lego family - mom breadwinner

[Hey guys! Liz, the Chief Mom Officer stops by the blog today to share her journey to financial freedom as the sole breadwinner of her family of 5. If you don’t feel empowered after reading this, I’m shutting down the blog!! (Okay, no I won’t, but I will wonder what’s wrong with you… ;)) Enjoy!]


Many people think it’s impossible for a family to just live on one income nowadays. In fact, 60% of families are dual income, with both mom and dad working outside the home, while back in 1960, 70% of families had only the dad working outside the home.

My family is different – we’re in the 6% of families where only the mom works outside the house. And we’re not just living on one income. No, we’re on FIRE in a big way, saving and investing more than half my income and working toward financial independence in my early 40’s.

We’re a “traditional” family, but in reverse. I’m the breadwinner who heads to work in corporate IT while my husband stays home caring for the kids, cooking, cleaning, and running errands 🙂 I support my family of five humans – me, my husband, and three boys ages 13, 9, and 2 – the dog, and the cat.

How did we end up like this? How do you pursue FIRE on one mom’s income? Let me show you…

How It Happened

When my husband and I first got married over 15 years ago, we were both blissfully ignorant and naive.  I fully expected we would both work forever and earn roughly the same amount. I was 21 years old working full time in a call center, putting myself through full-time college debt free, and my husband worked full time in a factory. We didn’t make a lot – roughly $25k each – but it was enough to get us by.

Our oldest son was born a few years later, and I had gotten a better job paying $35k per year in corporate IT. We originally shopped around for daycares, but had to look at different paths once we realized we couldn’t afford it on our salaries. At first, my husband switched to the third shift at the factory, but that took a huge physical toll on him (working overnight is rough!). I then got a decent raise at work, and we calculated that my husband could leave the factory job and take a well-paying part time night/weekend gig turning apartments into condos. So he did, but after a year and a half the work dried up and he went back to the factory to work the second shift (evenings instead of overnight).

I would work 6 AM until 3 PM, come home, then my husband would immediately go to work from 4 PM – 12:30 AM. We saved and invested for retirement and college, eventually selling our condo and buying a house.  Our middle son was then born in 2007, and we were getting by OK. The downside of this schedule, of course, is only seeing each other on the weekends. Life continued on this path for a few years until the Great Recession.

Then things became difficult. My husband’s factory closed down, and factory work where we live was impossible to find. We didn’t know it then, but my husband would never work another full time job again. Although the job loss wasn’t ideal, we were able to figure things out.  I was in an MBA program and could go to classes on nights and weekends while working full time, and we still managed to pay our bills while saving and investing. Though it was definitely a struggle, and at times we took on some debt.

Finding a job in the depths of the Great Recession that would (1) allow us to continue having someone at home all the time or (2) pay enough to cover daycare expenses proved impossible.

Then, the unthinkable happened. When my husband was 37, five years ago, he almost died of septic shock.

Overnight, his unemployment evaporated. Working became impossible. It took about four months for him to recover enough drive a car, let alone care for our boys again, so we pulled the youngest out of preschool and enrolled him into daycare full-time. We stopped all savings and investments, and had to get by on less income to free up more money to pay for the extra $1k/month in daycare costs, plus all the new medical expenses now.

chief mom officer dad son

That event was our financial turning point. It was then that I realized we could live just fine on my income, and eventually thrive off it. We figured out how to cut all expenses to the bone, eventually getting used to – and enjoying! – our new normal.

Debt, even “good” debt or “small” debt, kills you when things go wrong. I had vowed to get rid of all our debt and achieve financial freedom once and for all. I got extremely aggressive about freeing up cash flow, and within 18 months we terminated the remaining $33k from our car and MBA loans.

That was three and a half years ago now, and ever since we’ve lived on only my income. We use more than half of it to save, invest, and pay down our mortgage. My financial goals now are to be mortgage free by the end of 2019, fully fund my three boys college compact, and achieve financial independence in my early 40’s.

How We Thrive On Mom’s Income

In my real life, I don’t know any other moms that work full time supporting their family while their husband is a stay at home dad. And I don’t know anyone for that matter who’s pursuing FIRE, even on two incomes, and especially not people saving/investing over half their incomes.

Here are five keys on how we’re able to do it:

#1. Artificial Environment of Economic Scarcity

I don’t budget (gasp! Horror!) except when I was aggressively paying down debt. Instead, I automatically save and invest to reach my financial goals, and then I spend the rest on whatever’s needed for the month.

Dr. Thomas Stanley in The Millionaire Next Door refers to it as creating an “artificial environment of economic scarcity.” Since I don’t have money in my checking account, it’s not there to spend. I took out a 15-year mortgage specifically to force myself into higher payments. I automatically save/invest for college, retirement, and mortgage freedom. And then I only spend what’s left over after I’ve put aside what I need for my goals.

#2. Income Inflation, and Lifestyle Deflation

Back in crisis mode, I deflated our lifestyle while increasing our income. As they say in the London Underground, “Mind the Gap” – I take that to be the gap between income and spending.

During our financial turning point, I eliminated tons of expenses that have never returned to our life. We sold things, ended subscriptions, lowered our fixed costs, and have kept them low. I happily pay $4 for my Ooma phone instead of the $50 I was paying before, and then $25 for Netflix and HBO subscriptions instead of whatever ridiculous amount cable costs nowadays. I shop at warehouse clubs for all our groceries and household goods, and shop around for car and home insurance every year. We go on camping vacations and road trips and have a blast – no expensive day trips or vacations.  While my coworkers shop for second homes, we go to the park to play.

As for the income inflation side? Well, I finished that MBA about four years ago, and combined with my career strategy, my income has increased by over $40k since. Now over half of every dollar I earn goes straight to buying freedom. I’m no longer willing to work for “stuff” – I work for myself and my family.

#3. Frugal Fun

My co-workers on two incomes have new homes, second homes, new cars, expensive vacations, home remodels, expensive weekend trips, and so on. We live in the house we bought 11 years ago when we only had one kid (we’re now up to three).

We do fun things like spending $11 on day trips (thanks to Groupon, used book stores, and free museums), go to free hot air balloon festivals with homemade muffins, and we even host “Chopped Championships” with food we have around the house. The library is our friend, giving us free books, movies, and even a 3D printer! Free and nearly free activities consume our spare time, and we have inexpensive hobbies. Think kids need to be expensive? They’re only as expensive as you let them be.

#4. Not Caring What Others Think

People may find our lifestyle weird, strange even. A married couple with three kids living on mom’s income while dad stays home? Pretty rare. On top of that, living well below your means results in living very differently than folks used to the lifestyle inflation that two incomes typically bring. I don’t really care what other people think of our family arrangement, though, nor our frugal life or pursuit of FIRE. We’re doing what works for us!

#5. Crystal Clear Priorities

There’s nothing like a near death experience to clarify the priorities in your life.  Buying stuff? Going into debt for a car? Using raises and bonuses to go on fancy vacations or second homes?

Hell no.

Using money to buy mortgage freedom, college funding, and financial independence?

Hell yes.

Moms On FIRE

I started my site specifically to cater to other moms like myself – interested in personal finance and investing, financial independence, family breadwinners, and/or high income earners.

I’ve been fortunate to meet other amazing moms, virtually, who are also the breadwinners of their households in all kinds of different ways. Some are the higher income earners of a two-income family, others go to work while their spouse stays at home, women millionaires, moms working to support their family and their own parents at the same time, and women interested in all the fun details of personal finance and investing (and not so much in extreme couponing).

We may still be uncommon, but we’re a growing force in the world.

To other women out there, I say this: whether you’re the breadwinner, earning a high income, a single mom, in debt, a millionaire, or anything else – you too can set yourself on FIRE!

Whatever’s happened in your life, you can overcome it and achieve your wildest dreams. Get clear on your priorities, stop caring what others think, and live your life the way you want!

Liz writes over at Chief Mom Officer, a site dedicated to helping other moms with money, work, and frugal family life. Every Wednesday she publishes a new interview with a breadwinning, six figure, and/or millionaire mom. Connect with her over on Twitter or Instagram!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Speaking of FIRE, check out this in-depth article on the originals of the FIRE movement. It spans over 800 years, did you know that??? (For those new to the scene, FIRE = Financial independence, Retire Early)