Living On One Income: Family Budgeting

The other day I shared our family's pet project - living on cash. Today I'll share some of the tips we use to stick to our budget. Our family lives on one income at the moment - mine. My husband is a stay-at-home dad, and is looking at different career options. He needed a change from his past career, and I was lucky enough to land a steady job with benefits. Although it's sometimes been stressful, we are actually happy that he's been able to stay at home with our two girls. It's close to $2000 that we're saving in childcare expenses!

It's a bit of a struggle to survive on one income (and I should mention we do bring in some extra cash through my work as a doula and childbirth educator), but we're determined to make it work! (haha, get it? work?)

We've allocated $400/week to all of our variable expenses - this includes food, transportation (gas and bus), entertainment, clothes/gifts, and "other" (our allowances for coffees or other little luxuries) It doesn't seem like a lot, I know. "What happens if the dog gets sick, or the car breaks down," you ask? Well, our entire budget takes emergencies into account, and we've been squirling away some cash for a rainy-day fund. Fingers crossed, knock-on-wood, and throw salt over your left shoulder that our rainy day holds off for a while!!


  • Read your weekly flyers - make a list of what you need for each store, based on sales. If No Frills is selling butter for $3 a piece, purchase 10 and throw them in your freezer!
  • Price-match - My husband does most of the grocery shopping and he really likes the Flipp app, which we reviewed here.
  • Coupons!
  • Cut back on meat. Yup, I said it. We're a meat loving family, but a bag of dried beans is $1, tofu costs $2 and eggs cost $3 - saves a lot of dough. A meal of spaghetti, tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese is very much appreciated at our house.
  • Give up on your ideals for a while: I'm a bit of a foodie. I used to purchase raw milk, meat from a local/organic farm, and most of my fruits and veggies were local or organic. I've had to let go of this for a while, and now I just try to get what looks fresh and is on sale. Our bodies will just have to handle the pesticides for a while!
  • Shop the discount rack. Farm Boy is awesome for  very cheap fruits/veggies that are overly ripe. The discount berries make great pies or smoothies, and sometimes you can find some decent veggies for a stir fry or soup.
  • Make your meals last. A whole chicken can be bbq'd one night, then served with pasta and veggies the next night, and then turned into a yummy chicken noodle soup using the bones and leftover meat. Waste nothing!!
  • Avoid the processed food aisles. This is the priciest stuff you will buy - all those boxes of cereal, crackers, and cookies add up. Lately we've been making our own bread (we have a bread machine, so that helps), our own tortilla wraps, and sometimes even our own crackers! And although they will beg you for them, try to avoid pre-packaged school snacks - kids will survive without them
  • Grow a vegetable garden. We're currently overflowing with produce. It definitely saves some money, although it's hard work! If you can't have a big garden, then just mooch off your friends who need to get rid of their cucumbers ;)


I'm so sorry to be the one to tell you this, but you can't really eat out while you're on a tight budget (and paying off debt).  Resist the temptation to order-in pizza, and make your own. If you happen to get some birthday money, then definitely treat yourself to a meal out - just don't let it happen every week!

A little note about alcohol: we love our beer and wine. At this point in our busy lives, we're not really willing to give that up.But there are ways of making it more affordable. Consider making your own beer or wine, or buy in bulk when there are sales (and maybe if you live in the Capital you may occasionally cross that provincial border to the Land of Cheap-er Beer). You could also just drink less?


  • Handmade presents: your family and friends will love a jar of strawberry jam, pickles, or a fresh pie. If you're crafty (I am not), you could sew or knit a gift.
  • We shop at Value Village now for anything/everything we need. If they don't have what I want, I scour Freecycle or used sites.
  • Consider bartering, the lost art!

Or here's a thought...don't buy new clothes? I am the Queen of No Shopping - I hate it! If you love clothes, shoes, jewelry and purses, you may struggle with this one. Find a good therapist, and try to work through it.


I can't really help much with this one. Gas costs a lot, and so does a bus pass! If you can bike or walk to work, definitely give that a shot. If you can afford a new fuel-efficient car, then you are probably not reading this blog post!


This is the one I struggle with most. I love my yoga classes, spa days, my massages and organic skin-care products. I think all of this stuff contributes to my overall sense of well-being, and even my husband remarks that I'm happiest when I'm doing a lot of self-care. Find a way to do this stuff, but maybe just less frequently (yoga at home, or a spa day at home can also be fun!)

A note about coffee: I refuse to negotiate this one. I will continue to buy my 1 cup of coffee every day I'm at work. The coffee machine in our office kitchen is awful, and you can't ask me to forfeit the daily pleasure I get from sipping a freshly brewed cup of joe. So there. (Side note: I will say that Lattes and other specialty coffees are very expensive - if you're a fan of these drinks, maybe allow yourself a once-per-week treat. We can't deprive ourselves of everything, after all, or we'll never stick to our budget!)

I would LOVE to hear your tips and tricks!! Share in the comments!