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How to become a one-income family

Angela Daidone

One day, you're a two-income family. The next, one of those incomes is gone. Or you are planning on making a financial change in the future. What do you do?

Whether one of you chooses to leave your job or the reason for departure is out of your control, having a plan to deal with sudden loss of income can be the key to financial - and emotional - survival. Here are some basic steps to cope with the change.

Take a Good Hard Look at Spending
Do you really need the new car every year and the expensive lease payment that comes with it? Or can you "make do" with a more economical model without all the bells and whistles? In addition to saving on monthly payments, making a change might also reduce your auto insurance premiums. It's worth checking into. How about entertaining? Having dinner out two or three times a week at a local restaurant can run a couple, on average, at least $50 a shot - more with drinks and generous gratuity. Even grabbing coffee and a snack on the run can add up, especially if your craving for chocolate caramel lattes becomes part of your everyday routine.

Likewise, examine your shopping habits for clothing, groceries, household items etc. Making a list of what's necessary and what's not might help you rethink how and why you spend your money. Remember: While cutting down on a few indulgences won't replace the loss of a paycheck, it could be the start of gaining more self-control when it comes to your spending habits.

The Bare Necessities
Shifting from two incomes to one doesn't necessarily mean ceasing and desisting all spending, but it does require careful thought and planning - and creating a budget. Then you can get down to the business of cutting back. The first items that come to mind when doing one's budget are necessities such as housing and groceries. Consider refinancing your mortgage, if you're able to secure a low enough rate to make it worth your while. This may cost a little up front in fees, but can save you a bundle in the long run.

Take another look at your weekly grocery shopping list. Are you paying attention to weekly sales and using coupons? Buying in bulk when available? Don't forget about other equally important expenses, like health coverage and other insurances such as life, fire and homeowners or rental policies.

Re-evaluate monthly expenses, such as phone and cable costs, subscriptions and organization dues and credit card balances. Can you trim a little here and there, or eliminate entirely? Sometimes all it takes is a call to the company to renegotiate your credit card interest rate or cable contract.

Forget the Crash Diet
Okay, so you may have to forgo that three-week cruise to the exotic ports of call. But that doesn't mean you have to stay home, either. Lots of families and couples enjoy affordable vacations, thanks to careful planning. Look for off-season rates or last-minute deals, or opt for day trips where you can easily take mass transportation.

Don't feel like cooking? Order take out. Want to see a movie? Try a matinée, which is usually cheaper (and can make for a nice break in the day). Denying yourself of all spending is like crash dieting - you may lose the weight quickly, but you haven't lost the craving or learned how to eat sensibly enough to keep the weight off. It's no different with finances. Avoid withdrawal symptoms by easing away slowly, and thus, learning to live leaner at the same time.

Create an Emergency Reserve
Disasters happen, and they don't care that you now have one income instead of two. So you have to stay prepared. Easy? No way. Possible? Of course.

If you made regular contributions, say, to your retirement savings or piggy bank fund, figure those into your budget plan. You may have to lessen the amount you're saving, but try to stash away something as often as possible. After you've reworked your budget and expenses, if you can live with $20 a week less for one year, you will have saved about $1,000. That can pay for an unexpected emergency like a minor furnace repair or some dental work.

And if you're fortunate enough to have no such emergency, you'll have some extra cash for something "fun" or, at the very least, an excellent start towards a new frugal you.

The Bottom Line
Having to go from two incomes to one is no task for the weak-willed. But it can be done, and you will be surprised how resilient you can be. Don't worry about keeping up with the Joneses. Your situation is unique to you, and if that means having to tell your friends you can't do dinner or a show, then so be it. If they're true friends, they'll understand.Stay on the same page as your partner. Serious budgeting and fiscal revamping only works when the two of you agree, or at least agree to compromise.

Remember, a financial change may only be temporary. If you can manage until your situation changes, bravo. If the change is decidedly permanent, you will have a head start.