April 7th, 2014

The Sad Truth About Stay at Home Mom Regret

The Sad Truth About Stay at Home Mom Regret

Most stay at home moms start out staying at home for very good reasons. Sometimes it’s voluntary – you can afford to do so, and don’t mind the break from your career. You want to raise your kids yourself and not pay for childcare. Other times it’s the best financial move at the time – childcare runs more than you’d earn working outside the home at the time.

Good reasons don’t mean you can avoid regretting it over the long run, however. It’s not at all uncommon for stay at home moms to later find that they regret the decision. What was once a sensible, loving decision has a price in the long run, and paying that price can be painful. Finding a good job in your 40s and 50s, for example, can be very difficult. Dealing with the sudden need to work in the event of your spouse’s death or disability, or if you two should divorce, can be a very unpleasant reality.

What’s The Price?

The price you pay is in your earnings and savings. Staying at home for however many years puts a dent in your career, often a big one. Most stay at home moms eventually return to the workforce, but at a much lower level than where they started out.

If you had a solid professional level career before staying at home, you may have to start out almost fresh. You may have to get more education to catch up with your industry. All this means you won’t be earning as much, and you have less time for promotions and raises to increase your salary. It’s a financial hit well beyond the lost income of the years you weren’t working.

But even if you had a lower paying job you left because it wouldn’t even pay for childcare, your future earnings take a hit when you stay at home. It’s that loss of promotions and experience that can get you.

How Do You Avoid It?

You can avoid these problems with good planning and some good fortune.

My own favorite (I’ve said it before) is working at home. I do well enough at it that the past two years, my income has been higher than my husband’s income. It took some time to get there; I’m no overnight success. Still, running my own business from home and making a good income at it is wonderful, making all the time I’ve spent working up to it worthwhile. Stressful as can be at times – business doesn’t always go the way I’d like it to. But now I know I can do it.

Your solution doesn’t have to be your own business. It can be a work at home job, part time work, freelance work… whatever works for you. I really think the key is making sure you keep some sort of relevant work experience going for the kind of career you’d like when the kids are old enough that you want to go back to work. It may not put you as high on your career ladder as if you’d never stayed home at all, but it probably won’t be as low as if you’d left entirely.

Improving your education as the kids get older is another alternative. Going back to school as an older student has its advantages. Most older students are more serious about their studies, because you really know their value. You can study for the career you’d like to have, not necessarily the one you had before you had kids.

Improving your education also sets a great example for your kids when they’re in school. They’ll see you doing homework and studying, and getting good results for it. That can make an impression, plus you can set yourself on a better career path after.

None of this is easy for most families. I firmly believe, however, that you are a thousand times better off if you consider the problems you might face later in life, so you can prepare for them in advance. There’s no knowing where your life will take you, but you can take steps that may help smooth many troubles out at least some of the way.

Regretting the price you paid to be a stay at home mom doesn’t mean you regret the good parts, of course. Even if being a stay at home parent lands you in difficulty later, remember those good parts. Those memories won’t make future troubles go away, but they have their own value.

I’m not saying all stay at home moms eventually regret their decision. Plenty will be happy they did so for the rest of their lives, despite the price. You’re better off, however, if you know what the price is early on, so you can take control of how you pay it.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

February 24th, 2014

21 Steps to Make Being a Stay at Home Mom or Dad Work Financially

21 Steps to Make Being a Stay at Home Mom or Dad Work Financially

For some families, the decision to have a stay at home mom or dad just happens. It’s not always planned. There’s just the sudden realization that having mom or dad stay home is going to make the most sense. Maybe there’s a layoff while she’s pregnant or the kids are young, or the sudden realization that childcare costs more than one parent’s job brings in. If you aren’t prepared, going from two incomes to one can be quite a shock.

Others know from early on that they’re going to be a stay at home mom or dad. The income may not even be a part of the decision as such; it can be based more on the desire to have one parent at home. Still if the family doesn’t prepare financially for the changes, things can get difficult.

This is why it’s so important to plan before your family goes to a single income due to one parent staying at home if at all possible. You can avoid some nasty financial surprises if you know how these things may go.

1. Practice living on one income first.

If the decision to have one parent stay home with the kids is a deliberate one, not one caused by circumstance, try living as though your family only has a single income for a time while both parents continue to work. Not only will this show you how things are going to be, it allows you to save up the money from the second income. A little financial padding is always a good thing to have.

2. Review your finances.

You can do this even if staying at home wasn’t planned in advance. Calculate all your living expenses – rent, food, utilities, vehicles, taxes, insurance and so forth. Make sure the income of the parent who continues to work will be enough to pay all your regular expenses… ideally with some left over for savings.

3. Cut down on monthly bills.

Rethink your monthly bills where possible. Are you on the right plan for your cable TV/internet? Do you really need it? Can you cut down on your cell phone plans (consider what early cancellation fees will do)? What other monthly expenses can you cut down?

The great thing about cutting back on monthly bills is that once you’ve decreased a bill, it stays down unless your service provider increases the basic cost. You don’t have to change it every month – just review your needs occasionally and make sure it’s still right for you.

4. Plan for emergencies.

Life never keeps things simple for long. Cars break down. Kids get sick. Parents get sick. Something in the house needs to be repaired or replaced.

If you don’t plan ahead for emergencies, they can ruin all your financial planning. Have some money set aside for those times when things need to be repaired. Have insurance to help out with the things insurance can help with.

5. Avoid credit card debt.

Credit can be a very tempting way to pay for things you can’t afford at the moment. I still have credit card debt to pay off, although things are steadily improving these days. If it weren’t for the debt (taken on for reasons that were generally good at the time, not so much frivolously), we’d easily be living within our income and have money left over to save.

6. Pay off debt.

Beyond credit card debts, there are other debts that can make having a stay at home parent more difficult. Pay off or pay down those student loans, car loans and pay down the mortgage if you have them. The lower you can make those bills, the more flexibility you will have financially.

7. Pick your sacrifices.

Most single income families have to make sacrifices to keep mom or dad at home. Talk as a family about the things you’re willing to sacrifice, and which things you’d prefer to keep.

8. Look at taxes withheld.

Take a look at the taxes being withheld from your spouse’s paycheck once your family is down to a single income. The fact that your family is now living on one income means you can probably adjust the withholding so that you get more money now rather than a big tax refund. Big refunds feel like a windfall, but what they really mean is that you didn’t have that money earlier.

9. Talk about money.

Have a talk about your attitudes toward money, especially that only one person will be bringing it in for the family. A lot of tension can come from the bread winning parent feeling as though that money is his or hers, not both of yours. It’s just as important for the stay at home mom or dad to have spending money as it is for the working parent. Don’t let the “I earned it, it’s all mine” attitude ruin things.

10. Consider or increase life insurance.

The expense of life insurance may seem like an unnecessary extra, but if your family is unfortunate enough to need it, you won’t regret the expense. Should one parent die, whether that’s the working parent or the stay at home one, the money from life insurance can help keep the family going.

11. Discuss how long you’ll stay at home.

What is your plan for being a stay at home parent? Is it just while the kids are babies? Until they go to kindergarten? Until they’re adults? Forever?

What you decide at the start may not be what you want forever. Some find that staying at home isn’t right for them. Some think they’ll only stay home for a while, but find it so good that they want to stick with it always. Some realize that while they love it, the financial aspects aren’t working out, and that it’s necessary to go back to work. However things seem to be going, talk about the stay at home decision occasionally to be sure everyone still considers it to be a good thing and to deal with problems as they come up.

12. Consider your financial future.

One major problem many long term stay at home parents don’t always take sufficiently into consideration is retirement. Not working for years will impact what you could get from Social Security. If you aren’t saving for your retirement even when you don’t have an income, it could become a problem in later years.

13. Consider part time work or work at home.

Not every family will be able to get by on a single income. My husband and I don’t. I earn pretty good money working at home – enough that it isn’t worthwhile for me to look for an outside the home job even when all the kids go to school.

For others, a part time job when your spouse can be home is the best way to handle things. A part time job can also be nice for getting time with other adults. If a single income isn’t enough, make sure you find a way to bring in enough extra money so that your family doesn’t have trouble with debt.

14. Consider furthering your education.

Furthering your education can be very important when you’re a stay at home parent looking to return to work someday – or just because you want to learn more about something. If you take online classes, look carefully into the school to make sure it’s a good quality program – there are a lot of low quality schools out there.

An improved education may help you land a better job when you go back to work outside the home. It’s not a guarantee, even from a good school, as there’s still a gap in your paid work history, but it should help.

15. Keep up professional credentials.

Even if you don’t plan to go back to work soon, keep up any professional credentials you may have. If you need to go back to work, even part time, this can be a huge help in getting a better paying position.

16. Keep up professional contacts.

If you left a professional position to stay at home, keeping in contact with old coworkers and other professional contacts can be a huge help if you decide to go back to work. It’s not just about working outside the home – you may be able to use these contacts for freelance or work at home positions if you don’t want a regular position. Keeping your foot in the door can be a huge help if you need to increase your family’s income for any reason.

17. Learn to find bargains.

Knowing how to find bargains on the things you need can be a good help when you’re a single income family. Seek out ways to save money on the things your family needs, but make sure you don’t buy things you don’t need just because the price was good.

Clip coupons, go to thrift stores, pay attention to sales in local stores, buy in bulk when appropriate, find out what’s cheaper from programs such as Amazon’s Subscribe and Save. There are many ways to save money that won’t take up more time than you’re willing to give it.

18. Cook more.

Eating home cooked meals is generally far more budget friendly than eating out. If this isn’t already a habit, make it one.

19. Learn to do basic home maintenance.

The more repairs you can handle around your home, the less you’ll have to spend on professionals. Painting is relatively easy, a project many people are comfortable with taking on, but you may find that you are capable of handling more than you think.

That said, when professional help is called for, get it. A poorly done repair may cost more than the original problem would have if it had been fixed correctly the first time.

20. Don’t be too hard on yourself up over mistakes.

It’s easy to be hard on yourself when you make financial mistakes when you stay at home. Maybe you overspend and have to take on some credit card debt. Maybe you didn’t prepare enough for unexpected bills, and ended up having a car repair ruin all your plans.

Whatever happens, take it as a lesson, and don’t be too hard on yourself. We all make mistakes, especially when we’re learning.

21. Adjust your plans.

Review your finances regularly. Make changes where things aren’t working or where they could work better. Not every money saving tip will work for every stay at home parent. There may still be times where convenience trumps money saved. On the other hand, you should also be able to find more ways to save money over time that will suit your lifestyle. Just because one thing isn’t working out doesn’t mean something different won’t work either.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

December 9th, 2013

“Your Kids Won’t Be Home? What ARE You Going To Do With Yourself?”

"Your Kids Won't Be Home? What ARE You Going To Do With Yourself?"

I’m starting to hear the occasional comment from people I know asking how I’m going to cope next year when my youngest hits kindergarten. Somehow, even some of the people who know I work from home can’t imagine that I’ll know what to do when I no longer have a small child in the house all day.

I know exactly what I’ll do. I’ll keep working from home, just with more time to work during the day. Sounds awesome to me.

I think this comes from people assuming that my day must center around the kids and only the kids. It’s how a lot of people view stay at home moms. And maybe that’s true for some, but it isn’t true for all stay at home moms. Lots of moms keep that balance where they maintain their own interests, even their careers, while being home with the kids.

That’s what I’ll be doing when my youngest goes to kindergarten next fall. I’ll be taking advantage of the time she’s in school to work on improving my income.

This is why I think it’s important for at home moms to keep up with their own interests. You’re still a person, and you’re a more interesting mom if you’re an interesting person aside from being a mom. Being mom is just one part of your life – a huge, vitally important part of your life few moms would care to part with, but nonetheless, only one part of your life.

My preference is to earn money because it can become so important to your life if things go wrong. My income was vital when my husband was laid off. Even now it’s pretty important – my husband works for the state, and despite what some people think, most state employees don’t earn all that spectacular an income. Things get pretty tight at times, mostly due to old credit card debts we’re steadily paying down – remnants of tighter times. It would take even longer if I didn’t work from home.

But if working from home isn’t your thing, if you feel that secure from the death, divorce, disability or unemployment of whoever earns the income in your family, keep up with some other interest of your own. You’ll feel better and more relaxed when you take a bit of time here and there to be you, not just Mom.

How much time you need is up to you. It depends on your needs and your family’s needs. Some need more, some need less. But even if you have a special needs child who takes up large amounts of time out of sheer necessity, find a way to have some time for yourself, even if it’s only when your kids are asleep.

My point is that you shouldn’t ever have to wonder what you’ll do with yourself as your children move on through different parts of their lives. Be their mom, be there for them, but be there for yourself too.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

February 13th, 2012

Are You Your Child’s Parent or Just Child Care?

There was an article the other day on the New York Times’ Motherlode blog that really has people talking. It’s about how the U.S. Census Bureau(PDF) tracks how children are cared for in the home.  Frankly, the way they count it is offensive to both moms and dads. You see, in a traditional, two parent household, the mom is always the designated parent. Anyone else watching the kids, including dad, is child care.

In other words, any care the mother does for the kids is taken for granted, while the father’s role is no better than paid help, or something extra he’s doing. You know, the old bit about dads “babysitting” their own kids. That’s a really poor measure for how children are cared for.

Certainly, more moms than dads are the primary caregivers of their children. However, dads have increased their role through the years, and that needs to be respected. That goes double when the dad is the primary caregiver instead of the mom. I know some stay at home dads who would probably be quite offended to be told that their work is just child care.

It makes far more sense to me to call all time that either parent is watching the kids parenting, not child care. Making an assumption that only one parent is really responsible for the kids is insulting to parents who work hard to raise their kids together.

Counting the statistics they way the Census does really skews the numbers something awful, as pointed out in the Geekdad blog. It sharply discounts the time at home parents of any sort spend caring for their kids. It’s just not a good use of the data.

Of course, changing the data a census collects as society changes is difficult. Assuming the mother was the primary caregiver and the father’s main job was to work outside the home was a reasonable assumption for a long time. Assuming that now, not so much. Finding a way to catch that change could yield some interesting results in how family care and work are split now. Just cut out the assumption that one parent is the caregiver whose time matters little and that the other treats child care as babysitting, and see what you get.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

December 29th, 2011

Don’t Insult Working Moms

I came across an article the other day in support of working moms. It came about due to a forum thread that said the lack of stay at home moms is what’s wrong with the U.S. No explanation of what exactly is wrong, though. There were plenty of things that bothered me about the whole deal.

1. Why the focus on moms?

This is one of the things that drives me up the wall. Why blame only moms for putting their kids in daycare and going to work? Why not the dads? I have two very competent stay at home dads in my family. Don’t tell me it can’t be done.

Sure, it’s more common and more traditional for moms to be more involved in child care. Unless you’re talking about pregnancy or breastfeeding, it doesn’t really have to be that way. Dads can do plenty, and they usually enjoy it.

2. Daycare is a perfectly acceptable option.

I may be an at home mom myself, but I have absolutely no problem with putting kids in daycare if that’s what the family needs.

My mother raised four of us on her own, so I speak from personal experience when I say daycare doesn’t have to be all that bad. It is not having someone else raise your child. They’re helping, yes, but so are the schools. Believe me, my parents still had plenty of influence on my choices throughout life, even my dad who I didn’t always see that much of as he didn’t always live nearby or even in the same state.

That said, I know daycare gets expensive fast. You do have to look at whether having both parents work makes sense in the face of daycare costs. Sometimes having a parent stay at home makes more financial sense. Still, that doesn’t mean working moms are in the wrong.

3. Not all stay at home moms are good at it.

It’s like anything else. Some stay at home moms are wonderful, attentive, caring, hard working mothers. Others aren’t. There are plenty of times when it’s better for the kids for both parents to work and have them go to daycare.

I don’t think you’re bad at being a stay at home mom if you aren’t up to June Cleaver’s level or anything. If staying at home is more of a miserable thing for you because you’d rather have a career, get out and get one. You won’t be called a bad parent by me for it.

4. Staying at home can be stressful.

Many people view being a stay at home mom as this wonderful, unstressed lifestyle. Somehow even the financial troubles just aren’t that big a problem for them. They make it work and life is good.

That’s not true for everyone. If you go to one income and can’t pay all the bills for little things you need such as rent, food and electricity, that’s stressful. Dealing with children can be stressful. Really and truly, the life of a stay at home mom isn’t all television and bonbons.

Is it less stressful for some than for others? Absolutely! That doesn’t mean it’s stress free for every stay at home parent. Financial challenges and other problems cause plenty of stress for others.

5. No acknowledgement of the real financial struggles many families face.

The people saying moms should just cope with the cutting back financially and stay at home have no concept of how much many families struggle. It’s not always a choice between a bigger house or a smaller house, or a newer or older car. It’s getting by, period.

Yes, some families are fortunate enough to have circumstances where they can get by on a minimal income and have one parent home. That’s the exception. We can’t all find extremely low rent, have family provide a home, inherit one, or otherwise get off cheap on housing costs. Some places are more expensive to live, and if that’s where your work is, it’s really not so simple as packing up to move someplace cheaper.

Then there’s food costs. Frankly, if the only way you can have one parent stay at home is to go on food stamps or other assistance, you need to look at increasing your income. That can be by working at home, I don’t mind that (obviously). I just don’t think you should use assistance to support a lifestyle choice, no matter how much you love your kids more than money. Use public assistance to keep going when you must, no problem there, but not as a lifestyle when you have other ways to get by.

6. An old car isn’t always a good solution.

Some people in the forum posts mentioned having an old car as one way to cut down on costs. That’s great when it works, no car payments, but sometimes the repairs run more than a car payment would. What do you do then? Unless you live in an area with good public transportation or close enough to work to walk or bike, a car can be a necessity.

Older cars are going to hit that point where you have to repair them more often eventually, and although they can be quite cheap to own for a time, repair costs can be more than payments on a newer car. What are families supposed to do then? A single income family can’t always save up a few thousand for a newer used car.

7. Stop with the “Only have as many children as you can afford” thing.

This one always annoys me. Certainly, there comes a point where people know they’re having more children than they can afford, but that’s not always what happened at the time the child was conceived or was born. Circumstances change. Jobs are lost, businesses close, incomes decrease. You can’t ever be certain that you can “afford” your children the entire 18 years you’ll be raising them, never mind whether or not you’ll be able to help with college.

Yes, I do agree that parents should think if their current circumstances will allow them to afford a child. It’s not my place to tell them what their final decision should be, however. If my husband and I had waited until we knew on paper that we could afford children, we wouldn’t have started when we did. We made it work anyhow, and while it’s been a struggle, we haven’t had to go on any sort of public assistance, and are finally making progress on the credit card debts.

8. Working moms spend plenty of time with their kids.

It has been shown that working moms spend more time with their kids now than stay at home moms did back in 1965. Dads are more involved too. Sure, stay at home moms spend still more time, but it’s not likely that the average kid is lacking for time with his or her parents due to being sent to daycare.

9. Women benefit from working.

I love the work I do at home. I don’t believe I would cope at all well as a stay at home mom if I didn’t have my business. It gives me something to think about beyond my home and children. That’s a good thing.

There’s also the money moms lose from not working. I don’t just mean in the moment. I mean saving for retirement as well as building a solid base for her career, missing out on promotions and so forth. It’s a long term income loss that can be hard on parents long after their children are grown.

That’s a big part of why I’m such a fan of working from home. Maybe you don’t need to earn the equivalent of a full time job, but at least you can keep some money coming in and some job skills current. Life’s uncertain, and that’s one way I cope.

I have a lawyer friend who tells me that most stay at home moms he knows don’t really understand what they’re losing out on by not working. He’s dealt with them on Social Security issues, and it basically comes down to if you don’t contribute, you don’t get anything. Sometimes that’s a huge problem.

10. The United States isn’t easy on families.

If you take a look at work policies around the Western world, the U.S. doesn’t look remotely family friendly. There’s a lack of parental leave available, childcare standards aren’t as good as other countries, education isn’t as good, the list goes on.  I’d call that a bigger problem than whether or not mothers stay home with their kids.

11. It’s possible that working parents are better for kids.

Now, all kinds of conclusions can be drawn from studies, nonetheless it is possible that working mothers really aren’t bad for their kids.

12. Women have often worked outside the home throughout history.

Women working outside the home is nothing new, and they didn’t just do so before marriage or motherhood.

13. I absolutely support at home parents.

Despite everything on this rant, I absolutely support at home parents, whether it’s the mother or the father. I wouldn’t run this site if I didn’t. It just makes me mad when people glance at working moms and declare them to be awful parents. They aren’t.

There’s nothing wrong with raising kids in the tight financial situation that often results from being a single income family. I suspect there’s some good in it, as kids then learn that they don’t get everything they want all the time.

14. Parents supporting their kids is the most important thing.

What matters most in the long run is that parents support their kids. I don’t just mean financially. I mean educationally, emotionally and so forth. You’re a parent and you’re probably doing the best you can for your kids. That doesn’t mean you can’t do your best for yourself too. If your kids are loved and know it, there’s a good chance they’ll be fine whether you’re at home or working.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

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