How We Did It: Lived on One Income After My Boyfriend Lost His Job


tahnya kristina 3In the 14 years I’ve been with my boyfriend, Nick, we’ve weathered a lot of storms—from my parents’ divorce to paying off $50,000 of debt.

Nick and I started dating in 1999 as poor 19-year-old college students. We didn’t know anything about managing money at the time, but we learned together. After graduation, we both found full-time jobs, in finance for me and in IT for Nick.

Living off two full-time incomes was a huge change from being broke undergrads. We opened a joint bank account and finally started to live comfortably. We moved into a convenient (read: expensive) downtown apartment, bought a brand-new car and furnished our luxury apartment with a big-screen TV and new furniture.

For a while we paid our bills on time every month, but eventually our frivolous spending got ahead of us—and we landed thousands of dollars in debt. I wasn’t sure Nick and I could pay off our balances, and I went to see a bankruptcy consultant. As a financial planner, admitting financial defeat was one of the lowest points in my life. Ultimately, we didn’t file bankruptcy—there would have been too many consequences for my financial career. But we immediately cut our expenses and readjusted our budget. I took a second job, and we upped our credit card payments beyond the minimums. It took us three years to get back on our feet—but we did it. With our financial lives back on track, we started saving money again and allowing ourselves some splurges too. We were in a good place.

Getting an Unexpected Pink Slip

But in 2009 we suffered a huge blow. Nick’s company was acquired, and they outsourced a lot of jobs, including his. After working there for five years, Nick went to work one day and got called into a team meeting … that turned out to be his entire department’s two weeks’ notice.

I came home from work that night and immediately sensed something was wrong. The vibe in the apartment felt very somber. Nick was sitting on the couch, staring at the TV, though not really watching. When I asked him if everything was OK, he looked at me and said, “I got fired today,” then went back to (not) watching TV. I’d never seen Nick so dejected. It was truly heartbreaking.

I wanted to play the supportive girlfriend role, to tell Nick everything would be OK and he’d find another job quickly. But as a financial planner, my mind was racing: How could we adjust to living without Nick’s $65,000 salary? Would we have to move? What could we immediately cut out of our budget—and would that be enough?

I didn’t think we’d experience anything as a couple more stressful than paying off our debt—but I was wrong. Suddenly being forced to subsist on one income was another adjustment I never expected to make. We’re well-educated people and hard workers. And yet, there we were.

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  • Elaine

    I really enjoyed reading your success story, and how you handled a major crisis in your lives! Not only did you start by paying down $50,000 in debt in 3 years, which alone is to be applauded, but you found ways to continue living a normal life while taking a close look at the things that bring a marginal amount of happiness, vs what it costs you to maintain those things. This is a lesson we can all benefit from. Granted, your single income is more than many people (single or dual) make, and I know that will be a criticism that some may have, but we all have our own unique situations to deal with, and I think you’ve done a good job of it. It’s a very difficult emotional time, and you both handled it very smoothly. I’m sure it wasn’t always smooth for you.

    • Tahnya Kristina

      Thanks Elaine. It was a struggle. Losing half an income is still a 50% loss, regardless of the dollar amount. I know I’m grateful to have a job and to have an income. I don’t take that for granted.

  • KU_Fan

    Last year my husband was laid off from his job, fast forward a couple months and I was laid off from my job as well. We were both unemployed at the same time. Thankfully we had a decent amount of rainy day savings to help us through the next few months until we both found employment again.

    • Tahnya Kristina

      That is rough. It’s great that you both found new jobs.

  • Natalie Regier

    What a vulnerable story to share. Yhabks for being brave and sharing your struggles and successes

    • Tahnya Kristina

      Thank you Natalie.

      • Natalie Regier

        Sorry about the horrible name misspelling. Should be fixed now :)

  • Christine J

    My husband is currently out of work and has been out of work since Dec. 20th. Luckily, we too have a rainy day savings because my income is just not enough at all. We are currently looking to make more adjustments in our budget as well as increasing my income by doing side jobs. Thanks for sharing your story. Not having the same amount of money doesn’t have to be life shattering – you just have to make logical decisions, not emotional ones.

    • Tahnya Kristina

      Hi Christine,
      I couldn’t have said it better. Good luck to you and your husband. It’s times like this when people need to call in all their contacts.

  • Mark Ugolini

    My wife hated her job. Simultaneously, we found out that she was pregnant. We experienced a similar situation when we went from two to one incomes. Good to hear about others making it work!

    • Tahnya Kristina

      Congrats on your baby Mark. Moving from two incomes to one is an adjustment, but we made it work.

  • mostlywentzel

    My favorite part of this story is that you have decided that just because you have gone back to two incomes, doesn’t mean you have to go back to your old lifestyle. That can be the hardest thing to learn. When I lost my job 3 years ago, we didn’t sweat it too much. I had a generous severence package and a potential offer on the table before my last day at my job. I took two months off, which worked out as we were already building our new house when we found out I was to be unemployed, and that two months was great for getting us unpacked and settled. Plus, I got to spend some extra time with our then 2-year-old. My new job has never become as lucrative as my old one, but better jobs have been hard to come by. But we were still doing OK.

    Then, 13 months after I had lost my job, my husband lost his. Again, we didn’t think we’d be too bad. Pulled our son out of daycare, cut out cable, got tighter on the grocery budget. That, plus his severence and unemployement would keep us in good shape for at least 6 months, and he had responses to his resume in days. But those responses never amounted to an offer. He had lots of interviews, but always seemed to be over or under-qualified, or the company hiring him lost their contract, etc. After 14 months of unemployment, and going thru our emergency funds, we were getting to the “what do we do next?” point.

    Thankfully, that is exactly when my husband got a job. Less than 8 months later, he got another, better one. During the second half of 2013, we let ourselves breathe, took a weekend away, and had a nice Christmas. But beginning January 1, we placed ourselves into voluntary austerity. We are cutting everything pretty much to the bone for at least 12 months. We’re still planning a family vacation this summer and have planned for it, but pretty much everything else is off the table. We are building back our financial security.

    In 2015, we will re-access and see where we can loosen up, but we are both on the same page right now and completely committed to staying on track. And that’s my other favorite part of the story – you were open with each other about finances. That is the most important thing you can discuss in your relationship. Good job.

    • Tahnya Kristina

      That’s a great story. You guys made it work as a family. Change is all about how well we handle the adjustment.

  • papillon

    It is good when you have another person who can pick up the slack when you fall. Married people and those otherwise coupled should never take this for granted. I went through a lot of savings when I was laid off, even though I had been frugal before then. I’ve been working a couple of years now but still haven’t recovered financially and probably never will.

    • Tahnya Kristina

      That is so true. I love that about my boyfriend. We can rely on each other emotionally and financially.

  • Eugenia Glos

    I’m sorry, but it annoys me when people don’t understand how they can live on only $70,000 a year. Combined, my fiance and I don’t make half of that. I’m disabled, so I have a very low income. We have a one year old and we just found out that we are expecting again. We may not be well off, but our bills are paid on time. And we are slowly reducing credit card debt. He had to file bankruptcy because of his ex so there is just mine. Last year, when our baby was due, he lost his job. All we had was my 700 in disability a month. We worked with creditors to avoid late fees and such. Granted, a couple were late, but with 700 a month, you can’t do much. I applaud the writer with what she could do, but I wish Learnvest would do more stories about people in my situation.

    • Tahnya Kristina

      Hi Eugenia. We were able to live on one income but it was an adjustment. We learned that our lifestyle was out of control so we cut back and have kept it that way.

    • Shannon Lee Gilstad

      I agree 100%. I work in an employment program within a NYC public housing project. I like to use articles from LearnVe$t for our participants, but it’s difficult because they are so far removed from this type of example. Heck, I am a professional in NYc and I cannot relate to many of these stories, as the majority are about affluent people with huge amounts of disposable income.

  • CreditsPoint

    This is hard for many people, and it points out the need for advance planning. Even if you never think you will be a one income family, it is wise to plan for that eventuality. The modern world lures us to require two incomes, but sit down and figure out what it costs to go to work…the second car, the commute, the work clothes, lunches, continuing Ed, etc. Also the high cost of daycare and the effects on health of job dissatisfaction and the psychological cost of being a latch key kid. A true partnership must be established between the two spouses in order to do this.

    • Tahnya Kristina

      Planning and saving is definitely a priority for us now that we have lived through some tough financial times.

  • Terri Lynn Packard-Hasman

    Your ability to meet your challenge head on instead of panicking is extremely commendable. But, even in your situation a $70,000 income is a nice chunk of change, considering that a small percentage of people fall into that category. I used to get angry at people who would be like you were.. upset because their income was only going to be so and so. But then it hit me… more money doesnt mean being better off. You see,I only make around 17,000 per year and have to support a family of 3 as a single mom. I realized one day that whether your are considered wealthy or poor, you adjust to your lifestyle. I realized that most people who make a considerable amount of money are not happy because they have splurged into this lifestyle and have to work all the time to maintain it. I have been on both ends of the scale-really poor and very comfortable. Any day,I would take the former. You learn to see things you dont have time to when you are working all the time- like sun sets and smelling the rain. I have also seen first hand being in customer service for 30 years that the people who make the less money are the ones that are the most generous..willing to give their last dimes and pennies just to see someone else blessed. A lesson we all should learn….

    • Tahnya Kristina

      Thank you Terri Lynn

  • Courtney

    How do you have a career in finance? All of your “tips” are common sense to those of us who make well under $70,000 combined with our spouses.

  • Tad Wangley

    You should call this How we did it: Lived like normal people for once. $50,000 in student loan debt is normal these days and the majority of Americans aren’t making $70,000 a year. Even with one income, you are still better off than most. I have never had the means to live in a “luxury apartment” and $350 a month for cable is just ridiculous. All of your advice on saving money is common sense for the rest of us.

  • Sally Smith

    Most families who do have children live on less than $70,000 a year. The writer seems whiny and spoiled.

  • amy

    awww isn’t that only take vacations by car and cut back on wasteful luxuries.. What I could do with 70,000 a year! We make 23,000 with a family of 4 and we eek out a living. It is harder than you can imagine with 14,000 in dept all payed out of pocket on ear surgires on my daughter.

    • Amy

      wow I must be tired..debt…and surgeries!

  • Matt

    Some of these commentors are particularly ridiculous. It’s easy to criticize someone you think makes way more than you do. But do you have the expenses this person does? Do you live in an expensive part of the country? If not, you aren’t going to get it. It’s proportional. My wife and I make similar salaries (maybe even a tad more) than the writer. We live VERY modestly. Our home is small (900sq ft with one tiny bathroom). By the time you pay your mortgage, day care, student loans (wife has roughly 40k), and just basic expenses…plus add in putting away more for retirement and scraping a bit for saving for college… there really isn’t gobs of money lying about. To suggest the writer is rich and spoiled is to not understand that there are great differences in living expenses merely by living where you do. But if that is where your job or your family is from, that’s what you do.

    • KB

      The commentors were making those statements, not because the writer lived modestly (like your family seems to do), but rather because they didn’t live modestly, even slightly. They were paying for expensive cable packages and dining out, luxuries that a large portion of Americans do not get to indulge in as often. This is nothing against them, that is their prerogative and fortune (and hard work to get to that income, as well, I imagine), it is just simply hard for many Americans to relate with or find any help from this article. I think the best quality, though, in this article is the inspiration it has and the ability to weather a financial change with as much maturity and understanding as the writer and her boyfriend did. That is impressive and should be what most take away from the story – their ability to compromise and defeat financial struggle together.

  • Nikolis Tary

    What a bunch of bullshit.

    Oh my god! How can two people with no kids survive on $70k alone? Are you freaking serious?!

  • MG

    While this article may be several months old, I am currently dealing with a similar situation and found it quite encouraging. My BF just recently lost his job and he’s taking it pretty hard. I googled to see if there were any tips on how a GF could show her support without making the man feel worse. One other site that I visited simply suggested that you should give up on the relationship, as a man’s worth tends to be tied to his ability to provide and that he may not be the same until he has a new job. Well that just didn’t sound right or sit right with me . I stumbled upon this piece and I’m glad that I did. While some may believe that a 70K salary is substantial, I can assure you that it is not. I live in a major city so I know first hand how quick living expenses can add up. Furthermore, not to be disrespectful or insensitive to anyone’s situation but from some of the comments, it sounds like many did not properly plan to support themselves adequately. Having children before you are financially ready for them is just another means to creating more stress within your environment. If you can barely afford to take care of yourself, having another mouth to feed is not going to make things better. Furthermore, the writer of this article has a college degree and so does her BF. They met while both still in college with no clue of how the world worked! LOL but once they graduated, they were able to find jobs within their chosen fields and earn a living but I don’t recall her saying that either of them was a “silver spooner”. If you don’t plan for your future, you’re planning to fail. Period. You can’t be resentful of the next person’s situation just because you can’t properly manage your own, especially if you have no education, degree or skill that may warrant you earning a higher salary. Kudos to you both for putting in the work necessary to live the lives that you desire. It’s an example that more people should follow; get the skills needed, go after the jobs, make the money, save some money and keep track of debt. Thank you for posting and giving us GFs hope!! :)

  • Mpezh

    I enjoyed reading your success story on financially strategizing your budget. I picked up something i’d love to say is most incredible in your story. You’re a couple, living unmarried and yet living like married folks. You have long term plans together for retirement, you show much commitment, this really intrigues me.