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How to Survive on one Income

How to Survive on one Income

How can you Survive on one Income?

Whether you’re a single parent family, one partner works and the other stays at home, one of you lost their job or one of you is sick, there are numerous reasons families have to rely on one income.

Depending on the size of the single income, it can be tricky.

Here are some tips to help based on my experiences with all of the above.

This post may contain affiliate links for products or services we personally use and recommend. Check our disclosure here.

1. Know Your Income

One of the most important parts of surviving on one income is knowing exactly how much that income is.

For some families with casual and shift work or their own business, this can be harder as it varies greatly.

If your income is variable, try to base it on the lowest average amount or expected amount.

Anything above that is a bonus then.

List all sources of regular income such as wages, Centrelink payments including family tax benefit A and B, Carers Payment or pensions then list other income you get and have an idea of how much you make such as catalogue delivery, cleaning, babysitting, online surveys etc.

Read how to create a budget and stick to it as well as how to budget as a single income family for more budgeting tips.

2. Know Your Expenses

It sounds simple, but many people are surprised when they look back over their bank accounts where some of their money goes!

Write all your expenses down from the obvious ones such as rent/mortgage, food, insurance, transport to the less obvious ones such as some work expenses, school expenses, takeaway food and unexpected bills (which if you look over your year, sometimes happen on a regular basis).

I also do an annual financial review. One year I saved almost $5,000.

Last year, with quite a few lifestyle changes (we were travelling full-time) I reduced my expenses by $18,000!

Get a $100 cash bonus with ING to help you with your budget, valid until 30 June 2024.

3. Make Lifestyle Choices

When you listed your income and expenses, did they balance out?

You want your expenses to be less than your income, not just match it.

If you are living pay to pay, something needs to change.

This is where some tough lifestyle choices usually need to be made.

Some people find switching to a cash system for a while so they physically see where their money is going and have receipts to account for everything helps a lot.

That is one step.

On top of that, go over your expenses with a fine-tooth comb and work out where you can reduce them so you can put more money into savings or off debt.

When looking at your finances and lifestyle, be sure to check if you are eligible for any freebies, bonuses, cash etc. Find a huge list of options, including state by state info here.

Other Lifestyle Choices

Is the one income a conscious choice or an unexpected event?

Is it something you want to last long term?

If it is, you need to create a plan for this to work.

Your budget needs to be realistic and if you aren’t covering your expenses, you need to look at other options.

This doesn’t mean you both need to work outside the home though.

Here are 23 ways to make money in 2023 and 43 ways for single mums to make money.

Most of these options can be done by anyone, are flexible and can be combined so you have multiple streams of income happening.

4. Plan Your Future

In order to live on one income long-term, you need to plan for your future.

Work out your superannuation and how you will both retire.

Speak with a finance professional to discuss options such as co-contributions, the income-earner contributing to the non-income earners’ superannuation and look at other options.

Personally, I’ve been a single mother for most of my kids’ lives so it all came down to me. I have superannuation I contribute to, shares and I also have this blog, a few other sites and invest in businesses.

This means I have diversified my investments and have multiple options for when I retire.

Also, you can still be a millionaire, even as a single mum!

What do you want your future to look like? How will you achieve that?

5. Look for Other Ways to Make Money

As mentioned, you both don’t need to work or if you are single, you don’t need to rely solely on your income.

In fact, I recommend having a few income streams to protect you against job loss and to help you get financially free sooner.

Each month I share ways I make money on the side.

You can check out how I made $33,277.57 on the side one year (with month by month updates and how you can do it too).

This post on the $20,000 challenge in 2017.

With that challenge, in my first month, I made $2,710 and $8,741 in my third month.

Most of what I do, especially when it comes to making money on the side, is done from home, around my kids or is pretty much passive.

Have a look and decide what would work for your family.

It might be doing some online surveys (find the best Australian ones here), mystery shopping, market research, renting a room on Airbnb or you might want to start your own business. You can do this for as little as $100!

Alternatively, check out 10 ways to make $1,000 this month or 10 ways to make $10,000.

Specific Issues

Living on one income can be hard, especially if you have large unexpected expenses, medical bills or are trying to sort out school expenses.

Here are a few posts addressing specific issues for living on one income.


When I’ve lived on one income or been a single mum, I spent less on groceries.

Check out how to get groceries for free and super cheap to get you started as well as these tips to reduce the cost of groceries in 2023.

Get your first box free with HelloFresh!

Get up to $180 off EveryPlate, split across your first 5 boxes with the code THRIFTYEPLATE.

Get up to $144 off Dinnerly (49% off your first order, then 30% off the next two.) Marley Spoon offers up to $190 off 4 orders! That’s 53% off your first order, and 20% off your next three.

Medical Expenses

We have a great public health system in Australia, however, sometimes you need treatment immediately. Or what you need isn’t covered.

My eldest has autism and I had to pay for the assessments privately. I have been paralysed twice, needed surgery and other medical issues.

Without private health, I would have been waiting over a year for treatment and we would have lost our home.

Check out how to afford medical expenses while on a low income or Centrelink.

It has tips for cheap dental, cheap glasses (where I get mine from) and all medical costs.


I’ve lived without a car at times and saved a fortune but that isn’t always practical.

Check out how to live without a car, also look at how to reduce the cost of transport.

Large, Unexpected Expenses

When hit with a sudden bill such as major car repairs, medical expenses or similar, it can be hard if you have been surviving on one income.

Read how to prepare for and overcome financial emergencies which includes tips for those unexpected moments.

Lastly, I know for many Aussies, Centrelink is the sole income for the home. Here is a massive guide I wrote with tips on how to survive on Centrelink.

I had to previously and it is not as easy as others assume!

What tips do you have for living on one income?

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