Are Two Incomes Better Than One? Single vs Dual Income Couple

Are two income, or dual incomes, the best? Or is it better to have only one income and a stay at home mom, stay at home dad or just a stay at home spouse? Should you go from two incomes to one? Find out what I think is the smartest move.Is being single or living in a dual income couple a more financially rewarding situation?

Dual income couples have the opportunity to make more money, but is it worth it?

Here’s what I’ve seen so far in my life.

One Single Income Individual

When I graduated from college, I lived on a single income.

My wife (girlfriend at the time) still had two years of college left to complete so living as a dual income couple was out of the question.

Financially speaking, I was at a disadvantage compared to a dual income couple but I found ways to minimize these disadvantages.

Unlike a dual income couple, I could not split the rent of my apartment. I couldn’t split the utility bill. I couldn’t combine our insurances to save money.

Instead, I had to pay the full price of these out of my pocket and my then girlfriend had to do the same for her apartment at college. If we lived together and had two incomes, these bills would have likely been much less than our costs of living separately.

Minimizing The Single Income Disadvantage

If I had truly lived like a single person by myself, I’d have my own apartment, utility bills and insurance bills along with many others. Luckily, I was smart and decided to rent a large apartment and split it with two of my close friends. This allowed me to live a similar lifestyle at a much lower cost.

Unfortunately, my roommates weren’t sharing their money with me, so we couldn’t take direct advantage of having multiple incomes living in the same housing unit. There were some things, like groceries, that we all paid for separately which ended up in more waste than a dual income couple would probably have.

To minimize the single income disadvantage, think of all of the ways a dual income couple living together could save money and try to replicate any of their advantages that wouldn’t be completely awkward with a roommate. Many things can be done, but you’ll never have the same exact advantages a dual income couple has.

Why Dual Incomes Provides Awesome Opportunities

Living as a dual income couple provides a ton of opportunities. Personally, after we got married, my wife and I were able to viciously attack her student loan debt and pay off all $80,000 in just three years.

There is no way she could have done that as a single person. We pooled our resources and allocated them as best fit out situation as a married couple. We lived lean, rather than paying for two of everything or buying expensive things.

We basically lived on less than one income and dedicated the rest to the student loan debt pay off. Unfortunately, single people don’t have the bandwidth to be able to have that full second income available to them in most cases.

Living as a dual income couple also allows you to save even more money for retirement if you’d like to retire early. While a single person could save 25% of their income, a dual income couple may be able to save 50% to 75% of their income easily.

Is A Dual Income Always The Right Answer For A Couple

While single people don’t have the option, dual income couples can decide if having both people work is the best decision for them. Sometimes, it makes more sense for the higher earning person in a dual income couple to continue working while the lower paid person stays home for a variety of reasons.

For instance, if a lower paying person could stay home and allow a higher paying person to advance their career, and income, at a much faster pace, it could make sense to live as a single income couple.

Alternatively, if a dual income couple has a child and the child care costs would be higher than the lower earner’s income, it may make sense to take time off from work to take care of the child yourself.

None of these situations are straight forward, but they do exist and can make a huge difference in a couple’s life. Make sure to consider these options rather than assuming living as a dual income couple is the best alternative.

So, Is A Single Person or A Dual Income Couple Better Off?

While a dual income couple has more potential to earn more income and combine expenses, not everything is about money. Some people love living the single life and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

In fact, as a single person, you can dedicate even more time to work and you could potentially increase income to a much higher level than a dual income couple could earn.

However, given the choice, I like the idea of the dual income couple best. Income sources will likely be diversified and great savings can be had when it comes to common expenses that would otherwise be duplicated.

Keep these differences in mind next time you hear someone in a different living situation explain their finances. As a dual income couple, sometimes it is difficult to relate to a single person trying to pay down massive student loan debt.

The single person likely doesn’t have the same resources available to them that we had as a dual income couple.

What do you think about the differences between a single individual income versus a dual income couple? Do you think there is a huge difference in finances, or that the differences aren’t that big. Let me know in the comments below.

Photo by: mrhayata Text added by: Lance Cothern

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About Lance Cothern

Lance Cothern, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licensed in the Commonwealth of Virginia, is the founder of Money Manifesto. You can read more about him here or connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Pinterest.


  1. When we had our first child we went from dual income to single income, a dramatic reduction. But interestingly we discovered that we spent so much less money then, that we actually had more left over. When we were both working full time we ate out most nights, for example. We just weren’t as careful with our spending when we were both generating incomes as we were when the belt needed tightening. But having said that, I agree that by using good financial discipline the second income can go straight to debt reduction or savings, getting you to the finish line much quicker. The key is not to get caught in the “keeping up with the Joneses trap”!

    • It’s hard not to get up in the keeping up with the Joneses trap. At the same time, I totally get having less time to focus on finances with two incomes. I’m glad you guys were able to make it work for you.

  2. I think it really all depends on every situation. For us, my wife didn’t work in a high paying job, so when we had kids, it made financial sense for her to stay at home while they were young. We’ll see how things go in the next couple of years when they both go to school full time (so far only one falls into that category).

  3. I think dual income has many advantages, if your goals are saving. We are dual income, both with good careers. Unfortunately I may get laid off in two weeks. Normally I would be very upset, but since we have two young children, my priotities have shifted. Money is great, but we realized while talking to another dual career couple, that our 4yr olds can’t dress themselves… Because we are always in a rush and would rather spend one minute dressing them than fifteen minutes waiting… It’s just made me realize that maybe our focus shouldn’t be on growing our investments, but rather stepping back and spending more time teaching our children. That might be the better investment

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