Anyone who is seriously considering stay-at-home parenting is likely to have done the math. Most potential stay-at-home parents know how much they will have to cut their expenses to live on less than two full salaries. They have considered the financial effects of forgoing several years of career experience, and they are even likely to know how much they will save on work and daycare expenses. If you or your spouse is thinking about staying at home with the kids, it’s important to think about the financial changes you will experience.
When parents figure out if one of them can afford to stay home, one financial change is often missed in the calculations — the expenses that will increase as a result of staying home. They are few, but they can make a difference in a tight budget.
For one, the stay-at-home parent will lose out on any perks from his or her employer. I don’t mean just salary and benefits but also any meals covered by the company for lunch meetings, cell phones, discounts on the company’s products or services, and even take-home promotional items (t-shirts, mugs, pens) that you actually use and would be likely to buy if you had to.
Not only do you have to start paying for all the at-home parent’s lunches (if that person did, indeed, eat on the employer’s tab), but you will also have to pay for your children’s lunches. True, you are paying for lunch even if you send the kids to daycare, but lunches included in daycare expenses can be easily overlooked when making a stay-at-home budget. If your kids like to eat as much as mine do, the cost of five lunches at home (plus daytime snacks) can add a significant amount to your grocery bill.
Daycares also provide constant activities for children. When you stay home, you will be responsible for keeping your children busy. Many activities are free, but toddlers in particular have short attention spans, and you will have to find many, many different things for them to do each day. Even if you allow your children to watch more television than the experts recommend, you will need more toys, coloring books, and dress-up clothes than you would need if you only have to entertain your children on nights and weekends. A little creativity and some trips to yard sales will help keep these expenses down, but they are still likely to be higher than you might expect.
Though it sounds obvious, you must also remember that stay-at-home parents are home during the day. That means that your electricity, heating fuel, and water will be used more frequently. Utilities bills will be higher than they would be if the entire family was gone for eight or more hours each day. Not only are former members of the workforce home during the day, but so are the children. Children make a lot of messes, so you will have to buy more cleaning supplies. I clean our linoleum floors about five times as frequently as I did before I stayed home with my children, and the floors still look five times dirtier than they did pre-kids.
Finally, you may spend more on your car and gas by “staying home” than you ever did when you worked. In the 1950s, my mother stayed home with two small children while my father drove their only car to work, even though my family lived more than three miles outside a small town. As a stay-at-home parent in 2008, I can’t imagine actually staying home all day, every day. Our neighborhood is highly unwalkable (scoring 6 out of 100 at walkscore.com), so I use a good deal of gas running errands, taking my kids to the playground and storytimes, and heading to play dates. To be fair, it is probably less than I spent commuting. Some stay-at-home parents will see automotive expenses decrease, but others may see them increase. If you had been sharing a car with your spouse, you may even have to buy a second car to save your sanity.
Many couples mistakenly believe that they cannot afford for one parent to stay home with the children. The extra expenses listed here are real and should be included in a budget, but they are minor compared to the costs of working and daycare. In addition, many stay-at-home parents find that they develop skills that allow them to cut expenses even more than they had expected. Plus, the intangible rewards of giving a child more time with a parent, especially in the early years, should not be underestimated.
Image courtesy of TruShu