No room to breath: Tales from a one-income family


I’ve been doing the bills today because Look at that! It’s the first of the f’in month! AGAIN! and I decided to write down our income verses expence. You know, like educated, good financial planners do? I think it’s called a b-u-d-g-e-t but I can’t be too certain.

Anyway, having written down our bills, our average monthly expense, the rent and our miscellaneous items (like shelling out 300 bucks a month for GAS thanks to an hour commute for the mister) I came up with…


TADA! We can officially no longer afford shit tissue. (I hear aloe leaves are better anyway.)

The thing about finances is that (much like PPD) nobody talks numbers. I don’t want to pry. I don’t want to brag. I don’t want to wine and bitch that we’re poor (regardless of what it looks like here, we do ok, really. I just.. yaknow.. freak out a bit.) I just want to be HONEST. LIke “yea, we’re damn tight here, too, but we make it work! This is how…” I’m kicking myself over a few bad choices and laziness. Paying the bills late last month cost us almost two hundred dollars. I kid you not. People, PAY YOUR BILLS ON TIME. I do the online bill pay thing for the most part but the two crucial ones can’t be paid online. Yaknow, the big spenders AKA: the big yowzer of a late fee and weeping into your Wheaties the next morning.  Those.

I’ve started looking at my roll as a wife differently. If I stay home with LB I either have to 1) work from home which is something I’m doing my damndest to make work and 2) see all the financial planning for our family as a job. I decided to look at bill due dates as deadlines and applying for refunds/coupons/reimbursement as a job. It’s income, isn’t it? It should be as important as a job. I never let myself get lax at work with my responsibility, why would I do it at home? It’s time to pull out professional Leslie and place her at the table with the checkbook.

With our prospective move to “nobody-in-their-right-mind-can-afford-a-house-are-you-kidding-me-ville” we’ve talked more and more about how to save and what areas to cut back on. I hear you screaming Starbucks, Internet. Yes, obviously that has to go. And what’s that? Eating out? Yes, I know. Cooking is now part of that “professional Leslie” that is the caretaker of her house. It’s not for our health now, it’s financial. (but god help us. Cyan instead of Cajun pepper. Seriously? THEY ARE BOTH RED.)

I think the biggest reason I’m in freakout mode is said move. Well, that and the thought of cutting the coffee umbilical chord. So, I thought I’d offer a few solutions we came up with and I hope you’ll pitch in what works for you.

First, behold! I hath made a spreadsheet! With colors! And formulas! And how many exclamation points to I need to use to get you to say “OOH! AAHHH!”


Yes, I’m impressed myself. Even the mister, the geeky engineer mister, is proud of my spreadsheet and is happy to use it to track our money. Screw Quickin’. We’re going Excel!

Second,  I found out that you can take your change to a change machine and get a starbucks gift card (or music, or borders, or…) and not get penalized for using the machine!


Luckily I’ve started a change collection and am resigned to staying within the cash budget for “external” goods and saving up my change for my $2.30 white mocha americano. Which, if I may be so bold here, would be tip #3. Switch to an Americano, get white chocolate syrup and put a dash of milk from the creamer table. You save over a buck each drink and you won’t miss the milk. I promise. *And* just because I love you this much, that drink is only 100 calories (grande) instead of 340 for a grande white mocha. Yup! Get in line. Go ahead.

Next one’s on me.


15 guests here now.


  1. We did a budget too, when we went to one income (Daddy stays home). The best thing to come of it is FO$* - a set amount of money we each get that we can spend on whatever we want. Most of mine goes to coffee, but at least I don’t have to justify that expense or see it on the spreadsheet!

    *“FO$” stands for F*ck Off Money…we probably should start calling it “Allowance” now that the kids are getting older.

    By Foxy6 on 2006 08 03

  2. I so enjoyed this post because i’m a budgeter, I love to make budgets, color-code budgets, look at budgets…
    The only thing I have a problem with is FOLLOWING the budget, so here I sit, in Brokesville, with you.
    The saddest part is, I work full time and am still broke. :(

    By Renee on 2006 08 03

  3. Can I ask an honest, but dumb, question?  If this is outta line, just ignore me.

    But.  I come from the land of low home prices (at least, this area in general).  How do normal (i.e. not super high income) people *afford* a home?  I know that the general salary levels are higher on the West Coast and in the Seattle area than they are here…but not 5X higher. 

    I guess I’m just really curious, having just gone through the homebuying process for the first time.  How do you all make it work?

    By silene on 2006 08 03

  4. At some point in the very near future, I am going to do one of those nifty little Excel spreadsheets too…..At least, that’s my plan.  I am TERRIBLE about paying bills on time!  I dont’ have a set time I sit down and pay bills, plus they all come at different times.  One day I am going to be like Professional Leslie and have it all under control!

    By Raybelle on 2006 08 03

  5. I have to make myself sit down one night a week (usually Sunday) and I go through all the mail from the week, pay the bills, update Quicken, blah blah blah.  I hate doing it and it takes hours.  And if I skip it one week…things end up getting paid late and I hate that, but it happens. 

    As for making a budget or staying on one, we are not so good at that.  Or rather we just haven’t tried hard enough to do it.  I do try to keep tabs on how much we are spending but it is easy to forget how things add up when you don’t put it on paper.  I should probably take the Excel approach like you did (LOVELY spreadsheet!!) because I don’t like what Quicken does (doesn’t do).

    By Carolyn on 2006 08 03

  6. I have a budget - but since I don’t follow it religiously - I’d call it a “guideline”.  One thing we did budget (which happens every single pay day) is adult allowance - I get my $, he gets his - and what we do with it is our own business.  I tend to save mine up for fancy haircuts & yarn - he buys White Castle hamburgers and motorcycle parts. I’ve found it keeps us much happier in the end with a little mad money to call our own.

    By cursingmama on 2006 08 03

  7. Those gift cards at the change machines are cool ideas. Too bad you can’t turn them in for martinis! wink

    Oh I feel your pain on late fees. I screwed up last month and didn’t watch our balances, paid two huge bills, and got some nasty overdraft fees. Awesome.

    By Jamie on 2006 08 03

  8. Oh, I hear you! Today is my “review the damage” day, so your post is very timely! smile

    One of the most inspiring and helpful books I’ve read on budgeting is the Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey.

    The Dollar Stretcher</i> is a heinously fugly site, but it also has a lot of useful articles on how to save in just about every aspect of your life. (I’ve been perusing the Baby section to see how to save…)

    I agree with Foxy6 about the allowance - no matter how tight your budget is, you must factor in a small amount of flexi cash for each of you to spend (or save) on whatever you want. That’s the best way to stay in budget, I think, because you don’t have that desperate “I don’t have any money!” feeling that can lead to compulsive spending!

    It also helps me to think of budgeting as a kind of game, like, “Can I come under on the food budget this month if I forego X, Y, Z?” I love your Starbucks drink tip! That’s awesome!

    Speaking of reducing food costs, the cooking from scratch thing really is huge. Buy yourself a crock pot and a <a href=“”>good healthy crock pot recipe book. smile

    I swear, I need to start an online cooking show!

    By laura on 2006 08 03

  9. doh! I tried to preview my comment to keep that from happening, but preview isn’t working. Sorry for the yucky URL.

    By laura on 2006 08 03

  10. One more thing, Dave Ramsey is a popular author here from Nashville and has a great book called “Financial Peace.”

    His website is

    But oh yeah it’s all the little stuff that adds up and bites you in the budget ass.

    By Jamie on 2006 08 03

  11. I have an aloe plant at home and it’s prickly on the outside.  My advice is to continue to fit the TP into your budget.

    By Jan on 2006 08 03

  12. damn, you are awesome. we need to come up with a budgety thing too. will you come to my house and make me a spreadsheet? what is it with buying lame shit just because it is on sale? A sickness, i tell you, it is a sickness.

    By texasbelle on 2006 08 03

  13. Good for you, making up such a pretty spreadsheet, and better yet, sticking to it.  I have a spreadsheet I fill out each month too, with all the bills that need to be paid and when.  Then I go into Quicken and write the checks there, and then go cry in my coffee (margarita) because of that RED balance left in Quicken after I write said checks.  We pay $320 / week for childcare/preschool.  It is killing us.  And the pesky mortgage, power, gas, phone, internet…

    Thanks for the change tip.  Right now we collect change and put it in the checking account to prevent “bouncing” though.  Maybe one day…I would LOVE an itunes card….

    By CPA MOM on 2006 08 03

  14. After finally convincing Jay to let me help with some bills at the townhouse, which he didnt want me to do since we arent married yet and I dont live there all the time, I lose my job.  I feel like such an ass, even though there was no way I could have forseen losing my job.  We buy generic brand stuff, go to Big Lots for things like laundry detergent.  Jay has a huge jar for his change too, but he hasnt touched it in years, there is probably like 500 dollars in there now.  We are going to use it for fun stuff on the honeymoon, or maybe to pay some bills depending on how broke we get.

    By Sara on 2006 08 03

  15. Budgeting sucks!  Once the hubs and I combined accounts, I swore that I would take over so there wasn’t weird frivolous (SP?) spending going here and there.  Having an allowance is a good idea.  It allows you to live a little, even if it is just your coffee.  You positive balance sounds like ours lately.  Having a baby and only having 80% insurance coverage is definitely throwing a loop into our financial plan. 

    Heck Les, I can make you a americano any day over here and save you the $2.30!  Come on by!

    By traci on 2006 08 03

  16. yeah…buying Leslie his $50 espresso machine for Father’s Day has saved us soooo much in coffee funds! This month he only spent $10 and that includes fancy beans and chocolate powder. That thing has already paid for itself.

    I just finished the budget review for July and we spent 97% of our income. Hahaha. We are supposedly on the 80/20 rule (live on 80%, save 20%). But I’ve been pumping money into our health savings account and still trying to pay off huge chunks of our damn taxes which had to go on the credit card…*sigh*

    Thanks for bringing up the topic, Les, because it really doesn’t get talked about enough.

    p.s. another great budgeting tip: Bartering. I am getting free labor support from our childbirth class teacher (a very popular doula in town) because I am good at organizing household clutter and she wants help getting her basement under control. Cha-ching, there’s $350 off the baby bill right there!

    By laura on 2006 08 03

  17. “Money, A Memoire” by Liz Perle.  It’s a very interesting book - so much so that I’m making dh read it.  Nobody talks about finances.  Nobody.  Kind of annoying, really.

    Starbucks - Put a set amount on your Starbucks card per month.  Use that card and only that card.  Works for me (but then again I’m dragging two kiddos with me so it’s not all that handy anymore).

    I’ve totally taken over the majority of budgeting, being careful with money, etc. since I started staying home.  I can make up a grocery list and estimate it’s total within $2-$5 (apparently it’s a freaky thing I inherited from Grandma - I can tell you how much a jar of peanut butter is at a moment’s notice), etc.  There was also another book I was reading lately that had the idea of a Freedom Account for those ‘unexpected’ bills like car insurance/repair, property taxes, new clothing, that kind of thing… Aha!  “The Complete Cheapskate” by Mary Hunt.  It’s a little hokey (to me at least) but it had a few neat ideas.

    By lanna on 2006 08 03

  18. Congrats on the sticking to the budget! We do a loose budget that has me filling out the set bills every month, then assessing the rest. Price of gas is not helping. We also have started trying to set a ‘fun money’ amt for each of us - we’re both spenders so I have to regulate and this makes it easier & more fair. I also start setting aside $$ in Sept. The rest of the year I set the same amt aside for whatever project/goal we decide. We need to start cooking more too. I learned the hard way to watch the lag time on the online bill pay - just b/c it’s left your bank acct on the due date doesn’t mean the electric company’s got it.
    By the way, I’m an Aggie & my husband is currently working on his undergrad so a big Whoop to you & your dad!  smile

    By Christy on 2006 08 03

  19. Okay, I’m totally impressed!  I’m Oooohing and Ahhhhing all over myself over here!  wink

    I wish I had budget tips, but let’s just say that’s not my strong point.

    I’ll have to try your Starbucks tip.  I’ve already switched from regular a Mocha to a Decaf Latte with sugar free vanilla syrup.  I wonder if your drink is lower in calories???

    By Ficklechick on 2006 08 03

  20. Good for you!  I wish I could be as disciplined as you.  I also started spread-sheeting it several years ago, only to finally realize it was a fat waste of time because, though I would have a momentary freak out on my hubby about our non-essential expenses (coffee trips, music, eating out, etc.), two days later and we were back at our old habits, and loving them.  I finally decided it is better to be broke and blissfully ignorant than than stressed.  What would that super-she-financier say about that practice?

    By keegan on 2006 08 03