Planning Money Matters
Fear of losing a second income paralyzes some couples from becoming a stay-home parent family. Yet with the proper planning and devotion to their goal, many couples can help dispense with that insecurity and find workable options to help them.
Certified Financial Planner™ Steve Hawkins with American Express Financial Advisors, Inc. in Cincinnati, Ohio, says a couple that decides to have a stay-home parent should prepare financially for bringing a new person into the household and dropping an income. “One of the best strategies I’ve ever seen is for a couple to actually live on the one salary prior to the pregnancy or birth,” says Hawkins. He recommends that couples serious about stay-home parenting live on the husband’s salary while placing the wife’s into a savings account, not to be touched. This gives the couple an idea of how the money will flow after switching to a single income while building some savings.
Hawkins adds that it’s crucial a couple look at committed expenses versus discretionary expenses. “You’ve got to pay the mortgage or rent, auto insurance and groceries, but do you have to have a high entertainment budget?” he says. “I see people with three or four cell phones that go out to dinner every week, and they’re not willing to change that. Ask, ‘ What do we have to pay for and what do we choose to pay for?'” He says anything from magazine subscriptions and cable TV to extravagant vacations can be considered discretionary expenses. “You can decrease your lifestyle and increase your income, but you need discipline in doing it.”
To help separate committed and discretionary spending, Hawkins recommends a couple keep a diary to track expenses. “Put yourself on a budget and see where the money is spent,” he says. “Keep a record; it’s too easy to pay in cash and not remember where the money goes. It’s easiest with one credit card, one checking account.”
When evaluating finances, couples should also consider the costs a working woman may incur after the baby is born: childcare, commuting costs, business clothing and dry cleaning, lunches out with co-workers, taxes etc. While you may have less family income if you’re a stay-home mom, the difference in what you take home after expenses may not be as extreme as you’d expected, and with some sacrifice you can make staying home a reality.
The prospect of becoming a stay-home mom may be very appealing to some women, while others may have mixed feelings about the loss of a family’s second income. Additionally, they may be reluctant to give up the mental challenges associated with involvement in the workforce and concerned about keeping up with their careers.
In today’s business world, becoming a stay-home mom doesn’t have to be an “all or nothing” proposition. Some companies are willing to re-negotiate a woman’s job description, enabling her to work from home. Telecommuting options and flexible work schedules are becoming more commonplace and can even be economically viable options for employers as opposed to investing in the training of replacement personnel.
Other opportunities worth exploring include home-based businesses, consulting, web-page designing, freelance writing or translating. Moms working from home face additional demands, but it can be the ideal solution for a woman who wants to earn supplemental income or keep a “foot in the door” of her career field, yet be home with her children.
A woman just beginning life as a stay-home mom will likely experience more changes than just those to the checkbook. For many moms, the transition from work to home brings an unfamiliar and often unexpected emotion: loneliness. That she’s no longer spending her days with co-workers at the office or joining chums for a late dinner and movie can be a shock to the system. “My loneliest time was when Danny was first born,” says Mary Ellen Flanagan, a stay-home mom in Middletown, Rhode Island. “Slowly, I discovered Gymboree and the MOMS group at church where I met some great friends.”
Avoiding isolation is critical. Sherri Brothers, coordinator for Living with Baby class in Everett, Washington, says loneliness is common in new moms. Sometimes women even find they are “jealous or resentful that hubby gets to go off to work,” says Brothers. She recommends finding a source of support outside the house. “Join a mommy/baby group or mommy/baby exercise class, contact moms from your childbirth classes, find a church group, start a playgroup…”
Outlets such as those Brothers mentions are wonderful places for making friends and finding playmates for children. “[These places] give moms somewhere to go every week. There’s comfort in knowing almost everyone in the room is sharing your experience and provides an atmosphere where it’s okay to talk about your baby as much as you want, in fact you’re encouraged to do so,” says Brothers, who has seen many long-term friendships develop in her classes.
New Roles and Changes in Your Marriage
In addition to the physical and emotional changes most women experience with new motherhood, women who stay home often take on more housekeeping and baby care.
Thomas had difficulty adjusting to the role changes in her household. “My lifestyle changed, and the demands on me were different. You function differently in the workplace than you do at home,” she says. “My husband and I both had different expectations about working inside the home versus outside. My home responsibilities increased greatly and my husband’s decreased because he was the sole income winner. I took on more housework, yardwork, or things my husband would have normally taken care of when we had two incomes.”
Many women experience feelings of guilt when they stop bringing an income home, even when this decision is taken jointly. A woman accustomed to earning her own salary may find it difficult to ask her husband for money.
Brothers says it helps to recognize these changes and address them with your spouse, particularly if you’re feeling overwhelmed. “If you want or need something, ask… without whining or crying. He would be glad to help if he knew what you needed.”
Brothers also encourages couples not to neglect their marriages. “Plan a date at least once a month,” she says. “…nurture your relationship and communicate with your partner.” And remember that you are not the only one experiencing change. While your husband may have relinquished certain household duties, he may feel increased pressure as sole breadwinner and new father. Take time to discuss how you feel with your mate and listen to his concerns too.
Time for Yourself
It’s crucial moms find time to nurture themselves. “Find a babysitter before baby arrives and plan time for yourself at least once a week,” says Brothers. “Any time mom gets away by herself, even if it’s just to the grocery store, feels good. Those who make time for themselves to exercise, maybe scrapbook with a friend, attend a book club, go bowling etc. feel most satisfied and have renewed spirit as a mom and partner.” Even if you can’t get out, Brothers encourages moms to grab moments of quiet time. “Sit down with a magazine, a cup of tea, have a chocolate truffle! Just take time for yourself, time to renew.”
Thomas says as a mother, her needs became mixed in with the needs of her family. “If the kids are happy I’m happy; if my husband’s doing ok, I’m doing ok. After a while I was able to refocus on my independence and my sense of self.” Once her kids were no longer infants, Thomas fulfilled a long-term goal of becoming an aerobics instructor. “I allowed myself the time to pursue this goal. I’m able to get out and meet people more. I also started volunteering for more things in MOMS club and did some volunteering at church.”
Commitment and Rewards
Being a stay-home mom presents its own share of struggles, but it can offer incredible rewards for the parents and kids. Find strength in meeting the challenges of being a stay-home mom and allow yourself to experience joy in the day-to-day aspects of stay-home mothering. Enjoy the special time you have with your children and have confidence that you are doing what is right for your family; it is a decision you are not likely to regret.
“Danny is a constant reminder that [being home with him] is all worth it, ” says Flanagan. “I also know that it is our job to raise him to be a responsible, loving adult. This is the best way I can do that … it works for me and I’m seeing the results already in the way he behaves.”