one income

Military Couples Should Live Off One Income

I know what it’s like to be one-half of a military couple. It’s a unique dynamic that you can’t fully appreciate until you’ve lived it. Following your Servicemember’s career, living on one income, supporting them and therefore, the mission from home. You know…keeping the home fires burning.


When you’re married and military, there’s going to be moving, deployments, and temporary duties involved. The constant transition makes it difficult to take care of family life, maintain a little sanity in your house and, I know there’s one more thing. Oh yeah, trying to find and keep a J-O-B!


Military Couples Should Live Off One Income


Military life makes it challenging for the non-military half of the couple to maintain employment or even have employment. It can be a tricky situation to navigate.


Because of the uncertainty of employment, military couples should adopt one income living to protect their budget for the times they only have one income. It also applies to any couple that frequently transfers for their job, has a high layoff probability, or anyone wanting to retire early or get out of debt.

How do you live off one income when you actually have two? The answer is—create two spending plans.


One spending plan for the times when you truly only have one income. The times when you’ve PCSd (moved) and haven’t found a job yet, or when you’re in a remote location and can’t work, or when working just doesn’t fit into your family plans.


The second spending plan’s for building up your savings, paying off debt and increasing your quality of life when you do have the extra income.

Main-Spending plan

The first spending plan is your primary budget. In it, include what’s affordable on the military service member’s income only. As always the first line on your spending plan should be for savings, even when you’re living off one income, there should be money put into savings each month. The savings is two-fold, part building a cash reserve for emergencies and the other part is savings for retirement. Then list all of the core living expenses, i.e., rent or mortgage, utilities, rental insurance, food. FYI, cable and the Internet are not essential living expenses. They fall under entertainment and therefore should be at the bottom of your budget. Don’t forget to include all of your debt payments like credit cards and loans. You don’t want to fall behind on those. If you don’t have enough income each month to pay bills (on time), then cuts need to be made. Start with non-essential like cable until you have zero (income minus all expenses = zero). The main spending plan should cover all of your living expenses.


one income

Reserve-Spending plan

The second spending plan is the gravy budget—all the extras you want for a better quality of life. Just like your main-spending plan, every dollar should be in a category, for example, savings, debt payoff, entertainment, or vacation fund. The reserve-spending plan is where all of the second income patiently waits until it receives the call to the big leagues. But a few things should be completed before money from your reserve budget can boost your primary budget. Until then, it needs to wait to fill a category in your main budget.


Don’t pull money from the reserve budget for the primary spending plan until you (in this order):

1. Have a cash reserve of $1,500 (military needs >$1,000) in a savings account. If you need it, use Digit for help.
2. Pay off all of your debt. If you need it, Qoins can help with that.
3. Increase your cash reserves to 6 months of your living expenses

Once you accomplish those tasks with your extra income, then you’re allowed to start pulling money from your reserve spending plan to increase quality of life. Increasing your quality of life means more for savings, more money in entertainment, add more to where you want. Also, it can be used to budget for expenses you can’t afford without the second income, i.e. vacation, a new TV.

Things that should be in your primary spending plan


Your primary spending plan should cover all of your debt payments. A second car payment for example. If you’re in the military and can’t pay both of your car payments with one income, you shouldn’t get the second car. If you think it’s stressful sharing a vehicle or settling for a cheaper car, you can afford it will be 100 times more stressful when don’t have enough money to pay your car note.


The transition in military life will not go away.  That’s the way they roll. By creating two spending plans, you’ll have more flexibility in money management and it will make the back and forth from two to one income a smoother transition.




5 thoughts on “Military Couples Should Live Off One Income

  1. Your advice here makes sense. However, I kindly disagree based on this scenario: what happens if the marriage ends? We did something very similar to this and it has worked out terribly. After 10+ years, we lived off of my income to pay all of the bills, and the mortgage and saved/invested my wife’s pay. Now, in present day, my retirement accounts have been thoroughly neglected and my wife’s retirement accounts are worth ten times (yes,10x) my retirement accounts. Many have fine marriages, but I can tell you that after discovering my wife’s multiple affairs, I am in no financial position to divorce because of advice that I followed many years ago just like this. Its a good idea, but it fails in practice.

    • I’m sorry you’ve had that experience. I don’t think this means specifically that a military member should skip their TSP and IRA so that they can pay all the bills while the spouse gets to hoard all their pay. It just means that the necessities and obligations (debts) can be paid on one income if necessary. For example, when I (a military spouse) am working, we “save my paycheck.” But actually, my husband maxes out his TSP, I max my 401(k), and we both contribute to an IRA. Some of my pay does go to bills, but if I stopped working it would be easy to adjust our retirement savings so that we could cover all the bills with his pay.

      (Also, I’m not an expert, but I thought that most retirement accounts could be divided in a divorce regardless of who they “belonged” to?)

      • Bethany, Thank you for your comments. It’s great to hear you guys are maxing out your tax-advantaged accounts! Yes, by living on the one paycheck, it leaves you room to pivot when money gets tighter.

    • JoetheEXSWo, I’m sorry to hear about your marriage and the situation you’re in. You asked a great question, “What if the marriage ends?” In a divorce, a judge should provide a QDRO ( to allow for a rollover of assets from her retirement account to yours based on the divorce settlement. When you’re living off one income, it’s important to follow the three steps mentioned above, to save and pay down debt. When there is heavy debt, it does take away the freedom of movement in your life. I wish you the best for resolution of your situation. Also, here is a resource for finding a reputable financial advisor to help in your current situation.

      • Thank you. Yes, I’m aware of QDROs and division of assets following divorce settlement. As a prideful guy, its hard to rip assets away from a woman, when I can more easily delude myself into thinking that I can financially recover someday. Besides, she always made way more money than me, so that is mainly ‘her’ money anyway. Also, there is nothing anyone needs to apologize about (your comment & Bethany). I made a mistake when I chose my spouse. I was stupid to make that choice and stupid to trust in “happily-ever-after.” Given my situation as evidence–and the many sailors whose spouses cleaned out their bank accounts while they were away on deployment to return to nothing– I just think that this advice may not be ideal. I see the point of the article. But I violated the edict to “pay yourself first.” Had I done that first, and then paid the mortgage, bills, etc, my financial picture would be different. I think this article may expose individuals to unnecessary risk. I learned that I should have protected myself by being selfish and to never assume something will last. Maybe someone can learn from me. Thank you.

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