How a family of four lives well on one income.


When I found out I was pregnant with my first son I was thrilled and older than most new mothers.  I was 41 years old and had been working very hard since I could remember.  My husband and I knew that I would quit work and become a housewife when the baby came.  I didn’t want anyone raising my baby or enjoying all the firsts; first word, first steps, the first time he babbled incoherently or held his spoon.  I wanted to enjoy every little, chubby, yummy, gooey, babbly moment.  I had worked harder than a horse all my life and was ready to retire to the home and hearth with tots in tow.

Now, we were prepared for this moment in a few crucial ways.  We had no debt, no credit cards, and only one car that was paid for.  I had paid off a ton of debt over the years by living on a shoestring budget and working 2 and 3 jobs.  It was worth it in the end.

Without the stress and added burden of debt and car payments, dropping that second income didn’t hurt at all.  The other step we took to prepare for this lifestyle change was to save all my paychecks for the 8 months I was still working.  We built up a big savings fund quickly.

I then quit the job and began my life as homemaker and mother.  My husband had a good job at that time and we had a roommate who paid a nice chunk of the rent.  We were living very well.  But life comes in cycles and there is always a time to harvest or to sow….or become unemployed.  For many soap opera story reasons, the station wound up in the wrong hands and had to be closed.  We lived in a tiny coastal town with very little employment and my poor husband was without a job and a new wife and new baby to look after.

I built a little daycare and wound up with a family of 4 children.  It was enough to pay the rent and bills and food.  The daycare was a great way of having my own business, being with my son, and paying bills.  They even had food programs to reimburse you for the meals for the children.  This got us by for some time.  Then my husband was contacted by an old village friend (he’s Indian) and ask to come manage his business.

Off we moved to the tiny town of Walnut Grove and into a ranch house on the Delta river.  The job turned out to be more of a cashier job with Bali making a bit more than minimum wage and working long hours.  I became pregnant with our second and last son.  I was prepared to do another daycare but instead, I found a book called The Complete TightWad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn.  What a life changer!  Everyone who reads it says the same thing.  This book is loaded with advice from woman all over the US and advice that has been passed down from grandmothers and great-grandmothers that lived through real depressions before there was such a thing as government assistance.

I began reading everything I could find on being frugal and thrifty living.  I began hanging my clothes on the line outside that had probably been there for 50 years.  I picked the fruit that was growing on the farm (we lived on a pear and cherry orchard with all sorts of other fruit that the past families had planted in the yards).  I started cooking everything from scratch and baking my own bread.  I started envelopes for our monthly grocery budget and other bills.  All the toys and clothes, pretty much anything we needed I would get at the GoodWill or other thrift stores in the big towns 30 miles away.  I began cutting my son’s hair and my own.  I reused and recycled everything and used what I had.  I began making my own laundry detergent and even purchased a sewing machine (I have yet to master).  I canceled cable and we used an antenna.  Out on the Delta, you get great reception.

The next step we took was to downsize further.  We found a small house in the city and cut our cost $600 or more a month.  I was able to walk with the boys to parks, libraries, and stores.  We have had a lot of fun living in a small part of the city and we have more money to be flexible with.  I even planted a strawberry patch when I saw the strawberries were $11 a pack offseason for organic.

We lived well and I never had to open another daycare.  Thank goodness because two little boys require a lot of focus.  We had some more employment shifts before we got to a great place.  Bali is now reunited with a boss that he really loved working for and is managing his own little and charming gas station.  Yes, gas stations can be charming if you have a wife help you decorate and gussy it up with flowers and a woman’s touch.

We are doing well now.  Well, we make 44,000 a year and I realize that this would have been a decent living in the 80’s.  I really feel that what is making it so hard for people to make it these days are the horrific rents and housing prices.  It is all about greed and money.  We have a decent rent now but I have seen the rents go up $200 to $500 in the last year.  It’s criminal really.  I don’t have many suggestions for this except to look at downsizing the house or apartment to what you really need.  Get a roommate or convert the garage to an apartment to bring in extra money.

Don’t overlook those working class neighborhoods.  We live in an area that is supposed to be “rough” and I love it here.  Yes, we have graffiti now and then.  But we have great parks and a beautiful library.  The people around us are kind and friendly.  Try moving to another town or out of town.

Right now we are facing the challenge of buying our own home in this market.  We have very little to work with.  I have decided to move to a smaller town out some.  This town is not close to the bay area so the commuters haven’t invaded it yet and pushed prices up.  It is a little rusty and dusty but what we can afford and we just may love it there.

Until then, we just keep finding ways to save money and enjoy life simply.





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