Costs and savings of having a stay-at-home parent

This post comes from Lynn Svenson, who blogs at The Photographer’s Wife. Some reader stories contain general advice; others are examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success or failure. These stories feature folks with all levels of financial maturity and income.

One of the biggest impacts to my wallet (and heart) this past year was having a baby. Of course, there are plenty of expenses that go along with being pregnant and having a baby, like numerous visits to the doctor and the enormous amount of diapers. But in particular, I want to share how making the decision to have a stay-at-home parent has affected our wallets and our way of thinking.

We were overjoyed when we found out I was pregnant in the fall of 2011. However, along with that joy came some sadness. After taking a look at our finances, we realized we wouldn’t be able to achieve one of our long-time goals of my husband staying home to raise our children. We do have debt, and my salary alone just wouldn’t cut it. We ultimately took a big risk when we decided that my husband would stay home and I would bust my butt to get a new, higher-paying job after the baby was born.

Looking back, this was an absolutely ridiculous idea, but it considerably eased my stress at the time. It actually forced me to channel my efforts into a positive way of thinking. I went from thinking How on Earth are you going to do this? to I can do this! I am so grateful at how beautifully it all worked out, because I went on an interview at 37 weeks pregnant and got the job!

I started the new job right after my six weeks of maternity leave. However, we weren’t in the clear yet. I still wanted to find ways to improve our situation. I became more creative when finding ways to save money, especially on monthly expenses, to improve our cash flow.

We refinanced our car loan to a lower rate. We saved 30 percent on our car insurance by having them monitor our driving habits (which was almost non-existent for my husband’s car, since he is home every day now). We looked for discounts on all of our other bills. We are also refinancing our house to a lower rate. I might not have bothered with all of these things if I didn’t have the pressure to improve our situation. When you really want something, you find ways to make it happen, and it never hurts to ask companies where you can save some money.

Some Financial Boons for Stay-at-Home Parents

Not having to pay for child care. I always knew day care was expensive, but it wasn’t until I looked at the day cares near us that I knew the exact number (and may have let out a few expletives in the process). For decent day care (which depends on what we all consider decent) in our area, it would have cost us at least $750 a month, not including all those extra fees they like to add on. Also, depending on how soon we decide to have another child, we would have to consider having two children in day care at the same time. It hurt my wallet just writing that.

Not having to take sick days. This is beneficial for a few reasons. It is a known fact that kids that go to day care get sick more often. By my son not going to day care, we save 1) his misery of being sick more than he needs to be, 2) us from getting sick too, causing me to take off from work, 3) doctor’s co-pays and medicine, and 4) paying day care even though he’s not there. The same thing goes for vacations and holidays…you still have to pay the day care the same monthly amount even when he’s not there.

Not paying for gas. I’m not referring to the extra gas you will be witness to with a new baby at home; I’m talking about all the savings in gas money due to the fact that one person isn’t driving to and from work each day. In our case, we are saving more than $100 a month from my husband not driving to/from work. His commute was about 30 minutes each way and then he would also drive to eat lunch each day. This resulted in him needing to fill the tank of his pretty gas-efficient Honda Pilot two to three times a month at $70 a pop.

Not spending lunch money. My husband didn’t have a refrigerator or microwave at work, so his lunch options were pretty limited so he would grab his lunch at fast-food places. That added up to more than $200 a month, way over what we spend for him to eat lunch at home now. He would even try to save money by getting water instead of soda or using coupons that I gave him, too. Now we are saving money and helping his waistline.

Not eating at restaurants for dinner. We would go out for dinner a lot when we would both be getting home from work at 6 p.m. and were starving and too impatient to cook dinner. Now, he is able to start cooking around 5 p.m. without being rushed, allowing for a healthier and more cost-efficient meal at home. This also has cut the cost of my lunch because I have leftovers the next day.

Not spending my free time on housework. This is savings on my part…time savings. When we both worked full-time, I spent at least one day out of the weekend cleaning. Now, he gets as much done as he can during the day and our weekends are more open for fun and family time. I can’t even express how much I love coming home on Fridays knowing that I don’t have to spend the next day cleaning. This is purely a time versus money point.

Not having to take time from work for errands. So many places close between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., like the post office and banks. Thank goodness for direct deposit, but if we ever have errands that need to get done during the day, I no longer have to take time off from work to accomplish them.

Not having to spend as much on work clothes. He doesn’t have to buy work clothes as often now that he doesn’t have to step out of the house every day for work.

Costs of Having a Stay-at-Home Parent

Loss of a guaranteed salary. Although many people would argue that no salary is guaranteed in this economy, it’s certainly easier to know how much money you can budget for when you have a full-time job. My husband still has his photography business, but it’s more random, depending how many people are getting married, graduating, having babies, etc. But on a positive note, in quitting his full-time job, he is able to spend more time cultivating his personal business and dedicating himself to his photography and clients, something he would not have had much time for with a full-time job.

Increase in electricity and water bill. Having someone in the house all day, especially a baby, means that lights are on, the air-conditioning and heat are at normal levels all day instead of being turned down when not there, the stove or microwave is used and toilets are flushing, among many other things. I don’t know how much these differences add each month, but our bill has increased slightly because of it.

Increase in groceries. Eating more food at home means you’re paying more at the grocery check-out line, but the increase is not as much as what you are saving by not eating out every day. You just have to learn to adjust your mind-set of what you are now normally spending at the grocery store.

I would also like to point out that there are also intangible benefits to having someone at home all day. Even though we have a security system and a dog at home (a 90-pound Labrador that looks scarier than he actually is), it still gives me peace of mind knowing that there is an actual person at home and a car in the driveway to deter any potential threats. He’s also there to meet service people and monitor the house for any emergencies.

Overall, making the decision to have a stay-at-home parent really is a matter of personal preference and individual circumstances. I don’t wish to start a day-care debate, but we just knew that wasn’t what we wanted for our son. I can’t deny that I often wish we had another full-time salary to provide more of a cushion, but every time I look at my son, I know I can do without it for now. It’s a daily lesson in patience on my part, one that many people who are in debt also have, as I have to constantly reassure myself that the sacrifices I am making today will be worth it in the long run and that I will look back and be happy about my decision.

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