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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Why Making Money Doesn't Always Pay

A commenter on my post about the “Ick Factor” mentioned how everyone makes choice in their life in which things to cut back and in which ways to spend. One point she mentioned is that some people make the lifestyle decision to get married young, have kids early, and be a stay at home mom and how that is not a frugal choice. As I felt that point was addressed to me, I felt like talking about the concept of being a stay at home mom and how it may be a frugal choice.

Just around two years ago, I was working very hard in the hopes of making more money. I had a 7-4 job with an hour commute each way and I was also working 4 hours a night from home. That period of time was when we had the greatest income in our 3.5 years of marriage. I took my baby with me on my commute and watched him while I was working (the job was working in a daycare), so I did not need to pay childcare expenses. My second job was in the evening from home, so I didn't need to pay for daycare for that job either. Though I was bringing in a nice income, the money I was making did not improve our fiscal situation.
Why not?
Because of the hidden costs of making money.

Before I even get into the money losing aspect of working, I wanted to say that traveling every day, rain or shine, with an infant and without a car is not very wise. My baby ended up in the hospital that winter for a week with pretty horrible RSV. I would bet a hundred dollars that going out with a 4 month old infant in the wet and cold every day contributed to him becoming very sick. After that winter I decided that commuting with an infant in bad weather will never happen again unless I get a car as the toll to a child's health is not worth any money that a certain job may bring in.

Even with the increased income, our monetary status did not change because I had many more expenses because I was working. I had to pay for 4 buses a day; I had to pay for food for the children I watched. I was working like a dog and did not have any free time, so I relied a lot on convenience foods. These work related expenses ate up any difference in our income.
To top it off, my house was a wreck, as every spare minute was spent on my nighttime job. This added to the strain in my marriage caused by the stress of having two jobs in addition to raising a baby and trying to run a household.
It got to the point that my husband begged me to stop with those jobs. We were sacrificing our sanity for the few extra pennies that job was bringing in after work related expenses.

Last year I opened a playgroup in my home, hoping that I would be able to supplement our earnings without offering my sanity on the altar of income. It took off slowly, but by the end of the year I had enough children in my playgroup that I was making more than 1000 dollars in half a day of work, while staying home with my children. This would have been perfect if not for the fact that my husband was jobless for part of this time, so we were basically living off of our income from the playgroup.

This year I opened a playgroup as well, and as luck would have it, I have a fraction of the amount of children that enrolled last year. My income from my playgroup is negligible this year and I have no plans to continue the playgroup next year. To supplement what I am currently making, I decided to take a job as a cleaning woman. Though perhaps some would consider it degrading to clean other people's messes, cleaning here pays 8 times what I get an hour babysitting, so it is worth it for me.
Next year I plan on not opening my playgroup and doing more cleaning in the time I currently run my playgroup.

Why do I not go out and get a job and work full time? Because of a few reasons.

The big one is that if I were going out to work, a big chunk of my salary would go to pay for childcare. By not working, I save lots of money because I don't need to pay someone else to watch my children.

Everyone who must make the decision whether to be a stay at home mom or a working mom has to think about many different aspects-
How much money can I make by working? What is my earning potential?
What percentage would childcare be of my potential income?
After work related expenses and childcare, how much would the take home pay be?
Would working end up costing me more money because I'll have less time and energy to do money saving things, like making things from scratch and comparison shopping?
After all the extra expenses including the money I won't have the energy to be saving, will I spend more money working than staying at home, break even, or end up with a surplus of cash even after working and having costly time savers like ready made meals and cleaning help?

In some cases it will be definitely worth it for a mom to go out to work, as mom would be making so much extra money even after expenses that having a two income household can make the difference between financial stress and financial ease.
In other cases, working expenses including childcare will practically break even, but even so, Mom chooses to work either because it gives her more experience, helping her future job potential, or because she need the intellectual stimulation to be the best mom she can be.

In my situation, I decided that it would be more cost effective for me to stay home with my kids and take whatever odd jobs I can get.
I do not have the greatest earning potential. To the chagrin of my parents, I did not get a college degree before marrying. Whether this was an intelligent or stupid choice on my part is beside the point, the fact of the matter is that now I am a mom of two, in a country who's language I do not speak well enough to hold most jobs in the fields in which I have experience. Any job that I take will likely be a minimum wage job, and I won't end up with too much extra money after paying for childcare for two children.
By staying home with my kids and taking cleaning jobs while my husband is home to watch my children, I can save the money on childcare, stay home with my children and watch them grow, have the time and energy to do many money saving measures, and still end up with more in the bank at the end of the month than I likely would if I were working full time.

Am I doing the frugal thing by being a stay at home mom? I think so. Could taking a full time job and enrolling my children in daycare also be a frugal choice? Possibly, but it is not the choice I chose to make. If I'd end the month with the same in my bank account, I'd rather spend my days around people I love, doing things I enjoy, rather than pinging away on the cash register for a minimum wage salary.

Do you think being a stay at home mom is a frugal choice? A non frugal choice?
Are you a stay at home mom or do you work out of the home? Why?

This is part of my "Raising a baby for minimal costs" series.
Other posts in the series:
Mama's milk- the cheap baby food choice
DIY Babywearing
Why I don't mind cloth diapering

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