Why Stay-at-Home Parents Should Work Part Time

by Tracy · 28 comments

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. For instance:

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, freelance, or start 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 prepare before money 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 it can also provide the means to make it possible. After all, 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 its 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 downtime. 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 daycare if you can afford the expense. 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 daycare 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?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Arminius Aurelius says:

    Stay at Home Mom
    Yes , stay at home until children begin the 1 st grade . You can then work 4 hours a day / 5 days a week.
    Home cooked meals , I use a slow cooker where you can put the meat , vegetables , etc. in a slow cooker and set it for 4 hrs , 6 hrs [ fast ] or 8 hrs to 10 hrs [ slow ] Depending on the size of the slow cooker you buy , you can have up to 10 or 12 servings . … a 2 lb. , 3 lb. or a 4 lb. roast. [ No need to cook every day. ] I eat the cooked meal once or twice and freeze the balance . So you can work and have a dinner ready for the family when you get home .

  • Erica says:

    I liked this article a lot because it talks about balance. Also talks about considering the right time if and when you want to take on part time work. I have a almost 2 year old and have been a stay at home mom since his birth. I was on extended leave and then recently resigned to continue to stay at home. His first year and actually longer I could not have even thought about getting a part time job as he did not sleep at alland it was a challenge. With my husband working a lot I had to hold everything down at home. Only recently I wanted to start part time – a few hours a week- so earn extra income and do to something else other than childcare all day everyday. Because I think it can be good to go out and do something else. Also can be good for the other spouse to have some alone one on one time with the child.

  • Tlybullock says:

    I think the one thing that this article does not address is often times you will pay more in childcare than you will make on a part time job. My husband works on a on call basis so it would be impossible for me to depend on him at all for childcare. I would love to work part time but am not going to pay some one all or more than I would make. If you have the luxury of having schedules you can work around and not pay for childcare, it’s a great thing. I plan on home schooling. With my husbands job, I have my own retirement. It’s just hard to wrap your head around staying at home and not having your own paycheck. Thanks Lana, that’s encouraging.

  • Mtxun says:

    IF you are a “stay-at-home” parent, I have 1 bit of advise for you that cannot be overlooked any longer: H.O.M.E.S.C.H.O.O.L!!!!!!!!! (If you don’t raise them right the first time, you’ll be raising them ALL their lives!!!!!)

    • Caroline says:

      That’s ”advice” not ”advise”… which makes me wonder, do you consider yourself to be the best possible educator with high, qualified standards, perfectly suited to dealing with an entire curriculum, both at primary and senior level?

      Gosh. I ask because there is an implication that by sending one’s children to school, one is somehow not raising them properly.

  • Jordy says:

    My wife recently became a SAHM, working part time. However, we are still sending our 5 month old, Sara, to daycare because I believe that’s better for everybody because:

    1. It gives my wife and I more time to communicate and spend time together. After all, a happy marriage is the best gift we can give to Sara.
    2. It gives Sara a chance to interact with other kids, which is difficult if she is home all the time.
    3. Sara won’t be spoiled as much. Since Emma and I are both home, it’s very easy for us to attend to her every need immediately. In day care, it just doesn’t happen because of the 1-4 infant to care giver ratio.
    4. Going to day care gives us a chance to talk to other parents, and learn about other’s experience.
    5. It gives us a chance to ask questions, because the care givers have seen THOUSANDs of children. It lets us get a sense of what’s normal behavior and what should be of concern.

    • CD Phi says:

      Wow, I’m really shocked and impressed all at the same time. Most parents that are stay at home parents tend to have to keep their kids at home because that’s the whole purpose of one parent not working so they can care for the child. But you and your wife have a whole other perspective and I think that’s awesome. A happy marriage creates a happy family.

    • The Happy Rock says:

      I think a few of those things can be accomplished in better ways.

      In full disclosure, I think children being at home with their parents is in general significantly better than daycare. I also say this as a parent, who had our boys in daycare and decided to pull them out.

      I have found that having close friends and neighbors with children, provides deeper and more meaningful discussion and relationships than those that the parents or children got at daycare. A lot of the couples we met were through the church, but we also hang out with our neighbors almost daily.

      #3, I do agree that spoiling your child is not the best option, but I don’t think spoiling her and then sending her somewhere she isn’t spoiled doesn’t sound like much of an improvement. I am not saying that is what you are doing, but tailoring your behavior to provide the best instruction and guidance for your child is something that will need to be addressed whether or not your child is in daycare.

      As a side note, having a second child is amazing for teaching your children a whole host of lessons like sharing, loving, selfishness, etc. Being an only child, I had no idea all the benefits and how awesome having multiple children is.

      I don’t say this to rail on your decisions, but to suggest that daycare isn’t the only way to answer your concerns.

  • vered says:

    I took 4 years off when my second child was born. But I always knew I would eventually go back to work. I generally agree with you, ideally the “stay at home” parent should find a way to stay in touch with the workforce, but my personal choices were different. Still, I agree that leaving the workforce for 4 years WAS a risk on more than one level. Good article, Tracy.

  • Glass Is Half says:

    Lots of good points and good comments here … however in my case another benefit that I don’t think has yet been mentioned is … spending money. Unfortunately in my family more often than not my spouse tends to blow my budget based on unplanned spending. A new part time job that has just been started, however is hopefully going to be a perfect way to resolve the situation and also allow spending that I no longer have to keep track of. Ideally at a later stage, some planned/budgeted expenses can also be taken of my plate providing me with some additional flexibility.

    Also in the interests of disclosure, both my children are now in full time school so we didn’t even look at part time jobs until proper childcare was established as we both felt having one of us home until that time was the most important thing.

  • lana says:

    I’ve been a SAHM for almost 21 years. I didn’t plan it that way. I had planned on going back to a job I had for ten years. My husband and I made the decision to, by the grace of God, to raise the kids ourselves and not have day care.

    I tried to sell Avon and found it extremely invasive on my time and not worth the money. I have over time learned that I enjoy volunteering in many different capacities and have been there to teach, love on and corral my kids. They are smart, happy, well adjusted kids with quality friendships.

    I feel like my husband gave me the greatest gift possible by enabling me to be an at home mom. I plan on going back to work in the fall after my youngest graduates high school.

  • Cd Phi says:

    Whenever I hear about part-time work, I automatically think about freelance work for some reason. I think that freelance is a great way for stay at home parents to earn a side income if they provide some kind of special skill like writing. And like what you mentioned above, it may turn into some sort of full time job once the parent is ready to start working again. Great post.

  • CreditShout says:

    Stay at home parents should definitely try to find part time work even if they have children to raise. It’s great that you use local day cares to get some alone time to relax or crank out a lot of work without getting disrupted. I don’t know many people…wait, I don’t know anyone that just stays at home with their kids all the time. A lot of them tutor or do other online freelance work. I know they would go crazy if they had to stay home all the time. It seems like you’ve found a really great balance that works for you, your children, and your wallet.

  • SAFTM says:

    I always thought it would be an interesting idea to have a job/child share of sorts where two stay-at-home parents/friends each get part time jobs (maybe even at the same place) and when one is working the other watches the two kids. So sisters, brothers, friends or whatever can help eachother get some of the benefits of a part-time job while not adding to child-care costs and having someone trusted watch your kid when you’re working.

  • Jenna says:

    Also planning ahead, knowing when children are entering kindergarten or high school for example is helpful. Lots of parents start heading back to work at those points in a child’s life.

    • Tracy says:

      Jenna, I’ve always half joked that the year my youngest enters all day school, I’m taking that whole year off so I can lounge and eat bon bons in peace.

      It’s true though, one of the reasons I have started freelancing now is so that I can have a network in place to have it be a feasible full time job once my children are all in school.

  • Moneymonk says:

    SAHM vs. working always been a sticky subject. I feel that children need to be around their peers as do moms. Some say that day care is an investment in a women career.

    I feel women should work at least part time for the sake of having some type of retirement saved

    • Tracy says:

      Don’t forget the stay at home Dads. I hope that we’re working towards it becoming more common for parents to take a few years off when children are young so that it will no longer be so devastating to future career prospects.

  • Christy says:

    As a SAHM working part-time from home I agree with you 100%. A family can make the most out of the arrangement if the extra income is just that – extra. If a family is able to force themselves to live on one income and save the rest, not only is it good for their financial future but they’ll be able to avoid falling into the “two-income trap”, which puts them dependent on both incomes and vulnerable to financial collapse if one person loses their job.

    • Tracy says:

      This is a really good point. If you can, avoid figuring in the part time income into your budget for necessary expenses. In other words, be able to pay the mortgage, utilities, groceries, gas all from the primary breadwinners salary.

      That way, you will not only be able to save more but you’ll be better able to weather either spouse losing their income. Which is not to say you have to bank it all and not use any of it for “nice to have” extras, rather that you could cut out the fat and live off one salary if necessary.

      Of course, if you live in a high cost of living area this might not be possible.

  • CDRB says:

    Should a parent work or focus on raising the children? I think it depends on the age of the child. When children are infant to toddler age, having mom home is extremely beneficial. When a child is in school and there are hours available that is a good time to look for part-time opportunities. But, you still want to be available to help in the class, go on field trips, be home when the child is sick, etc.

    My wife has been doing day-care, but it is really almost too much stress. So make this decision with the utmost of care.

    cd :O)

    • Tracy says:

      I have so much admiration for people who work in day care.

      My goal has always been to have work that is flexible enough that I can be there for field trips, sick days and so on.

    • Ramona @ Personal Finance Today says:

      I work at home (web designer) and also raise my child. Did this since she was born and still do it. I can spend time with her all day long and then do some online work when she’s asleep (maybe 2-3 hours/day, since I also need to sleep at night). Pretty rough sometimes, but, with being VERY focused and productive I can earn well and also care for her.

    • Caroline says:

      Or having dad home.

  • Beto says:

    How about school? My wife and I have a toddler and for the time being she is SAHM but also attending college. The days that our son go to daycare are the days she has for her classes(full time student). I’m working and in school as well, we just make sure our cost of living is practical. Yup, it sure is tough but we know it will pay off in the long term.
    P.S. Some states have services to assist in child care expenses if the parent(s) are in school/work.

  • Kassandra Hart says:

    Another bonus to continuing to work part-time is that you continue to earn credits towards Social Security benefits. I worked for 7 years and have been a SAHM for 6 years. I’m now finding that while I once qualified for SS benefits, that because I’ve been out of the workforce for so long, I no longer do. I’m 1-2 credits short of qualifying at this point. So while it’s not necessary to go back to work to help support my family, I will go back to work at some point just to keep my SS benefits.

    • Tracy says:

      Kassandra, that’s a good point. I think many families that are comfortable enough to afford a full time homemaker might not necessarily be in a position to afford to hire help if that homemaker becomes disabled so keeping eligibility for social security is smart.
      http://www.ssa.gov/pubs/10029.html Lists the requirements

  • Jim says:

    i think when you stay home with the kid or kids, you lose touch with the real world. i think a few hours of work and interaction with grown-ups is vital.

    i have seen this happen to a few different friends and all of them love their kids but before you know it they have given up on their education and career and are not 100% happy.

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