How We Spend and Save: 4 Dual-Income Families’ Budgets

two salaries
Households that have one “breadwinner” and one “homemaker” certainly still exist, but they are becoming increasingly rare.

Between 1996 and 2006, the number of dual-income families in America increased 31%, according to the Department of Labor. In fact, among families with children, 59% have two working parents, 2012 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows. In other words, two adults bringing home the bacon is the new norm.

What's more, in a 2013 survey conducted by LearnVest and Chase Blueprint®, six in ten Americans told us they believe you need dual incomes these days to afford your dreams.

RELATED: 6 Ways to Save on Childcare Costs

But with college costs rising and employers slower to give raises due to the recession, not even pulling in two paychecks may offer a magic bullet when it comes to making ends meet.

So how do dual-income couples allocate their resources? There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, but these four married couples—who live in different U.S. cities and earn different amounts of money—have all found a way to make it work, being mindful of their incomes, expenses and what they value most. We shared their budgets, and we asked Stephany Kirkpatrick, a CFP® with LearnVest Planning Services, to highlight what each family is doing well—as well as ways they can save even more money.

lisa and darrell finalLisa Kroulik, 45, a freelance writer in Minneapolis, Minn.

Five years ago, I fell into credit card debt, filed for bankruptcy and lost my home when I divorced the father of my two girls (Rachel, 17 and Abby, 14). We lived without health insurance for several months. It was terrifying.

Since then, I have been very focused on rebuilding my finances. Three years ago, I married my second husband, Darrell, 49, and we bought a house together two weeks later. So now all four of us live together, and we finally feel financially stable. It’s Darrell’s first marriage, and he has no debts or dependents to support.

I use Quicken to keep track of our income and bills each month, so I can make sure we don’t fall behind on payments. Darrell works as a manufacturer and makes $50,000. My income fluctuates since I’m a freelance writer, but between my earnings and the child support I receive from my ex-husband, I make about $35,000.

We use Darrell’s credit card to pay for several expenses, from our cell phone service ($252) and cable and internet ($196) to our gym membership ($34), groceries ($600) and restaurant costs ($250). But we make sure to pay them off in full each month. By doing this, we're able to take a vacation every year because we rack up rewards points, which we use on hotels and airfare. Last summer, we traveled to Washington, D.C. for five days.

My daughter Rachel does color guard as an extracurricular activity at school. It costs $250 per season for uniforms and equipment. I was paying for that each year, but she's a senior now, and she recently got a part-time job as a personal care attendant. I’m trying to teach her how to manage money, so she’s going to use her earnings to pay for color guard. I want her to learn that you have to work for things you want. Just because our standard of living is better than it was several years ago, I don’t want her to take that for granted.

There have been some unexpected costs. In February, our HVAC system broke down (it was 25 years old), and we had it replaced. So we’re currently on a $658-a-month plan to pay for the new system. If we complete our payments by the spring, we’ll avoid paying interest.

Money for our retirement ($245/month) and health insurance ($380/month) is automatically taken out of Darrell’s paycheck. We have two cars that are paid off. But we pay $250 a month for gas and about $89 a month for insurance. Our insurance rate is higher because Rachel recently got her license.

Our other monthly expenses include our mortgage ($1,263), utilities ($150), donations to our church and charities ($300), school lunches ($100), random kid expenses ($355), haircuts ($35), clothing ($100), home supplies and other miscellany ($300) and braces for Rachel ($139).

We currently have no debt and have $2,500 in savings (though we're not currently adding to this amount) and $215,184 saved for retirement. I’d like to build up our savings more, so we can have an emergency fund and contribute more to Rachel’s future college tuition.

What Stephany Says: I am so proud of Lisa for making sure that she has health insurance for the whole family now. It's also terrific to see Rachel working and contributing to her color guard expenses! In fact, now might be a great time for Rachel to get a student checking account. And it’s time to shop car insurance rates with other vendors and ask about a good student discount.

The HVAC payment is making things tighter than usual, so Lisa should consider a home warranty to cover other major appliances, which could prevent big costs in the future. (Here’s one place to look.) To prevent a surprise with taxes at the end of the year, Lisa should set aside a little bit of every freelance paycheck just for that purpose. She can also set up her own Roth IRA, and cut back on one to two costs here and there in order to save another $50 a month for retirement right away.

RELATED: 7 Reasons You Need an Emergency Fund

  • nkdeck07

    Ok that dude living in Medford is dumber then a bag of rocks. Unless he wants to rent forever with 8 roommates do you have any idea how expensive just buying a 2 bedroom house that close to Boston is? As much as charity matters his current life style is pretty unsustainable.

  • Alicia

    Is there anyone in this study that makes less then 30,000? My husband and my income together equals about 30,000 to 35,000. Any budgeting tips for people who are really on a budget?

    • Guest

      Alicia, is there any way that you and your husband can add more income? Babysitting, dog walking, elance? That’s where I would start. When our income is low, we just don’t spend money on anything that is non-essential. You could also get together with your friends one night a week and make dinner together. Everyone gets a turn and hosts dinner each week. We’ve saved that way. Also, you can go to food banks to save on groceries. You don’t have to qualify for foodstamps to go to foodbanks.

  • Hannah

    Alicia, I’m with you…my husband and I currently make about $37,000/year combined, and are making this work while living in Washington, DC, an expensive urban area. Would also love to hear from more people who are ‘really on a budget.’

    • AJ

      I agree with you Hannah. My husband and I make about $60,00 gross together and have a three year old living very near DC, the cost of living around here is astronomical.

  • Heather

    I don’t think that Stephany understands tithing and am a little miffed that she would ask them to stop doing that as opposed to doing their hair (although she did offer an interesting alternative)…anyone else feel similar?

    • Sarah

      They do spend a ridiculous amount of money on hair. Do they really need to visit the barber/salon every week? Could they settle for every other week? Or maybe learn to cut the kids’ hair at home?

      • Teva

        The picture looks like an African American family. Hair is a big expense for most African American families because we have to do a lot to make our hair confirm to what society deems acceptable. If you aren’t talented enough to do cornrows on your own head, or give yourself a perm, or put in your own weaves, and if your kids school bans dreadlocks and afro puffs, you have to pay hairdressers to either give you a perm, or straighten your hair, and do cornrows on the little ones, and then stop by the barber to give your son and or husband a line up and a trim. It also takes hours out of your weekend to sit waiting to get your hair done. We don’t like it, but we must do it to seem clean and put together. Trust me, I tried to save money by going natural and it is hard work to comb this hair :)
        And re tithing-Stephany should have Googled tithing lol, that is not how it works.

        • rthomas

          Pretty much.

    • BD

      I don’t think she lacks an understanding of tithing. I always think people should contribute to others in the way that they are able it (time or money). This couple seems to lack money so giving time is a reasonable alternative. After all, don’t they always say “time is money”

      • Heather

        I agree kind of which is why I think giving time is an interesting alternative. I guess my gripe is that she made no mention of other ways to cut back which I would think superfluous i.e. hair expenses. They made it clear it’s very important to them to tithe and as a Christian I would try to cut back in other ways before cutting back on tithing.

    • nikki

      i agree. i was disappointed in the suggestion.its not like a donation giving to the church. you are giving God your first fruit. instead of going to a regular salon, they could maybe go a beauty college in order to save money.

    • skt

      No, I do not feel similar. The comment she made wasn’t necessarily to stop making contributions to the church but to offset some of the contributions in a volunteering aspect. I think $650/month is a bit much to give, I didn’t run the numbers as to what percentage of their budget $650/month is so I can’t say for certain what percentage that is.

  • Aleks

    I can’t understand people that would give 5% towards their church but only save 4% for their future retirement. I’m sorry but you need to think about yourself first, before you will help others, as I don’t think that your church will give you 5% of their earnings to help you when you are in need.

    • Heather

      Some churches do use tithes and offering to help needy families in their congregation and communities, but obviously not a guarantee.

    • Sarah

      It’s all about priorities. If their church is truly that important to them, it’s probably well worth the sacrifice.

    • Guest

      My husband and I always give 10% first to the church. This is God’s money and not ours. Call me a religious fanatic, but if you are following Christian practices, then you are giving at least 10% of your income. I believe that God has given me a good job, good health, family that cares and the opportunity to give to others. Criticizing someone for their religious beliefs is a low blow. Paying yourself first (before God) is a made up notion by our individualistic and selfish society.

      • Citra Wikastri

        Wow! 10%?! that’s really nice of you. I only give 2,5% from total income every month. But i do believe what you say. When you give others, God will take care of your needs :)

      • skt

        She didn’t criticize their religious beliefs, she gave them an option they can think about. They don’t have to follow her advice, it is merely a recommendation. Jeez. People are reading way too much into it. When someone asks for financial advice, the first thing will be to focus on the families income and expenses and cut what may not be necessary. What is considered necessary is up to the family to decide. Maybe it would be best to find a faith based financial planner if it is such an issue.

  • Zoe Shale

    Wow-I kind of feel like a jerk when I read the Kaufman’s spending habits. I mean I couldn’t do everything they do but geez, I should probably reevaluate a few things…good job tho-inspirational in a very lofty and unattainable goal for myself kind of way. :)

  • David Thompson

    Wow, Jeff & Julia are my heros, well done!

  • Bridget Bay

    Wow… it is not Learnvest’s place to tell someone how to practice their religion. I am a

    Christian and while I don’t tithe (I don’t give), many of my friends in other Christian churches swear by it. A strict tithe is 10% of one’s income, period. If that’s the way someone believes, who in the word do you think you are to tell them how to practice their religion??????

  • Laura B.

    I’m an avid Learnvest reader and enjoyed this article. However, I’m disappointed with Stephany’s suggestion to Barbara (TX) to volunteer in exchange for, or as a way to justify paying reduced tithing. As a Christian myself, I know tithing is not an easy thing to do (I pay 10% despite significant student loan debt), but this sacrifice pays off dividends by strengthening my character and forcing me to place others’ material needs ahead of my own wants. Why should my church suffer because of my foolish debt decisions? The tithes of my church are used to help couples adopt children when they can’t otherwise afford to, fund programs for at-risk youth, and help people out in financial emergencies – and I’d bet Barbara’s church does some incredible things with her family’s tithes. Tithes are also used to pay the salaries of pastors who lead our families spiritually and work sacrificially to serve the needs of entire congregations. I think that one budget item should be off-limits from secular financial advice.

    “But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.” -Mark 12:42

    • skt

      A financial planner cannot place any income or expenses off limits, he or she must look at the overall financial picture. Maybe a faith based financial planner would be the best person to look at if its important. Be careful, these individuals must be certified as well.

  • Jon

    Just get a reliable car and drive it as little as possible. Most families waste tons of money on driving.. and they really don’t need to. Also – get insurance from Insurance Panda…it costs my family $30/month full coverage from them… And always use GasBuddy app when looking for gas!