Single-Income Lifestyle, Multiple-Income Life

Photo of waterfall. Living a single income lifestyle with multiple income streams.

I spent 2008 getting to know my future spouse. 

In the late summer, we had a pragmatic discussion about how each of us wanted our futures to look.

There was a lot of overlap, which was a relief at that point in our relationship.  

The future Mrs. RBD earned a Master’s degree and had a lucrative career, but she didn’t see it as sustainable if she were to become a parent.

The hours were inflexible, and she didn’t enjoy it. 

That conversation gave us foresight and was our first step toward living on one income

After we married, we started pretending to live on one income, using my salary for expenses and hers to save for a house down payment.

Then she worked part-time after having our first child, but that only lasted another year before fizzling out (about five years after the conversation). 

That’s when we actually began living on one income. It scared me at the time.

It’s part of why I started blogging in 2013 in hopes of replacing her income. 

This week here in 2021, Mrs. RBD went back to work. But her new job is nothing like her former career. 

Single-Income Lifestyle

The COVID-19 pandemic tested parents — requiring us to balance careers, homeschooling, and anxiety. 

I am fortunate to have a stable career with a premium employer and the flexibility to work from home.

Our household income never faltered. 

Mrs. RBD wasn’t working, which took some of the parenting heat off of me.

She handled the brunt of the disruption for the many months when the kids were home from school and learning from computers.

We didn’t anticipate pandemic lockdowns back in 2008 when we started thinking about living on one income.

But the decision to live on my salary alone helped tremendously throughout 2020. 

We struggled to manage our household at times, but I watched friends and coworkers who had it worse. I’m thankful we prepared for uncertainty when times were good. 

Had Mrs. RBD continued her career all these years, we’d be much wealthier today and probably living in a bigger and more expensive house (for better or worse). 

But we wouldn’t have had the flexibility to keep one of us focused on the kids each day.

It certainly wasn’t easy for her to stay home while I was in the office — the kids are far more exhausting than (most) coworkers. 

Ask her if she’d make the same decision again, she’d say yes — though she was not immune to second-guessing her decision in the trenches of having three kids under age four. 

Her going back to work now won’t change our spending habits.

The new job is part-time and doesn’t pay much. But she’s not in it for the money. 

She’s going back to work because it’s an opportunity to be engaged in our community.

Multiple-Income Life

Her new paycheck is gravy — bonus money, in our minds. 

Our youngest is out of preschool now, saving us tuition for the first time in seven years. 

We’re getting money from the government, too, even though we don’t need it. 

Suddenly, our cash flow changed sh** up on its own.  

Add both salaries to our dividend income portfolio, real estate crowdfunding investments, interest on cash, and my side business — we’re earning money from six separate income streams. 

One covers our expenses. The other five build wealth. 

These alternate income streams didn’t appear overnight. 

They took time, work, financial sacrifice, and patience to build.


My uncle gifted me one share of stock for my 20th birthday. On June 12th, 1995, I received my first dividend — a $0.46 payment from Chevron (CVX).  

It was my first taste of passive income and compounding.

Combined with my college job developing film and printing photographs (skills that would soon be obsolete), I had two incomes at age twenty. 

The second income was pennies, but I discovered a repeatable process that I could scale. 

The $48 gift from my uncle opened my eyes to what was possible.

Today, we’re reaping the benefits — we have a savings backstop and sufficient income from the five secondary sources to cover our basic living expenses. It’s enough.

Eventually, my salary will go away for good. 

Privilege and Challenges

I want to acknowledge our family’s privilege.

Since birth, we have had several advantages working in our favor, including education, socio-economic status, ethnicity, good health, and being raised in stable households. 

These advantages become more evident with hindsight.

But privilege only gets you so far. 

Part of what inspired this post is watching real estate prices surge in our area.

From 2019 to 2020, prices in our zip code rose about 10%.

In 2021, prices rose another 20%, according to Redfin. 

One house sold for $115,000 above the previous highest sale in my neighborhood of about 90 houses. Another home sold two months later for $30,000 more than that. 

Existing owners are eager to tap home equity with cash-out refinances to remodel their homes. Contractors have their pick of the litter. 

But the steep price increases make it more challenging to buy in our neighborhood. 

We have many single-income families because there’s a large transitory military presence in our area.

Even dual-income families are struggling because they often stretch to afford a home where they want to live. 

Payments toward student loans, healthcare, cars, kids’ activities, and child care reduce what’s available to put toward a mortgage payment. Saving and investing come last. 

Incomes have risen slower (<5%) than housing, and it was already expensive before 2019. 

Recent studies (1, 2, 3) indicate more than half of Americans live paycheck to paycheck.

It’s not easy to live off of two incomes, let alone just one — especially in high cost of living areas.

It is possible by growing your overall income and maintaining a low spending rate relative to your income. Then put aside what’s leftover to build security, passive income, and wealth. 

Just as important is to diversify your income, so you have other sources to fall back on when life throws curveballs.

But it takes time to get ahead if you’re starting from behind. 

Plant the Tree

Readers of this blog range from twenty-somethings to the fully retired. 

Some are financially secure, and others are barely scraping by. 

Regardless of your stage of life or level of financial security, we can all benefit from taking steps today to reduce financial vulnerability. 

Financial vulnerability is:

  • Living paycheck to paycheck
  • Having no emergency savings
  • Wanting more than you can afford
  • Carrying excessive debt
  • Not investing
  • Being uninsured
  • Retiring too early

You can’t go back 20 years and make different financial decisions.

But you can plan and make decisions today to empower the future you with more stability and options.

  • Reduce monthly spending to free up cash
  • Build savings to brace for uncertainly
  • Reverse bad financial decisions (excess car, house, etc.)
  • Invest for the long-term
  • Maintain a modest lifestyle
  • Build multiple income streams

Starting small is better than not starting at all. 

A big part of successful personal finance is simply making more good decisions than bad and doing that consistently for decades.

As your financial IQ grows, you find that the benefits of good decisions begin to trickle in.

Then they pour.

Photo by Jeffrey Workman via Unsplash


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  1. We did almost exactly what you are doing, three kids, my wife choosing to be a stay at home parent to three kids while I kept my 9 to 5. Differences were she never returned to the workforce. But still we never struggled to have plenty to spend, give away, save and invest. My raises averaged well above inflation and housing costs and because I enjoyed my job quite a bit I worked well past FI, all the way to age 60 when I did finally retire. But even then my piddling around hobby income made six figures so we still didn’t touch our portfolio. We’ve only just now started to pull income off of it at age 65. And it won’t be long until Social Security starts paying us nearly $70K so our portfolio will only need something under a one percent withdrawal rate to keep us funded. The key was we started saving and investing early, maxing out every available retirement account every single year and investing in a taxable brokerage account as well. You don’t have to live like a student, just be a little frugal and if you start young you’ll have more money than you know what to do with eventually. And having more than one source of income is vital, even more so for millennials than for craggy old boomers like me, because nobody works for one company their whole career like I did anymore. Great post!

    1. Any regrets you didn’t retire earlier? It seems there a common theme that some workers stay in their careers longer than needed, financially speaking. Dying with too much money when they could have enjoyed it more by leaving the workforce earlier. I know some people enjoy the work, and the comfort of having a sizable nest egg to cover all retirement expenses and to leave some to heirs. I suspect personally, that I am able to leave my career earlier than was the original plan, because I have a few other options to earn (and collect investment income).