We have made a choice to live on one income in order to home educate our son. It could have been that we set things up more equally, with us both spending some time working and some time with our child. And maybe that would have been better in some respects. But my partner has a career he loves and has worked hard at, and after taking maternity leave, I didn’t feel ready to leave my son.
Now, if my partner reduced his hours and I picked up the slack we would probably not be able to match his current income. That’s not to say he is highly paid. He works as a Biomedical Scientist in the UK National Health Service, but despite having a responsible and highly-skilled position, his basic wage is around the UK average. He does, however, have the opportunity to work shifts, which tops it up.
Our income is also boosted by the rent we get from our tenant. When we were both working full-time, we lived frugally in a small, and, by UK standards, cheap house and commited a large portion of our incomes to the mortgage. We always overpaid every month. And we paid it off within 12 years. We save a portion of the rental income for repairs to the house.
So, as a family, we probably have an income slightly above the national average FOR ONE PERSON. It is not a huge amount to live on in a city with high rental costs, council tax and other bills, but we make it work, and we generally save money each month for travel.
How do you save money on one income?
The truth is we don’t try. The things that we do that lead to us saving money have nothing to do with budgeting or cutting back. We just live in a way that makes us happy and we find that we rarely overspend on regular monthly costs. But when I thought about it, I realised there were lots of (maybe unconventional) things that we do that would class us as frugal:
- We eat mostly cheap vegetables, fruit, beans, rice and pasta. We don’t buy meat or sweet ‘treats’ (other than dark chocolate) and we rarely buy processed food.
- My partner takes a sandwich, coffee, fruit and nuts to work every day. He never buys a pre-packaged lunch or eats in cafes.
- We use as little electricity and gas as possible (by putting on more clothes in winter, spending our time in the warmest room in the house, unplugging appliances we don’t use, only putting on lights when we really need to, making simple meals, using draft excluders etc)
- We don’t have any cable or satellite channels, or regular subscriptions to any media except Audible (which was a gift).
- My mobile is pay-as-you-go. I don’t have an expensive contract and have no mobile internet. I only use wifi and try to communicate via email or social media rather than phone or text if possible.
- We rarely eat out, perhaps once a month, and usually pay £20 or less for all of us, either because we only order one dish each or because we choose to eat in South East Asian cafes, which tend to be cheaper, and we drink water or green tea (which are free).
- We rarely drink alcohol. We are not ‘tee-total’. I may have the occasional gin and tonic, but I don’t buy this when out, and my current bottle of gin was a present.
- We never buy things we don’t absolutely need. I think we are both naturally frugal and we have never been interested in browsing the shops. We both find it utterly overwhelming. My partner is currently considering buying some new shirts for work. He has been wearing the same few shirts for years and they are looking worn. Around half of my clothes are secondhand and the ones that I bought new I can barely remember buying, they are so old. We rarely buy clothes for my son as his grandparents always generously get things for him.
- We rarely upgrade our IT. We have one mobile phone between us. It is around five years old. Our one laptop has been repaired a number of times and seems to be surviving despite numerous software updates and a very dodgy battery. It is around seven years old. My partner has an ipod so he can listen to podcasts on his walk to work.
- We rarely use our eleven year old car. We bought it when I was pregant with my son, eight years ago. Our previous car needed major repairs, had high mileage and, as I was in ‘nesting’ mode, I wanted a car with a good safety rating and car seat attachments. However, it is usually sat on the road outside our house. My partner enjoys walking the three miles to work every day. My son and I walk to the shops, the park and our home education meet ups. Occasionally we use the car to go into the city centre (as, ridiculously, this is MUCH cheaper than getting the bus) and we use it to visit family out of town, go on day trips and UK-based holidays. If it ever needs a major repair, we would have to balance that with the cost of public transport. I don’t think we will ever buy another car.
- Walking in the countryside is one of our favourite family activities, alongside visiting historical sites, playing board games and watching documentaries. All of which are free, or very inexpensive.
- We don’t usually pay to visit historical sites. We received a gift of membership to English Heritage and this makes most of the castles and ancient monuments we have visited in England completely free, and half price in other parts of the UK. This was a great gift and represents a huge saving for us.
- We don’t pay to exercise. We walk, we climb hills, we dance (great exercise), we hoover (another good work out).
Making travel a priority
Beyond bills, food, rent, our car, repairs to the house we own, and charitable donations, most of our income goes on trips. This breaks down into hotels (usually cheap no-frills places in the UK), flights, airbnbs, food and meals out while away. Our accommodation costs, both in the UK and abroad, usually averages around 40 GBP per night.
We try to take regular trips, whether in the UK or in Europe. In the coming year, we had planned to save up my partner’s annual leave and take five or six weeks to go further afield, but the thought of not going anywhere for months on end did not seem to outweigh the benefits of long-haul travel. Given the choice, it seems that shorter trips more evenly spread throughout the year win out over one BIG one.
We are incredibly lucky to live in a beautiful, accessible and fascinating country and to be so close to so many others with such varied history and culture. We do not have to go far to find places that pique our senses and challenge our expectation. And there is just so much to see in Europe. We could spend our whole lives travelling around this continent and not feel we had seen it all.
Is flying the best way to travel cheaply?
We try to book our flights from a local airport in the north of the UK so we do not have to add on the cost of travel to London or accommodation for late or early flights. We usually get lifts from relatives to the airport to save on parking costs while away. As we have very few constraints on when we travel and can pick dates outside of high season and school holidays, I search for the cheapest flights on Skyscanner. If the destination looks interesting and the prices are very low, we book.
As someone who cares deeply about the environmental impact of my life choices, I had begun to think that flying was something we should cut back on. I have often heard it said that travelling by plane was THE worst thing you could do to contribute to climate change and that taking even just one flight eclipsed all your other efforts. This led me to the conclusion that if we wanted to experience other countries we would have to slow travel on public transport. But that does not fit in with my partner’s work schedule. So, to soothe my conscience, I looked at the figures.
The real cost
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that the airline industry, for both cargo and passenger planes, contributes 3.5 per cent of annual global greenhouse gas emissions (source EPA). Compare that to the emissions from all transport (14 per cent), and total emissions from industry, agriculture and land use (45 per cent), and it becomes clear that taking occasional flights does not invalidate other forms of environmentally conscious-living. The items we buy (or don’t buy!), the food we eat and the way we get around day to day has a much greater impact than the way we get to our annual holiday destination.
That’s not to say that there is no environmental cost to flying. Clearly there is, and I wouldn’t want to become a ‘regular flier’ for work or pleasure. It is also important to bear in mind that this is just an estimate. But I have made peace with the fact that cutting back on a few short flights a year (or a couple of longer ones) is not going to make a huge difference to our family’s carbon footprint. And missing out on those trips would, for a family in love with travel, be a huge sacrifice.
As a frugal family that thrives on a simple and minimalist lifestyle, we can afford, both financially and environmentally, to take a few flights. I feel we are doing our bit for the planet, and, by getting out there, we are keeping ourselves very much in touch with all that it has to offer and all that we should protect.
Loving frugal living
I would say that I thoroughly enjoy having a frugal life. It is a default position that sits well with my sensibilities. I am hard wired to live in a way that creates as little waste, clutter, mess and harm as possible. I don’t see why, in order for me to live my life, other people should have to suffer, directly or indirectly. And caring about the planet is, essentially, caring about people.
As it turns out, thinking, and acting, in this way (ie. making choices based on caring for others) actually creates benefits for yourself. It SAVES YOU MONEY. This is because making decisions about whether or not to do something based on the harm it may cause usually leads to you feeling quite content NOT to do it.
I am happy to have the choice to walk instead of drive my car, to eat fresh vegetables rather than meat, to enjoy time with my family instead of my phone, to buy secondhand clothes rather than new ones, to live in a small house instead of a big one, to use my time creatively rather than go shopping. Those things actually fill me with joy. The realisation that we can DO WITHOUT a lot of the things we thought were necessary is very freeing and means limited funds can be redirected elsewhere.
Ultimately, the fashionable way of ‘home-making’ (creating a model house with all the trappings of a modern life) is an unnecessary, harmful resource drain. Getting out and experiencing the world is priceless.
Are you a one income family or household? Do you make it work or do you find it a struggle? Are you looking to cut down on work to home educate or travel and are you worried you will not manage? Do you have two incomes and still find it a stretch? Please do comment. I’d love to hear from you.