The choice to have one parent stay at home with the child(ren) is a deeply personal, individual one that goes beyond finances. However, there are many reasons why it’s a good idea for stay at home moms and dads to seek part time work, even if there is no immediate need for income.
1. The obvious one – extra income. Having one spouse stay at home does provide extra opportunities for saving. It’s easier to do thrifty things like cook from scratch and shop for deals when you don’t have a full time job to contend with on top of saving money on child care. However, most families will find that there is a limit to how much they can cut their costs.
If you work part time, even a few hundred dollars a month can significantly improve a family’s financial security. You can:
- Save more for retirement. Compound interest is a powerful thing, however young families often find that it’s difficult to save while providing for their children. Extra income could go towards a spousal IRA and help ensure that you’re not frantically trying to play catch up once the children are out of the house.
- Beef up an emergency fund. You don’t want to be in a position where you can’t get necessary car repairs or get critical repairs made to your home, particularly if you have young children to think of.
- Pay down debt. Again, compound interest is a miraculous thing; in the case of debt it’s awesome for the bank. Even “good” debt like mortgages and student loans are better paid off sooner than later.
- Provide for extras without relying on credit or draining savings. We’d all like to give our children opportunities to learn and grow, such as music lessons or educational camps and family vacations. Extra money brought in by the stay at home spouse can be earmarked for these sort of optional expenses.
2. Keep the stay at home parent employable. It’s a tough job market out there. Even if the stay at home spouse had no plans to return to work once the children are in school, things can change if the working spouse is laid off or suffers a disability that makes them unable to work. Divorce and death are two other possibilities that nobody wants to think about but happen all too often.
Even part time work can keep job skills current and allow for networking that could lead to a full time job if the need arises. Having an extra source of income already in place can stretch unemployment benefits and savings if the primary breadwinner loses his or her job.
Don’t count on being able to just jump into part time work, freelancing or starting a small business when the situation demands it. It often takes time to get everything in motion and life will be a lot less stressful if you do it before it becomes an urgent need.
3. Provide balance for the stay at home parent. Raising children is an incredibly rewarding job, that said, many stay at home parents benefit enormously by spending a few hours a week doing something that isn’t focused on their children.
Part time work can not only provide that opportunity but can also provide the means to make it possible, as the income coming in can defray the cost of child care and other in home help, such as a cleaning service. Happy, fulfilled parents are the best gift children could ever receive.
How to Make it Work
It can take some creativity to make working part-time feasible for a stay at home parent. Often, traditional jobs aren’t flexible enough, so self employment is the best option. Many companies are turning to freelance workers and consultants these days, so the opportunities are there. Additionally, there are many legitimate work from home jobs although it can be tricky to sort out the scams from the real deals.
Many stay at home parents have also found that they can bring in income by making crafts, selling on eBay or providing services like compute repair, tutoring or housecleaning.
Other points to keep in mind:
- Be realistic about what you can do. The idea is to keep a good balance in the family, not leave everyone frazzled. If part time work isn’t realistic or desirable at the present time (for example, you just had a baby and are constantly nursing and getting no sleep) don’t feel like you have to do it. Consider it something to look forward to when your situation changes.
- Both spouses have to be in it together. Household duties might need to be renegotiated and both spouses will probably lose some free time. There should also be a discussion and agreement on what should be done with the new source of income. There are no right or wrong answers, every family has their own balance, but things can turn ugly if both spouses have very different ideas for the money and no resolution is made.
- Be creative about child care. While I do much of my freelance early in the morning, at night or during nap-times, I still take advantage of a local church’s mother’s day out program. It provides me with 10 hours of reasonably priced child care per week. Not only can I use this time for work, but it also provides some much needed down time. My children love getting to play with other kids and doing fun activities. Another might be to ask the grandparents if they’d like to take the children for one afternoon a week – they might not be up for full time childcare but would relish having four or five hours with their grandchildren.
- Speaking of child care and other household help, don’t be afraid to pay for it if you can afford it. Yes, it takes away from your profits and might seem to defeat the whole purpose of being a stay at home parent, but think of it as an investment in making this a sustainable balance for your family. I’m finding that 10 hours of day care a week for my almost 3 year old is absolutely perfect. He seems to be getting the best of both worlds.
- Remember that you’ll have to pay taxes. If you are self employed, you will not only have to pay income tax but also the full self employment tax of 15.3%, so keep that in mind before you spend all that you make. It might be worth it to talk to an accountant to make sure you know all the details of your situation.
- Make sure you’re seeing the benefit of your work. It can be tempting to spend all that you bring in because it’s “extra” but remember why you’re working in the first place. There’s nothing wrong with working hard so that you can afford luxuries, but if the plan was to work to have funds to save or invest, be sure that you’re doing just that.
Every family will need to make their own decision on who works when and how much. There is no one answer that works for everyone, however it’s important to keep in mind that stay at home spouses are giving up much more than just income. Spouses should talk about their long term plans and hopes for the future and craft a balance that works for them.
Do you think stay at home parents should look for opportunities to bring in extra income or should they focus completely on raising the children?
This post was featured in the Best of Money Carnival.