When I was hired for my current full-time job, I was elated. I looked forward to the job itself, but I was also excited about the idea of more money. Oh, the possibilities! Please understand, I’m realistic about money: I have a standing appointment with the Suze Orman Show every Saturday night. But even with some knowledge about finances, I immediately amended our existing household budget to reflect our increased joint earnings. Despite Suze’s good advice, I started spending that new money.

As you well know, life can change in an instant. Just a few months ago, I unexpectedly received a phone call informing me that my office would be closing and I’d be out of a job in six months. Even with advanced notice, I couldn’t help but worry. The “plan” had always been to use only my husband’s salary to support us. But for us, like so many other military families, that “plan” never came to fruition. As we face this transition, I’ve realized that learning about my impending unemployment is a blessing in disguise: We’re forced to do what we’d always “planned” to do, and we’ve got just a few months to prepare.


I’m not the first spouse who needs to prepare for famine. And I certainly won’t be the last. Thousands of military families, for one reason or another, make it work on one salary. Maybe it’s by choice: They’re preparing for an upcoming PCS move, and the spouse needs time to plan and pack. Or maybe the spouse decides to attend school full-time, or chooses to stay home with children. Sometimes the decision is made for you: Maybe you receive unexpected orders for a PCS move and can’t find a job in your new location. Maybe you’re laid off without immediate prospects for a new job. Or a new baby is on the way.

Whatever the reason, I set out to discover how military spouses make the most of living on a single income.

A Few Common Themes

Write it Down

Spouses who are making a single income work say they keep a daily log of what they’ve spent. This brings accountability, making you more aware of exactly where your funds are going. It’s tedious, but necessary: Yes, you even need to write down that tall White Chocolate Mocha you bought this afternoon. Being thorough will help you notice frivolous purchases and adjust spending accordingly. Keep receipts, so you don’t forget to write a purchase down. Then, once you’ve kept a detailed list for more than a month…

Create a Budget (and stick to it!)

It may feel limiting, but a budget is actually the bedrock of fiscal freedom. Create one, and then don’t ignore it. Be sure you have a realistic idea of your income and your fixed and variable expenses (that list you’ve been keeping should help). Eliminate the expenses you can do without, making a plan for paying your bills only from your service member’s income. To help you stick to it…

Adopt a Cash-Only Policy

If you only use cold hard cash, you’ll only buy what you have money for this month. The safety net of your “plastic” money can leave you with a false impression of what you can truly afford, resulting in your living well beyond your means. After allocating money for the month’s bills, divvy up the remaining money in your budget for the month. Put it in labeled jars or envelopes for each week, accepting that when the money’s gone, it’s gone. You won’t put things on the credit card just because you want them. Instead, you’ll wait for next month to buy them. If you’re lucky enough to have money left over when the month ends, put it aside for a rainy day or a specific, important purchase.

Bank that Check

If you happen to live in a dual income household right now, have your paycheck immediately deposited into a savings account. If you don’t see it, you won’t get in the habit of using it. You can build your emergency and long-term savings, and won’t have to make any drastic lifestyle changes if that second income goes away. Visit www.bankrate.com to find the best interest rates for savings accounts.


The only thing in life (and the military) that’s guaranteed is that nothing’s guaranteed. If you’re not already living on a single income, slowly try to implement the suggestions above into your spending habits. By taking the necessary steps to adjust now, you can avoid the potential discomfort you may feel if and when you need to do so in the future.

Creative ?Money-Saving ?Ideas From ?Milspouses

Whenever we got the itch to spend money, we’d ask ourselves whether this was a need or a want? If it was a want, we’d save our ‘fun money’ until we had enough to buy the item right out. We also learned to use our resources. Instead of spending money to eat out, we took advantage of on-base and local events. There was usually always something going on and we were often able to ‘eat out’ for free. It takes a bit a research but it’s worth it.

Stephanie Johnson
Air Force spouse
Vandenberg AFB

We opened an EasyStart CD-minimum $50 to open, with a maximum of $3,000. After maxing out that CD, every payday we open a new EasyStart CD at Navy FCU. Minimum $100 to open and you can add to the CD. We choose to open a new one every payday (and) play CD Bingo – trying to fill each month, each year with a CD that will mature. Then we will try to have a CD mature every two weeks. And then every week. We make it a fun, family game. Sometimes we will take extra money (like from the food account) and take out a special CD and call it a vacation CD. (We also) opened Money Market accounts for food, gas, taxes, insurance, etc. Each payday, we put the money into each account. We calculated the annual cost, divided into monthly amounts. The money earns interest while it waits to be paid on bills.

Sara Young
Army Spouse
Fort Belvior, Va.

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