Why These 3 Families Chose to Live on a Single Income

Before they decided to live off only one income, Devra Thomas, 39, and her husband, Clinton Wilkinson, 38, brought in a combined $50,000 annually working in corporate retail. When their daughter, Sophia, was born, they struggled to find ways to juggle their work schedules with child care.

“Since we were both working at the time, we really had to supplement with a lot of funky child care between parents, extended families, after school care, and babysitters,” says Devra.

Then Clinton got an opportunity for a raise and a job relocation. The family moved from outside of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to Morehead City, where their cost of living was lower and Clinton’s work commute was shorter. Devra, who was an arts administrator at the time, initially looked for work when they moved, but when she wasn’t able to find a job in her field in the area, she and Wilkinson changed their plan. They decided Devra would stay home so they could eliminate one significant expense: child care.

For the couple, deciding to live off one income was worth it if it meant they could simplify their lives. Still, choosing to live on a single income didn’t come without its own set of challenges.

Devra and Clinton, along with two other single-earner families, told MagnifyMoney why they chose to budget their lives on a single income and how they make it work. For this article, we define single-earner families as those in which one family member generates 80% or more of the total household’s income used to cover household expenses.

Devra Thomas & Clinton Wilkinson

Morehead City, North Carolina

Annual Income: $70,000 to $80,000

Clinton Wilkinson, 38, Devra Thomas, 39, and daughter, Sophia, 9. Source: Devra Thomas

Their strategy: Zero-based budgeting and constant communication

Devra and Clinton swear by a zero-sum budget.

“Every time we get paid, all of that money has a name,” says Devra. The couple sits together every two weeks to discuss and create their budget and make sure every dollar earned is fulfilling a purpose. They put each dollar they’ve earned in a spending category such as groceries, transportation, subscription services, utilities and savings.

Devra does some light freelance marketing and writing projects on the side, which helps supplement their income to the tune of about $10,000 per year. Any income she brings in from freelance work becomes what they call “play money.” It either gets added to savings or spent on something they want but haven’t been able to fit into their budget, like a date night.

For example, they’ve already earmarked funds for their anniversary in August. Every part of their date night is planned for, with money going into categories for the dinner, babysitter, hotel, someone to watch their dog, and other expenses.

Where they run into obstacles

Thomas and Wilkinson like their single-income lifestyle, but as their daughter, 10, gets older, the pressure to keep up with the Joneses increases.

“There are other things kids in school have that she says I wish I had … or it may even be an experience like going to Disney World,” says Wilkinson. When that happens they explain to her that those things are “not where [they] are choosing to put [their] priorities.”

They also advise their daughter to try making use of her community. If she wants to play with a toy a friend has, for example, she can borrow it from them, or vice versa.

Overall, making all of their financial decisions together has been a crucial element in making their strategy work. “That’s typically when we break our budget. When we weren’t communicating about spending,” says Thomas.

Sage & Emerson Evans

Salt Lake City, Utah

Annual Income: $50,000

Sage, 25, and Emerson Evans, 24. Source: Sage Evans

Salt Lake City, Utah newlyweds Sage and Emerson Evans chose to live on one income while Emerson focuses on applying to medical school. They have learned to manage their lifestyle on Sage’s $50,000 salary in digital marketing and public relations. Their hope is that investing in Matt’s education will pay off by way of a higher salary later.

Their strategy: deal-hunting and communication

Sage and Emerson, both in their mid-20s, don’t follow a strict budget but they try to add at least $500 to their savings account each month. The couple spends the bulk of their income on things like dinner, cultural events, movies, and travel. But they have no student loan debt and only one car payment to manage.

Emerson says he’s used to pinching pennies because he grew up being frugal. He was able to qualify for the Pell grant and other scholarships to help pay for college. Although he isn’t working full time, he takes odd jobs on the weekend to earn pocket money for minor expenses like gas for his car or lunch outside of home.

“I make it so that Sage never has to send money my way,” says Emerson. “I know I’m not the income and I know I’m not working full time. I try to make sure I’m not a financial burden.” For example, if he doesn’t have money for lunch, he’ll simply skip lunch that day.

“He almost takes it too far,” says Sage, “I had to force him to buy a new pair of shoes.”

Where they run into obstacles

For Sage, adjusting to married life on a single income was tough. “I definitely had to learn to think of money as our money and not just my income,” Sage says about the transition.

“Part of it was just a personal problem that I had to overcome. Realizing that when you get married, me becomes we,”  she adds.

The couple has learned to communicate about things such as what qualifies as a large purchase and whether or not Sage had to inform her husband of what she’s doing with what’s technically ‘her’ income.

Sage imagines their roles will flip once Emerson completes medical school and earns a higher wage than hers or if she elects to stay at home after having children.

“We get by, but it’s definitely not an income I want to spend the rest of my life on,” says Sage.

Matt and Brit Casady

Rancho Cucamonga, California

Income: $60,000 – $70,000

Matt, 28, and Brit Casady, 26, and 1-year-old son. Source: Matt Casady.

Matt, 28, and Brit Casady, 26, decided to live on one income to save on childcare, which doesn’t come cheap in their hometown of Rancho Cucamonga, California. They manage on Matt’s salary as an online marketer for a self storage company, where he makes between $60,000 and $70,000 a year.

“We were scared at first but we knew that we wanted to live on one income because we didn’t want to have to pay for child care,” says Brit, adding she’s always wanted to be a stay at home mom. “That money that I’d be earning from working would be paying just for daycare. So financially, one income makes more sense.”

Their strategy: thrifting and living two paydays ahead

The couple decided to transition to a single-income household when they were expecting their son, now 1. They started by reducing their monthly bills by paying off both of their car loans and cutting back on unnecessary expenses. The couple also got lucky: Within six months of having their son, Matt got a new job that paid a higher salary. But the new job also meant relocating the family from their hometown in Lehi, Utah to Rancho Cucamonga, a vastly more expensive area.

All of the furniture in their new house is either a hand-me-down or was purchased used. The Casadys bargain shop at discount retailers when they want nice, designer clothes.

“We’re very cheap people. We don’t feel like we live a restricted life,” says Matt. The couple also finds deals on things like furniture and decor for their baby’s room by joining yard sale or thrifting groups on Facebook.

They use a Google spreadsheet to keep track of the monthly family budget. When Matt’s paycheck comes in, the couple takes no less than 20 percent of his take-home pay and adds it to their savings. After paying for fixed expenses, they put the remainder of their funds to a spending category. When they spend money, they record the amount, place and description of the purchase in the spreadsheet and subtract it from the limit in the spending category.

“It’s more freeing than it is restrictive when you know that the money that you’re spending isn’t going to prevent you from paying rent next month,” Matt says.

Brit earns $2,000 to $3,000 annually freelancing as a graphic designer. She says about 90% of the time, the money she makes is added to the couple’s savings account. If Matt gets a bonus, or the couple receives an influx of funds in a tax return, it’s treated the same way.

Where they run into obstacles

Moving to a more expensive place has presented some challenges. Housing alone costs about 69% more in Rancho Cucamonga than in Lehi, Utah, according to Sperling’s Best Places cost of living calculator.

“It’s definitely been a sticker shock. Rent alone is significantly more money,” says Matt. The couple says they have adjusted to the rise by staying frugal.

“The activities that we do are mostly free, so we can create memories versus [buying] things that cost a lot of money,” says Brit.

The couple also tries to avoid keeping score on things like who has spent more money from the ‘fun’ category in their budgeting. For example, Matt, a fan of UFC foodball, may buy a ticket to a game for $150 and Brit may get her hair done for $90, but she doesn’t try to find another way to spend $60 afterward.

“Just because he spent more doesn’t mean I can spend more,” Brit says. “It helps us to stay in our budget and not compare [who spent what] so we are not constantly trying to level up.”

The post Why These 3 Families Chose to Live on a Single Income appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

It’s Now Easier for Millions of Student Loan Borrowers to Get a Mortgage

Student loan borrowers who are making reduced income-driven repayments on their loans will have an easier time getting mortgages under a new policy announced recently by Fannie Mae.

Nearly one-quarter of federal student loan borrowers benefit from reduced monthly student loan payments based on their income, Fannie Mae says. However, there’s been some confusion about how banks should treat the lower monthly payments when they calculate a would-be mortgage borrower’s debt-to-income ratio (DTI): Should banks consider the reduced payment, the payment borrowers would have to pay without the income-based “discount,” or something in between?

It’s a tricky question, because student loan borrowers have to renew their qualification for the lower payments each year, meaning a borrower’s monthly DTI could change dramatically a year or two after qualifying for a mortgage. The banks’ confusion over which payment amount to use can mean the difference between a borrower qualifying for a home loan and staying stuck in a rental apartment.

There’s even more confusion when a mortgage applicant qualifies for a $0 income-driven student loan payment, or when there’s no payment amount listed on the applicant’s credit report. Previously, in that situation, Fannie Mae required banks to use 1% of the balance or a full payment term.

As of last week, Fannie has declared that mortgage lenders can instead use $0 as a student loan payment when determining DTI, as long as the borrower can back that up with documentation.

That announcement followed another Fannie update issued in April telling lenders that they could use the lower income-based monthly payment, rather than a larger payment based on the full balance of the loan, when calculating borrowers’ monthly debt obligations.

“We are simplifying the options available to calculate the monthly payment amount for student loans. The resulting policy will be easier for lenders to apply, and may result in a lower qualifying payment for borrowers with student loans,” Fannie said in its statement.

Taken together, the two announcements could immediately benefit the roughly 6 million borrowers currently using income-driven repayment plans known as Pay As You Earn (PAYE), Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE), Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR), and Income-Based Repayment (IBR).
Freddie Mac didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry about its policy in the same situation.

What This Means for Student Loan Borrowers Looking to Buy

Michigan-based mortgage broker Cassandra Evers said the changes “allow a lot more borrowers to qualify for a home.” Previously, there was a lot of confusion among borrowers, lenders, and brokers, Evers said. “[The rules have] changed at least five or six times in the last five years.”

The broader change announced in April, which allowed lenders to use the income-driven payment amount in calculations, could make a huge difference to millions of borrowers, Evers said.

“Imagine you have $60,000 in student loan debt and are on IBR with a payment of $150 a month,” she said. Before April’s guidance, lenders may have used $600 (1% of the balance of the student loans) as the monthly loan amount when determining DTI, “basically overriding actual debt with a fake/inflated number.”

“Imagine you are 28 and making $40,000 per year. Well, even if you’re fiscally responsible, that added $450-a-month inflated payment would absolutely destroy your ability to buy a decent home … This opens up the door to a lot more lenders being able to use the actual IBR payment,” Evers said.

The Fannie Mae change regarding borrowers on income-driven plans with a $0 monthly payment could be a big deal for some mortgage applicants with large student loans. A borrower with an outstanding $50,000 loan but a $0-a-month payment would see the monthly expenses side of their debt-to-income ratio fall by $500.

It’s unclear how many would-be homebuyers could qualify for a mortgage with an income low enough to qualify for a $0-per-month income-driven student loan repayment plan. Fannie did not have an estimate, spokeswoman Alicia Jones said.

“If your income is low enough to merit a zero payment, then it is probably going to be hard to qualify for a mortgage with a number of lenders. But, with the share of IBR now at almost a full 25% of all federally insured debt, it’s suspected that there will be plenty of potential borrowers who do,” Jones said. “The motivation for the original policy and clarification came from lenders’ requests.”

The post It’s Now Easier for Millions of Student Loan Borrowers to Get a Mortgage appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

Why You Should Apply the 72-hour Rule to Your Tax Refund

Ka-ching! Your tax refund just hit your checking account. Time to apply the 72-hour rule.

Whether your refund is in the thousands or hundreds, the urge to spend the funds might instantly become overwhelming. Maybe you already had an idea of what you want to spend the money on and you’re all set to hand over your refund for it. Or, maybe the money means you finally have enough to make a large purchase you’d otherwise need to save for.

Whatever your reason, don’t spend your refund quite yet. If it’s not an immediate emergency (read: root canal, car accident, flood, etc.), let the cash burn a hole in your pocket for about 72 hours.

Journalist and money expert Carl Richards came up with the “72-hour rule” to kick his habit of buying every book he wanted on Amazon, ending up with a pile of unread books. Now, he says he lets a book sit in his shopping cart for at least 72 hours before hitting “buy,” and he’s saving money only buying books he will actually read. You can apply a similar practice to your spending habits.

Why wait 72 hours?

Our brains respond positively to instant gratification. It’s why so many of us find it difficult to save money or lose weight. We want the item or food now, and when there’s nothing stopping us, why wait?

You need the space between receiving the money and spending it to think. The shorter that space is, the less time you have to think and the more likely you are to spend the funds impulsively.

“People often look at their tax refund as found money like lottery winnings or inheritance. The temptation to spend surprise money on something fun or frivolous is strong,” says Denver, Colo.-based Certified Financial Planner Kristi Sullivan.

You want to avoid doing that. Your tax refund isn’t lottery winnings or an inheritance. It’s your hard-earned money being returned to you with no interest gained.

Tax refunds averaged $2,860 in 2016, according to the IRS. This year, a SunTrust survey found about 1 in 4 Americans already planned to spend their refund money on a large purchase before they even received the funds. That proportion rises to 36% among millennials and 40% among Gen-Xers, according to SunTrust.

That’s no bueno, considering the average citizen admits they can’t pull together $400 in case of an emergency.

Kinney says “hitting the pause button on spending impulses gives the rational brain time to think” of more practical ways to use the money like getting out of debt, contributing to a college savings fund, or adding to your savings.

Although he acknowledges when you’re living paycheck to paycheck, it’s a little harder to resist a sudden — albeit predictable — boost to this month’s budget.

“People feel constrained by their paycheck all through the year, then suddenly this windfall of money gives them the ability to splurge. The temptation can be hard to resist,” says Kinney.

Here are a few ways you can manage the temptation, and the time.

While you wait…

Weigh your wants vs. needs

The waiting period is supposed to help you to spend your tax refund responsibly, right? Consider all of the expenses the money could go toward. Should you buy the new iPad or pay off your credit card? How about that car loan? Time to weigh your options.

Sullivan says that means you should pit your “wants” against your “needs.”

“A need that you haven’t already bought is rare. Wants are everywhere. Time to reflect might have you making a more mature decision with your money,” says Sullivan.

Do some soul searching to see where your financial priorities lie. You might find your need to pay off your credit card this month to avoid paying more in interest outweighs how badly you want that new gadget. Think about it.

Review your finances

Since your tax refund might consume your every thought for three days, you might as well use the time to think about your overall financial picture.

“Sit down and think about other pressing financial issues, and how you plan on paying for them,” says David Frisch, a Melville, N.Y.-based financial planner. He suggests you review bank statements, brokerage accounts, long-term goals, and other financial considerations, then give some thought to whether or not you’re on track to achieve them.

For example, if you realize you don’t have enough in your emergency fund to cover three to six months of expenses, you might decide to put the money there instead of spending it. Or, if your refund could completely pay off a high-interest debt like a credit card, you might decide to free yourself from the debt burden.

Make sure you don’t get a huge refund every year

Most Americans receive a refund because the government withheld too much in taxes. The government uses information you gave them to decide how much of your paycheck to withhold each pay period.

“Changing your withholding will give you more of your money during the year so that you will not get a large refund that you might be tempted to spend frivolously,” says Alfred Giovetti, president of the National Society of Accountants.

You can change information on your withholding forms on your own if you’d like. Use this IRS calculator to determine your proper withholding and figure out what information you need to correct on your W-4 form. Then, contact your employer’s human resources department to turn in a new W-4 with the correct information.

If you’d rather have some assistance, you can contact a professional. Work with your accountant or financial adviser to change information on your W-4 and its equivalent withholding form for the state in which you reside.

“Plan with a good tax accountant to get a small refund or a small liability by changing your withholding, so that you do not rely on the refund as ‘mad money,’” says Giovetti.

Treat yourself

We admit, waiting sucks, but it doesn’t have to be complete torture. Sullivan suggests taking the edge off with a small reward for each day you wait.

“It could be an ice cream cone, a long phone chat with a friend, an hour reading a trashy novel, or whatever makes you happy,” she says.

Just make sure the reward you choose isn’t too expensive, and you should avoid getting into more debt. Your “reward” could serve as a break while you comb through your finances.

The takeaway

Take some time to think before spending whenever you receive unexpected income, and you might make better spending decisions. Maybe you need only 24 hours, instead of 72, or maybe you need a little longer to decide what to do with money, but the same lesson applies. If you’re considering a purchase that’s a “want” and not a “need,” think before you buy.

The post Why You Should Apply the 72-hour Rule to Your Tax Refund appeared first on MagnifyMoney.