Dual Incomes

I saw an article recommending that couples with dual incomes try to live on just one of them, banking the other one for retirement. That’s sensible advice it seems to me. But it caused me to remember that in our case, it was losing the second income, not banking it, that set us on the path to economic freedom.

When Cherie and I got married, I was a young lawyer, working long hours and weighed down with student loans, and she was a paralegal, working her way through college at night, one class at a time. We weren’t living extravagantly by any means, but it seemed we needed everything we made just to keep the bills paid.

Nearly two years after we were married we had our first child. Even though we knew it would be tough, we decided that instead of going back to her job, Cherie would stay home with our son. We took an immediate and fairly dramatic reduction in our household income. We wondered whether we’d be able to make ends meet.

But we soon made an important discovery that has affected how we have lived ever since. We found that even with our income reduction, we had more money left over at the end of each month after she quit her job than we had before. Because we had to be careful about our spending, we found that we were spending far less. When we were both working full-time, for example, we went out to restaurants for dinner several times a week. After our son was born, we hardly ever did that. Those kind of simple adjustments to our lifestyle, none of which diminished the quality of our life, made a big impact to the bottom line. And the reality of having a child (and soon a second one) impressed on us the importance of financial responsibility. So we started a disciplined regimen of saving, and we spurned nearly all of culture’s calls for us to “keep up with the Joneses.” We set a goal of being able to transition out of my job by the time I turned 50.

The day before my 51st birthday, I packed my car and drove to Virginia to our farm. I haven’t been in my office since then, over four years ago.

We accomplished what we had set out to do. And, perhaps ironically, it was a the loss of our dual income that got us started in the right direction.