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Sacrifices Stay at Home Parents Make When Living On A Single Income

living on a single income

The first draft of this post was about the financial challenges my wife and I face while raising our family of six on a single income. But something about that draft didn’t feel quite right. I was taking the same approach so many others do when discussing this topic. I focused too much on money and not enough on the other sacrifices that get made.

Everyone knows that raising a family on a single income can be difficult.  Most assume the biggest challenge they’ll face is a financial one, which might be true but that’s not the only compromise you’ll end up making if you try living on a single income.

By choosing to raise our family on my income alone, my wife and I ended up making sacrifices in three different areas.  Rather than money, these non-financial sacrifices, made mostly by the stay at home parent, are what I’m going to focus on in this post.

Sacrifices Made Living on a Single Income

Finances are obviously an important part of the single income family equation, which is why it’s the variable that gets talked about most.

So while I’ll talk about finances a bit, I’m mostly going to cover two additional non-financial sacrifices that our family has made, and that every stay-at-home parent will face.  Regardless of your situation, these are the three sacrifices you’ll make when raising your family on a single income:

  1. Financial
  2. Professional
  3. Personal

Financial Sacrifices

Financial sacrifices are what most people imagine whenever talk of a single income household comes up.  And for good reason – not only is your family giving up a second income (assuming one parent decides quit their job to become a stay at home mom or dad), but raising a family also increases your household budget.

My wife and I have a family of six, so we need to multiply many of the traditional expenses by six.  Six plane tickets if we fly somewhere, six meals if we go out to eat, six admission tickets to an event. You get the idea and can see how quickly your family budget might expand as your family does as well.

But big ticket, budget-killing expenses are rarely required.  Things like plane tickets when you travel or fancy new cars to haul your brood around in aren’t required to raise a family.

The biggest financial sacrifice is the loss of a second income when one parent decides to stay home.  Thankfully there are other savings to be had when this happens. The obvious savings example is that your daycare expense can be eliminated.

So the incremental financial difference isn’t as large as you might first imagine it to be. But there are also other dominoes that fall when you leave your job to become a stay at home parent. More on that below.

Tips to keep the financial sacrifices in check

  • Track your expenses diligently using free applications like Mint
  • Eliminate frivolous or unnecessary expenses from your budget (I’m talking about a brand new 3rd row SUV, or designer clothes for the kids – those are luxuries, not necessities)
  • Planning helps us reduce nearly all of our expenses in some way.  Whether that’s meal planning, car buying, or the family vacation, taking time in advance to shop around for the best deals and for efficiency will help you stretch your dollars further

Professional Sacrifices

When you decide to become a single income family, the parent that becomes the full-time, stay at home mom or dad sacrifices a lot more than just a salary – you’re sacrificing your career.  This is especially true if you’re going to have more than one child because that means you’ll be out of the workforce for even longer, and the the longer you’re out, the harder it is to get back in at your previous level.

In our case, we’ve been living on a single income for seventeen years now.  It works for us and we’re thriving on a single income, but if for some reason my wife needed to go back to work, she’d be starting over with a seventeen year resume gap.

How do you think potential employers would look at that?  Probably not too kindly.  It would go over like a pregnant high jumper.

Even if you’re not currently planning on reentering the workforce once your kids are out of the home, circumstances might change and you could be forced to.  To keep your skills sharp, and so that you can have something to talk about in a job interview, do something to keep you skills current and interesting.  This will help you be more employable if and when the time comes.

Tips to keep the professional sacrifices in check

  • Start a stay at home business or side hustle
  • Volunteer at your elementary school, local library or somewhere else where you spend a lot of time
  • Take evening or online classes to ensure your education and skill set doesn’t become stale

Personal Sacrifices

The other, and I think most important, area where you’ll be sacrificing is in your personal life.  In our society we’re all to often defined by our careers. As a result our lives are heavily influenced by what we do during the day and by those we work with.

When you’re at home all day with kids that are on a never ending quest to find out when their next meal will be ready, it’s easy to lose your sense of self.  If you’re not careful you slip into a routine where you exist only to take care of others, and you end up not taking care of yourself.

Eventually this WILL catch up to you and leave you feeling angry, resentful, or depressed.  To avoid finding yourself in this situation make sure to carve out some time for you.

Tips to keep the personal sacrifices in check

  • Schedule a recurring Friday date night with your significant other to get out of the house and interacting with adults.
  • Be sure to find “me time” wherever and whenever you can. Whether that’s going for a hike or a run while the kids are at school, or binge watching Netflix during nap time. It’s important to disconnect from being a parental unit for a bit.
  • Remember, as the stay at home parent, you need to come first.

Living on a #singleincome can be hard, and not just financially. There are other sacrifices that are made when you decide to become a #stayathomepartent. #StayAtHomeMom #StayAtHomeDad #SAHM #SAHD

Kids Come Second

That last point might be a bit controversial because it just doesn’t sound very good: kids should come second.

Here’s why I say this.  Your kids WILL eventually grow up and leave home and will probably start a family of their own.  When that happens, it’s back to being just you and your significant other. If you’ve put your marriage or relationship on the back-burner for the past 18 years then things could get messy.

Compare my ‘kids come second‘ advice to the message you get whenever you fly on an airplane.  “In the event of an emergency, take care of yourself first, then help your kids and those around you.” This Airplane Mode logic is solid: if you don’t take care of yourself first, then you won’t be able to help out anyone else at all.

Chime in!

That’s all I’ve got. If you’re in a dual parent, single income household how do you manage living on a single income? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section below

By Ty Roberts

Ty Roberts is the founder of Camp FIRE Finance, and a husband and father of four living in the Seattle area. He's a fan of the 4% rule, 80s movies and music, dad jokes and cast iron cooking.

7 replies on “Sacrifices Stay at Home Parents Make When Living On A Single Income”

Ty, your last point resonates with me so much. My wife and I celebrated our 19-year anniversary yesterday. We ate takeout sushi in our camper in our driveway while the kids watched tv in the house. How’s that for romance, haha. Anyways, I was thinking about the past 19 years, and the reasons our marriage has been so successful. And one of the keys for us has definitely been that we’ve always put each other first. We are better parents to our three kids because of this. And our kids see it too….Mom and Dad are united, they stick together. Marriage is hard enough work as it is, messing up the lines of authority by letting your kids come between you is a recipe for disaster. I should add, we are a single income family as well, 18 years running. : )

This is such a great post. Most single income posts harp on the joy of being able to see your kids but not the multi-faceted costs that it comes with.

Personally, me and my husband are convinced that we want to continue being a double income household even when we choose to start a family. This post, echoes my opinion and cements my thoughts on this area.

“Your kids WILL eventually grow up and leave home and will probably start a family of their own.” TRUTH.

Okay, I read this yesterday and found myself thinking about it again this morning when Alan (my husband) and I were out on our morning bike ride today. I’m sooooo grateful we’ve made our relationship a top priority. Our oldest left in June (Air Force) and it’s been quite a transition, but having each other has made it so much easier. I’ve seen others put their marriage on the back burner while raising kids and, once the kids leave, things fall apart. Thanks for the great post Ty! 🙂

We are almost 5 years into being a single-income family with two kids and another on the way. We definitely make sacrifices, but having my wife stay home with our kids is something we place a value on. Thanks for this great article, Ty! I’m always inspired by your “Thriving” article.

Great post, and one I think lots of families need to consider when discussing having children.

I stayed home with my daughter for 1.5 years and ultimately decided the stay at home mom life wasn’t for me. I completely lost my sense of self and craved adult conversation and interaction. Looking back, there are many things I could’ve done differently to prevent this from happening, but I think it’s important to talk about what a serious risk to yourself and your marriage staying at home can be.

Ultimately, for my family, the best plan for us was sending our daughter to daycare and having two incomes. She is thriving there, my husband and I are thriving at our jobs, and my husband and I still like each other 🙂

As far as finances go, it’s rarely a sacrifice. If you add up childcare, meals out, gas, work clothes, and other expenses, unless the full-time parent spouse makes more than $50,000 per year, you may be better off with the single income. Keep in mind that you’re also not paying taxes when you’re saving money, income or sales.

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