There is no right or wrong way to manage your money, just so long as you manage it. But these days it seems like you either have to struggle to keep up with the Joneses or compete to see who can live in the tiniest house. I’m not sure when it became taboo to eat out once in a while or have satellite TV with NFL Game Day, but sometimes it feels like if I don’t use 20 coupons at the grocery store, I’m failing at managing our money.

I have to remind myself that budgeting isn’t a competition and life isn’t a game to be won or lost. Who cares how much money I’ve saved if I’m not living a life I love and am proud of? There was a time when I tried to save more money and control all of our spending to the point where my husband and I had unnecessary arguments about beer. It’s taken a while, but after years of living on a single income, we’ve found a way to make financial decisions without fighting and without guilt: we align our decisions with our values.

Warning: this technique only works if you are in agreement about your values. But, the real benefit to this approach is once those values are established, you never have to feel guilty about what you spend your money. You don’t believe in having cable television because it rots our brains and drives consumerism? I agree completely. You binge watch Netflix shows while drinking wine from a box? Awesome, me too! My main point is it doesn’t matter what I do personally because I’m not you, you’re not me, and quite frankly, your finances are none of my beeswax business. But if you’re curious how this values thing plays out in real life, I’ll use our values and budget as an example.

The Context

We are a single income family. My writing brings in a very small amount every month, and while I’ve had a number of part-time jobs since quitting my full-time gig, we never factor my income into our monthly budget because it is not reliable. Instead, we live on my husband’s income as a teacher. He has an MA in Education, three teaching credentials, five years of teaching experience, and works in Special Education. We recently moved to Colorado. We are paying a mortgage on a single-family home, have three children ages 5, 2 and 4 months, and one Labrador Retriever. We have a lot of student loan debt and one credit card with revolving debt. We are currently using Dave Ramsey’s snowball method to pay off our debts and calculate it will take two years to achieve our goal. We are balancing our “gazelle-like intensity,” with our sanity.

Confessions of our Single-income


We pay money to exercise: my husband and I both have stressful jobs and would probably have chronic meltdowns if we didn’t exercise. As it is, I still have chronic meltdowns, but that’s another blog post. Since happy parents equal happy kids, we pay money to exercise and release the tension and aggression that builds up during the day. My husband takes jujitsu classes for $75/month and I workout at home. We are currently testing out Beach Body Fitness ($13/month) and Daily Burn 365 ($10/month) subscriptions. We are still in the free month period, but once that ends, we’ll cancel one subscription so we’re only paying $85/month total on fitness. I also jog, which is free!

We budget to eat out: I am the only one in our household that cooks. We eat a lot of beans, soy, and eggs. We limit our meat. But, on days when I am tried and stressed out, my husband is happy to suggest eating out. He likes that he doesn’t have to wash any dishes and I like not having my cooking critiqued by a five year old with the taste buds of a five year old. We budget $200 a month for eating out which sometimes means a lot of fast food and sometimes means five trips to decent restaurants.

We replaced Direct TV with online tv subscriptions: I don’t watch a lot of tv, but when it was cheaper to bundle our internet with Direct TV, we had cable. Since that’s no longer true in our new city, we cancelled Direct TV and subscribe to Hulu and Netflix. This means we pay approximately $18/month on television. We also have an Amazon Prime subscription that allows us to watch videos, but mostly we use it for the free shipping. I still don’t watch a lot of tv, but my husband does. No matter how late he comes home, he has to unwind in front of the tv (this is according to him; no medical doctor has ever confirmed this necessity). He also uses it quite a bit as a teacher. He will often show his students shows and movies relevant to his curriculum, and since he’s a history teacher, it would be hard to replace Netflix with live recordings. He says he would never give up his subscription services now for cable or satellite.

We put limits on the gifts we buy our kids: some people may think this is child abuse, but our children are allowed to make a birthday/Christmas list of 5 things they hope to receive. There are 4 sets of grandparents plus us, so the idea is that they only ask for one thing from each person. In the end, while my husband and I don’t limit our parents in how many toys they buy our kids, we encourage them to think about books, sports classes, and memberships to places that provide opportunities to have experienced and make memories. We are trying to teach our children that the specialness of holidays isn’t in the gifts, but in the pleasure, we take in spending time with people we love. There are a lot of studies that show objects only provided a small, short-term spike in happiness, but experiences give us a burst of joy every time we remember that event. We’re hoping to give our children a lifetime of happy memories.

We have life insurance: although my husband and I are in our 30s, we have three children. Paying a monthly fee to ensure our children will be financially taken care of if the unthinkable happens to us is money well spent. Our life insurance costs are roughly $40 a month for $750,000 of coverage.

Here are some things we don’t spend money on monthly:

Car payments (we own our cars outright). Beauty services (nails, tanning, haircuts). Clothes (we maybe buy clothes once a year).

We currently live approximately $250 below our budget without any side income from me. Once we pay off our last credit card, that number will hopefully double. I do plan on going back to work after our youngest child is in school and we are excited at the prospect of having two incomes, especially as we anticipate our children wanting and needing more expensive things. But, I think I can safely say on behalf of my family of five, we are happy. Our success in life is not dictated by how much money we make, or how many coupons I use, but by how much we love the life we live.