Post of the Day
September 28, 1998

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Subject: Living on One Salary
Author: HPetersen

My husband and I are expecting our first child and are absolutely thrilled. We are struggling however with whether I will continue to work full time, drop to part time or not work at all. It doesn't appear that there is an easy answer here.

Since graduating from college I have worked very hard and believe that I am good at what I do. I also earn 65% of our family's income, though my husband has recently finished grad school and his salary should grow quickly. In a money is no object type of environment, I would like to stay home at least for a few years and raise our child.

  "Unfortunately, money plays an important role in this decision and I am nervous at the thought of losing more than half of my income."

Unfortunately, money plays an important role in this decision and I am nervous at the thought of losing more than half of my income. I don't even know if we can have a basic standard of living on one salary while still meeting our mortgage and student loan obligations. Assuming we could, we can't decide which would make us better parents: staying at home with a child or being able to provide well (buying a house in a town with a good school system, college education etc...) Any thoughts?

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Subject: Re: Living on One Salary
Author: Shaniqua

Congratulations on your soon-to-be-firstborn!

We were in the same position just over five years ago - I earned more, he'd recently finished school - and determined that we could not afford for me to stay home. Mostly because he didn't have benefits - by the time we paid for health insurance, mortgage, and car payment, there wasn't anything left over. And when looking for a house, we'd purposely bought far below where we qualified.

The obvious first step is to figure out if you're financially able to stay at home. Sit down and take a VERY hard look at your income and expenses under the three choices you've spelled out: working full time, working part time, and staying at home. It will help a great deal if you have an idea where your money's going now.

For working full time, be sure to include daycare, disposable diapers (not even in-home daycares will take cloth), commuting costs, and extra money for toys. I tended to overcompensate for the little bit of guilt I felt by buying the babies more THINGS, and have heard other working moms say the same thing.

For working part time, include the cost to replace any benefits you lose (and can't do without, like healthcare, life insurance, and disability), daycare, commuting costs. And a little extra money for the guilt-compensation toys.

  "Only the children whose moms don't care and/or aren't involved lose out - regardless of whether mom works or not."

For staying at home, include the cost to replace any benefits you lose. Will you be happy being at home all the time, or do you need adult company? Depending on your answer, factor in expenses for lunches out with friends, gas to go to the park or mall, things bought at the mall while you're there. (My sister is a stay-at-home mom, and is NEVER home. She can't STAND being in her own house all day long. Especially with an infant who can't TALK to her.)

You may need to make some decisions about parenting style to determine what the baby expenses will be. Cloth ($100 initial outlay, lots of laundry) or disposable ($100 a month)? Breast ($70 for two good nursing bras) or bottle ($80 a month, plus bottles & nipples)? Crib ($300) or co-sleeping (free, plus a greatly reduced risk of SIDS)? There are LOTS of corners that can be cut depending upon how you choose to parent your child.

One thing that people often don't stop to consider is: Will you be happy staying at home? Are you a homebody, or do you need other people and other places? Can you imagine what you would do if you were home all day? The answer in my case was "No, I wouldn't be happy." IMHO, being a miserable stay-at-home mom would be much worse for my kids than being a happy working mom. I found wonderful daycare - although I continue to check up on them, even after five years. My kids and I are able to truly enjoy each other evenings and weekends, since we're not bored to tears with each other. It's worked out fine for us.

Don't worry - there's no WRONG answer to your dilemma. Studies show that children of working moms who care and are involved are just as happy as children of stay-at-home moms who care and are involved. Only the children whose moms don't care and/or aren't involved lose out - regardless of whether mom works or not.


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