. It does not have the best school district. Because I am able to stay home, we have opted to homeschool, rather than spend money we don't have to live in a better community with a school with higher standards.
Little things DO make a difference. Break out the credit card statements of someone $10,000 in debt and struggling. What will you see?
Not $3,000 tropical vacations.
Not $40,000 cars.
You will see something like this:
Barnes & Noble $23.00
Pizza Hut $35.00
Wal Mart $125.00
It's like the old joke - how do you eat a 10-lb salami? One slice at a time. Americans are bankrupting themselves one SWIPE at a time.
Instead of cooking at home, they're eating out. Instead of getting books from the library, they buy them sight unseen. Instead of buying used baby clothes and cloth diapers, everything is disposable and bought new.
Frugality sends you into another mindset. Do I really need this? Is there another way to get what I need? What will this cost in the future?
In addition, sometimes I think people get into the "monthly mindset". I have a cellular phone (Tracfone) that costs me $5 per month. Now, that doesn't sound like a lot. But it is really $60 per year, and if my husband has one as well, it's $120 per year. Stash that $10 into a 5% interest bearing savings account every month and you have almost $123, which can buy me at least a year's worth of secondhand clothing. Sock your cell phone money away for 30 years until retirement in an 8% mutual fund, and it will be worth almost $15,000. Now for me, the security of having a cell phone is worth it, but most people would just think "aw, $5 a month is nothing." Now imagine the people who spend $50 per month on each cell phone!
Also, people need to ask what are really "necessities" - is a $100,000 a necessity? Or will a $75,000 do?
It adds up!!!
I understand what tha author's point is but I feel that there is still the implication that two income families inherently are irresponsible. I work full time as does my husband because we both want to. I love my job. Our house payment is 1/7 of our monthly take home pay. We save 20% of our income for retirement and also save for our childrens' education. I make quite a bit of money and my take home pay far outweighs the expense for clothing, gas, etc that everyone lists as reasons not to work outside the home. I realize that is partly an argument about how Americans spend too much and save too little. But that is true of many Americans regardless of how many incomes their household has and not because they are two income. It still smacks to me of the tired out argument of whether women staying at home is better than women who work outside the home.
Straight up sister! :0)
For the majority of our marriage I have been an a SAHHM (stay at home homeschooling mom) and we have lived off of one income. We live in the expensive northeast and make between 30K- 35K a year.
A couple of summers ago I worked for the local summer recreation program. I found during that short summer stint, that my working outside the home really didn't bring any extra money in. I had to bring lunches for me and the kids (we also brought stuff to share for the kids that didn't bring anything), it cost my money to have my kids there (yes, I got a discount), gas money, and any of the trivial things that added up.
I really believe this country has fallen into a "2 income trap". The "needs" that we have are really "wants" and not necessary at all.
Thanks Meredith for the inspiring post!! :0)
Wow, so true Meredith. My husband and I both work part-time jobs, but when we bought this house we barely moved up, have always pd. cash for cars, basically what your list says.
I like your response!
I really think that it is all attitude.
We have quite a bit of money now, because my husband has a good job, but it was not always that way.
When the kids were small, we lived with no TV, no cable, and we bought all second hand. But we still managed to tithe and save for a downpayment on a house and feel like we had a rich life.
And we didn't have the worry about debt.
How you live is really all in your attitude. It's all about what you're going to be satisfied with!
Visit To Love, Honor and Vacuum today!
Our family is a 1.2 worker family - I work part time. We are kind of above average in income and we have only a mortgage and car payment for debt. We have fairly substantial savings and will continue to build savings, and live rather modestly within our means. We are very slow about large expenses, and we see them coming and plan for them. Last year we did a new roof on the house, with cash, and now we'll hold off on large purchases for as long as possible. We also try to minimize eating out and entertainment expenses, etc.
I think we are blessed, lucky and we've done a pretty good job of managing money, limiting our debt, and deferring expenses / saving ahead.
Warren does a good job of outlining the risks to families, and ours are certainly the same -- a big time illness or disability could quickly wipe us out and all our savings. A job loss we could probably survive, but it would be much harder now with 3 kids than when my husband was laid off two times when we did not have kids.
One of our greatest blessings is stable, supportive extended family. They are self-sufficient, and in an emergency, we would be there for each other. Of course, family provides a lot of protection and stability, education, and my husband and I have a strong marriage, which is extremely valuable.
What's also very valuable is our community relationships -- work network, church network, all the people we know who could help in case of emergency, even just offering prayers, hugs and listening.
I think we need to focus on staying healthy, and continuing to build savings to protect our family from the potential disaster scenarios.
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