How to Afford to Be a Stay at Home Mom

If I had a nickel for every time a mom has told me that she needs to work for her family to “get-by”, I would have – well, enough money for that mom to be able to stay home with her kids. The truth is that for many families a second income is necessary only in order to maintain a certain lifestyle and not to simply “get-by.” If a working woman genuinely wishes to stay home to raise her children – either now or sometime in the future – there are often ways to make that happen. But let me make something clear right now – in no way am I implying that staying home is for everybody, nor should it be. This is a personal choice between a woman and her spouse, and it is a choice that requires sacrifices, both financially and personally. You still in? Great – grab a pencil and paper and let’s get started…

Plan Ahead – Way Ahead

1. Marry the Right Man – Now, ladies, before you all text Gloria Steinem and alert her to the fact that someone calling herself “Resourceful” is encouraging women all over the world to marry for money, let’s get something straight. That’s not what I’m doing. What you do need to do is have a serious conversation prior to getting married regarding your feelings on child care as well as your partner’s feelings. At some point during my engagement I announced to my fiancé that I wanted to stay home with our children and that this point was non-negotiable. The need to stay home with my children reverberated through every inch of my being in such a specific way –years before I had them – that it was imperative my future husband be in agreement. While you may be on board with financial frugality, your partner may not be so willing to forgo the better things in life. And let’s be clear about this – living on one income takes a team effort.

2. Save Money Before You Have Kids – Before taking time off from working to have children, I worked for four years as a middle school English teacher. Despite what people like to think about teachers and salary, many of us earn a more than decent paycheck, and very quickly my 20-something peers began driving nice cars and wearing the latest fashions. I continued driving the same car I had had since I was sixteen and only bought new clothing when it was necessary. As quickly as we could, my husband and I bought a townhouse and no longer threw away money every month on rent. I also picked up extra work teaching summer school, prepping kids after school for state tests, and directing the school musicals. By the time my daughter came into this world, I had saved enough money to stay home for five years and still contribute substantially to the household bills. Four and a half years later, more than half of that saved money is still in the bank. Which leads me to my next point…

Make Honest Decisions About What You Really Need

While making the switch from five Starbucks double lattes a week to three is surely a valiant effort, it’s not going to allow you to save the amount of money you need to go from two salaries to one. You need to make some tough choices. For some families, making the move from two cars to one is a possibility. Be sure to calculate not only the cost of the car itself, but also the gas money, maintenance costs, insurance fees, etc. You may be surprised how making one major change in your lifestyle will impact greatly on your finances. And although cutting out two cups of coffee a week isn’t going to double your bank account, the little changes really will add up. Are you really saving money by shopping at top department stores during sales, or would you save even more by shopping at discount stores like T.J. Maxx and Ross? And I know I’m messing with the Holy Grail, but how many pairs of black pumps do you really need?

Calculate What You Really Make
If I were to return to work as a teacher tomorrow I would be making approximately $58,000 before taxes. Take out Uncle Sam’s portion and I’d be bringing home about $39,000. But wait. I haven’t purchased professional clothing since before I became pregnant with my first child, and although I have no qualms about wearing out of style suits, those suits no longer fit. Factor in the cost of maintaining a work wardrobe – I’m frugal, so let’s say $2,000 – and now I’m down to $37,000. Let’s talk about the car that I’m driving to work – the one that I couldn’t get rid of because we need two cars to get to two jobs. The IRS figures that the cost to operate a car is about 50.5 cents per mile, which in today’s climate is a rather low estimate. My round trip commute would be 20 miles a day, so over the course of the school year I would spend approximately $2, 250. My take home now? $35,750. Not factoring in all of the incidentals such as the cup of coffee I may stop for on the way to work that I would never buy with my kids in tow, the school supplies that I’d inevitably buy to fill the gap between what schools provide and kids need, or the occasional lunch out – which stay-at-home moms wouldn’t dream of – I’ve still got the one biggest cost to factor in: Childcare. The average cost for one pre-school age child? $11,000. I’ve got two of those, so make my bill $22,000. So at the end of the year after I’ve commuted and lesson planned and graded papers all weekend long, what would I have in my bank account? $13,750. For me personally, that’s not enough to be away from my children all day.
Predict How Much You’d Like to Save for the Future
You’ve calculated your take home pay, figured out where you can cut expenses, and decided what work schedule you would like to have – be it full time, part time, or at home all the time. But be careful that you don’t forget to factor in future expenses. Right now you may be raising toddlers, but pretty soon those little smiles will need braces, and those little hands will be writing college entrance essays instead of wobbly first words. While getting by today on one income is a start, you can’t ignore the savings that you will need both for future costs such as weddings and college, but also for retirement plans farther down the road. These costs may be the most difficult to quantify, but take the time now to make some choices about your future.

That is what this is all about, after all – Choices – and the more you plan now, the more choices you will have available to you down the road.

Leave a Reply


  • Sandra

    Really, every woman has the choice. For any working mom who carries the health insurance- staying home is not an option. I also had acute leukemia and my work provides me the ability to have affordable life insurance. I wanted to stay home with my son but as soon as I was cleared medically to return to work I returned to work.

    I could not work and have no health insurance or life insurance. Now would you say that is an option??

  • Amy

    Sandra, as you’ll see if you read the post, I do not say that every woman is able to do this for a variety of reasons. What I do instead is offer some tips for those who would like to plan in the future to stay home when they have children. Thanks for stopping by!

  • Very well said. Being a stay at home mom is a choice that is planned for and sacrificed for because it is believed, by the mother and father, to be in the best interest of that particular family. Working moms get a lot of support from society in their choice – which is great for them. SAHM’s should get equal support from society in their choice. From my experience, I hear a lot more “you are so lucky” like I accidently became a SAHM when the fact is most SAHM’s should be respected for their ability to make it a financial possibility with family budgeting and sacrifices. Most of us earned savings nests in our income earning years prior to having children and contribute to the family financially every single day by budgeting and planning.

  • momof3

    One more hint, if you’re older, finished your education and working. I’ve found that if you work for the first 5 to 10 years of marriage, and save all the earnings while living on one income, by the time you have kids you very well may have enough saved to outright buy your home. Living without a mortgage is a real saver, and a stay-at-home parent who made that happen by saving can consider mortgage interest saved to be sort of an “income”.

  • Joyce

    I stayed home with my children until my oldest one was 12 years old. It was the best decision I ever made. I left a good job that I had worked hard to achieve but I have never looked back and thought that I missed that job. I know however if I had continued to work that I would look back and see all the things that I had missed in my children’s lives. Once my children were older and didn’t need me as much I went back to work and now how a job in a totally different field that I love more than I ever loved the job I previously held. I’m a lucky mom.

  • Theresa

    I believe that it is best to work part time while the children are young. Here’s why: If something happens to the main family breadwinner, such as death, divorce, disability, or prolonged unemployment, the other parent may need to work full time. If you’ve been out of the workforce for even a few years, it’s hard to re-enter. I’ve known families where the main breadwinner works 2 jobs and never sees the kids. That’s not fair to him. Also the stress of being the only breadwinner is literally a killer for some men. If the other parent works part time, Dad can have a more normal workload, AND get to be a dad,too. Finally, working made me a better mother. I got the mental stimulation and companionship I needed, as well as valuable tips from other working mothers. Moreover, things I learned at my job I passed on to my kids.

    • Amy

      Yes, I’ve heard the same advice from others. I do have to say that when I stopped working completely, I kept my education up with online courses so as to maintain my teaching certificate. Excellent point!

  • F.

    Your advice is great!! I will say that I am a full-time teacher and my base pay is WAY less than what you earned, unfortunately but I agree: yes, living on one salary is very do-able with proper planning. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  • BeenThereDoneThat

    Before kids i thought i wanted three. I have 2 and its enough. Before kids i thought i wanted to be a SAHM. I tried it, and it was not a good fit for me. I need all the intangibles my career gives me (not the money). Stayed home 18 months with the first and returned to work. Stayed home 9 weeks with the second….then took a year off when she was 3…convinced i needed to “give SAHM a fair shot” again and felt pressured by the fact that my hubby’s colleagues all have SAHM wives.
    With preschool tuition of $1100 mo, infant care of $1400 mo, and all the other expenses the article mentions (commuting, wardrobe, lunch with colleagues etc.) I don’t come out too far ahead each month…maybe $900? But if it weren’t for my career and the sanity it gives me we’d probably go in the hole for my therapy otherwise. Plus my husband loves that i’m happier and more fulfilled. Working 3/4 time (32 hrs wk) is JUST the right balance for me and my family. When people ask me about it nowadays i just laugh and say “Stay at Home?!…been there done that and it’s just not for me” Now i’m older, wiser and there’s no more justifying it or defending myself against the disapproving folks. It is a choice for any woman to make…until you’ve walked a mile in her shoes you really can’t say what anyone else “ought” to do. Lets build one another up a women and not have this working-mom vs. SAHM-mom vibe among us shall we? Some of us are meant to, others are not. I give props to all moms whatever their choice…we all love our kids. 🙂

  • Pattie

    When talking about the REAL cost of working and that second salary, you forgot to mention the lower taxes for the HOUSEHOLD that comes with being a SAHM. Depending on how much hubby makes and how close it is to your salary (current or potential) you may find that you save thousands of dollars on Federal, State, and Social Security taxes. (The latter is the only downside. When I look at my SS estimate of benefits, I see all my work from high school ($672 a year in the early seventies!) through today, with five huge “0”s for the five years I was a SAHM. Even with this, though, I wouldn’t change a thing. My sons are awesome men, and my dil is proudly staying home to raise her two boys!

    • Amy

      Oooooh, taxes. Yes, it was interesting to begin working from home a couple of years ago and watching as suddenly 50% of my new income was going right back out the door for taxes including self-employment tax. We also had to look seriously at if my income was just going to bump our joint tax bracket one notch higher basically erasing my income entirely. Thank you for adding this to the conversation!