money·2 min read

How to Go From Two Incomes to One

Family dropping a paycheck
Credit: Kelsey Tyler
Aug 17, 2020

The Story

There are a lot of reasons you might be living the single-income life. But whether it’s an exciting transition you planned or you didn’t have a choice, going from two incomes to one can be overwhelming.

Tell me about it.

If you can, try testing the financial waters before making the switch. See whether you can cover your regular expenses and make progress on your goals on the income you plan to rely on. You’ll feel more confident once the answer is ‘yes’ for a few months. Pro tip: while you still have it, use that second salary to pad your emergency savings or sinking fund. Or make extra debt payments.

Step one if a test isn’t possible: tie up loose ends with the soon-to-be ex employer. If they provide your health insurance, make a plan to stay covered. If there’s a retirement account like a 401(k) or 403(b) in the mix, consider rolling it over to an IRA. (That’s a tax-advantaged retirement account you open yourself.) And if you or your partner didn’t voluntarily resign – and plan to look for new work – apply for unemployment benefits ASAP.

And then what?

Revisit your budget. Start with the expenses you can’t live without. Remember that you can negotiate your rent, utility, phone, Internet, and insurance bills. And that banks, credit card companies, and other service providers have generally been more flexible with people who are struggling due to the pandemic. Ask for help if you need it.

Next, focus on things you enjoy, but don’t need. Going from two incomes to one might mean dialing back some of this spending and/or looking for more ways to save.

Silver lining: some saving may come naturally. Because work life has its own costs you won’t have to pay anymore. Like pants that zip, commuting, and childcare.

Let’s hear another silver lining.

Potential tax savings. Less income may mean you’ll get taxed at a lower rate. And since some tax credits (read: discounts) phase out based on household earnings, condensing to one income could help you qualify for some that you didn’t before.

Anything else that can help?

Commit to regular check-ins with your partner. Those can help keep your budget running smoothly and give you a chance to discuss how the single-income thing is going. As in, whether this is something that can happen long-term. Or if you need to focus on going back to two incomes ASAP.


Turns out, it doesn't always take two. Making smart budgeting choices, celebrating wins wherever you find them, and keeping the convo going can help your family adjust to life with one income.

Subscribe to Skimm Money

Your source for the biggest financial headlines and trends, and how they affect your wallet.