Thrills and Chills: How We Raised a Large Family on One Income

Living on one income with six children has been like a very long roller coaster ride, much scarier than we expected at times, and lots of fun at other times, with some screaming, puking and laughing along the way. Sometimes I am amazed that we have survived the ride!

dad and kids together outside
When we first moved to the country and only had five kids.

Before we got married, we talked about having a big family. To say that we had no idea what this would require is an understatement. Both of us had stay-home moms and many siblings. We wanted that for our kids. I guess we didn’t really realize all that our parents had sacrificed for us and how hard our dads had worked to support us for all those years.

After discussing this topic with my husband, I had to come back and give more credit to our parents . It was their example that inspired both of us to want this lifestyle. They showed us that it was possible and a good way to live. They made it look easier than it was . My husband’s parents were from the “great generation”. Their faith and can-do attitude inspired my husband to believe he could do anything. My parents lived through the depression. My dad’s family went from being sharecroppers in the worst of times to having a good job in the city later . My mom lost her mother at a young age and was raised by her dad and a housekeeper and the ladies at church . She grew up to become a strong woman. They all had great faith. We were so blessed to have these parents!

Even with a little help, when you consider the overall picture, we truly have been able to survive on one very modest income for 30 years thanks to the Lord, my husband’s consistent hard work, Boy Scout resourcefulness, and learning some frugal habits, and lately, thanks to the growing socialism of America. Believing that it’s possible is also a key ingredient.

Here is a list of habits and circumstances that kept us from falling off the roller coaster. Details are below.

  1. We own a house instead of renting.
  2. We learned how to stay on a budget.
  3. We buy used items and accept hand-me-downs.
  4. I cook our meals at home most of the time.
  5. We drive older vehicles.
  6. My husband is handy and resourceful and does all the home repairs.
  7. We don’t spend much on luxuries.
  8. We keep and use things for a long time.
  9. God has intervened and helped us in unexpected ways.
  10. I did babysitting and other odd jobs.
  11. We give back to the church and charity.
Anchor Podcast link–Ep-39-e151v6l

1. We own a house.

Thankfully my husband already had a little money in the bank when we got married. He had received a settlement after a serious motorcycle accident and we used some of it for a down payment on a starter home in the suburbs. The savings wasn’t a lot of money and we depleted within a few years even though he was working full-time.

Our house was nothing fancy but it saved us from paying rent and later it helped us to buy another house. It was a 3 bedroom/2 bath, one story, patio home, meaning that the front yard was very small and there was a brick wall and gate hiding the house from the street.

All of the houses in this subdivision were like that and were designed to fit into a long, narrow lot with the backyard running along one side of the house. There was no garage, only a carport. The “patio” referred to the fact that the house had a lot of windows looking out into the yard so you could enjoy a nice patio area. Even our bedroom had a door to the patio.

For people who are struggling with outrageous rent payments, I urge you to do anything and everything, even working multiple jobs, to get the money to buy a house. Even a small fixer-upper is better than paying rent. Live at home with your parents if you can, and save all your money for a house. I do not see the housing market getting better anytime soon. Get it while you can!

2. We learned how to stay on a budget.

After the savings ran out, we made the mistake of using credit cards to fill in the gap between paychecks. As a college student I had already developed the bad habit of using department store credit cards and carrying a balance. Now I know that those are the worst kind of credit cards! After awhile, we realized we had to stop buying things we couldn’t afford. Money was very tight, but our needs were met. We never went hungry or missed a mortgage payment or got behind on utilities or bills.

I confess that I was a little spoiled, and honestly so was my husband. It wasn’t easy going on a spending diet, but we had to or our credit card payments were going to be more than our paycheck! So we have had to write out a budget with how much we make and how much our bills are and stick to it. As you will see in the other items, this will require living a certain way.

Having a credit card to build credit, shop online, reserve hotels, or for emergencies is a good idea, if you use it correctly. The key is to pay it off as fast as possible.

If you do get in a place where you have some credit card debt, I suggest having at least two different credit cards such as VISA and Mastercard so you utilize balance transfers and take advantage of the zero percent interest offers while you pay off the debt. This way even if you have to make payments, you are not accruing interest.

Another option is short term credit with no interest for a year or two. This usually involves making set payments monthly for a year or two. This can work well for appliances or medical care as long as you can afford the payments.

CAUTION! Read the terms carefully and be ready to transfer the balance to another card before interest accrues or the zero interest runs out.

3. We buy used items and happily accept hand-me-downs.

We had three children in our first seven years of marriage. Babies R Us and Toys R US were like a second home to me! I loved buying baby gear, especially strollers and toys.

Thankfully I also enjoyed going to garage sales and consignment shops and had no problem accepting hand-me-downs of clothes , toys, books, and gear from relatives and friends. In fact, those bags of clothes from generous moms made up a large part of my children’s wardrobe after awhile. One of my friends only bought really nice clothes for her little boy and I got pretty excited when she would tell me that she had some clothes for me.

Kids playing with a train set.
A train set is a good investment. Check eBay!

Buying used things can still mean spending more money than you should, and eventually I realized that I needed to stop going to garage sales so often.

By the time my youngest two sons were born, I had so many clothes stored in closets that I really didn’t need to buy much other than underwear and socks.

After we moved to the country where there literally is nowhere to shop besides Walmart and, later, Goodwill, it was much easier to break the habit of buying things as retail therapy. Even a few bucks here and there quickly adds up!

4. I cook .

meme. why do they want dinner every single night?

Another thing that changed when we moved to the country was our eating habits. When living in the city, it was too easy to pick up fast food, fried chicken or go out to eat when I didn’t feel like cooking. Now we live 15 miles from the closest McDonalds. Even in the city, though, I cooked most of our weekday meals.

For the past 18 years I have cooked dinner almost every night, except for leftover nights, and usually breakfast and lunch as well, plus baking cookies and cakes and bread. Weekends are usually grilling time.

a cake
A cake I made.

Eating meals that you prepare yourself from inexpensive ingredients is the number one way to save money. Groceries are still not cheap for a large family, and some moms do a much better job at frugal meals than I do.

The best way to save on grocery expenses is to plan your meals a week or two in advance, buy all the groceries at once, and try to limit trips to the grocery store. This will cut back on impulse buying.

Our menu has been fairly consistent over the years because all of us are pretty picky eaters. We ate the typical meals that families eat. This included pasta, tacos, pizza, salads, chicken, hamburgers, hot dogs, pork chops, meat loaf, casseroles, stir fry, plus the filler foods of cereal, frozen food like chicken nuggets and pizza, granola bars, cookies.

We also eat a lot of eggs, bacon, sausage, and other breakfast foods. We never really had to rely on food like beans and rice as a meal, but we did eat plenty of cheap foods like ramen, sandwiches, tuna fish, peanut butter, lunch meat, instant potatoes, frozen burritos and purchase the cheapest brand of many items.

Not being able to eat at restaurants can make you feel a little deprived, so we tend to spend more on the foods we like to eat at home than most really frugal people would, , such as meat for grilling, frozen snacks, and sodas. When the budget got really tight due to unexpected expenses, I would have to cut back on treats and everyone would complain.

5. We drive older vehicles.

Another area where we save money is in the transportation department. You might think we spend a lot based on the number of vehicles we own, but the truth is that all of them are very old, some were literally given to us, and others were sold to us for very low prices from friends. God has truly provided for us in this department! But having a bunch of old vehicles only works if you can work on them yourself, and that is where having a mechanic for a husband comes in handy!

My husband has spent many hours working on our vehicles, doing all the oil changes, keeping the air conditioning working, rotating tires, replacing batteries and other parts. He also has made extra money by buying and reselling vehicles over the years when he found a good deal and knew he could make a profit that way.

Also, due to the age of the vehicles and our location in a rural area our auto insurance is much cheaper than what people in cities pay. We only carry liability insurance on most of the vehicles, except for our wheelchair van which would be hard for us to replace if it got wrecked or stolen.

6. My husband is handsome AND handy around the house.

Red Green. If you're not handsome, be handy.

Face it, nothing lasts like it used to. Besides vehicles, appliances, air conditioners, plumbing, electrical, lawn equipment, toys, it seems like everything is going to need repairs eventually. Thanks to what he learned from his dad and YouTube, my husband can fix almost anything.

The few times we have had to actually hire someone to repair something were simply when the job required specific tools or equipment we did not have. For instance, we paid someone to pump out the septic tank. All of this repair work has also provided a natural way for him to teach our sons how to fix things.

Our poor over-worked air conditioner did require some repairman visits for a few summers in a row, but for the past few years we have figured out how to keep it going by replacing a part that keeps going out. I am very thankful for my husband’s hard work and God’s provision.

I’ll also include in this category that my mechanic husband has always worked on side jobs at home to supplement his paycheck. For many years this extra money helped us feel less deprived and be able to afford hobbies and a few extras.

7. We do not spend a lot on luxuries for ourselves or the kids.

Living on one income does require sacrifices and being content with what you have. For instance, I haven’t had my hair cut by a professional in years. I have never had my nails done or my hair professionally colored. I have never been to a spa. I don’t get coffee at Starbucks or go to Panera and I rarely buy new clothes. But this is my choice because staying home and homeschooling my kids was more important to me.

My kids also did not have ( or expect) the things that some people consider essential or normal parts of childhood, such as summer camp, preschool, private lessons, private portrait sessions, a new car at 16 or 18, trips to Disneyland. They didn’t get the coolest furniture and decor in their bedrooms , new computers, phones, fancy birthday parties, and the latest fashions, unless someone gave them to us. They got what we could afford at the time or oftentimes they received nice things as gifts from relatives. My mom and in-laws spoiled them pretty well when they were little.

We do not buy our kids a phone until they are old enough to get a job and pay for the monthly plan. Same for driving: have to pay for their own car insurance. Being homeschooled, not having a phone was not a big deal for my kids.

Nevertheless, thanks to Ebay, Craigslist, garage sales, and gifts, my kids were never deprived. Our house was a mess of toys, bicycles, books, swing sets, trampolines, dirt bikes, Legos, musical instruments, and even computers for many years.

Kids on trampoline
Trampolines are fun for rowdy kids!

There were also quite a few years that we did not have any health insurance when my husband was self-employed and later when he got a job with no benefits. In our case, the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare has been a good thing. At our income level and having so many kids, there is no way we could afford insurance at today’s rates, so we qualify for very low premiums. I know this is a tough topic, but it’s one are where having a low income is actually a good thing.

8. We keep the same stuff until it wears out.

As far as furniture, we bought a few things when we got married and we had that for 8 years until our house burned down ( see #8). Then we bought mostly all new stuff with the insurance money and since then we have had to replace the couches several times due to wear and tear. But we have had the same mattresses and many other pieces of furniture since the fire. I finally replaced the dinner table that was donated to us after the fire when I redid my dining room.

This principle applies to everything from computers and phones to TVs and furniture. We would buy used items or the older model when it’s on sale, and keep it until it wears out and then buy another old model.

I just recently broke this principle and bought my son a brand new $500 laptop with his part of the stimulus money. I felt like I was really splurging! Prior to that we had purchased refurbished $100 ancient Dell laptops on eBay for many years.

We also wear the same clothes for a long time. If you look at old photos you will see my husband wearing clothes that he still wears today and I literally still have the same bathrobe I had when I met my husband! But my mom likes to give me robes as gift so I do have a couple of newer ones.

Thanks to generous people who give to Goodwill, I do have some nice clothes. When I lost a lot of weight, I also had to buy new stuff, but I’ve been wearing much of my wardrobe for a long time. However, I do spend quite a bit on new running shoes!

woman in chair and woman by motorcycle
Before and After I changed my diet and began running regularly

9. God has often intervened in unexpected ways.

I don’t recommend counting on a fire to come along as a way of dealing with financial problems! But I guess God thought it was a good idea, because that is what happened. Our house burned downed one night in the year 2000 and this event changed our lives quite a bit. I wrote about that here.

Briefly, we woke up to find our attic engulfed in flames and the house was a total loss, most likely caused by a rat chewing through wires. As a result of this traumatic event, insurance paid us enough to demolish and rebuild that house (with help from a contractor friend) and also pay off our credit cards and refurnish the house. God and good friends came to our rescue during this time and all our needs were covered.

outside view of a house
The new house after the fire.

After the house was rebuilt, we lived there about a year and a half, then decided to sell it and move to the country. We made a good profit since it was a new house and were able to put 20% down on the new place which was a mobile home with 8 acres of land. It’s funny how that down payment seemed like a lot back then, but it wasn’t much by today’s standards.

The world has changed so much since 2000 and we are so thankful that God in his good providence moved us out of the city when he did.

God’s answer to prayers has shown up in many other ways over the years such as by friends giving us vehicles out of the blue, financial gifts from family, stimulus checks and other unexpected money from insurance companies and the government, and providing good deals on things at the time we need to buy.

Unexpected provision was not part of our budget, but it sure did make life easier and sometimes came at critical moments. As I saw how God often worked things out, I did begin to trust that even when things seemed pretty bad, He would make a way.

a mobile home
Our house many years ago.

10. I made a little extra money by babysitting and other work from home.

Before the fire, I was attempting to help with our bills by babysitting other people’s children, some full-time, some after school. This was going pretty well until the fire. The extra money usually went towards stuff we couldn’t afford on my husband’s paycheck. Paying off credit cards with that money would have been smarter.

I also tried joining several network marketing companies over the years to make extra money, and selling items on Ebay. I wrote about that here. Ebay was pretty good when it was new, but I never made any money at network marketing.

The little money I have made babysitting over the years was always extra. It usually got spent on things for the kids, trips, gifts, and was not really enough to consider as income, but it still felt good to be making some money. However, babysitting other people’s kids is not easy and not necessarily a great way to make extra money. The other kids can provide playmates for your kids, but they can also provide stress, unwanted behaviors, and germs. There were days that my kids did not want those other kids in their house and times that the parents were the problem. Overall I believe it was a good experience.

In home child care is a big commitment because those parents are counting on you so they can go to work. Make sure this is what you want to do before you jump in.

Today it seems like everyone is working from home. But just remember that being a stay home mom, especially if you homeschool, is an important job in itself. Don’t feel bad if you are not bringing in an income. But if you are, and that works for your family, more power to you! Be blessed.

11. We give back.

God’s word tells us that we can trust Him with our needs. He says that when we give to the church and the poor in his name, he will give back even more and we have found that to be true. I’m not saying we have always trusted Him enough to give when times were really tight.

But every time we have been able to get past our fears of ‘not having enough’ , God has shown me that HE is the one who is really in charge ! I’m not even surprised anymore when a totally unexpected check shows up in the mail at just the right time because God is just so amazing. And I can’t even know the other ways he prevented financial disasters after we were obedient to trust him in this way.

There was a period of time when we were not attending church and we mostly stopped giving to charity and I would say that those years were the worst financially. I urge you to put your finances in God’s hands. If this is a new idea to you, there are many great resources about trusting God with your finances. Here is one by Tony Evans.

Giving even when you don’t have a lot is a powerful way to build your faith. We never took any financial workshops or anything like that, but I know many Christian find that following system is a helpful way to get out of debt and be able to give more to God. For us, like most things, it has been more of an ADHD lifestyle of giving and trusting God when we remember, but when we do it consistently, we always see good things happen.

In summary, make giving to God part of your budget and just do it. You won’t regret it. Just wait to see what God does and then give him the glory!

If you want more encouragement listen to this podcast about trusting God’s ability to provide .

However, I don’t think we did everything right.

As my last point I want to urge anyone reading this to do a few things better than we did. But also, I want to encourage you to go for it, if you are considering being a one-income family. Yes, you need to realize it will take some budgeting, sacrificing, giving, planning, and being content.

Yes, you will make mistakes along the way. Don’t let the fear of making mistakes stop you from trying. Life is never perfect! People with plenty of money still have problems.

But I do encourage you to BUDGET better than we did, meaning that we did not budget enough for our RETIREMENT. Start the habit from the beginning of saving and investing for your future.

Also, try not to use credit cards for any consumer items like going out to eat, clothes, toys, household items, trips. I understand that major purchases may require using credit at times. Just avoid that consumer debt if at all possible. It’s better to save up , then buy .

And be more generous in giving to God’s church and charity than you think you can afford to be. God will take care of that.

As our country moves more into a centralized and controlled economy, life is becoming more and more expensive.

But the income redistribution is also increasing. Through tax credits, lower income families often get a large tax refund. See this as part of your budget , not for spending wastefully. A couple of years of tax refunds could be enough to use as a down payment on a house.

Last words of encouragement and advice

Living on one income will take determination and faith and planning for couples just starting their lives together. If possible, save up and buy a house before you have children. But don’t let the housing market stop you from following your dreams. Find a way to make it happen.

Reflecting back over our life has made me see that it was my husband’s and my parent’s examples to us that made the most difference. We saw them being resourceful, learning as they went, looking for solutions, putting their families first, trusting God in the hard times, and never quitting. These values and habits are what made us the people we are today . If you didn’t have that kind of family , you can learn new ways and change the path for your children .

Get used to being different, looking different, and being okay living a different way than other people. Even if your spouse has a pretty good job, living on one income is going to require an independent mindset. With the current push for a collective mind, swimming against the tide will not be easy.

Other women may question and even condemn you for this choice. If your husband is the one who stays home, the same thing can happen. People will question your choices because they want you to do what everyone else does. You will need to know why you are doing this and be confident about your decision. This wasn’t really a problem for me, but I know times are different now. Everyone thinks they can judge your life.

If you want to stay home with your children, don’t let anyone bully you into changing your mind!

Maybe you are already married with children and can’t imagine living on one income because your bills are to high, but you wish you could. I urge you to consider credit counseling or get a book on how to get out of debt and live on less. It might take a little time, but if that is your goal, get started! New money habits can be learned .

man on unicycle
Be yourself, even if you’re weird!


  1. We made similar choices in our home. Our children have been blessed so far to be able to do the same. Thanks for sharing these helpful tips.

  2. We, as you know :), are in the thick of this situation! It was always our plan for me to stay home with the kids. We have had ups and downs. Some months I haven’t been sure we would have enough to cover the bills, but God ALWAYS provides. Always. I admit, we are in a period of forgetting to give back right now…it’s my fault though because I’m in charge of it and I keep forgetting! Writing myself a reminder right now actually! Right now, we are in a spot we have never ever been in before. Because of the stimulus money and child tax credits, we have savings. It’s a weird place to be because we have NEVER had this much money before. Trying to be very careful with it, but also allowing ourselves to get some things that we have wanted and needed for a while. Also trying not to focus on it too much, because God will provide even if we end up having to blow through it all! 🙂 If we can do a single income, anyone can figure out how to make it work, lol. Again, it hasn’t always been easy, and it’s been the result of lots and lots of pray to finally get to where we are right now (no debt and savings). We are hoping to save up enough to get a bigger house (nothing huge, but a little bigger would be nice!), but again, I keep putting it back in God’s hands because it seems impossible, but He has done LOTS of impossible things before 🙂 God Bless!

    • That’s a great testimony, my friend. And I feel the same about all that stimulus money ! We just used $650 of it today for an ultrasound for my husband’s legs( veins). Hated to spend it ,but thankful to have it ! We’ve definitely tried to make the money last . That’s great that you are not in debt and have a little extra money. I hope you can that bigger house before the kids grow up and move out . 😁 God is good! 💕

  3. Okay, my first tip to save money on non-essentials is to NOT buy a book about it, but look online at resources like THIS BLOG, and become a copycat! Your guidance could make Dave Ramsey have to go back to work! 🤗

    • Ha! I really hope it helps someone. We are so blessed and yet live very simply . I hate that so many people feel pressured to keep up with Joneses. But I also recognize that it’s hard to even afford the basics on one income for many couples in today’s economy.

  4. Great post. Different specifics, but same story (felt the call to raise our brood of 4 on one blue collar income (carpenter) One of the names of God in the Old Testament is “God our provider” (Jehovah Jirah) Have experienced that attribute of his again and again and again….It does feel like we are swimming upstream against the values of the culture, but that’s OK. DM

  5. We’ve done the same. When we decided to have children, there was no question I’d stay home to raise them. I never missed the luxuries most women had because I never had them to begin with. Like you, I haven’t been to a salon in years. I think I’m going on 12 years. That’s by choice. I prefer to cut my own hair. I also have no need for pedicures and massages. Our vacations were spent camping on family land, and we drove older vehicles. Hand-me-downs were also a common site. My youngest just graduated, and now the kids out working and building their own life, which means the demands have all but disappeared.

    The thing is, I grew up in a family with one income, and I had 10 siblings. We were poor but didn’t know it because we had a home, food and clothing. Living this way was normal for me.

    I have never regretted staying home. My kids are better for it, both emotionally and physically. I’d do it again without question.

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