The SAHM Decision: Budget and Sacrifice

>> 5.21.2012

First, I wanted to thank you for all your words of support with our decision for me to stay home with Ada. When I left work in November, it wasn't the original plan. But as we approached the sixth month of my extended maternity leave, which was to end in June, my mind had been made up.

But that doesn't mean the decision was quite this easy.


As expected, I have received a lot of questions about how we came to our choice. Both financially and career-wise. The answers will definitely necessitate more than one post. I also feel like I need to write 10,000 disclaimers because staying home versus working is a touchy subject. To put it simply: There's no right or wrong way to raise a family. All the choices we have made are what works for our situation/family.

Today I'm going to focus more on the basics as they relate to money.

Before I found out I was pregnant, I used to think about staying at home and what it might be like. My mother stayed home with me. Stephen's mom stayed home with him. It's what we both know. For us, it would never, ever be possible, or so I thought.

Though our cars are both paid off, we have a modest mortgage, and we have no credit card debt -- our $800 student loans take a gigantic chunk out of our already tight budget. Financially, we just couldn't swing life with children on a teacher's salary alone.


Then Ada came. I kept running the numbers over and over and over again. I must have created at least 100 different budget scenarios in Excel. An ideal, everything-we-could-ever-want-and-more budget. Wasn't going to happen. An extremely scaled back, cutting-cable-and-absolutely-all-extras-including-weekend-fun budget. It was entirely too restrictive, and I couldn't see us being able to stick to it in reality. Then a budget that fell sort of in the middle. I tooled with it, and after a while . . . it started to make sense.

When dreaming up budgets, you have to make sure not to leave anything out. That pesky Netflix charge, though under $10, still adds up. So, if you're working on your own path to being a SAHM, consider the following fixed expenses:
  • Rent or Mortgage/Escrow 
  • Utilities 
  • Health Insurance 
  • Student Loans 
  • Car Loans 
  • Credit Card Payments 
  • Car Insurance 
  • Set Retirement Contributions 
  • Whatever else you must pay each month
And the many variable expenses. (This is where you can get creative!)
  • Groceries 
  • Baby costs (food, clothing, toys, etc.)
  • Entertainment 
  • Clothing 
  • Travel 
  • Cable/Internet 
  • Gas/Car Repair 
  • Pet Care 
  • Hobbies (Like Running -- shoes really do add up!) 
  • Misc. Household (cleaning supplies, etc.) 
  • Whatever else you find yourself spending extra on each month
It's helpful to track your expenses for several months to see exactly where your money is going. It can be incredibly eye-opening. We found that the majority of charges on our debit card were food-related purchases. Just lazy trips, too -- when we already had tons of food at home. We also spent a lot of "mad money" when we were feeling bored and just went shopping on weekends.

I created a worst-case scenario budget, too. You never know what might happen, so it's always good to know as low as you can absolutely go. In ours, I cut entertainment out, cable out, and certainly our allowances, which I'll get to in a moment.

I used some of the following resources to help:

Baby Center: Can you afford to stay at home?
Parents: SAHM Calculator
About.com: How to Save Money as a SAHM
Money Under 30: The Cost of Having a Baby


So, I guess what I'm getting at is that the first step in my decision was doing the work, crunching the numbers, and learning about AND accepting the (many) sacrifices entailed. For us, going to one income involves a lot of reducing, reusing, and recycling.

Here's what I mean . . .
  • We've reduced our previously out-of-control grocery budget to $50 to $60 a week. It may not sound like a lot -- and, it isn't. So, we can't eat all the exotic and fun thing we used to. Tough. We don't go hungry either. I do, however, cook most everything from ultra-scratch.
  • We've reduced our never-kept-track-of weekend/entertainment budget to whatever is left after we buy groceries subtracted from $100. Thankfully, we like our cooking more than going out. We're outdoor enthusiasts and, most times, nature is free. And going to the movies in the AM hours is cheap, cheap, cheap! 
  • We are reusing old clothes we had considered getting rid of because we can't go out and buy all new. We may be in last season's duds, but style really isn't our thing anyway. We use money from birthdays and holidays to get extras.
  • We're reusing other people's stuff by buying a lot of Ada's clothing at thrift stores. And to be honest, thrifted baby clothes, for the most part, are in excellent shape. I feel like we get compliments on her outfits all the time! 
  • We are also cycling through old linens and other home items we had grown tired of. We can't just go out to Target/Home Goods and buy comforters, pillows, and home decor on a whim anymore. We're finding that stuff doesn't really matter much anyway.
  • We don't have budget for travel beyond going on family trips (which are great!) and camping. This summer's big hoorah is a three-day camping music festival. Wish us luck with that one!
I think you can see that we're living tight. "Being able" to stay home isn't always what you'd think. I used to assume that most SAHMs were wealthy with lots of expendable income. There's a fair number of 'em out there, and I'm jealous, but I hope I am showing you that the stereotype isn't always the case.

For us, it's involved a huge mindset shift from having and wanting a lot to having and wanting less. It's freeing in a way, but sometimes difficult because a lot of the world around us doesn't live like we now do. Even after all this paring down, at the end of the month, we are lucky if we have $50 left. Yikes!


We worked hard during my pregnancy to cut back and save up 9 months of expenses so that we're covered in case of emergency. Surprisingly, we've already had several instances where that money has come in handy. (Like an unexpected $4,000 engine repair on Stephen's car.)

In our budget, I tried my best to over-estimate costs, leaving wiggle room for things to not go perfectly. I mean, when does life really go as planned? I definitely left us ample room for what we might spend on healthcare deductibles if we're all sick in a month and all need medicine and doctor visits. But that doesn't happen every month.

I even gave us each a $50 allowance. Yes. An allowance, like the kind you give a 10-year-old. On good months, we can spend this money any way we want. On tight months, this is an extra $150 that can go toward unexpected expenses.


It's not what I entirely expected, but I treat staying home like a true job. Probably the hardest job I've ever had. And I really do mean that. Before I had Ada, I used to have delusions about staying home being this blissful, relaxing activity. FUN was the main word that would come to mind. I'd picture days spent strolling in the sun, napping and playing together in the backyard. There's a fair share of that, but -- overall -- it's really tough, demanding work. (And I can completely relate to this recent article from Huff Parents about the SAHM and depression link.)

And though things like breastfeeding, cloth diapering and wipes, and from-scratch baby food are trends in the blog-world . . . for us, they are necessity. Absolute necessity. No pressure there. (Sarcasm.)

BUT IS STAYING HOME FINANCIALLY RESPONSIBLE?

I suppose I should mention that for a long time, I didn't think staying home was "financially responsible" as we raise our family. In fact, I read many, many threads in forums online with people sharing that exact idea. But then I realized all the benefits to staying home. Despite the crazy ups and downs, I do get to spend all my time raising my child, which is more rewarding than my previous employment was to me.

If you have the opportunity, I would suggest taking a longer unpaid maternity leave and seeing if your budget actually works in practice. It's how we ultimately decided to take the plunge. Plus, if I stay home now, it doesn't mean I'm staying home forever. In fact, when Ada is a year old, I am going to actively pursue freelancing work (I have a degree in Writing and have done some in the past) or other flexible part-time employment where childcare might not be necessary.

This post is getting incredibly long. As you can see, I do have a lot to write on the matter -- and I will be writing more. If you have any specific questions you'd like us to answer, we'd be happy to field them. Just leave a comment or email us at writingchapterthree [at] gmail [dot] com.

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