You Can Stay at Home With Your Babyby Dawne Brooks |
Last month, a dream became a reality for me when I quit my job to stay at home full time with my baby girl.
Until recently, being a stay-at-home mom for me was just one of those things I thought I'd be sitting at my desk fantasizing about for the rest of my working life, like winning the lottery. At around month two of maternity leave, I knew I didn't want to go back. The urge I thought would never be an issue for me suddenly became so strong it drove me to tears. I realized, sadly, that this was a situation my husband and I hadn't planned for, since I was ever so sure I would still want to work after the baby (oh, how seeing that darling little face changes your mind!).
I couldn't fathom leaving my baby with a stranger. I realized in an instant that my "super working mom" visions I'd imagined all my childless years were merely inexperienced flights of fancy. That was not the person I wanted to be anymore. Rather, I was ready to throw myself fully into the role of mommy, rent and car payments waiting to be paid or not.
Denial and illogic followed, with weeks of me chanting decidedly to my husband that I wasn't leaving the baby. His thoroughly nervous face muttered a pensive "OK" each time, undoubtedly thinking about the stack of bills that my paycheck helped cover each month. But then my wheels started turning. I would find a way.
I scoured the Web for any and every way I could help our family save money and allow me to be an at-home mom. I became a coupon cutter and cut our monthly grocery bill in half. I changed to a cheaper auto insurance company. I checked into refinancing a high-interest auto loan. I started getting credit cards paid off and paid cash for our purchases. I contacted utilities companies to make sure we weren't getting overcharged or if we were eligible for discount plans, or paying for features we didn't really need. I down sized to basic cable. And finally, after five months back at work, an affordable housing opportunity came our way and the dream finally became financially feasible.
Some would say my life is too scaled down for them now, I'm sure. Our new place is much smaller and I gave up a washer and dryer for the community laundry room in the move, but now that I am home with baby, I've got more time to get the laundry done. And I'm washing dishes by hand again instead of with the help of a dishwasher. So there were a few trade offs, but all of them worth my ultimate goal - to be present for my child. In time, we still buy the new furniture we want or piece of computer equipment or dinner out, just like we use to, really. Now, we're just more responsible with our money, a trait I'll be glad to instill in my daughter.
I chose to share my experience because I know other women out there run into this same situation and it's painful. Not prepared for me to stay at home past maternity leave, we had only saved enough money to carry us through those first few months of my daughter's life. If I had it to do again, I truly would have investigated my feelings on being an at-home mom more intensely and saved more to prepare for such an undertaking. Instead, I had to return to work for five months, setting a goal for myself to be at home again for good by my daughter's first birthday. I beat the goal by three months - not an easy feat when you consider that my paycheck was exactly half of our income AND my job held our family's medical benefits.
Here's a rundown of the steps that helped get me home with my child:Coupon cutting
It takes about an hour each week to cut those things out and file, and once you match up your coupons with the grocery store sales (and make sure you go to a place that doubles the coupons), you can save big! My bill dropped from 0 to 0 a month.
We had been with a high-priced insurance company for years, but after checking around, we're saving more than 0 every six months. And once you become a SAHM, call up your insurance company and let them know you're no longer using your car to drive to work every day, but just for pleasure, and that you need to reduce the number of miles you drive it per year (to say 1,000 or 2,000 or whatever works for your family). This could trim off some of your premium by to 0 per year, depending on the company.
A consolidation loan is not always the smartest way, nor is a second mortgage, both of which often end up just being more debt for a person in the end. Instead, try refinancing auto loans with high interest rates. Local credit unions usually have great rates. Also, for credit card debt, try a nonprofit agency like Consumer Credit Counseling Service. They'll help you negotiate low or no interest while paying those cards off. Then cut them up and try paying with only cash for awhile - it really is liberating, especially when you buy, say, a new computer, and know it's paid for when you bring it home.
Our local phone company had a reduced-cost plan based on income which I was able to take advantage of, as did the gas and electric company, so it never hurts to ask (they, of course, don't advertise them). Cable is often a service full of overcharges -- their special TV guides and premium channels are just a few ways they get more of your money. Take a look at your recent bill and see where you can trim the fat. Internet service may be a hefty fee, too, depending who you're with.
Waste not, want not
One of our house's big expenses was eating out. Our busy lives (and my lack of cooking skill) led us to restaurants or delivery about three times a week, equaling more than what I now spend on a week's worth of groceries. Being at home has allowed me to learn a little more about cooking, and I've also saved by making more from scratch or semi-scratch (getting a plain bag of rice, for instance, rather than a tiny box of rice mix). Growing your own vegetables is also an excellent way to save money on food costs and have nice, fresh produce for months and months (even just in big pots on a balcony or patio will work). Entertainment didn't need too much scaling down in our house (hey, who needs entertainment when you have a little one to amuse you?). However, obvious ways include renting movies instead of going to the theater, renting computer games or getting shareware free online, or simply taking advantage of free outings more, like discount days at museums, a picnic in the park or a day at the beach. Shopping is still a challenge, but paying in cash really compels you to weigh whether you MUST have something or not. Of course, sale racks are the at-home mom's friend, as are resale stores (both for mom and for kids). Shopping with coupons isn't just limited to the grocery, either. I do a lot of bargain shopping online using coupon codes, most the time for way lower of a price than I could have got in a store.
With your household income dropping substantially, many families qualify for public assistance programs they might never have considered before. One key program, the Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC) at http://www.fns.usda.gov/wic comes to mind as a great resource for pregnant or nursing women and for children up to five years of age. WIC provides food vouchers for free items like milk, cheese, beans, cereal, eggs, peanut butter and so on, and could really be an aid to your grocery bill. The program is income based, with pretty liberal limits. Insurance is often an issue as well when one parent decides to stay at home. For my family, it was a major factor since we got insurance through my job. Again, there are public assistance programs that may help with insurance for your child for little or even no cost. Medi-Cal in California at is one such program, offering free coverage for children (limits are more stringent than WIC, however). Healthy Families in California at is a very low-cost health insurance program for children and pregnant women who don't qualify for Medi-Cal but do fall into a looser range of income (a family of three in CA making 00 a month qualifies, for instance). The federal food stamps program. Finally, some states do pay unemployment to employees who elect to quit to stay at home and care for their child.
Living within your means
Housing, because of its permanence, is a tough debt to reduce very quickly. If you have a hefty mortgage payment and decide moving to a smaller place or renting will be helpful in allowing you to be home, you must first sell your house. If you're renting somewhere expensive, getting out of the lease is usually the issue. In high-priced Southern California, our rent was one factor we felt we couldn't change. We couldn't get much lower of a rate, or so we thought, until some affordable family housing at the college my husband attends became available. So before you say never, check every option when it comes to housing. You may sacrifice by living in a smaller place for a while, but if being at home is what you really want, it will be a minor issue compared to the joy of spending the days with your child. Just remember, a small place may require renting a storage unit for your excess belongings, or paying to do laundry in a laundry room, like for me. Add those costs to your new rent to figure out what you'll really be saving.
No more child care/working costs
Don't forget to figure in the money you'll save when you're at home. Child care expenses are a biggie, as is costs for lunches at work, gas to and from the office, dress clothes for the job, dry cleaning those clothes, etc. Add this back into your budget since you'll be saving it by staying home.Finally, don't rule out part-time work from home if you still need to bring in some income to help the family out. There's a variety of jobs you can do from home, including graphic design, desktop publishing, web design, writing, editing, running your own Web site (like me), home parties including PartyLite, Mary Kay, Pampered Chef and Discovery Toys, babysitting other children and more.
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