Why Two-Income Couples Should Live With One Paycheck

Living on a single income can turbo-charge savings

Sponsored by What's this?
Young couple going over their financial budget to determine if they can live off of one income while sitting on their couch

Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / Getty Images

Are you part of a two-income couple? If so, one of the easiest ways to create a budget is to live on one person’s income and save all of the other person’s. 

Let’s say, for example, you and your spouse are both working outside of the home. One of you earns $40,000 per year, and the other earns $60,000 per year. At this point, you are accustomed to living on both of your incomes. To turbo-charge your finances, consider weaning yourself off of that.

Take the First Step

As your first goal, the two of you should aim to live on the higher of the two incomes. Rather than living on $100,000 a year combined, try living on $60,000 a year. If you can achieve this, you’ve just increased your savings rate substantially. You’re now saving $40,000 annually before taxes.

Take It a Step Further

If you want to become even more ambitious, try living on the lower of the two incomes. After you become accustomed to living on $60,000 a year, start saving the higher of the two incomes and living on the smaller of the two. This method will rapidly accelerate your savings rate.

How to Maximize Your Savings

What can you do with the savings? There are plenty of options:

Accelerate Your Mortgage Pay Down

Some couples have paid off their entire mortgage in as little as three to five years by living on one spouse’s income and using all the other income to pay off the mortgage. 

Create a Strong Emergency Fund

Set aside three to six months (or even nine months!) of living expenses. Create special sub-savings accounts earmarked for future home and car repairs, health co-pays and deductibles, and vacations. 

Make a Car Payment to Yourself

You can put aside enough money to buy your next cars in cash. 

Max Out All of Your Retirement Accounts

It is the easiest way to get on the path to a secure retirement. If your employer offers matching contributions, make sure you take advantage of it. If you’re age 50 or older, you can make "catch-up" contributions.

Max Out Your Child’s College Savings Fund

A child in 2021 will need almost $200,000 to attend state college and over $450,000 for private college in 15 years, according to Northwestern Mutual.

Save for a Big Leap

Put aside enough savings so that you can start your own business, take some major career or entrepreneurial risk, or retire as early as age 35 or 40.

How to Start Living on One Income

How can you drop down to saving one person’s income? Begin by closely scrutinizing your budget. Budgeting worksheets will help you get a good look at exactly how much you are saving or spending. 

Figure out how to trim your costs in every single category. Start with the categories that will give you the biggest win. Can you chop your mortgage in half—perhaps by downsizing into a smaller home? Could you minimize driving by living in a more pedestrian-friendly location and cut back on your gas money? 

Cutting your expenses in these big-ticket categories will have the biggest impact, but don’t forget about the smaller categories as well. Giving up chips, soda, and other unhealthy foods can help trim your grocery bills substantially.

Lowering your thermostat and making energy-efficient updates to your home can lower your utilities. Taking in a renter or a roommate for your guest bedroom can quickly give you a $500 a month (or more) boost in your savings rate. (That’s $6,000 a year!) 

Living on one person’s income and saving the entirety of the other is one of the most effective ways to ramp up your savings and live a more financially free life.

Was this page helpful?
The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Internal Revenue Service. "Retirement Topics - Catch-Up Contributions."

  2. Northwestern Mutual. "How Much College Will Cost in 5, 10 & 15 Years."

Related Articles