Pay Yourself First: How We Survived on One Income

“Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.”
― Allen Saunders

My husband recently lost his job, but we were ready.

When we got married two years ago, we saw the writing on the wall. We knew his job of thirteen years was in danger. He worked for a small company manned by only five employees, with a steady decline in profit. His salary had been frozen, bonuses cut, and health insurance canceled. We started saving what we could, and he kept an eye out for a new job. I was worried, but thanks to my parents, I was prepared.

My parents learned the hard way about the importance of a contingency plan. They were both out of work for roughly six months when I was young. This was extremely difficult on a family of five, they made sure our basic needs were met and that we ate as healthy as possible. I learned that a bag of chicken, a box of pasta, and whatever vegetables on sale could make meals for a week (or more if you freeze it!)

When I finally moved out on my own, I did so with three jobs. I still struggled, but I knew how to make my dollars stretch. My father’s words resonated with me, “Be sure to pay yourself first; treat yourself as a bill.”

Today, my husband and I are a single-income family with three cats. We studied our budget and priorities, and how they needed to change. Our careful saving allowed us to pay the mortgage for six months, and we have since reworked our budget. Plans have been put on hold, but not lost. We know what unemployment will cover if necessary, and the minimum salary we will need for his new job. Any extra funds at the end of the month go into a “date jar.” We can still enjoy doing things we always did, only less often. A trip we had already paid for months ago (partially non-refundable) is still on because we had a plan.

As with anything in a partnership, communication has been key. This won’t last forever, and he may even be employed again before unemployment kicks in. Through my parents’ knowledge and experience, I’m teaching my husband that even though it will be tight for a while, we will be okay. We will recover, and our savings will rebuild. This experience has made our marriage stronger, and if possible, has made me love him more. He’s always been my emotional rock, and now I get to be his.


Special thanks to Cheri for sharing her story with us. You or a loved one may be in a similar situation and aren’t sure of what to do next. Cheri provided some helpful tips that you could adopt.

We also offer free financial counseling to our member through GreenPath as a tool to help you reach your financial goals.

We’d love to hear your story. Tell us about a time when you experienced a severe financial hardship and how you were able to overcome.