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Staying Home

Managing Debt in a One-Income Household

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 21, No. 4 July - August 2004 pp. 142

"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 have always dreamed of staying at home with my children someday, but now that my husband and I are finally expecting our first child, there is still one thing in the way: debt. My husband has considerable school loans, and I brought some debt of my own into the relationship. I hate to think that all of our expectations of how we wanted to raise a family might have to change because of money. We thought we'd have more time to work off this debt, but here we are! Do you have suggestions for how I can stay home despite debt?

Response

Congratulations! How wonderful that you are expecting your first baby. With a little effort, sacrifice, and advance planning on your part, your dream of staying home with your children can come true. I was in a similar situation when I became pregnant with my first baby, but with a lot of determination, my husband and I have made one income work for us. We now have two beautiful daughters and have recently purchased a home. Here are a few of the many ways that we manage to live off of one paycheck despite debt.

A mother in my LLL Group once mentioned that the way that you spend your money should reflect your values and goals. Keeping this in mind makes it much easier for me to eliminate "extra" spending on things such as going out to eat, buying new clothes, or subscribing to cable television. I know that doing without these things will not be of consequence a few years down the road, but being with my children is a gift to last a lifetime, and something I'll never regret. As much as I'd love to treat my girls to lots of stimulating, educational toys, I remind myself that my day-to-day presence is more valuable to them than any toy. Gently used hand-me-downs and shopping at outlet stores have helped save money on children's clothing. We have found that trips to the local library and playground are exciting, free adventures that allow us to make fun memories without spending money.

When I was pregnant with my oldest, we put every extra cent toward paying down debt and building up our savings account. We knew that eliminating "extras" would help save money, but what we didn't realize at the time was how much money we would actually save because of the fact that I was staying home. I made time to begin clipping coupons, comparing ads, and seeking out sales. Each week I plan our menu, make a list, and buy only the things that we need from the store. Cloth diapers are a big expense initially, but save an incredible amount of money over the course of a baby's time in diapers. Also, by staying home, I am saving money in not having to purchase fashionable work clothes, not needing a breast pump and bottles, and not paying a caregiver. We never spent money on a crib, swing, or playpen.

All in all, the savings really add up! I am thrilled to be living my dream of being a stay-at-home mother and I wish you the best of luck, too!

Katie Williams
Ringgold GA USA

Response

I completely understand your situation. My husband and I also have debts. We have two small boys (23 months and six months) and we are living on a very tight budget so that I can be at home right now.

A huge factor for me has been letting go of guilt and shame. I spent a lot of time feeling shameful that I was in this situation (having debt and not being fully prepared financially to have babies). Shame and guilt are not good for you or for your family life. I had to closely examine my feelings about money and guilt and really work on being positive and hopeful. I try daily to change my perspective from one of impoverishment to one of abundance. I focus on what I have instead of what I lack.

The other thing that has been very important to me is to examine my prior expectations and hopes. I always believed and hoped that I would be a stay-at-home mother. I am just now realizing that even with our frugal life style, it will be difficult for us to live on one salary for more than another year or so. I am looking into ways to take some part-time work and I hope I will be able to work from home. In planning for this, I have again needed to work on my attitude. Rather than feeling I am not living up to my expectations, I have chosen to believe that working part-time can enrich our family life in many ways. I believe I can find the "right fit" in a job that gives me satisfaction but also allows me to put my family first. I also believe that in working part-time, I will broaden the circle of support for my family. Just today, I was filled with hope when I met the most wonderful woman in our neighborhood who has a beautiful nursery school in her home. I could envision my children spending a few mornings with her when they are a little bit older while I work part-time. She is a good example of a stay-at-home mother who has figured out a way to work from home.

Whenever I begin to feel panicky about having to make some money, I remind myself that the world is full of potential and creative possibilities. I remind myself that I want my children to grow up feeling hopeful and positive. This process of reexamination has been very fulfilling for me. I am able to have a balanced realistic perspective when I look at my two wonderful well-adjusted healthy growing boys who have a resourceful responsible loving positive mother. I remind myself that I am the wealthiest woman alive because of the love of my family!

Carol Murray
Boston MA USA

Response

After the birth of our first son, my husband and I realized that I really needed to be home with our son rather than return to work full time. We, too, had some debt standing in our way. While my husband's salary covered most of our day-to-day living expenses-food, shelter, and clothes-my income was what we were drawing on to pay off our debt. Flexible creditors, careful budgeting, and some extra penny pinching made our dream a reality.

There are steps you might consider taking to make your debt more manageable on a single income. Perhaps you could consolidate the debt into one loan with a lower interest rate and monthly payments. A nonprofit credit counseling agency can help you find such an arrangement or work with your existing creditors to make payments more manageable.

A good source for penny pinching tips is The Complete Tightwad Gazette (Available from LLLI, No. 1152-7, $19.99) by Amy Dacyzyn. See whether your Group Library has a copy you can borrow. You might also consider joining some online barter clubs as a way to both clean out your home of unwanted items and obtain some new (to you) things.

Spend one week writing down every cent you spend. You are likely to find plenty of purchases that aren't necessary. Once you've discovered some areas in which you can cut back financially, start doing so before the baby arrives so you can practice. You will probably find that staying home with your baby won't be as financially impractical as you originally thought.

Karen Meade
Schwenksville PA USA

Response

Choosing to stay home with my children is one choice I have never regretted, despite some financial challenges along the way. My husband also brought school debt to our relationship, but we both are able to limit our spending due to our fairly simple lifestyle before having children. Even though he is now the primary breadwinner and I stay at home, we have carried over many of our successful spending and saving practices.

We cut lots of supermarket coupons and shop only the sales. We rarely eat meals away from home, and trade off babysitting with other couples who have children for an occasional night out. I cut my husband and three sons' hair and I maintain a simple hairstyle that requires few hair cuts. I shop at outlet stores for shoes and clothing, and accept hand-me-downs. We make full use of the library for books, videos, and museum passes. Most importantly, I breastfeed! I've estimated that breastfeeding alone can save around $1,700 a year, which, if saved and invested carefully, can either help to pay off debt or establish a child's college savings fund.

If possible, owning only one automobile can save a lot of money between insurance payments, maintenance, and gasoline. We managed to do this for the first two years of being parents and were able to save and pay off some debt. Since I was home most of the time, I would drive my husband to work only when I really needed transportation. Otherwise, I would walk to the park and downtown, which was great exercise for a new mother.

Sometimes our expectations of how we want to raise a family change, but this can be an opportunity to reevaluate what's important and what we can let go. Living a low-cost lifestyle can teach our children that happiness is found in a nightly family dinner at home or a day at the beach. I wish you luck as you embark on this new adventure of mothering!

Mary LoPresti
North Kingstown RI USA

Response

I believe that many new parents find themselves in this situation and have some hard decisions to make. My family did and so did many of the families that I know.

When I found out I was pregnant with my first child, we were digging out of very deep debt. For over two years, every cent I made on my job and over a quarter of my husband's had gone to pay off debt. This had come on us through a combination of bad decisions, helping family members in need, and an injury. We wanted to pay everything off.

However, our plan to have children when we were debt-free did not work out. I became pregnant two years ahead of "schedule." At that point, we knew that paying it off it would mean that I had to go back to work 50 hours a week when our baby was about two weeks old. As it was, we were unsure how we would make it on my husband's salary even without the debt. We decided to declare bankruptcy, and it turned out to be a very good decision. We have been very good stewards of our money since and have credit scores in the 700s six years later. It was a good thing that we did so, because I had a little boy who was very high need and would not let me put him down for the first two full years of his life!

You can also consider buying a duplex and renting out one side for extra income, house sharing with another family, living with family, selling vehicles and using alternative transportation, selling the house and moving to a smaller one, or working a second job one day of the weekend.

A good book on the topic is Being There, by Isabelle Fox. I wish you lots of great times and memories helping your baby grow into a secure and loved child who knows his mother is there for them.

Anna Matsunaga
Tacoma WA USA

Response

I always dreamed of staying at home with my children. With some planning ahead and serious attention to our budget, I have been a stay-at-home mother for almost two years. My husband earns a modest income to support our family. Someday in the future I plan to work outside the home and use my degree. However, for now, I could not be happier with spending every single day with my nursling!

We have made many choices that allow us to have the single income, simple lifestyle we enjoy. For instance, we keep our monthly bills to a minimum: we have a mortgage payment, car insurance payment, and a basic phone bill. We pay our credit card purchases off at the end of every month. We do not have cell phones, voicemail, caller ID, or any extra charges for our phone. To further save money, we buy calling cards for long-distance telephone calls. Our Internet access is free, and although it is slow, it is worth it to have fewer bills to pay each month.

We have one family car that is 12 years old, reliable, and paid off! My husband gets to and from work by walking, biking, or using public transportation, so I can use our car during the day at home. We do not buy large, expensive battery-operated toys.

After our daughter was born we stopped going on expensive dates. When we want to socialize we have friends over for dinner. Our entertainment budget is much smaller now because we do not eat at restaurants as much as we used to. To encourage cooking wholesome foods at home, we have an organic produce delivery twice a month during the winter, and during the summer months we grow a large vegetable garden. I have found I cook more nutritious and balanced meals when I have fresh produce readily available in my fridge or back yard. We save a lot of money by cooking in, too!

There are many costs associated with working outside the home that are not obvious: office parties, birthday gifts for co-workers, and special lunches out. Staying at home does not have as many hidden costs, and we end up spending less money than we expected.

Our financial plan is fairly short-term because my husband and I believe it is better that I be home with our children now, than to be saving for our retirement. Once our children are in school, we will look ahead and adjust our financial plan to include saving for the future. For now, the most important thing I can do is be with my daughter. People do not hesitate to go into debt for a college education, and certainly these first few years of life are just as, if not more, important.

Maggie Schott
Seattle WA USA

Last updated Thursday, October 19, 2006 by njb.
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