How I Determined If I Could Afford to Be a Stay-at-Home Mom

Before I even got married, I dreamed about being a stay-at-home mom. I fantasized about being that wife/mother who had a gourmet dinner ready for the family every night, had a perfectly cleaned house, picked out the family’s clothing, made and packed lunches for the family, etc. Fast forward to being four months into motherhood and as you may assume, the reality is a bit different than that fantasy.

My husband and I were both working full-time jobs when I got pregnant and we were living very comfortably. Inevitably, one of the first conversations we had regarding the baby was who would be taking care of her when she was born. Both my husband and I were fortunate enough to have mothers who were able to stay home with us in our early years, so we both loved the idea of me being a stay-at-home mom for our daughter. But how would the finance part work? Would we be able to forego my salary?

Maternity Leave

My job offered the federal requirement of 12 weeks maternity leave; however, only 6 weeks of that was paid leave and you were required to take all your vacation pay during those 12 weeks, as well. That meant 9 weeks total paid leave for me. Most often, employees opt to take the 9 weeks of pay spread out equally across the 12 weeks, so that they don’t miss a paycheck. I, on the other hand, opted to take my full pay for those 9 weeks. I planned to use those 9 weeks as a trial period to see if 1) we could afford for me to forego my salary and 2) if I truly wanted to be/could handle being a stay-at-home mom.

We decided the best way to see if we could afford for me to be a stay-at-home mom was to act as though I already stopped receiving an income in that 9 week time frame. To do this we immediately transferred all of the money from the paychecks I received during my 9 weeks of paid to leave into our online savings account. That way we were left with only my husband’s paycheck money in our checking account.

Along with transferring my paycheck money out of our checking account, we also analyzed our budget to see what expenses we could cut back on. We try our best not to spend more than we make in a month and avoid debt as much as possible, so we knew it had to be a realistic budget. Also, doing this during the 9 weeks that I was still receiving money made us more comfortable because we did have my paychecks to fall back on while we adjusted, if needed.

Budget Cuts

Dining Out

The first category in our budget to get scaled back was dining out. My husband and I love going out to eat, so while that was a little disappointing, it made the most sense. We knew once the baby was here that we weren’t going to be going out to eat as often because we would either need to get a babysitter each time or bring her with us and bringing a baby out to eat with you can make it slightly less enjoyable (one day she’ll enjoy it with us, though!).

Fuel

The next category that we knew we could save some money on was fuel. My previous job was 23 miles from my house, meaning I was driving a minimum of 230 miles every week. My SUV has a 24-gallon tank and gets approximately 21 mpg. This means if I only drove to work and nowhere else, I had to fill up my tank once every 2 weeks. According to GasBuddy.com, gas is $2.87 at the gas station I frequent most, meaning me staying home saves us approximately $138 in fuel costs a month.

Clothing

I love fashion. This was a hard category for me to cut back on, but realistically as a stay-at-home mom, I spend a majority of my time in my house in sweatpants, so it needed to go. When I was working, we allotted $250 per month for clothing in our budget. While this was technically a clothing budget for both my husband and myself, my husband never buys clothes. I obviously did not spend $250 every month on clothing, either, but I liked the flexibility of having it if I wanted to, especially for a special occasion dress. We cut back our clothing budget to $100 per month, which now includes clothing for my husband, my daughter and myself, and made it a combined category for clothing and toys/accessories for the baby.

Dog Walker

With me out of the house for 9 hours a day and my husband for 12+ hours a day and neither of us  working very close to home, we had a dog walker. Our dog walker budget was $400 a month, and we were lucky if it was under due to days we could work from home or holidays from work. While we were very grateful for our dog walker taking good care of our boy Jack, we were also very happy to be able to completely eliminate this expense.

While we made lots of budget cuts in order to make it possible for me to be a stay-at-home mom, we also had some categories that required increases to the amount budgeted.


Budget Increases

Groceries

Being that we were eating out less, we obviously were eating at home more, meaning our grocery budget needed to increase. In our grocery budget we also were now including diapers and wipes, as we buy them from our wholesale club to save money. This increase in groceries combined with a decrease in dining out still led to a $250 net decrease. Sadly, that is the cost of 1 or 2 nice dinners here in NY.

Insurance

Naturally, the birth of our daughter caused an increase in our health insurance cost. This is just something that cannot be controlled and something we will not be frugal about as healthcare is very important to us.

Pharmacy

I am on monthly prescriptions for my ulcerative colitis and take vitamins every day, so we have always had a pharmacy budget. We increased this to cover new costs associated with a baby, such as diaper rash cream, lotions, soaps, etc.

Other odds and ends were also cut back, such as Amazon purchases (yes, we have an entire line dedicated to Amazon), car maintenance (less driving means less frequent maintenance), coffee and miscellaneous. We knew we had to be much more diligent in our purchases and frugal when needed. I was fortunate enough to have had a baby shower in which our wonderful friends and family bought us most of what we needed for the first few months of our daughter’s life, including LOTS of diapers. Around the time my maternity leave pay was ending, my husband received a salary increase, which was also very helpful in making up for the loss of my salary.

Daycare Consideration

Daycare is extremely expensive in the United States. New York boasts the 4th most expensive childcare costs out of all the states. Living in Westchester County, NY, our local daycare costs are even higher than the $14k yearly average presented in this article. One of the daycares we considered (and this was not even the most expensive in our area) would have cost us $1,600 per month, or $19,200 a year. That was approximately 25% of my gross salary. It was hard to stomach the idea of paying someone that much of my salary to do something that I would personally love to do myself. The way my husband and I looked at this is that the foregone expense of daycare, that $19,200, would be my new salary. It’s as if I make $19,200 a year, but also pay $19,200 a year for childcare.

So, was it the right choice?

I have now been a stay-at-home mom for four months and no matter how challenging some days are, I wouldn’t change it for the world. Sure, I miss working sometimes and I miss the freedom that my salary gave us financially, but I will never regret choosing to spend this time taking care of my daughter. Every smile I get from her is a reminder that this choice was worth every penny sacrificed. I am forever grateful.

9 thoughts on “How I Determined If I Could Afford to Be a Stay-at-Home Mom

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  1. Love this post! I saw you share this on facebook and was super curious of your take on this since I am approaching my due date and will most likely be leaving my job at the end of my maternity leave. It’s such a big and scary decision, but I’m happy to hear it has worked out so well for you and your family! 🙂

    1. Congrats, Jess! I read lots of articles and many said to tell your job as soon as you know or even if you’re considering not returning, but to be honest that felt really risky to me. If I didn’t feel comfortable financially or ended up really missing work and wanting to return, I didn’t want to create tension before I went on leave or to have my job given to a new employee. I’m sure I could have handled it better, but I did what was best for me and my family and I’m happy I did! I hope you feel the same way 🙂

  2. Good for you Courtney! My wife and I made the same decision nearly 30 years ago when our daughter was born. While we did not do the detailed analysis that you and your husband did, we felt it was the right thing to do for our family. Enjoy this time, children group up so fast! — Alan

    1. Thanks, Alan!

      Without the detailed analysis, we probably would have ended up with the same choice in the end because once my daughter was here I couldn’t imagine having to leave her to go back to a job I didn’t absolutely love. The analysis just added peace of mind for us 🙂

  3. I think being a stay at home parent is a great investment in your family. In our case there was such a large difference in my and my wife’s income it did not impact our finances much so there was little planning required. That’s not usually the case. It was a win win move because she did not like her job and I loved mine but she did love the concept of staying home with our three kids. I would have fully supported her decision either way. It isn’t right for everybody but we never regretted it.

    1. I completely agree. I look at it as an investment, as well. That is great that it was such an easy decision for your family. My husband was also supportive regardless, though we both liked the idea of me being home for at least the first few years. We will see what the future holds for us! 🙂

  4. Hey, Courtney!
    Congrats on the baby and on your decision to stay home with her. Thirty-six years ago, my husband and I made the same decision and I did not go back to work till our third child reached the age of six. Never regretted a minute of it and though miles separate all of us, we are still very close emotionally to our kids. No parent is a perfect person, but your child is a large percentage of you and having control of her upbringing is essential.

    Jeanne

  5. Hey, Courtney!

    You’re right, daycare is crazy expensive in the US. Obviously, by being a SAHM some expenses will increase and you’ll have to cut back on others, but one way to look at it is, while your grocery bill increases, your “eating lunch at work” type expenses have gone away.

    When my wife left her job to start aiding me to grow our online businesses, we immediately started saving $5-$6 a day in lunch money as well as $50 a month minimum in gas money. Other savings as well, and now she has the freedom to set her schedule.

    Plus, you have the added benefit of raising your child exactly the way you want 🙂

    -Bo

    1. Hi Bo!

      You are so right. While I was lucky enough to have free lunch provided at my previous job, the gas on my SUV would cost us about $200 a month, filling up approximately 4 times a month. Now I only get gas about once a month (pre-quarantine that is). So that right there is about $150 of savings!

      I’m so glad it all worked out for you and your wife, as well! And I do think that being able to be the care provider for my child is an irreplaceable benefit for me! 🙂

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