The Single-Income Family

family1950sThe single-income family used to be the norm.  The dad would work and the mom would stay home with the kids.  Of course there were downsides to this: women had very few options, and having kids AND a job was nearly impossible.  The concept of the stay-at-home dad was unheard-of, not to mention families with two moms or two dads, or other configurations.  There were few choices for families who wanted to do things differently.

These days a common adage is that it’s nearly impossible to live on just one income.  I completely agree that it’s impossible to live Like Everyone Else and survive on one income, but if we take some examples from the past, it might give us an insight into what it takes to do things differently these days.  

– People ate simply.  They didn’t prepare fancy sauces or exotic meats.  There were no specialty cheese shops in most cities, and bread was mostly made at home.

– Stuff was built to last.  Your parents probably have some furniture from the 60s.  It didn’t break after a couple of years of abuse like stuff from Ikea does.  My favourite example of this is a toy we bought second-hand that was made in the 60s or 70s.  It’s a wind-up “record player” music box by Fisher Price.  It doesn’t need batteries, and you can still wind it up and put a record on.  I’d bet it will outlast my iPod and personal computer, as well as my TV and stereo system.

– People entertained at home rather than going out a lot.  There were cocktail parties, fondue parties, all sorts of themed house parties.  While it does cost a bit to entertain friends on a regular basis, it is still cheaper to entertain at home than it is to go out a lot.  

– People didn’t shop for fun.  The “mall” didn’t exist yet, so you couldn’t go walk around it for fun.  There was no Costco or Chapters or Home Depot or Ikea, selling themselves as a fun place to spend the afternoon.

– There were no personal electronics.  No iPods, computers, laptops, Blackberries, video game systems, digital cameras, etc. to worm their way into your home and convince you that you need them as well as their replacement 2 years later after they break.

– There were no cell phones.  This one could have gone with the previous point, but cell phones aren’t just disposable technology; they are also little digital balls-and-chains that you pay upwards of $100 per month for.  Even the cheapest pay-as-you-go plan costs a monthly fee that eats into your bottom line.

– In North America, it was unusual to travel overseas for fun.  Car vacations were a big thing, along with camper vans and motels.  This is still a much more frugal option for vacationing, as we are seeing with the rising trend of local vacationing.

– People lived within their means.  It was very hard to get credit, even to buy a house.  There was no credit card debt because there were no credit cards.  As a result, if you couldn’t afford something, you didn’t buy it.  It was as simple as that.

Now, I’m not saying that EVERYONE lived like this; there are many exceptions to all of these points.  But this reflects what I have learned about my parents’ and grandparents’  generations from, well, my parents.

And I am not saying the past was some perfect golden time we should “go back” to.  Rather, I think there are some frugal lessons in the recent past that we can lift from their historical context and apply to our lives today.  Of course, back then that was “How Everyone Else Lived”, which made these frugal habits easier to adopt.  

These days, it requires going against the grain to live consciously and frugally.  But if you have a goal, like maybe living on one income, it is possible to achieve.  It just takes hard work, dedication and a bit of sensible penny pinching.  Sounds like the 1950s to me!

3 thoughts on “The Single-Income Family

  1. Looking forward to trying it! The hard part for me is not seeing something and then just buying it. Even if we need it I am trying to hold off until we really need it.

  2. That one’s hard for me too. Especially for things that I am convinced will help us save money in the very near future!

  3. My historical inspiration is the home front in England during World War II — they really had to live simply and do without a lot of things.

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