Surviving on the One Income of a Chef

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Surviving on the one income of a chefA family of 5 living on one income, the income of a chef . . . I would guess you’re either thinking, “How in the world do you do that?  You must be crazy!”  Or ,“We’re doing that too and I know you’re crazy!”  (Or I guess you could be thinking, “Wow!  Her chef/husband must be a Food Network star.”  He’s not.)

I say that jokingly, but really, I do feel like we are a bit crazy.

In the series, A Chef, a Wife and a Child, one of the questions I asked was, “What has been the hardest part for you and your chef/husband with the addition of a little one to your family?”

The #1 thing for us, without a doubt, was adjusting to living on one income.  This is by far too big of an issue to get buried in another post.  So here we are!

We always knew that when we had kids, I would stay home full time with them. Quitting my job never seemed possible and we waited and waited and waited, but looking at the numbers, it just never seemed like it would work. 

At the time our first child was born (10 years into our marriage), I was working as an elementary school teacher and my husband was working in his first Executive Chef position.  In case you were wondering, all Executive Chef positions do not pay the same.  My husband and I were making about the same income at the time, so we were looking to cut out half of our salary (or about 45% as I was able to work one day a week for a short time to help ease us into it.)

My teacher salary, 10 months out of the year, could pay all of our bills and then my husband’s salary did the rest.  (Well it was all combined, but you get the picture.)

So after being married for 10 years we just went for it and decided we would make it work.  We figured if we didn’t, we would probably never have children.  So after a lot of prayer (and when I say a lot, I mean a lot!!), we had our first child and we started this journey of living on one income, the income of a chef.  We truly felt this was what was best for our family and prayed that God would somehow provide for us as we took this leap of faith.  (And He has, just in case you were wondering.)

So how in the world do you go about living on one income?  I can sum it up in one word.


Now don’t get me wrong.  All parents sacrifice, whether you work full-time, stay home full-time or do something in between.  We all sacrifice our time, money and energy for our children (as we should as their parents.)

The sacrifice I’m talking about here really has to do with money and belongings. While many of the things I list below we would have had to sacrifice somewhat if I worked outside the home, they would not have been nearly as drastic of a cut.

So what does this monetary sacrifice look like on a day to day basis for our family?  Here’s a not-so-short list from the past 9 1/2 years of our life . . .

  • We lived on a very tight budget.  We made many mistakes, but learned from them and moved on.
  • We cut out everything we didn’t “NEED.”  Clothing, entertainment, gifts . . . while you might “need” them, it’s amazing what you can find for free or very inexpensive when you don’t have a choice.  It was hard to really cut back on gifts, but family and friends understood as many of them were trying to do the same thing we were.  So when my good friend had a birthday, we drove to her house with cupcakes and sang to her instead of buying her a sweater from Banana Republic.  Sacrifice sometimes makes you uncomfortable and feel bad, but true friends will think nothing of it and love the cupcakes and greet you with a huge hug!
  • I used coupons.  Ugh . . . not fun when you are married to a chef.  I finally gave up on using coupons very often for food as they just don’t make coupons (at least not very often) for the food we eat.  I focused on cooking from scratch and meal planning where I cross utilized ingredients.  Hey – if it works for the menu of a large restaurant, it can work for us, right?  I did still use coupons for shampoo, toothbrushes, etc.
  • I followed frugal blogs like Thrifty NW Mom.  She spends hours and hours and hours a week looking for the best deals and offers them all for free on her blog!  Nice!  I’m not interested in all the deals, but have saved huge by stocking my gift closet during the Target toy clearance and stockpiling food staples when they hit a rock bottom price.  ($.25 for Barilla pasta this week?  Sounds good to me.)  I’ve also hit some great Groupons and Living Social deals thanks to her.  I used to follow quite a few of these blogs, but have found that this particular one seems to fit the needs of our family well, so I just stick with her.  Plus, she’s local.  I really don’t care what the price of ground beef is in Texas.  I live in Washington.
  • We got rid of a car.  This makes my stomach hurt just thinking about it.  We could only afford one car for a while.  While we lived in Southern California, I lived next door to my best friend and lived within walking distance of a grocery store and a park.  So while it was inconvenient, we could get out and do what we needed to and I had a friend with kids right next door to hang out with.  When we moved up to Seattle, I had no friend next door, a grocery store a mile away, and it rains A LOT!!  3 kids, walking a mile with a stroller and a preschooler IN THE RAIN and groceries . . . NOT FUN!!!  We didn’t get out much which was so hard!!  I was so lonely and Facebook was killing me with all the pictures of people going out and doing things.  But remember, you can’t have it all.  Was I willing to go back to work just so we could have a second car?  Nope!!  So we stuck it out, asked friends to drive us places occasionally and eventually were able to buy a second car!
  • We had crummy medical insurance with a HUGE deductible.  It’s better than nothing and fortunately we were pretty healthy and never had to use it for much more than a quick Dr. appointment.
  • I tried to find things I could do from home to bring in a little extra income.  Over the years I have transcribed insurance reports, transcribed sermons, done some graphic design work for our church and developed websites for a local restaurant group and other local businesses.  We never counted on this income, but used it for different expenses that came up and a few years ago did save enough to take the girls to Disneyland for a few days.
  • I was very organized.  We have been blessed with many hand me down clothes from friends and family, so I stayed very organized and only bought was we really needed.  I have also sold stuff on Craigslist and VarageSale when we were done with it and used that money to buy the clothes or toys we needed for the next phase.
  • We didn’t purchase many things new.  I became very skilled at finding things on Craigslist and VarageSale.
  • We asked friends and family to watch our children so we could go out on a free date.  This was much easier to do in CA when we lived near family and had more friends.  After we moved to WA, this became much harder.  It rains A LOT and so finding free things to do when you really can’t be outside (or at least you think you can’t because you’re from CA and not used to the rain) is much harder.
  • We never went out to eat!  This one makes me laugh as my husband makes a living from people going out to eat!  But in all reality, if money is tight, you can cook at home for a lot less.  (Plus, I’m married to a chef who is home and cooks for me every night, right?  If you believe this, please see my FAQ page about being married to a chef!!!)
  • Christmas and birthdays were not full of lots of presents from us to each other or for the kids.  Fortunately the grandparents made up for that.  In the beginning this was very hard for me.  Seeing what our parents could buy for our kids and seeing what we could buy. . . there was no comparison.  I had a really hard time with this.  This of course was the selfish side of me, forgetting that our parents had worked for many, many years to get to their income level.  The kids never thought anything of it and I got over it and am very grateful for their generosity and support, especially early on in this journey!
  • We didn’t have the latest and greatest clothes.  Fortunately my husband wears chef pants and chef coats 5-6 days a week, so he rarely needed clothes.  For me, I tried buying used as much as possible, but when you are 6’1″, that’s not really an option very often.  So most birthdays and Christmas’, I asked for clothes because it was what I needed.  I always thought it was funny that my Mom bought my Dad underwear and socks for Christmas.  It wasn’t until I was a parent I understood why.  They didn’t have much money for gifts, and that’s what he needed.  So they were wrapped up under the tree for him to open.  He always acted excited to open them.  (I have pretty great parents!!)  We sacrifice things as parents, whether you stay home full-time or work full-time.)  It’s just what you do for your kids.

Wow!  That was a novel!  But that’s how we’ve survived the past 9 1/2 years on my husband’s income as a chef.  It’s been a crazy journey, and still is.  It hasn’t been easy, but we are glad we did it.

I’m sure many of you have some great ideas as well, as I know you are just as crazy as us.  If you can think of something I’ve missed, please share it in the comments.

From one chefwife to another,




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  1. Alyson

    We moved to Australia! We were in London and I was the major earner, my husband hadn’t even made it to Exec then. So we sold up and moved to Oz where houses ( but nothing else) are cheaper. We were pretty well off there, he landed an Exec job with great perks, but we couldn’t stand the isolation and lack of things to do, so we left to travel full time. 16 months later, we’re back in London and he’s working like crazy, I’m home with the kids and SO happy you wouldn’t believe. He only has to work while we
    re here, then we’ll get back to travelling again ( way cheaper than staying home!) but it’s worth his crazy hours for the kids to experience everything London has to offer for a while.
    We’ve totally changed our outlook, we buy nothing. We only have backpacks so there’s no point in buying pointless stuff we don’t need. We don’t have a car either, we don’t need one, this is London. We eat out rarely, but once we’re back in Asia we’ll eat out 3 times a day, every day. We have a 1 bedroom flat and we LOVE it, we’re happy. The big shift comes with not buying so much pointless junk!

    • Jennifer

      I love this. Most of us have too much pointless junk that we don’t need, no matter how much money we make. I’m so glad you are happy and have been able to figure out how to travel. (And thanks for sharing that with the rest of us. I must say, I’m a bit jealous. It sounds like so much fun. Crazy, but fun.) 🙂


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