Deciding to have one parent stay at home with the children is a huge decision that’s complicated by the emotions involved. Nobody can make this decision for you, but here are five things to consider before you make the decision.
1. Will the working spouse’s salary be enough to cover the bills? Seems like an obvious question, but it’s easy to forget about all of those little expenses and not be overly optimistic about prices remaining the same, continued availability of overtime or side work and so on. It could be a good idea to track your spending for a month or two so that you know every penny you spend, not just the numbers on your bills.
If your little one has not been born yet, be sure to account for his or her expenses. Allow yourself a very ample cushion, because…
2. You might not be able to save as much as you’d think by not working. Of course, not paying for day care is a huge savings and you can save a bundle on lunches out, clothing and dry cleaning and commuting costs.
However, there are plenty of ways for stay at home parents (SAHPs) to spend money! It might not be as practical as you think to cook from scratch every night. That garden might turn out to have been a pipe dream. You’ll want to provide your child with enrichment activities that could cost money. If there aren’t friends and family members to provide occasional child care, you’ll still need to hire sitters for doctor and dentist visits and so on.
It’s easy enough to think of all the ways stay at home parents can save money in theory, but you never know what the reality is going to be until you live it – and even then it’s apt to change every few months as your children grow and change.
3. How much is this going to affect your long term career prospects and how much do you care? If you’re planning on going back to work after the kids are in school, you might find that it’s difficult to get a job comparable to the one you left. It might never be possible to regain the years you lost in your career and you might find that your advancement prospects are limited. There can be a very real financial price to being a stay at home parent that goes beyond just the years you raised your children.
How much will it matter? That depends on your career field, how many years you are absent from the work force and the state of the economy when you decide to go back. Do be honest and ask yourself how much this will matter to you on a personal level as well as take a hard look at how it will affect your long term financial goals.
4. Do you have an adequate safety net? If the breadwinner is laid off, hurt or becomes ill do you have the reserves to weather several months of very little income coming in? Do you have an emergency fund to handle things like the fridge dying or the basement flooding?
Will you be able to save money for inevitable expenses like home and car maintenance, taxes and medical bills? It’s not enough to know that you have the cash to make it through each month, you have to know that you’ll have enough for several weeks or months of rainy days, too. Consider the possibility of the stay at home parent working part time or working freelance to contribute to a safety net.
5. Am I on the same page as my partner? Communication is crucial, it’s very easy for one or both of the spouses to feel ignored, unappreciated and taken for granted. It could be that the stay at home spouse feels like they don’t have equal power in the relationship because they aren’t bringing in money. Or the working spouse might feel pressured by being the sole source of income and feel that their hard work isn’t respected.
Talking to your spouse is important but don’t forget to listen and make sure they know that you have heard their point of view. You’ll want to hash things out before the decision is made to stay home and then periodically to make adjustments as your situation changes.
If your relationship is already in trouble, be cautious about making the decision to stay home. It could have a positive affect as the stress of two working parents can be fierce, but it could just as easily increase resentment and leave the spouse who is at home in a very bad financial bind.
Having one parent stay at home with the children can be a wonderful choice for a family but it’s not the only way to raise wonderful, healthy, happy children. If this is the right choice for your family, do go into it with open eyes and ample preparation.
How did you make the decision to stay at home or continue working?