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Here’s how families can adapt from two incomes to one

Whether the change was planned or unexpected, these 6 steps can make the transition to one income less stressful.

how to transition to one income

Transitioning from two incomes to one can bring up a range of emotions for any family. On one hand, you may feel excited about having more family time—and a slightly less hectic schedule. But on the other hand, you are probably stressed about your finances and worried about what might happen if you choose to return to work in the future.

Whether the change was planned because of a new baby or unexpected due to a job loss, careful planning can make the transition to one income easier and less stressful.


1. Build a "before" + "after" budget

Far too many of us don't have a clear idea how much income we need to support our lifestyle. Losing one income changes the balance between spending and expenses, and it's all too easy to find yourself overspending and even taking on debt without making adjustments to your expenses.

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Review your credit cards and bank statements and build a budget based on your last few months of spending. You can use a spreadsheet or online tools and apps, like Mint, that connect to your accounts and make automate budgeting. Once you have an idea how much you're spending in different categories, deduct your second income to see how much you'll have to cut to not be in the red.

Start with your fixed monthly bills (car payment, utilities, cell phone). Maybe your family get by with only one car, which would also reduce your insurance and maintenance costs. Or you might reduce the data package on your cell phone or cancel unused subscriptions. Cutting these fixed bills might require more planning and phone calls upfront, but it can help you reduce your costs significantly without a major change to your lifestyle.

2. Find a budgeting system that works for you

You'll want to be extra careful with spending during the first few months as you adjust to your new financial life, which makes it an ideal time to find a budgeting system that will work for you in the long term.

The goal is to find a tool that helps you track all of your expenses in detail. It might be a personal finance app or a spreadsheet template you update online. For some people, what works best is to pay every expense that's not a bill using a set amount of cash that you withdraw each month, or a debit card with a specific limit.

Your budget will be key to transitioning your family to one income so take some time to develop a system that you understand and feel motivated to use.

3. Review your insurance coverage + other employer benefits

Your employer usually provides more than a paycheck, and you'll want to make sure that your family is protected by every employer benefit for which you may be eligible. Review your coverage and make sure that the working partner will be able to include the family on their employer's insurance plan.

You'll also want to think about life insurance coverage. Imagine how your family would cope without the stay at home parent. Would your partner need to pay for full-time day care? Life insurance can help cover those costs. There are affordable term-life options that can protect your family without hurting your budget.

4. Look for a side hustle

If you've reviewed your budget and the numbers are just too tight with one income, consider looking for a side gig that allows you to earn money from home. Given the current state of the world, there is no shortage of jobs that can be done from any location. You could consider working as a virtual assistant, turning a talent or skill into a side gig or even selling items you don't need anymore on consignment. Just keep in mind the tax considerations if you do contract work as you may want to discuss this with an accountant or financial advisor.

5. Review your retirement + other savings goals

Your monthly budget isn't the only thing that will be impacted by your change in income. You'll also want to review your retirement and other long-term financial goals such as saving for college. While it might be difficult to imagine saving extra while your income is reduced, you could commit to increasing your savings with your next raise or saving a portion of whatever extra income you're able to bring in by working from home. You could consider starting a spousal IRA for the partner that will be at home. You may also want to work with a financial planner to make a clear plan for your future.

6. Have open conversations with your partner

It's important to remember that going to a one-income household is a huge shift and open, honest communication is essential. Don't assume how life will be going forward. Discuss how you'll divide up cooking, cleaning and managing your finances. Have the uncomfortable conversations now so that you're on the same page moving forward, which will help make this transition a success.

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