Pssst… before you start reading this stay at home mom post, you should know that this isn’t supposed to be a “Mommy War” post! If you work outside of the home, I don’t judge you in the least. I also know that some families are dealing with extenuating circumstances- like being a single parent, or facing real financial hardships. This post is not a criticism of you or your situation. It is simply meant to be helpful to parents who want to stay home with their kids, even in the face of a limited budget.
When I was pregnant with my first, I worked at a day care. I really enjoyed and came to love the kids I had in my room. We had a special relationship- I was their teacher that they came to trust, and they were my little munchkins who I was to protect, care for, and guide. I worked hard to give them a good foundation in life and to prepare them for kindergarten.
When it came time for me to go on maternity leave, I had to make the decision whether or not I would come back after the baby. This was no easy task. I loved the kiddos in my room. I wanted to be there for them and see them grow up and head off into school. And though he wouldn’t be in the same classroom, I would likely be able to bring my son to work with me. It appeared to be an almost ideal situation.
And yet, there was part of me that really wanted to just be home with my own kids, in my own living room, without having to tend to several other children as well. In hindsight, this seemed like an especially sacred and desirable experience to have with my first child. I knew nobody would love him as much as I would. I didn’t want to have the pressure of getting up and out to work every day. I wanted to be able to enjoy him, and to be the first to see his developmental milestones.
In the end, I decided to quit my day care job, and only continue with teaching private voice lessons one evening a week. Since then, I’ve picked up more teaching and become a little more of a work-at-home mom. However, for several years I only worked four hours a week.
You can imagine the obvious financial challenges this brought about. We went from being a two-income family (though not rich!) working at lightning speed to pay off debt and save up for a house, to being a one-income, near poverty-level family trying to make the best of life. While my one-night-a-week teaching brought in a little extra cash, it wasn’t much to write home about.
Yet, looking back, it was definitely the right decision for us at the time. I needed time with my son, and the time to transition to motherhood. (I didn’t adjust nearly as well as I thought I would.) It was worth every penny that I didn’t bring in to become a stay at home mom.
During this time, many people told me they “wished they could afford to do that.” I almost laughed. Like we could?!? (I think they thought I had a rich husband and a house cleaner and I could stay home with my feet up.) Other people asked me how we were managing to make it happen.
I’m writing this post not to guilt you into giving up every worldly pleasure and convenience to stay home with your kids. Rather, I’m writing it to share what helped make it possible for me to be a SAHM- even without a good salary to back us up. I hope it might encourage someone who wants to stay home, but doesn’t think it’s financially possible.
Here’s how I afford being a stay-at-home mom:
- We spend less than we make. It sounds basic, but I am constantly surprised by how frequently people make purchases that they can’t really afford. If you can only just barely afford the mortgage or the car payment, then you can’t really afford it. Better to only make purchases that you are confident you can comfortably pay for than to strap yourself to a bill you’ll be regretting later.
- We put any extra cash into paying off debt. Even if you only have $25 extra, put it on your bills instead of eating out. You may be surprised how those little bits of extra money can work to put a dent in your payments. I also love the concept of snowballing your debt payments. By putting nearly all of our extra income on our debt, we were able to pay off $25,000 in less than three years, and we are now debt-free except for a modest mortgage. Though things are much tighter now with three kids, we still try to put extra cash on our mortgage payments whenever possible.
- We keep our living expenses low. When we were renting, we would look for the absolute lowest rent we could possibly find in a good neighborhood. This meant at one point we lived in a tiny tin can trailer to help save money to buy a house. When we bought our house, we went for one that was about $300/month less than we could technically afford so we wouldn’t be struggling to make payments. If you can, choose to lower your living expenses (even if it means moving) so you have more wiggle room in your budget.
- We make purchases carefully. I have to say, it’s a pain to not just buy the thing I want. Picking a “new” pair of pants for us means a carefully calculated, deliberate search through the aisles of Salvation Army. Shopping for a home recording device means digging through reviews and sale prices for hours before spending $150. Granted, we’re slower than most people- but it sure stops us from impulse spending.
- We make it our job to save money. Why pay $4 for bread that I can make myself for pennies? We almost always try to make quality food ourselves for much less than we could buy it. My husband works hard to do any home improvement and/or car repairs himself in order to save us money- even if he has to take some time to learn how to do it first. Time is money, they say, and we choose to spend the time more often than we do the cash.
- Nearly everything we own is used. I can barely bring myself to spend any money on new things, so I dress us on the cheap with mostly used clothes. Our cars are used. Our furniture is used. Our chimney cap is used. Even the materials for our chicken coop are used. You get the idea.
- We live without extras. Going out to eat just isn’t in our budget, so we usually rely on gift cards for date nights. I make my coffee at home and don’t buy lattes anymore. We don’t have TV, and our internet is the lowest speed possible. We haven’t been to the movies in over four years. (Why spend the money on tickets when there’s Amazon Prime and free libraries?)
These are the basic principles we live by. Obviously, your specific situation may look different. However, if you’re willing to think outside the box a bit and get creative with the ways you reduce spending, you may find that you actually are able to afford staying home with your kids.
My new project as the kids are getting older and the bills are increasing is to make the work at home mom thing work for me. More on this another time. 🙂
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Photo credit: Icarus Image. Used with permission.