Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Price of Being a Stay-at-Home Mom

I read this article, by Allison Linn, Life Inc. on MSNBC, today: The Price of Being a Stay-at-Home Mom. In it, Ms. Linn describes the financial differences between families with two working parents and those with only one working and one at home:

...That married couples with a working wife saw income grow by 1.12 percent per year above inflation, on average, between 1983 and 2008...families where the wife stayed home actually saw their annual incomes decrease by 0.22 percent each year on average, when including the impact of inflation.

Sure, it makes sense that people with two breadwinners make more money. Anyone who can do simple math could tell you that. But let's ask some more poignant questions:

1. The difference in annual incomes between duo-working parents and one is only 0.9%. Remember, that equals only $9 out of $1,000. What advantages are there to making 0.9% less than the "normal" American family when it comes to family-rearing?

2. What is the difference in the family debt-to-income and savings-to-income rations between the two family types?

First, the fellow stay-at-home moms who have left the work field to raise their children and tend their families are MUCH more content and fulfilled. I can say from personal experience that I certainly am as well. Being a stay-at-home mom isn't a walk in the park. It's downright hard sometimes. I hate cleaning and playing Martha Stewart. Sometimes, I'm just not creative enough for my little inquiring minds. I run out of energy and patience (usually in that order). But, at the end of the day, I know I'm doing what I've been called to do: step back away from the world for a (long) while and focus on the small unit that builds our society.

I take joy in being the first one to see my kids overcome a struggle and learn how to problem-solve. It gladdened my heart when my little girl waited patiently for a Secret Service agent to finish his impromptu talk while on the White House tour so she could tell him, "Jesus is alive. Jesus loves you. Thank you, sir." Knowing I contributed to her education and development makes me want to burst when she (and the other two) do or say things like that.

Second, most couples who have a stay-at-home parent usually do their financial homework before "taking the plunge." After factoring child care expenses into the family budget, it's usually cheaper for the family to have a parent at home. It certainly is for us. When I was working, daily child care for two kids ate up 25% of my income. I was fortunate to have a great-paying job, but there are so many people who don't. Since we knew we wanted me to stay at home after my commitment to the military was completed, we saved and practiced good, old-fashioned financial discipline so that we had paid off all our debts and had a decent savings account before I entered the stay-at-home mom ranks. Our planning and willingness to be disciplined allowed us to take the 0.22% decrease in our annual income without really missing anything we were accustomed to before, and I praise God He gave us the Bible to learn how to use our money properly.

One of my in-laws works a "basic" job and makes just above minimum wage. By the time she takes childcare out of her paycheck, she has just enough to pay for the health insurance offered by her company and have $50 left over. She works hard and spends about nine hours a day away from her kids so she can have $50 and a very basic, meager health insurance plan. It's devastating to her, but what can she do? She and her husband didn't plan before having kids, so they're stuck with the duo-working parents system.

Even people who didn't plan ahead do manage the stay-at-home stuff pretty well. Another family member had serious debts but preferred to have mom stay at home with the kids to save the family in child care costs. They did some frugal living by using coupons, shopping sales, accepting hand-me-downs, etc., and though they still have quite a lot of debt to pay off and not a whole lot in savings, they're "making it." Their debt ratio is lower now than when they were both working, and their savings ratio is higher.

I guess my point is: people who decide to have a stay-at-home parent find ways to make their finances work. There are tons of websites and blogs run by stay-at-homes to support and give tips. There are lots of Christian financial resources that help people learn how to view and use their money properly. Where there's a will, there's a way, but it's easier to get there when you have the proper tools.

Check out for some great free/minimal cost financial resources to help you prove that the price of -0.22% annual income is well worth the loss.

-Domestic Goddess out.