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Two is better than one, the writer of Ecclesiastes tells us. And he’s right. But the best advice my wife and I received as newlyweds in regards to marriage and money was the opposite – a budget based on one income is better than two.
The guidance was simple: create a budget as if only one person was earning an income, even if both of us were.
For the first five years of our marriage as DINKers (Double Income with No Kids), we stuck to the practice and it has paid off in more ways that we predicted.
Anytime I write about anything that deals with family decisions, I feel it’s important to emphasize that I’m not writing a prescription that I think everyone should follow. I’d place obeying God’s word, following His leading, and achieving unity as a couple far above anything I share.
But let it serve as an encouragement, an idea, a path to ponder, as you consider your financial future as a family.
Five aspects of this simple strategy stick out to me as being extremely beneficial for us.
How much do I eat at an all-you-can-eat buffet? The answer is the same for just about every person I know: too much. As humans – if we’re able to eat, we eat, and if we’re able to spend, we spend. Salute to the souls who are more self-disciplined than I, but I think many can relate with that. Choosing to live off of one income is a good exercise in discipline. It provides a clear line, kind of like the buffets that say you can only go back once (what’s up with that?).
Alli (my wife) was pregnant during our sixth year of marriage and weighing the future of her career as a social worker. I teach at a public high school, and if you would have told her at the altar that she’d be contemplating being a stay-at-home-mom with a teaching husband, she may have stuttered a bit. For the first five years of marriage, she basically got to experience that reality with floaties on. The most freeing thing for her was feeling the sense of relief that whatever we chose as a family – the day-to-day finances were not going to change. The mortgage was still going to get paid. She could still get a haircut every once in a while. I was still going to sneak off for a few Dr. Peppers from the gas station every month. So setting out on this financial course when we were first married didn’t mean that Alli was necessarily going to quit her job (we like to use the word ‘retire’ for her brief but fun career), but it allowed us some flexibility on which route to take.
When you choose to live below your means, it is a great chance to practice contentment. When there’s no set line on the amount of spending, it seems to balloon and comparison creeps in. When a budget is in place, you as a couple, with the guidance from the Lord, are determining the standard of living. Without a budget in place, it’s easy for neighbors and co-workers to determine the standard of living. When Stella was born, our lifestyle was going to change dramatically, but our standard of living wasn’t going to have to.
Choosing to live off of one income instead of two dramatically helps build wealth. Over the course of a few years, it can be staggering. It’s not hard math – but money that’s not spent is saved, and saved money can grow! Alli and I chose to commit to paying off the mortgage with the extra income, a goal we would have never been disciplined enough to achieve if we had considered all income as disposable.
If you decide to make a switch to living off one income, I’d offer up a couple pieces of advice.
Separate the funds as literally as possible
Maybe because I’m a type A person, but sometimes it doesn’t feel like I saved 200 dollars during the month if it just happens to be that my checking account balance is 200 dollars higher. Rather, I prefer (and it was motivating and rewarding to me) to see a separate account – still owned by both of us, grow. It also solidified the plan to sock that money away.
Another way to help clinch the execution of the plan is to automate the transfer of money. This obviously makes it easier to stick with the plan and takes away the temptation of almost following through.
This was the most transforming aspect for us. We agreed to go after the goal of becoming debt free. The realization of becoming debt free wasn’t what I will remember about the process. Rather, I’ll always treasure the struggle and triumphs of pursuing a shared goal with my wife. And the goal doesn’t have to be the same as ours. It can be any combination of things like a downpayment for a house, buying a car, a crazy generous gift, a retirement account start-up, a trip, home renovation, etc. The trick is seeing these endeavors as not part of the normal day-to-day budget.
Use the appropriate pronouns
No, I’m not talking about that issue. Rather, Alli and I both make it a point to use the phrase “our money” (or when we’re actually being theologically correct, “God’s money”) instead of saying “your money” and “my money.” As a family, we earn an income. This was true when we both had paychecks, and it’s true when there’s only one paystub.
Ecclesiastes undoubtedly got it right – two is better than one. And I believe that navigating the financial arena of emotions, habits, discipline, prayer, splurges, and mundane bill payments with a spouse can be a growing and unifying endeavor. The irony is in the fact that we found this to be true when we decided to follow the advice that one is better than two.
If you’re a couple, do you life off one income? How has it worked out for you?