Five Things to Consider Before Becoming a Stay at Home Parent

by Tracy · 15 comments

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?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Household Budget Guy says:

    The decision for us was the impact to be made on the children by having a parent always home for them.

    That was 12 years ago and the results are tremendous.

  • Martin says:

    21 years ago, just before our first child was born, we made the decision for my wife to quit her job and be a stay-at-home mom until at least our child starts public school. I thought we had enough income for this to happen, but I found that our monthly expenses greatly exceeded what I was making each month. I noticed that I had to pull money out of our savings to make ends meet each month. After several months of this and realizing we could go bankrupt in the future, I had my wife and myself save every receipt for all purchases for a 2 month period. After seeing that no frivolous expenses were included, we made some drastic changes as follows: cable TV was cancelled and we only used an electric antenna after that, I cut back how much I was putting into retirement at work, switched dial-up internet providers to a cheaper one, lunch was packed for me to bring to work instead of eating out, etc. and continued tracking our expenses using Quicken on our computer(I still use that today). I was lucky that both of us could live frugally without feeling deprived. We rarely ate out and took advantage of sales. Eventually, after several years of raises, I was able to raise my retirement amounts to the maximum, especially after our child stopped needing diapers. Unlike the situation today for a lot of people, my job was rarely in jeopardy. My point in telling all this is that for most folks, if you both want one of you to become a stay-at-home parent, it can be done as long as you both can live frugally. Any incredible amount of money is wasted on non-essential things. Even dietary changes can save a lot of money.

  • Katie H says:

    I have been at home for over 3 years now. I expected that I would get bored. I have been bored with EVERY job I’ve had. The longest took 9 mo to get old. I continued to do them, I was just annoyed. I won’t say that every day at home is butterflies and roses but I’m rarely bored. For me, I chose to have children and I want them raised by me. We bought our house while I was still working but we chose one based on HIS income. Living within your means is crucial.
    I think this article raises good points but seems to be pointing toward not staying home. If you think it’s not a real job, why do we pay daycare or preschool to raise the children during the day?
    It’s not for everyone and no one should be forced to stay home, but those who do shouldn’t be made to feel like they aren’t succeeding. Eventually I will likely go back to work as an RN but for now, I’ll keep my license current, and turn my education to raising my children.

  • 20 and Engaged says:

    I’m not a parent yet, but my husband and I discussed that coming up with a plan to work from home would be great when we have kids. If I can reach my income goals with an online business, it’s going to be a great thing for our family.

  • TCY says:

    Addendum to #5….

    Make sure you and your partner are on the same page with respect to the definition of ‘Stay at home parent.’

    My husband has been at home with our two kids and our largest source of conflict has been around the responsibilities he would take on as the stay at home parent.

    I’d spend time enumerating these activities and expectations as they can really sour one or both of you on the arraignment.

    Addendum to # 2….

    Sitters / group care as a respite for the Stay at Home Parent.
    My husband enjoys being home with the children but he needs a break and sometimes that break needs to come when I’m not around to spell him.

  • HC says:

    I stay at home with my two kids, the youngest of which is just about to start Kindergarten. I feel that in this life, if you chose to have kids, they should be your job. I understand the pressure that society puts on women to succeed and how the choice to stay home and actually parent your children is denigrated, and I think that is one of the things that is going wrong in our society. It is wonderful to have mothers working and being a big part of our work force, women’s lib, and all. But if you have a baby, you should give great thought to how your children are the most important thing. Having a child is the most wonderful thing in the world, and at some point we need to figure out that the raising of our children is what shapes the future. When we leave it to underpaid, overworked daycares and schools, things are not going to improve. Just my two cents, not trying to make a statement about other peoples lives.

  • Mike says:

    My wife stays at home with our daughter. She also watches two other kids to help ease the money issues. This will allow us to save a ton when the second kid is born and we are not paying for daycare for two. I also try to make sure I can watch our daughter so she can get out of the house enough to keep her sanity. She also knows I fully support her going back to college to reclaim her previous career which she’ll plan on implementing a few years from now. I also teach, so summers are pretty fun with a group of us hanging out. Good family time.

  • B Kelly says:

    I don’t think I’ll be sane if I just stayed at home for an extended period of time.. but I dig the part where I will be ‘free’ to do anything I please with my time though… great tips!

  • Bankruptcy Ben says:

    I want to be a stay at home Dad, and I don’t really care about the impact it will have on my “career” because I don’t really have one. My wife however does so that’s obviously more important to her. I’m pretty sure I would make a bad ass stay at home Dad.

  • Joe says:

    My wife and I are planning for her to mostly stay at home with our baby when it is born in a few months. She’ll still be working, however, as she does some freelance writing and manages the apartment complex that we live in, both of which she can do from home. The freelance writing work brings in several hundred dollars per month in income, while the apartment managing work adds a huge chunk of our monthly budget back into the equation. We’ll see how long this arrangement will work after the baby is born.

  • Amy Saves says:

    I did the SAHM thing for a year and was going nuts. Personally, I need adult interaction, although I did get to bond with my baby the first year. good article.

  • Kellen says:

    Someone I work with is a new father, and they made the decision for his wife to stay at home. It sounds like a tough life for her though, since the loss of the second income means that it’s tough for her to take a break for a day and hire a baby sitter that’s not in their pre-arranged budget for childcare.

    The re-entering the career track point is especially valid with the high rate of divorce. As much as you may be happy to give up your career forever, you may find yourself at a loss to support yourself if you get divorced 10 or 15 or 20 years later.

  • Patrick R. Carlson says:

    I think it’s admirable to be a stay at home parent. When I was a child, my mother stayed at home until I was a teenager. I really enjoyed that she was there to help with homework and just be there.

    One option that isn’t presented above is perhaps having a home-based business. That can give a parent the ability to stay with a child or children, while also continuing to develop career skills and generate some income. Some businesses are not a good fit for a part-time level of commitment, but there are many out there that are.

    • Beverly says:

      What type of stay at home businesses benefit a medical professional as in Dental Hygienist who only wants to work part time while child is in elementary school.

  • KM says:

    I don’t think I could stay at home all the time – I would get too bored without being intellectually challenged. The same is true for my husband. But I am lucky enough to have a grandmother that can take care of my son during the day. When he is a bit older, I will see about preschool since social skills are important to develop at an early age, but he has never been in daycare and hope he never will.

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