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Staying Home Instead

Saving Money to be a Stay-At-Home Mother

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 20 No. 6, November-December 2003, pp. 228

"Staying Home Instead" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents who choose to stay at home with their children. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Situation

I just found out I'm pregnant, and I know I want to stay home with my baby. Money will be tight, though. I have eight months to save and make some lifestyle changes. What have others done before their babies' births to make staying home afterward easier?

Response

We found out I was pregnant with our first child a week after my husband left his job. Though he eventually found a new job, I lost my job two months before the baby was due. Needless to say, this produced some scrambling!

One of the best things we did was refinance our home. We went through the mortgage broker we'd used when we first purchased our house, and the process took about a month. Something we didn't do until later was to contact our insurance company and increase our deductible-this brought down our rates, and I wish we'd done it sooner! Even if you don't change your deductible, you may still get a slight improvement in your rate if you let your insurance agent know that you will be at home during the day (i.e., that the house will no longer be "completely unoccupied" during daytime hours).

Our next step was to monitor a few months of spending and look for places we could cut. Some of the more unusual cuts we made included dropping some of our cable channels; reducing the number of features on our phone line; and canceling or not renewing magazine subscriptions.

If you can, try to put one paycheck aside now-if you're paid biweekly, even putting away one of the two paychecks will be a good start. It has the double effect of being a "dry run" for being single-income, and creating an emergency fund.

I thought for sure I'd go crazy staying at home, but I think it's one of the best "career moves" I've ever made. I hope you feel the same after your baby is born!

Kendra Hoffman
Chaska MN USA

Response

I too worked through my pregnancy and wanted to make economic lifestyle changes well before the baby was born. To reach this goal we began living on just my husband's income once I became pregnant. This allowed us to save "my" income and eliminate debt outside of our house payment. We did not use our credit cards and paid off the loan for my car (his was already paid for). Money is tight at times, but when I think about the choices I have: less money and a calm, content family vs. more money and more stress, I would make the same decision over again.

Nancy Smith
Milwaukee WI USA

Response

As soon as I found out I was pregnant with my first child, I knew I wanted to stay home that first year. As a teacher, I also had eight months of time (and paychecks) to get ready. The first thing my husband and I did was sit down and budget using just his paycheck to make sure we would be able to live on one income. After figuring that it would be possible, we began living on just his salary immediately. We used my paychecks to create a rainy-day fund; pay down a lot of debt; and outfit our nursery.

I quickly got used to watching for sales and using coupons. I decided to breastfeed (Huge money-saver there!), and make my own baby food.

Basically, we scaled down our spending, became more creative with what we considered "entertainment," and paid off a lot of debt. Paying down our debt was the wisest since we were no longer paying interest rates on two cars. We've lived on one income since the summer of 2000. Although I'm going back to work this fall, we will still live this way, using my income to send our daughter to Montessori preschool, pay into a college fund, and pay down our mortgage. Good luck to you! It's the best decision you can make!

Amy Croel Perrien
Jenison MI USA

Response

Congratulations on your pregnancy and your decision to stay home. It is wonderful you are starting your financial planning early! My husband and I are both teachers and are currently living off of only his income, which is not much! Some months are a challenge to pay the bills and still have enough left over for groceries, but we have discovered that we can make it work. And as I'm sure you will see, the financial sacrifices to stay at home with your baby are so worth it!

The most beneficial tip I can suggest is to start using most, if not all, of your paycheck now to pay off debts, if you have any, or to start saving for months when you will need some extra cash. Fortunately, we both still have our cars from college, which are paid for. So if you have hefty car payments perhaps you could consider how you could downsize to something you will be able to afford on one income. And resist the temptation to go out and buy that new mini-van just because a baby is on the way. Believe me, the baby is not going to notice. All you need is a car seat and a back seat; any car will do.

Speaking of resisting temptations. Keep yourself from buying a ton of maternity clothes, baby clothes, and baby gadgets. Our society makes us believe that we need material things to raise a baby, when in fact babies only need a few material items and their parents' loving presence, of course. When you see or think of something that you think you need, start making a list or add it to a gift registry. Let your friends and family buy those important items you need and you will only need to buy a few items yourself. Also, see if any friends have maternity clothes, or baby clothes, they would lend you or give to you if they are finished with them.

Best of luck to you with your pregnancy and your decision to make it work at home with your baby!

Annette Mueller
Wenatchee WA USA

Response

When I found out I was pregnant, I wanted to stay home. I knew that money was going to be tight. I also knew that if I went back to work that daycare would be $80.00 a week. So I started saving $80.00 every week just to see if we could survive. We had to cut back on entertainment and other unnecessary things. By the time Jordan was born, we had saved up about $2,000. I never went back to a 9-5 job though. I took on a paper route. I delivered the Mississippi Press. I woke up at 5 am and I was back at home and in the bed by 6 or 7 am. I had all day to spend with my children, and made good money doing it. Best of all, I could bring my two children with me, and if my one-year-old wanted to nurse, I just pulled over and did it. I truly believe that this is the best job yet for mothers.

Crystal Westmoreland
Pascagoula MS USA

Response

During my first pregnancy, my husband and I realized that my 12 weeks of maternity leave would result in a financial shift, especially since I had the larger income. We were able to save two weeks worth of my paycheck every month, for several months.

In addition I spent many weekends during the end of my last trimester cooking extra food and freezing meals. The freezer was stocked and that helped conserve my energy as well as discourage impulsive ordering or eating out.

After awhile I began to browse secondhand stores for babies' and children's clothing and toys. I saved a lot of money and it was fun to walk away with a bag full of "new" things. As my baby began to eat solids, I made her baby food and stored "cubes" of it in freezer bags, which basically eliminated the need to buy commercial baby cereal, juice, jars of food, or snacks.

Naturally for you there will be less money going out for your work-related expenses such as gas, car maintenance, clothing, and miscellaneous items once you stay at home full time. Of course, you've already made the choice to breastfeed, which will consistently save money. Be creative and flexible as well as open to alternatives. In the process you and your husband will find what works best and makes you most comfortable. Best wishes as you prepare for your new full time (plus) career as a mother. It will provide great job security and benefits. Enjoy.

Donna M. Gatto
Camp Zama Japan

Response

My husband and I are always looking for ways to minimize our expenses. When we decided to live on one income, it seemed as though we'd never be able to make it really work. Once we took a look at our expenses and our lifestyle, we saw how easy it would be to save money by making some very basic changes. Here are some of the things we have done, in no particular order.

In the winter we set our thermostat to 60 degrees between the hours of midnight and 5 am. Sometimes we'll use a space heater-the small increase in our electric usage is still less expensive than running the heat all night. Also, we close off the vents in rooms we barely use so the heat is more efficiently used.

My husband parks several blocks from the train station in a residential area for free. It adds about 10 minutes each way to his commute, but saves us $60.00 a month. He also carries his lunch to work, rather than eating out.

We re-evaluated our car insurance, getting rid of coverage that we realized we didn't need. Also, we change the oil and filter ourselves. We borrow books and videos from the library.

Elise-Ann Konstantin
Yonkers NY USA

Response

One suggestion for saving money and making the transition to one income is to begin living on the primary income right now. So put all of your present income, for example, toward savings and see what kinds of changes you need to make in your budget in order to do that. This way the single income is already part of your lifestyle and the extra money you make during these next few months can be tucked away or pay off bills.

Also, some expenses naturally take care of themselves when you do stay home. Clothes, which need to be pristine for many office jobs, can be plain and serviceable for keeping house. After all, baby doesn't care what outfit of yours he spits up on. Goodwill, the Salvation Army, and thrift stores all have inexpensive options. Eating out, handy for working folks, can be reserved for a once-a-week treat. The cost of gasoline to and from work will lessen as you limit outings to the grocery store or a nearby park. Could you go longer between haircuts? Going every three months instead of two saves you the cost of two or three haircuts per year. And, who might have predicted how exciting a box of hand-me-downs can be?

I highly recommend The Complete Tightwad Gazette: Promoting Thrift as a Viable Alternative Lifestyle by Amy Dacyczyn. These are just a few ideas that have worked for our family.

Ardie Keck
Shelbyville KY USA

Response

Right before we had our baby, we took a hard look at our savings and investing plans. We didn't want to scrimp and save without having a clear idea of what we need to cover all our long-term goals, including college for our baby and saving for our old age. Don't skimp on your long-term savings in the excitement of a new baby. You might decide to stay home for several years, and you will still be financially responsible for both the baby and your retirement, so any small steps you can take will give you more security in the future.

I'm glad we set up automatic investments for long-term goals. Most investment companies will be happy to pull a small amount of money out of your checking account each month. Check if your partner's workplace supports automatic investment directly from the paycheck, such as 401(k) programs in the United States. Investment programs may take as little as 25 dollars a month, but we tried to set these automatic withdrawals as high as we could. Right after I quit work, I was pretty nervous about spending money, and I might not have actually written out checks to pay for far-off investment goals, but I didn't have to face that fear directly because automatic withdrawals were set up. When your baby is several months old, check and see whether your family has been getting by without bouncing checks or increasing your credit card debt. If there is a problem, cancel the automatic withdrawal system; never use credit card debt to finance investments. We found we could adapt to our new income level without thinking about the small amount now being saved in long-term investments.

When our baby's birth was announced in the paper we had a number of people call to sell us their financial advice. Before the baby is born, map out your goals and review the basics of savings and investment strategies, so at least you can field these unsolicited investment offers quickly and with confidence.

Teresa Schoellner
Columbus Ohio USA

Response

Congratulations on your pregnancy and planning ahead. I was unsure of staying at home until near the end of my maternity leave-then I just couldn't stand the thought of being away from my precious baby boy! Even though I was not specifically planning on staying home, there were some things that I did that certainly helped make my choice possible.

First of all, pay off all debts. Credit card and loan payments are a burden. Put yourself on a plan to have them paid off before you start your maternity leave (earlier if possible). Not only will you rid yourself of debt, you will start making lifestyle changes before the baby arrives, making the lifestyle transition somewhat easier. Track where you spend your money. Evaluate what is necessary and what is not. Things like eating out can be expensive, so make your own dinners and then use the leftovers as your lunches. Determine what entertainment expenses can be reduced.

Resist the urge to make "quick stops" for snacks and drinks at convenience stores or coffee shops. You will probably want to eat more healthful foods during your pregnancy, so this may also cut down on the use of the snack and drink machines at your place of work. Plan your menus using the items on sale that week at the grocery store.

Make a list and stick to it to avoid expensive impulse buys (very difficult while pregnant!). Be careful of purchasing convenience items. Prepared foods are much more expensive than the non-prepared counterparts (pre-seasoned, boneless, skinless chicken breasts, for example).

Keep a record of prices for frequently purchased items so you are better able to recognize a good price. Don't be afraid to try different brands or store brands. And always compare the unit price for items (e.g., the price per ounce rather than the total price) to know which purchase is the wisest. Buy "family packs" or bulk and freeze/store them only if the unit price is better.

Clip coupons. Subscribe to the Sunday paper if you don't already-you will more than recoup this expenditure. After clipping the coupons you want, trade your coupons with a friend (especially helpful if the friend doesn't have a baby) so you can have multiple coupons for the items you prefer. Clip only the coupons for items you use-resist the urge to clip and try things "just because you have a coupon." Combine the coupons with sales, and look for double and triple coupon days for added savings. Savings for restaurants and services often come in the mail in addition to newspaper ads, so watch for these as well. Shop yard sales, flea markets, and Goodwill stores for gently used maternity clothes, baby clothes, toys, and equipment-anything that is not a potential safety risk when purchased used.

If you have friends who are mothers, see if they are willing to let you borrow maternity clothes, baby clothes, and baby furniture. Many people will even loan or give items to friends-of-friends-an added bonus of joining the ranks of fellow parents!

Buy a prepaid long distance card with the lowest per-minute cost and no additional fees. Use this to call family and friends from the hospital and from home. Analyze cell phone usage and find the best plan to meet your needs. Evaluate insurance needs. You may be able to reduce coverage on an aging car and save money. Compare insurance providers for comparable policies. Also compare the cost of joining your partner's employer's medical insurance policy to a stand-alone policy-some "family" policies are expensive from employers. Keep in mind that you may want to increase you and your partner's life insurance policies-not a money-saver, but an often overlooked detail. Good luck with your new lifestyle and baby. The rewards of being with your child will far outweigh any of the "sacrifices" you may have to make!

Dixie Starr Halberstadt
Raleigh NC USA

Response

When I was pregnant with my first child, I too, decided I wanted to stay home because we had waited a long time to have a baby. We decided to "practice" living on one income throughout my pregnancy. We used the larger of our two checks to pay bills and cover living expenses and put the other check directly into the bank without using any of the money. By the time our baby came along, we had a nice nest egg and we were used to living on one income.

Lori Ferris
Muscatine IA USA

Last updated Thursday, October 19, 2006 by njb.
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