How one family paid off $100,000 in debt and lived well on one income

How one family managed to pay off $100,000 in debt and live well on one income |

My family is living proof that living on one income can work. For the past 15 years, we have been a one-income family (think five-figure salary), while still managing to pay off thousands in debt and become financially secure.

Though it hasn’t always been rainbows and roses, we are happy with the decision to have a stay-at-home parent. The stress of both parents working, plus the fact that childcare costs are so high, made the decision an easy one.

At the time, our student loan debt totaled $40,000 and we had consumer loans on two cars. In fact, the estimated total debt we paid on car loans over the years is $85,000!

Eventually, we paid off all student and consumer loans, built emergency savings, secured a will and life insurance, and have grown our retirement savings to a point that early retirement is likely.

How did we do it?


At times, our budget constraints demanded frugality just to get basic needs met. This prompted me to read every personal finance book I could get my hands on. I took the information I learned and applied it, enabling us to get by on one salary. Along the way, I also learned about insurance, estate planning and wills, emergency savings and college and retirement investing.

Actually having a conversation with your partner when you have small children around is easier said than done. But we believe it’s important to find time to talk to each other, about finances and about how each of us are feeling about our particular roles. We still have our best conversations after the kids are in bed. :)

Inevitably, there were times when we found ourselves resentful of the other, but comparing or competing over who has it easier or better is counter-productive. We recognize each partner has hard and stressful days, as well as easier, more relaxed days.


In the beginning, we had to reduce our expenses to make sure we were buying only the necessities, just so we could pay the bills every month. Being frugal by cooking meals, packing lunches, shopping the weekly grocery ads, buying used clothing from consignment or thrift stores and finding low-cost/free entertainment saved us a ton of money.

Selling stuff

We were (and still are) constantly selling things we didn’t need on Craigslist and eBay. We would flip items found at yard sales and thrift stores. Though it doesn’t bring in a ton of money, every little bit helps.


When we paid off our debt, we did so slowly, enabling us to still enjoy the things we love. Appreciating what we have and finding pleasure in the simple things has been crucial. After a couple of years on one income, we made room in the budget for our love of camping and travel (staycations and local trips at first).

No keeping up with the Joneses

Everything is not always as it seems – I remind myself the Joneses may be broke and living paycheck to paycheck. We strive to live life in accordance with our own values, not someone else’s.
My advice to families who dream of living on one income?

Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

Families need to take the time to plan out how the finances are going to work, but also how each parent feels about the differences in their roles. Discuss fears and concerns along with logistics, such as schedules and money. If you disagree, keep talking, come up with a win-win solution and make certain you and your partner are on the same page.
What about you?  Is your family living on one income?  If so, how have you managed to save money and pay off debt?

Amanda and her family paid off $100,000 in debt on one income, while still doing the things they love. Amanda blogs about money, debt, savings and personal growth at

P.S. Ready to get out of debt ASAP? Check out the Spending Fast Bootcamp!


18 thoughts on “How one family paid off $100,000 in debt and lived well on one income

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  1. DC @ Young Adult Money

    What a story! I really liked this -> “When we paid off our debt, we did so slowly, enabling us to still enjoy the things we love.” My wife and I are taking a similar approach. We have a decent amount in our 401k, HSA, and individual stock account, but I can’t bring myself to pay off our debt that is at a really low interest rate any quicker than we need to. It’s nice having balance and knowing we are paying down debt, making smart investments, and enjoying our life in the meantime.

  2. Josh @MoneyBuffalo

    Congrats on the progress. My wife & I essentially have one income, except we took a large paycut when I switched from corporate to self-employment. As you said, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way!” It has taken some adjustment for us as we are making half of what we did a year ago (but I’m not working nights & weekends) so the tradeoff has been good as I am here for my wife & 13-month old daughter now.

    We planned out the transition as best as possible and realize our situation is temporary. But, we will be happy to have our newly built house paid off in a few years (in addition to a few years of experience in a new career) and the rewards are worth the short-term sacrifice.

  3. Dividends Down Under

    Great post Amanda, outlining the important steps to consider and talk over (as a couple) when tackling debt on any income level. We are a one income household in the 5 figures too, though we do have a slow growing income from the side (our Dividends were just under $500 for the last tax year).

    Thankfully neither of us brought debt into our relationship but that’s very rare these days, student loans are just too common, I’m very glad that Tristan managed to find a path of education that didn’t include huge loans (and just to clarify, he wasn’t one of the lucky ones that have their parents foot the university bill) but we are having to manage a tighter budget (aka less saving money) to pay for his ongoing education expenses, much prefer that to going into debt for it though!


  4. Melanie

    This is all good IF you can get your other half to agree to even discuss it and stop using the “its too hard so I don’t want to do it” excuse. But well done, I’m glad you were able to make it work :)

    1. Amanda @ centsiblyrich

      Thanks, Melanie! Yes, I agree, sometimes it is hard to reach a place where both partners agree. The agreement takes time, lots of communication and a willingness to sacrifice in some areas, for sure. I was very lucky that we have been able to work it out, though I can’t say it was always easy for either one of us.

    2. Malea

      I agree that it can be discouraging when a partner isn’t on board, but when I was in that situation, I found ways to work on my debt even if he didn’t want to take part. I would take $5 to garage sales and buy books or name brand kids clothes for 25-cents per book or piece of clothing and then sell them for a lot more online on Half-dot-com, eBay, etc. I was able to pay some medical bills that way. Now, I am looking into doing something similar with Amazon FBA (there are some great YouTube videos about FBA).

      Once you get the ball rolling, your partner might start to take interest. I think heeding the “respect” advice in this post is key though–respect that your partner isn’t into it right now, but ask that they respect your own actions if you ARE into it.

  5. Brian Stephens

    Great info, especially the pieces about communication and working through things.

    We survived on one income for 15 years, 4 kids, and a period of under employment (I think that’s what they call it when you are under paid for your job). My wife went back to work late last year and works at a school, which has eased us into the new schedule change. She even gets the summer off. But even with the increased income, we are still wallowing in massive debt with no retirement savings. We are working through it, talking more, and taking active, positive steps. We need to create new positive habits and will get there in time. The realist in me knows that this will continue to be tough for a while with many ups and downs, but the optimist in me sees sunshine and rainbows ahead.

  6. Ashley @ Cheap College Chick

    Ah! Thanks for this Anna. While we have the budgeting and paying off debt down to a science, we’re working on the living well on one income thing while I’m trying to build my blog up to allow me to come home full time. We’ve talked about supplementing our income with flipping items but wasn’t sure if it was worth the time to spend on it versus spending time busting it on building the blog. It sure is tough so thanks for the tips!

  7. Rosalie

    Wow! This is great and encouraging. Life happens either by choice or circumstances. Loved the emphasise on communication.


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