How to Afford to be a Stay at Home Wife or Mom

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For over four years now, my wife and I have enjoyed living off one income.

While our lifestyle might not be appealing to some, we absolutely love it.  Every day I thank God that he has allowed our family to grow so close.  It is a blessing my wife is a stay at home mom.  She helps create such a healthy family environment.

Since this is a sensitive topic to some, let me remind you that this post is not designed to convince anyone to stay home. Nor is it to say you are a bad parent if you don’t.  This is a personal reflection on our pathway, our experiences, and the blessings we enjoy.  And yes, of course, dad can stay at home too.  But, since a stay at home mom is more common we’ll stick with the stay at home mom theme.

Remember, the transition to one income with a stay at home wife does not come without sacrifices.  In this post, I’m going to lay out the game plan we used to be able to comfortably live off one income

Will She Be A Stay At Home Wife or Mother? 

Answer this question possibility as soon as possible.

It would have been extremely difficult for my wife to stay home with the kids had we not made the decision very early in our married life.  If you are married without kids, you need to have this discussion by the end of the week – will one spouse stay home with the kids?

It is impossible to make a plan if you don’t have a plan.  The unfortunate reality is that far too many couples do not plan to live off one income, and when children arrive they cannot afford to live off one income.  You’re marriage money relationship will suffer if you don’t agree on these goals. 

Make sure the seeds you are planting today are seeds you wish to harvest tomorrow.

This post assumes you have decided that you want to live off one income.

Live Off One Income Today

From the moment you decide to have a stay at home mom, you need to start living off one income.

By living, I mean you need to reduce your regular monthly spending (excluding any debt payments) to one income.

This helps you in two significant ways:

First, you get to feel the spending flow and budget limitations of living off one income.  Living off one income is different.  Typically, it involves embracing a lot of frugal activities you once were able to avoid simply because “you didn’t want to”.  Now you will do those things because you must.

For some families, the one income lifestyle will feel too restrictive and too limiting.  Others, like my family, will find frugality a challenge that offers some gratifying rewards.

Second, living off one income provides some disposable income.

What do you do with the extra disposable income?

The first step is the most important – work desperately to get out of debt.  It will be very difficult to live off one income if 15-25% of your income goes towards paying for things you already own – student loans, credit card debt, second mortgage …  You goal is to be able to get access to and full use out of that one income.  For my wife and I, it would be much more difficult to live on one income if we did not already pay off our debts. 

  1. If you are in debt, use the second income to pay off debt.  I do not believe my wife could be a stay at home wife if we had a lot of debt payments.  It would consume far too much of our disposable income.  While my wife was working, we saved enough money to buy a car with cash, pay off student loans, and pay cash for two master’s degrees (we both decided we wanted to get our Master’s Degrees before having kids).
  2. Use the extra income to fully fund an emergency fund of 6-9 months of expenses.  I know this number is higher than financial advisors typically advise, but when you are living off one income and add kids to the mix, there is a lot more potential for emergencies. 
  3. Use the extra income to save to pay cash for any before-kids-whims – for us, it was vacations and education.  I think the two years before our daughter was born we traveled from Memphis, Tennessee to Papua New Guinea, Australia, New Zealand, Bahamas, Europe, and Canada.  My wife finished her final Master’s degree class about a week before our daughter was born. 
  4. Use extra income to prepare for additional costs associated with having children.  Since the average cost of having a baby is now over $3,000, you will need to make some preparations.  You will also need to spend money on kids to buy baby clothes and other baby related products.  Furthermore, you may choose to help fund your kids’ education.  That will be easier if you have some money allocated before the child is even born.

Make Purchases According to Your Goal of Being a Stay at Home Mom

House

When it comes time to buy a house, do not get a mortgage based on both of your incomes.  Buy the house based on one income.  You will be locking yourself into a long term commitment, and if you overextend on your house, you will lose your ability to choose if your spouse stays home.

Don’t try and buy the most expensive house.  Buy a house that is comfortable enough for what you need. 

Car

I buy cars with cash.  I suggest people buy cars with cash.  If you are a person who gets car loans, make sure the payments are affordable, according to your income and suggested budget percentages

Both of you will likely need to accept the reality that cars now serve only one function – transportation.  If it gets you from point A to point B, it is the right car for you. 

By carefully monitoring your ‘big’ purchases you will be paving the road to have a stay at home wife.

Review and Cut Your Budget

Often times, your spending will need several amputations for it to fit into a one income budget.

Review the budget and identify everything that is fixed (consistent, reoccurring spending each month). This will include anything where you get a fixed monthly bill. Then mark everything that changes from month to month.  Some families have too many fixed items in their monthly budget. 

Frugality can involve cutting your disposable income, but you must still have some discretionary income with which you can use to make good purchases.  If your fixed items are too high, consider canceling or reducing a service.  For example, could one of you use a prepaid cell phone?  Do you really need cable?  Are you using your gym membership?

Saving Money Is As Valuable As Making Money

Some people are masters at spending a little time and saving a bunch of money.  Sometimes the money you save is more valuable than the money you would have made. 

A stay at home mom can save a lot of money by doing any of these money saving tips:

  • Cook from scratch, clip coupons, make a list, plan a menu – avoid the restaurant by eating at home.
  • Shop second hand
  • Take care of your laundry service in house
  • Make household items you would otherwise have bought

Earn Extra Income

It is quite possible that even after trimming the budget you simply don’t make enough to make your payments.  In this case, one of you might choose to work an extra part time job to help pay the bills.  This might even be a home based small business or a hobby that evolves into an income.  Many people have found that Ebay is a good source for extra income. 

The earlier you prepare, the more likely you will be able to live comfortably on one income. 

Any other suggestions on how to comfortably live on one income?  What did you do so that you could have or be a stay at home wife or a stay at home mom?

Comments

  1. says

    Craig, this post is provides advice that’s nothing less than brilliant in all aspects, but the savings tips were the most significant for me.

    6-9 months in reserve is a better cushion than the traditionally recommended three months. The economy is MUCH less certain than it was when the 3 month rule was popularized, and a larger savings account may be the single best insulation we can have against this.

    “Saving Money Is As Valuable As Making Money”–people knew this and practiced it for thousands of years, only now do people ignore this with the availability of credit, insurance and unemployment benefits. Saving was, is and always will be a basic survival strategy.
    .-= Kevin@OutOfYourRut´s last blog ..Good Retirement Planning Should Include a Low Cost/Debt Free Lifestyle =-.

    • says

      @Kevin
      As always, thanks for your kind words.
      Like I said @Gholmes having a bigger emergency fund is more important in this stage. Because if you do need to use it in a significant way it may be harder to rebuild it. This obviously depends on what the salary is on the ‘one income’ you keep.
      I do think focusing on saving money is a great strategy – it is all within the individuals control.

  2. Gholmes says

    Living off one income first and paying off all debt is what we did.

    Looking back I wish we would have built a bigger emergency fund (debt free 2/2008 and our child born 7/2008) but circumstances cut our plans short. Trying to increase it on one income has been a challenge.

    Mentally it is tuff giving up cable, cell phones and other “necessities” that we have become use to while we had dual income.

    • says

      @Gholmes. Great point about the emergency fund. When you live on one income you are more vulnerable during an emergency so getting that in place before dropping down to one income is a great idea.
      As far as giving up extra things we found the initial transition was hard, but within months we hardly missed those things any more.

  3. says

    When my wife was pregnant, we evaluated if we wanted to have her stay home (or me) or for her to work. The problems we had were, her job prospects were mainly entry level type jobs or starbucks type work. So she would be either working 40-60 hours at an OK job or not making enough to cover the extra costs and quality daycare. So my wife has worked a few part time jobs and is now starting a photography biz part time. My work schedule is real flexible so we can do that. That way she is a stay at home mom but is still working, getting out of the house, and a part of the rest of the world. Some days are real tough, as she enjoys working and the kids can make anyone batty (my wife is also ADD so it effects her there too) but she has such an awesome love for the kids and just rocks at being home with them. Her photography biz is growing to where- when the kids are in school she can ramp it up to 3/4 time right away and get back into the swing of working. Or if her biz takes off- I would gladly stay at home with the kids and do some part time gigs. Thanks for the post!
    .-= Ted´s last blog ..Letter to My Mother =-.

    • says

      @Ted
      Small biz projects are a great way to do things half way. Your own business typically provides the flexibility necessary to be a parent and make a side income. Thanks for your comment.

  4. Teresa says

    I am a stay at home mom. We have cut a lot of costs by simplifying our food budget and eating only wholesome fresh stuff. It is amazing how much money you waste on “stuff” like popcorn, chocolate, soda etc.
    We have also got just 1 phone, a smart talk perpaid from Walmart. It costs just $30 a month for 1000 minutes, and 1000 texts, which is plenty for us.

  5. Shane says

    I’m a work at home wife (newly wed) and my husband is also working at our home office. We plan to live a simple life but still leave with convenience. Before we get married, we already bought appliances for our apartment. We both have credit card but we always pay in full each month. I hope we could be able to raise our savings this year so we can afford to invest more.

  6. Donna says

    Thanks for the great article. Though my children are grown, I am in a place where I may have to return home. I am living with fibromyalgia, which along with recent foot tendon surgery, is making everyday activities difficult. When I was last working before the surgery, just getting through the days was so hard. I am a health care professional, so not being on my feet all day is not an option. I am exploring my options, but your article has given me a new direction and food for thought. Please keep up the good work, it is so needed. Thank you.

  7. says

    he he, I am glad you mentioned the stay at home dad / husband too :).

    Even if you do not plan to stay at home I think it’s a fantastic idea to still live off one income… The savings can be incredible and really bring long term comfort to a life.

  8. SoonToBeMrsN says

    This article is very informative. My fiance’ and I have decided that I would be a SAHM or WAHM. In preparation of this, we began to use the Dave Ramsey to pay down debt now. We’ve made such progress that we’re counseling other couples of the principles of financial freedom. Our current plan of action includes: moving to state where the cost of living is lower and the educational system is great (PA), saving the money from the recent sale of our home to be put aside for unforseen circumstances in our new home; living off of one salary, while my salary will be stored in savings to build up the 6-month reserve; and furnishing our new home with very inexpensive furniture donated from friends or craigslist- no need in buying furniture that our kids will wreak havoc on!
    Not sure if anyone else has experienced this, but whenever Stephen and I mention this plan to others; we’re told that our planning is far too premature and that you can never plan to “save” for children. However this site offers such great advice and support. Thanks so much Craig!!!!

  9. Nobody cares says

    LOVE how this article pretty much assumes that the husband’s pay is higher. I’ve been married for 17 years and have always earned a significantly higher income than my husband and would never consider letting him stay home with my kids. He would burn the house down along with the kids. We were married for twelve years before he even knew how to turn on our dishwasher. And I’m a working wife which goes to show you how much housework he does. (NONE). So, I’m the mom, dad, babysitter and care taker for my kids AND my husband. I’d love to stay at home but somebody has to pay the bills, because he sure can’t.

    • says

      I’m not assuming that husband’s pay is higher. I can’t think of any place in the article where I hinted at who makes more – the husband or the wife. I’m assuming that more mom’s stay home than dads. I’ve not looked at any stats so it very well could be a false assumption. Do you think it is a false assumption?

      Quoting from the article, “And yes, of course, dad can stay at home too. But, since a stay at home mom is more common we’ll stick with the stay at home mom theme.”

    • dave says

      Unless your husband is mentally disabled he can learn to cook meals and help out around the house. If you criticize and demean him he will remain as he in order to avoid conflict, pain, embarrassment. I am a man and know this is what happens with guys. If the woman is controlling etc… it is just easier to play dumb and pretend your brain got stolen. Here are the clues: we follow you around, we agreee with everything you suggest, we tend to stay away for long periods of time, we can never seem to remember anything, although we can solve million dollar issues at work we are not capable of understanding the intricacies of electric appliances(except for the remote). My dad learned how to cook at 84 when my mom had a stroke. We laugh a little at his skills but he does fine. So again… unless your husband is mentally challenged, or a drug addict he will not burn down his house. Dave

  10. Ashley says

    I love this article. My husband and I have been married for 4 years. We are trying to get pregnant and are also trying to figure out how to have me stay at home while he works. We have credit card debts, a vehicle payment and a mortgage but our mortgage pay is only about $350 a month. I’m hoping to be able to payoff some bills and then put my paycheck aside to savings for about 6 months and see if we can make it on just his income. Thanks so much for writing this article!

  11. Tim says

    I wish I would have read this article before my wife and I decided she would stay home. She has basically decided she will never be able to stay at home now that we have accumulated so much debt. I cannot not stress enough how important it is to plan for the future. Unfortunately, we made this decision after we had purchased some big items. Now we are stuck as to how and when she will ever be able to stay at home. Sigh!

  12. Beate says

    This is a really great post with very good advice! I have one tip to add to the “shop second hand” advice. I would recommend buying/ selling stuff on online marketplaces like Craislist and eBay. Most of us have lots of stuff we don’t use, or things your kids have outgrown and you’ll never use again. I’ve started flipping items myself and actually earned money on it!
    If this is something you’d be interesting trying, I would recommend this pricing tool for figuring out what your stuff is worth so you’re not overpaying or underselling your stuff.
    You should check it out, and I highly recommend this site for people looking to earn some extra money:
    http://www.statricks.com/craigslist-used-pricing-tool.html
    Good Luck everybody!

  13. Kelly says

    I’m coming to this article a couple of years late, but this is the best article I’ve read on this. Something so common sense as saving 6-9 months while I’m working I haven’t even thought of. This will give me the flexibility to learn how to live off of one income while banking what I’m making now. It’s also a low stress way of doing it. I also appreciate that there really is no bias at all in the article. Thanks! I’m going to try this out and hopefully we will be down to one income in 9 months!

    • says

      Kelly,
      I think it’s so important that people take seriously the stress factor in their decisions. I hope that saving for 6-9 months will help reduce the stress of the transition.

  14. Courtney says

    I am so glad to have found this article. My husband and I just recently made the decision that I will be a SAHM once we have kids. We have been married 2 1/2 years and plan to have kids in the next 2 to 3 years. We currently put aside as much as possible each month for an emergency fund and for a sizable down payment on a house, since we currently rent. Over half of my monthly income goes straight to savings. We also plan to cut down to one car that we’ll buy in cash, and I love the idea of a prepaid phone, too. Thank you so much!

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