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Learning to Live on One Income

Financial Journey (featured column)
by Karen Kuebler

Her early retirement journey continues, as Karen shares with us how her family made the adjustment from living on two incomes to one.

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The summer of 1980 required several major adjustments from the entire family as we faced a new chapter in our lives together. The kids were used to me being at work, so they had the adjustment of Mom being at home. Actually, they were still young enough to enjoy Mom being around. They didn’t really connect the dots. If Mom is at home, that means we have less money coming in. They also weren’t aware of our huge pile of debt, and our very high mortgage payments.

They were aware we were tightening our belts, but if I had a do over I would take the time to carefully explain the situation to them and enlist their help. As it was, they followed our lead, because they never had been in a situation where whatever they wanted was lavished on them so they were not spoiled and didn’t have high expectations.

That summer was mostly focused on cutting expenses, drastically. I had been there before, so I knew a few tricks. When my children were young toddlers, I had to live on $150 a week for years. I reached into the tool chest I had created years earlier and started practicing several money saving techniques.

For starters, I focused on our grocery bill because there was a lot of opportunity for savings there. While I had been working I became very lax about the grocery budget. I would be so tired that it was easier to go out for pizza or fried chicken than to come home and fix dinner. We began by eating all of our meals at home. I planted a really nice garden that provided most of our fruits and veggies. I made bread and homemade snacks, which the family enjoyed even more than store bought stuff.

I made a lot of casseroles using ground beef and chicken, and made extras to freeze for future meals. I enjoy cooking, so we had a variety of dishes and the family was never bored with meals. I was able to live within a budget of $100 per month for groceries and still do to this day. Well, okay, I’ve increased our spending plan slightly to $125 a month. We have no difficulty staying within this plan by utilizing key shopping strategies. And we do enjoy eating!

Another area where we cut back dramatically was our cost of eating out. When my husband and I worked together, we spent our lunch hours antique shopping and would pick up sandwiches from the deli to take back to our desks to eat. No wonder we had a huge pile of debt! Besides all of the antiques we bought, we used our credit cards for all of our dining out expenditures, both lunches and dinners. There is nothing worse than having to pay off debts when you can’t even touch or see the item you are still paying for.

My husband started taking his lunch to work, and we were all eating healthier as a result. I figured we were probably using most of my income just to support our expensive eating habits we had developed while I had been working.

The other extreme change we made that summer was my husband’s form of commuting to work. He started taking public transportation! We lived about twenty miles from work. Each day I would drop him at the bus station and pick him up after work. I know that wasn’t any fun for him, having to go from the independence of his own car to sharing a seat with a stranger. Within a few months, he found three other people to share car pooling and that cut the expenses even further for commuting.

We also cut up our credit cards. We decided the best way to prevent further debt was not to use our cards. Going shopping in the malls had been a favorite pastime in the evenings when we were working. The kids loved to look around and play the pinball machines and we could walk around, hold hands, talk and relax. But, there is always a but, you run the risk of finding things you want to buy. “Oh, that is a neat suit.” “Oh, my feet hurt... those shoes look so comfortable.” During that summer we found all new forms of recreation, which included staying away from the malls.

The fall arrived and the children and I started school. I was majoring in Business Administration with an emphasis in Finance. No surprises there! It’s my hobby. For a little extra income, I tutored at school during the hours I wasn’t in class and the children were still in school. This arrangement worked out great. I was able to be home when the kids came home from school.

That December our daughter was getting married. We went shopping for her wedding gift. You know how you always buy people what you like for a gift? We headed to the antique stores. We found a couple of nice pieces of furniture, but we didn’t have a credit card. We hadn’t saved enough during the summer to pay for it.

We asked the store to hold the furniture, went home and called the credit card company, and asked them to send a new card. In the meantime, they gave us our account number so we could pay for the furniture. Not to worry though, we had learned our lesson! We were still paying off our debt at the Credit Union and we weren’t about to fall back into old patterns.

We kept the credit card only for emergencies. Whenever I used it, I would make an entry in the checkbook in red and deduct it from the balance. From that point on, we have never carried a balance on a credit card. They are paid off in full each month as though we were using cash.Things moved along for the next few years. We continued to employ every money-saving strategy under the sun.

We had become adjusted to living on one income while I went to school. We had paid off our debt, and learned to pay our bills without going into further debt. In 1983, my husband found out that the company he had worked for the last 28 years was going to close and 2000 employees would be laid off the following spring. Our lives were about to take another very different direction, although we didn’t see it at the time.

As this chapter comes to a close, I’d like to share a valuable lesson I’ve learned on my life journey. Through the years I have found myself so focused on my goals, I often forget to enjoy the journey along the way. When I finally reach my goal, I expect something to occur, like the Land of Oz to appear or something. And guess what? It doesn’t! I learned many things as we worked toward retirement, but I believe the most important was to enjoy every step of the journey along the way toward our goals!

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Copyright © 2001 by Karen Kuebler. All rights reserved.

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