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Book Jacket

Trade Paperback
176 pages
Jan 2007
Moody Publishers

Half-Price Living: Secrets to Living Well on One Income

by Ellie Kay

Review  |   Author Bio  |  Read an Excerpt


Chapter 1

Mommy’s Gone Wild

Why Live on One Income?

I have five children, two stepchildren, and this year, much to our delight, we got a new baby. We named the cute little guy, “Buddy.” He doodles all the time, sleeps slightly more than he doodles, and eats anything he can find—including several strategically stashed hoards of PMS chocolate.

Buddy is a dog.

He’s graduating this Saturday at the top of his obedience school class. He’s going to participate in a ceremony and our whole family will be there. He’s getting the valedictorian and perfect-attendance awards. He loves to give kisses and can shake hands upon request. After he’s groomed he sashays with a prance that says, “Hey, look at me! I’m handsome!” He loves his daily walks and enjoys going “bye-bye” in the car.

I love that dog.

On the other hand, we discovered that if we don’t place a chew toy in every room in the house, he will create his own. Yesterday, he chewed the gorgeous white pearl and satin wedding album from my stepdaughter’s big day. The week before, he chewed my sentimental handmade Adirondack basket (crafted by a woman who later died of cancer) that had been given to me as a farewell/moving gift from the ladies of Fort Drum, New York. Before that, he chewed my new designer pumps. I now get compliments on their “interesting pattern of indentations.” He also discovered when the backyard sprinklers go off it makes mud in the flower beds, and he decided to roll in the mess and become a muddy Buddy.

I don’t like that dog.

Learning to live on one income is a little like adopting a new puppy. It’s a commitment; it’s harder than you think; and it’s rewarding and fulfilling. I know the analogy sounds simplistic, because the children we affect by staying home have eternal souls—whereas, a dog needs to live it up in the here and now. Contributing to our kids’ future is a tad more important than making sure the puppy gets outside before he embarrasses himself. But I said it was a “little like” adopting a puppy—not exactly like it. Both of these situations are ones you both love and dislike—sometimes at the same time. But if having a Buddy is like deciding to live on one income, it becomes optional—a choice. You don’t have to have a puppy. You don’t have to live on one income. But if you do decide to live on one income, this resource will help you do it well.

This book is written to 89 percent of working moms. These are the women who answered a January 2006 survey and said, “If I could afford to stay home with my kids, I would.” I’m not interested in entering the “Mommy Wars” debate about whether a mom should have a career inside or outside of the home. I am interested in helping moms who want to make the transition to one income learn how to cut costs in half and have double the fun in the process.

Half-Price Living means you can have half the stress, because you’re not balancing work and home. Living on one income means you can have half the clutter in your home, because you can take the time to simplify your life. Living on one income means you have the time to cook instead of grabbing fast food, and thereby have half the health risks in your life. It can also mean you have time to comparison shop, learn the fine art of saving money, and cut some bills in half.

In the first few years of my marriage to “The World’s Greatest Fighter Pilot” (my hubby, Bob), we decided to adopt a half-price living lifestyle. I would stay home with the babies. We had a cross-stitch on the wall that said, “Blessed are the poor, for they be us.” Those early years were filled with self-fulfilling nursery rhymes. There were “Old Mother Hubbard” times when we didn’t have extra food in the cupboards. I felt like the “Old Lady in the Shoe” with so many kids I didn’t know what to do. We were afraid “Humpty Dumpty” would fall off the financial wall and everything would come tumbling down.

What I learned was this: half-price living can be achieved. Even if you have a huge debt load (we had $40,000 of consumer debt with nothing to show for our trouble), it can be done. Even if you take a pay cut (Bob took a $15,000 per year pay cut to go into the military), it can be done. Even if you love your job (hello? I was a small biz owner from the age of five), it can be done. Even if you need a job, you can have a whole new career come out of this decision. And even if you have no faith (I honestly didn’t know how we would make ends meet), it can be done.

I found out a penny saved is more than a penny earned. If I saved $10,000 a year on household goods, transportation, clothing, food, and other bills, that was the equivalent of earning $15,800 on the economy—by the time state and federal taxes were paid. So, instead of becoming a master entrepreneur, I became a master at saving money.

And it was fun.

And we didn’t have to feed the family garbanzo beans every day.

And we didn’t have to feel deprived.

And we didn’t have to wear holey underwear.

And we had a half-price life.

And we lived well.

And we got a dog.

And he’s eating my first-edition copy of To Kill A Mockingbird.

And I gotta go now.

I really don’t like that dog.


Every Mom Is a Working Mom

I’ve worked outside the home and inside the home and around the home and over the home (while skydiving) and under the home (cleaning out a basement), and I’m here to say that every mom is a working mom—whether you are in the workforce or you stay at home. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the United States had an estimated 5.5 million stay-at-home parents in 2005; 5.4 million of those were moms.1 Beth Brykman writes, “As mothers, we sometimes feel as though we’re judged by other mothers for life choices we’ve made, specifically it’s the stay-at-home moms vs. career moms.”2

Have you felt left out or lost friends over your choices? Situations like this probably occur between moms more often than we realize, but can both groups find a happy medium and support each other in life?

Suzie is a team leader in a software company in New York. She stayed at home as a home-based consultant for fifteen years but found herself back in the workforce outside the home due to a family move and her husband’s career change. “I’ve been a stay-at-home mom and a working mom, and I think there is a mistaken belief that the other side has it all when both sides have pluses and minuses. While employed mothers earn income and have the social status that comes with working outside the home, they also have a lot of guilt about not spending enough time with their children. A stay-at-home mother can’t begin to imagine how much guilt working mothers have unless she has worked outside the home as a mother herself.”

Dawn, a former Air Force officer and engineer from California, is now home full time with her three sons. “In all honesty, I do miss the structure of the workday, having challenges to overcome, and working with adults. Our lives are much less hectic than if I worked; we have a well-kept home, healthy meals, and time for family fun. My husband is less stressed since I can take care of many household things during the day that he would have to take care of if I worked.” But Dawn doesn’t always get a rosy reception from other moms. She’s been around women who define themselves by their job description and when they hear Dawn belongs to a one-income family, their reactions can be harsh. “I’ve had some of these women immediately turn on their well-heeled feet and find another woman to talk [with]—one with a more current résumé.”

CEO Mom: Past, Present, and Future

As a little girl, I was nicknamed “Moneybags” by my dad. I drove my parents wild with my ability to make money and refusal to spend it. Not only did I run a future corporation out of my second-grade locker, but I saved most of the earnings. Business was my childhood passion, and selling came as naturally as running barefoot in summer grass. As a seven-year-old, I sold buzzer handshakes from a wind-up toy in a box of cereal. As an eight-year-old, I sold all my Spanish grandma’s eggplant door to door (I loathe eggplant!). By the time I was in fourth grade, I was selling candy bars that I bought wholesale and marked up at a 40 percent profit margin. To this day, little “Moneybags” remembers counting all the shiny nickels, dimes, and quarters. I felt I was rich.

By the time high school rolled around, I’d mastered a half-dozen home businesses, and my entrepreneurial spirit was well developed. I paid cash for a trip to Spain at age twelve and also paid cash for my first car at fifteen. I dreamed of becoming a CEO for a major corporation in an effort to “be” somebody. During college I worked for a broker and loved it. I eventually worked full time for this firm and managed to almost double their number of policies by developing marketing strategies to generate new business. I was on my way to becoming somebody (at least in my eyes)—only this time I was counting tens, twenties, and fifties. I felt God had given me the ability to make money because I also had the gift of giving back out of my earnings.

Then I met a handsome fighter pilot, we got married, and I learned a new definition of what it means to “be” somebody. It seems I was to be pregnant for seven years. The babies rolled down the delivery ramp . . . over and over and over again until we were supporting seven kiddos. Two of those precious children were my stepdaughters and five were my own. Suddenly, the idea of climbing the corporate ladder to fulfill a young woman’s idea of success wasn’t nearly as significant as being “somebody” to our children.

When you consider the fact that we were to take the show on the road with the Air Force and move eleven times in thirteen years, it’s evident that my dreams needed to shift for a season.

It was hard to follow the CEO phantom while following my daring young man around the world. So the dream of staying home with priceless children became my new reality. I loved my babies—and wouldn’t have traded any one of them. However, there were days when they drove me berzerko—days when they played mischief wars and tried to redecorate the kitchen cabinets with chocolate syrup and miniature marshmallows. On those days I would have traded all of them for a pair of panty hose, a sensible suit, and a nine-to-five job with a coffee break (with Starbucks java and decadent Godiva chocolate).

Even though I loved the challenge and fulfillment in the business world, I loved the priceless moments and eternal milestones shared with my babies more. The challenge of half-price living was one both Bob and I were eager to try. The fact that Mr. Fighter Pilot Dude was supportive of my desire to live on one income made all the difference.

Fast-forward a dozen years, and this experience of learning to live on one income became a hobby for me and then a business. I began to give seminars on saving money, wrote a book, did some TV and radio, then wrote another book. I didn’t become a CEO of a major corporation; I became CEO of Ellie Kay and Company, LLC. In the process, I found that the dreams God dreams for us are better than the dreams we dream for ourselves. The key is to do what’s best for your family in your situation and in your timing.

I’ve come to a dramatic conclusion: I can only decide what is best for my family. I don’t want to pretend to know what’s best for any other mom (even my best girlfriends), because judging another woman’s work-or-stay-home decision can be messier than trying to snag my new water hose from Buddy’s mouth after he’s rolled in the mud.

A Plethora of Moms

Every mom has her own story, and we can learn a lot by reading from the experiences of others who blazed the same trail we’re sojourning. I find myself inspired by reading the can-do comments that come through our offices, while other mail makes me more cautious when navigating certain paths. Still other letters are so poignant they make me blink rapidly and dab at my eyes.

What’s your story? Will it inspire, caution, or profoundly touch another mom’s life? Here are some real stories from real women.

Premier Designs for Staying at Home

Brenda from San Antonio

Brenda was a flight attendant when she lived as a military spouse in Guam and then went to school to become a teacher. She says, “I loved my job and my students, even though it was a lot of work and a huge time commitment. Staying at home can leave a woman with feelings of low self-esteem when confronted by those in the work world. I was concerned that when I stayed home with my first child we’d have less money available. We were concerned about being able to afford it.” Brenda decided to start a home business and become a jeweler for the mom-friendly company, Premier Designs. This averages her about $200 each night she works and more on a monthly basis from the women she sponsors. Brenda and her husband make a point of using this cottage industry income for extras and continue to live on one primary income. This also helps prepare the household for her husband’s military retirement when they may see a temporary decrease in income. She is quick to add, “My work isn’t me. I know who I am as a wife, mom, and person, and where I fit into God’s world.”

A Zoomie Comes Home

Melissa from Texas

Melissa was from a family of high achievers. Her sister was Miss America, and Melissa graduated at the top of her class at the United States Air Force Academy. She excelled as a logistics/supply officer. Graduates of USAFA are often called “zoomies” because their careers are known to zoom to the top. Her primary concern about living on one income was “how we would meet our basic needs including health care [health insurance], house payments, food costs, and clothing allowances.” She admits there are times she feels isolated at home but she makes a point of “trying to stay connected through preschool programs, Moms-in-Touch groups, PTA, church, and other community organizations.”

For those who want to live on one income, Melissa has the following advice: “prioritize your ‘needs’ and then ‘desires/wants.’ Once the budget is established, try to stick to it recognizing that you may have to eliminate some materialistic things in order to be available to your loved ones. In all likelihood, they would rather have you, your time, and attention more than the things you can buy them anyway. If you are going to transition from two incomes to one, then take a part-time job and downsize slowly until you are able to live off one income.”

Author and Speaker Starts from Home

Pam Farrel from San Diego

Pam is the best-selling author of too many books to count, including Red-Hot Monogomy. She and her husband, Bill, had the conviction that one of the parents should raise the kids, so they made a vow to each other to have one of them home full time until the kids got to school. After that, they shared parenting roles so that even after the kids were in school their family would get top priority. She said those lean years were much simpler. They enjoyed one checkbook and simple pleasures such as dinners at home, walks in the park, and sitting by the fireplace.

“We were in school, seminary, and then in youth ministry, so our one salary was never high. But the people and parents were so loving that all our needs were always met. I have prayed for milk, diapers, baby food, tennis shoes for the kids, hand-me-downs, gas, the electric bill, mortgage payments, etc. That first decade of marriage was something else!”

You don’t have to be in full-time ministry to be able to have a vibrant faith while living on one income. Pam asserts, “Money was tight, but God built my faith in Him and His ability to provide; He also built my love to serve people in the local church, because I kept seeing the upside of people as they are so sweet and giving. Years later, when we were doing pretty well financially, my husband became ill. He was off work for most of two years, and we had two kids in college. Those were lean times again, but because I had all that great training from God, I knew our salary would somehow be stretched to cover all our needs, just like the oil that didn’t run out for the widow and her son in the Old Testament. I have seen the goodness and faithfulness of God over and over again. In one of my books I write about the need to keep a ‘Miracle Scrapbook’ [where] you can keep track of answers to prayers so that, when your needs get bigger, you can be reminded your God has not gotten smaller—He will and does provide.”

An Income Called “Saving”

Shannon from Oklahoma

Shannon was visiting her sister in Oklahoma when my team gave a live event and she bought some of my books. She says, “I got so excited about saving money that I reread them and highlighted certain areas. Within the first month, I cut my grocery bills in half, learned how to find quality clothing for less, and had my first garage sale with [your] step-by-step tips. (I made $800 from junk.) I was so successful that my husband and I decided I could quit my part-time job as a receptionist.” Shannon concludes, “My children [she has three] are now contributing to us living on one paycheck and learning about money management while helping the family.”

Single Mom, a Single Income

Dana from Denver

Dana wrote me an amazing letter: “I’m a single mom who desperately wanted to stay at home with my two-year-old girl, but I have limited financial resources. I tried your methods to cut costs and even found a way to get extra coupon inserts (from the recycling center at our apartment complex). Now I get a dozen copies of the coupon inserts from the Sunday paper, and I’m getting dozens of free items each week. Last week, I took eight bags of toiletries to a crisis pregnancy center. Here, I thought I was the needy one, and you showed me through your helpful instruction that I can be the one to give help.” Dana wrote again, some months later and said she had a greater sense of self-esteem and worth as she learned to manage on her limited income and still reach out to help others. She concludes, “This has been life-changing for me, and I can stay home with my two-year-old daughter!”

A China Doll for Linda

Ward and Linda from England call their daughter Kara (adopted from China) a gift from God. Linda says, “It was our plan from the beginning for me to stay home with our child. The years go by too fast for me to miss even one of them. Also, we planned to homeschool, which required me being home.”

It was soon evident that this beautiful little girl with dark hair and porcelain-like skin had a special gift for writing. The fact that Linda was home to encourage and nurture the gift provided her daughter with the soil she needed to blossom in the area, of the written word. But this family has not been without its share of heartache. Recently, Kara started experiencing pain in her arm, and a large bone cyst was discovered. The family went through several steps and doctors before they got the devastating diagnosis: cancer.

Linda explains: “Osteosarcoma is a deadly bone cancer. It takes intensive chemo (at least eighteen weeks of inpatient chemo, and probably several weeks for complications) and a major surgery to give her a chance.”

This family is in the middle of their fight as Kara continues treatments after having her tumor removed and her bone replaced with a metal rod. You can go to to read some of Kara’s stories and link to her cancer Web site (or you can e-mail me for an update).

Linda has the satisfaction of knowing her decision to stay home with Kara from the time they adopted her has been one of the best things she has ever done. She has treasured every moment. Linda has also nurtured Kara’s dream of seeing her work published.

I’d like to share a story Kara wrote just after her eighth birthday. Allow me to help Kara realize a dream of seeing her first story in print as I share this space with her wisdom, wit, and work.

A “Real” Dog’s Story by Kara Siert, age 8

It was a beautiful, bright, sunny day. But I, the poodle without a name, sitting in a pile of toys, felt miserable. My sisters felt the same way I did. I didn’t have any brothers, just sisters. I had been living in the attic for as long as I remembered. I don’t know how I got here, but I do remember being bought from a toy store. After that, I don’t remember anything at all. Now, I spend my life in a dusty, dull attic. J

ust then, the door to the attic opened. A lady entered. She turned on the light, so I could see her clearly. The light to the attic hadn’t been turned on for as long as I could remember. But, it still worked.

The lady had shoulder-length blonde hair. She had on a sparkling ring, which I think is most likely her wedding ring, and a bright yellow shirt with jeans.

The light was so bright, I had to look away. I hadn’t seen light for a long, long time, the last time being in the toy store, but that was so long ago.

To my surprise the lady picked up my four sisters and me and set us in the middle of the attic floor. She picked up a box of Beanie Babies and a big elephant. Then, she took us all down the ladder and into the house.

The house where she lived was tidy and clean. I didn’t see a single layer of dust. In the attic, it was dusty. I hoped some kind child would come out and play with us. We might have a fancy pink little doghouse and a treat to eat. In the attic, I only ate stale dog food and hadn’t tasted a treat for years. But, no one came out to play with us. Instead, the lady piled us in the corner and left.

What would happen to us? I asked myself. Are we going to go back into that dark attic filled with dust?

The next day, we were taken out of the house and set on a table in the driveway. The lady put a sticker that said “four dollars” on my tag, which had never been taken off. Books, games, clothes, action figures, and more animals were put onto tables and marked with prices. I looked across the street and noticed that they were putting up tables too. They were selling animals and a whole bunch of doll stuff. I glanced up the street. People were selling all kinds of toys there too. In fact, almost every house on the block was selling things.

Soon, the lady sat down on a chair behind one of the tables. People started coming and buying things.

“Oooh, look, Mommy!” exclaimed a little girl who looked like she was six. “Poodles!”

The mother and child walked over to me and my sisters.

“Stuffed poodles are four dollars,” said the lady who was selling me.

Stuffed. People always called us stuffed. And we aren’t. We’re real dogs.

But the little girl saw the big elephant and they bought him instead.

The sun beat down on us, and we grew rather hot. But it was worth it if I could find someone who would take care of me and love me. I must have been sitting there for at least an hour, watching other things get bought, but my sisters and I were not included. No one had bought us yet, not yet.

Finally, a little girl and her mother came up to us! “Mom, I want one of those!” she exclaimed.

“All right, honey,” the girl’s mother said. “Pick one.”

One! Only one? I might not get picked! I looked up at the child. But she must not have seen me, because she chose one of my sisters. I was disappointed. I might have gotten picked! I was partly glad for my sister, partly. But I was sort of jealous. My sister was going to get a name and someone who would love her and take care of her! And I wouldn’t. I’d probably get put back into the dreary old attic.

About an hour passed. I looked over at my sisters. There were only three of us left! But soon, one of my other sisters got bought and carried away by an excited little girl.

Then, my last sister got bought and I waved my paw at her to say good-bye.

I looked around at all my other friends. None of them were there! They had gotten bought too. I only saw a few games, a box of balls, a box of Beanie Babies, and some other toys, which I didn’t know.

I laid my head on my paw and sadly looked across the street where other toys and animals were going to nice homes. Suddenly, I felt childish arms around me, squeezing me tight. I looked up to see a smiling girl, who had waist-length black hair, brown eyes, a pink shirt on with shorts, and tennis shoes with pink socks. Her face was shining with delight, and she squeezed me tighter and tighter until I couldn’t breathe! She looked as if she was about eight.

“Mommy, Mommy!” she exclaimed. “I want this one! She’s so squeezable!” The little girl hugged me tighter as her mother came closer to get a better look at me.

“Poodles are four dollars,” said my owner, who was sitting behind a card table taking people’s money.

“Okay, honey,” said the girl’s mother, “might as well.”

And so I was bought by a girl named Molly and lived happily ever after.

No Guarantees, No Regrets

Kara’s situation calls to the mom in me as a reminder that there are no guarantees of tomorrow. I’m thankful all my children are healthy, and I wonder what I would do if one of my babies got as sick as sweet little Kara. It reminds me there are no guarantees in our journey.

Life is always precious.

Life is sometimes short.

Life is occasionally painful.

So in the here and now, it’s important we make peace with the decision to stay at home or to work outside the home. Kara’s mom, Linda, has no regrets about her decision to stay home with her daughter. To savor every delicious minute. To cherish every eternal smile. That is something she will always have. No matter what tomorrow brings.

Ten Advantages to Living on One Income

We’ll conclude each chapter with tips that are practical and easy enough to implement. Some of these sections will cause you to feel good about your choices and make you want to sit down with a cup of coffee and read a Jane Austen novel. Others will make you want to grab a Power Bar and Red Bull energy drink, find the adventure, and conquer it.

So, here are ten (of the many) advantages of living on one income, as listed by ten moms who have lived the choice:

1. Less stress because you don’t have to worry about balancing work and kids. Bonnie from Ohio

2. We can eat at home more often than when I had outside jobs. This builds a sense of family and togetherness. Karen from California

3. I don’t have to worry about who will take care of my child if she’s sick. Linda from England

4. I can drive for field trips and get to know my children’s friends. I can also go grocery shopping during the day, and it doesn’t cut into family time. Robin from New Mexico

5. Marriage can become stronger because you have to pull together. Cindy from Georgia

6. Creativity abounds as you research new, different, and fun ways to stretch one income. Pam from California

7. You won’t miss your baby’s first step, first tooth, first words, first birthday, and first, “I wuv you, Mama!” Diane from Colorado

8. You have more time at home to develop other passions, such as writing or speaking or exercising. Dena from Texas

9. You have no regrets when your kids are grown. Gracie from Texas

10. You have the option of being home to homeschool if you want to. Audrey from California