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Getting laid off is stressful.
The first time it happens to you, it is completely shocking. The second time, it’s concerning. And if it happens a third time, you begin to wonder if you’ll ever find stability. This was my reality during the first few years after I graduated from college.
No one plans to get laid off, but it will probably happen to someone in your family sooner or later. Whether the company loses a client, the earnings report does not meet the forecast, or the economy tanks, your position could disappear in an instant.
I landed my first real job after completing two post-college internships. It was exciting to feel like an adult and earn my first real paycheck. Until that point, I had been living with my parents.
I moved into my own place three months after starting my new job. Although I didn’t make much, I was proud to be able to pay my bills myself.
That was in the fall of 2006. Little did I know that the economy was about to take a turn for the worse. Rumblings of a recession came hot on the heels of the new year, but I completely ignored them. Because I was young and naïve – and woefully lacking important financial skills – I didn’t realize that a recession could affect me. Although I was able to pay my bills, my salary was pretty low, so I couldn’t put aside much in monthly savings.
The First Time the Bottom Fell Out
In May 2008, talks of layoffs were making the rounds at my company, but I had just spent a few weeks in Europe, so I missed the latest news to hit the rumor mill. After I returned to the States, I had to take a few sick days, so I didn’t make it back into the office until the beginning of June. I was given my first layoff notice the next day.
Needless to say, I was devastated.
My boyfriend and I had gotten engaged in February, and were planning a fall wedding. We were paying for most of the wedding ourselves – with a little help from our parents.
Fortunately, my fiancé (now husband) was a natural saver and had a good amount of money set aside that we could use to help cover the wedding costs. The rest we paid out of pocket as we went along.
While my layoff left me blindsided, my expenses were fairly low, so my unemployment benefits helped me cover the essentials. But the job loss also provided me with my first lesson on the power of networking, when a former colleague helped me land a similar position a month later. In the interim, I was very nervous about my financial future.
A Wedding, a Honeymoon, and a Pivotal Financial Decision
The wedding planning continued as I settled in at my new job; my fiancé and I could still cash flow all wedding and honeymoon expenses. Because we love to travel, we spent a large chunk of our wedding budget on our two-week Italian honeymoon.
When my fiancé’s lease expired at the end of June, he moved into my tiny, one-bedroom apartment. This helped us ramp up our savings, even during my layoff. We got married that fall and continued living at my place through the end of my lease in October.
Because the majority of our savings had gone toward our wedding and honeymoon, we started our marriage with exactly $2,000 in the bank. The good news was, we didn’t go into any debt for our wedding and honeymoon – because we kept costs down, shopped for deals, and cut corners where we could.
The bad news was that we were starting from scratch financially. We both still had student loans and drove old cars that required costly maintenance. The fact that I had experienced a layoff at such a young age left us unsure of what the future would bring.
The recession was in full swing at that point, and more and more people were losing their jobs.
My natural tendency is to be a spender, while my husband is a saver. Because of the economic uncertainty we were facing, we decided to live on only my husband’s salary. We didn’t know it at the time, but this decision would prove to be pivotal to our financial future. It was difficult at first to ignore my paycheck and put my earnings directly into savings, but we gradually adjusted.
More Layoffs on the Horizon
My office held its annual holiday party at a local comedy club in December 2008.
My husband and I couldn’t believe our luck when we found out that we would be watching Jimmy Fallon do standup. We had an amazing time.
I was laid off for the second time the following Monday.
I had been at my new job for only six months, and was devastated to be laid off for a second time in less than a year. Thankfully, we had planned on not needing my salary, so we were still able to pay our bills out of my husband’s salary and save my unemployment benefits.
This time, it took me a lot longer to find another job. My industry had been hit hard by the recession, and budgets were getting cut left and right. Many people had been unemployed for months, with no end in sight. It took me three months of job searching before I landed a temp-to-hire position. It wasn’t a great fit, but it did provide me with a paycheck.
Our decision to live on only one salary was paying off in more ways than one. My car’s air conditioning had given out earlier that year, and repairing it would have cost as much as the car was worth. We decided to look for another vehicle, since living in the South meant that living without air conditioning was not an option.
We quickly found a gently used 2009 Toyota Camry, put $10,000 cash down, and paid off the remaining $10,000 in 10 months. Thanks to our practice of living off of just one income, we were able to pay $1,000 toward the loan every month.
I got laid off for a third time in December 2009. Because my husband and I had been continuing to live below our means, we were doing OK financially. But that didn’t mean that my third layoff in two years wasn’t stressful.
I began to wonder if I should switch industries, and then realized that if I wanted more stability, I needed to make the move from working for agencies to working for corporate.
Networking paid off yet again, and I landed a new gig in February 2010. My new office was small, but I loved my coworkers and the company culture. My husband and I paid off my new car and continued saving one income and living off of the other.
Once we had knocked out the car loan, we began to build an emergency fund. Although we had put aside a few months of living expenses, history had taught us that that wasn’t enough. We stashed all of my earnings into a healthy emergency fund that could easily cover six months of living expenses.
Home Sweet Home
The one silver lining to the recession was that it had made real estate more affordable, so we began the house hunt. We quickly found that while there were plenty of deals on the market, homes in our target areas were still out of our price range. Although we qualified for a relatively high mortgage, we were determined to find a house we could afford on one salary.
This decision was difficult at times (since we knew that if we were willing to include my income into the calculation, we could buy a nice house in our dream neighborhoods), and we struggled to find options in our favorite area. But we stuck it out and kept scouring real estate listings daily so we didn’t miss any deals.
We toured house after house that ended up having major structural problems. Many of the houses were old and had foundation issues. While we live in a part of the country that has clay soil – which means that kind of problem is a fact of life – we knew that those can get expensive pretty quickly, so we passed on quite a few houses.
After doing some research and talking with our real estate agent, we decided to get prequalified for a mortgage loan so that we could be in a stronger position to put in an offer. When we finally found a deal on a house in our dream neighborhood a few months later, we were able to move quickly.
It was a buyer’s market, but our area of the country had not been very affected by the real estate bubble. The house we wanted was still a good $30,000 over our budget, but we were not deterred. Against our realtor’s advice, we put in a lowball offer and waited. While I really wanted that particular house, I wasn’t willing to break our budget. After some back and forth, our offer was accepted – and we had stuck to our budget.
The Payoff Plan
My husband and I paid 10 percent down on the home and took out a mortgage for the rest. Although we could have put more toward the purchase, doing so would have drained our emergency fund. Experience had taught us that we could need it unexpectedly at any time, so we didn’t touch those precious savings.
We were thankful to have been able to purchase a home without foundation issues in our target neighborhood, but it was definitely dated. The house was laid out beautifully, but also had dropped ceilings, wood paneling, and linoleum floors. Even though we would have loved to remodel and update it immediately, we knew that doing so have required us to go into debt.
The more affordable option was to do a few quick cosmetic changes ourselves and live with the rest, so we grabbed our brushes and painted every square inch of the wood paneling. Then we sat down and made an ambitious plan to pay off our mortgage within five years.
We were already living on one salary, so this wasn’t as much of a stretch. We had gotten a great deal on our home in a part of the country where houses were pretty affordable.
With that plan in place, we threw every extra dime at our mortgage, working hard to reduce the balance. My husband created a budget that helped us stay on track as we inched ever closer to our ultimate goal.
Our strategic decision to live on one salary has paid off over and over again. It has empowered us to be more financially stable and able to handle all monetary challenges thrown our way.
Shortly after starting our house payoff plan, we were forced to replace my husband’s vehicle. Just like we did with my car, we put a $10,000 down payment toward a used car and paid off the balance in less than a year.
The Bottom Fell Out – Again
A few years later, with less than a year left on our house payoff plan, we faced another layoff. But this time, I wasn’t the one who lost my job; it was my husband.
Only this time, we knew in advance that it was happening. My husband’s employer decided to close down the branch, but that move took a few months, and everyone was given advanced notice. This allowed us to plan ahead as we faced yet another job loss.
My husband’s layoff turned into an unexpected opportunity for us. Because of our good financial habits, we had adequate savings to cover our expenses. And I had landed a corporate job, so I wasn’t worried about getting laid off again.
The layoff provided my husband with the opportunity to purse his dream of starting his own business. He split his time between looking for another position and getting his business off the ground.
It took six months of hard work before he made any money from his new venture. But the moment he made his first dollar, he realized that it was what he wanted to do.
While this turn of events may sound like pure good luck, it was actually the result of our building good financial habits. When many of our friends were barely able to cover their bills with two salaries, our conscious decision to spend less paid off for us.
We lived on one salary and used the other to create financial stability.
Even after my husband was laid off, we were still able to make our goal of completely paying off our mortgage in just under five years.
We had to defend our strict financial choices to family and friends, but it was worth it in the long run.
The Value of Financial Stability
We didn’t start our marriage intending to live on one salary. In fact, as the spender in the family, my main initial goal was to not rack up credit card debt again. It had never occurred to me that I could actually lose my job because of the recession.
But three layoffs in fewer than two years completely changed my mindset. It felt like the rug had been pulled out from under us. Spending money on clothes and shoes took a backseat to the need to feel in control financially. While having fancy things was nice, paying our electricity bill was a higher priority.
When we faced a loss of income not once, not twice, but three times in a short period, we decided to focus on saving. That was when we realized the power of our combined finances. Two people could live almost as cheaply as one, so we took the opportunity to live on one income and save the other.
This has been the single most important decision in building our financial stability.
But we didn’t just let money pile up in our account. We gave that money a purpose: to keep us out of debt. We realized that the more we owed, the more vulnerable we were if we lost our income. We decided to limit our debt exposure by single-mindedly attacking our debts.
When we first got married, neither one of us made more than $50,000 per year. In fact, in my first job after college, I made approximately $32,000 – but we were still able to pay off a car loan in less than a year and save for a down payment on a house.
The Bottom Line
While making more money is nice, it’s also important to do as much with your current income as you can. Owning a bigger house or fancy car is not worth losing sleep over the possibility of a job loss.
Don’t let commercials and peer pressure affect your good financial decisions. Instead, make a conscious choice to use your income to build financial stability. This mindset allowed my husband and me to make more attractive future choices that were based on our values and long-term goals rather than on how much money we owed.
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