Woman to Woman: Can You Afford to Be a Stay-at-Home Mom?
Woman to Woman: Can You Afford to Be a Stay-at-Home Mom?

By Catherine Ryan

Leaving the workforce to be a stay-at-home mom might seem risky these days. But it can be a good decision, particularly if your spouse has a secure job.

If you’re deciding whether you can afford to be a stay-at-home mom, consider these factors: finances, your partner’s support and your own emotional well-being.

Here’s how to weigh the risks and rewards:

1. Finances

First, try to determine the security of your partner’s job and income level. Would you have enough resources to withstand a layoff or pay cut for a while if your partner lost his job? Next, figure out how much money your household will truly lose if you stay at home. Tally up all the expenses directly tied to your job (e.g., child care, transportation, clothing, dry cleaning, lunches out) and subtract that number from your take-home pay. (Don’t forget to include all the take-out dinners you’ve picked up because you haven’t had time to cook!)

What's left is the amount of actual loss you’ll sustain. Once you have that number, see if you can compensate for the difference by cutting back on expenses or making up the difference -- either by picking up part-time or at-home jobs, or your partner working overtime. You may be surprised to find that when you factor in all the expenses tied to your job, the financial impact of staying home isn’t as great as you thought.

2. Partner Support

Deciding if you can afford to be a stay-at-home mom is a choice you and your partner need to make together, so you should both be in sync about whatever you choose. Finances are only one factor you need to discuss and plan for in advance; also find out how your partner feels about you staying home and agree on the arrangements.

Some questions to address:

- What does each of you feel is best for your family?

- How long do you plan to stay home? Is this a long- or short-term move?

- Are you both willing to cut back on expenses if necessary?

- Is your partner able and willing to take on extra hours to make up for lost income if needed?

- Are you able and willing to find another source of income, such as part-time work, that can make up the difference?

- How will you divvy up household responsibilities now that you’ll be home more?

- Will you remain flexible to reconsider your decision if you need to?

3. Emotional Health and Happiness

You may think that being a stay-at-home mom will be best for your children, but will you like it too? The most common complaints of stay-at-home moms involve loneliness and a lower sense of self. The isolation of being at home with only your kids for company can be quite a shock, especially if you’re used to working full time. And the loss of a title and job affiliation can create an identity crisis.

How will you feel about not earning your own money or not being financially independent of your partner? Will you worry about finances or being unable to pick up your career later on? Studies show that a mother’s happiness has a bigger effect on her child’s well-being than does her presence at home.

It’s important to remember that being an at-home mom doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Many women find ways to work from home, or they keep a hand in their careers by freelancing, taking on small projects or picking up one shift a month. You can also do things to keep yourself “work ready,” in case you need or want to re-enter the job market later on. Volunteer opportunities build skills, workshops and classes keep you current, and joining a professional group maintains your connections. Not only will these external activities help prepare you to return to the workplace, they could mean you won’t have a chance to feel lonely!


Woman to Woman: "Can You Afford to Be a Stay-at-Home Mom?"