One of the biggest decisions you make when you first become a parent is whether you’ll stay at home with your children, or return to the workforce. The decision is more complex than a question of finances, though money is undoubtedly a major, multi-faceted factor.
Whether you should stay home or go back to work is a question I can’t answer for you. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all, correct answer. You have to decide what’s best for you and your family.
Even though I can’t tell you what you should do, I can share my own experience. It’s helpful to hear others’ experiences and their considerations in deciding to stay home or go back to work. I’ll also point you to some great questions to help you make the decision for yourself.
Deciding to stay home with my kids
Before my kids were born, I was a teacher. I taught English as a second language to adults. During the day, I taught college-aged students who came to the United States on student Visas to learn (or perfect) their English in hopes of attending college here. In the evening, I taught local adults who had moved to the United States but weren’t fluent in English.
I enjoyed what I did, but I was also looking forward to the time that I could stay at home with my future children. I had always planned to stay home when little ones joined our family.
I grew up with a stay-at-home mom. Though my mom stayed at home, she kept pretty busy with her various side jobs. She taught piano lessons in our home every day after school. She also taught art classes and did freelance art.
I imagined myself being like her. I would stay home with my children, but still find ways to keep up my interests and bring in some money on the side.
Before we even got married, my husband and I discussed what we wanted life to be like when we had kids. We both felt that it was important for me to be home with our children, especially in their younger years, and we would do whatever we needed to do to make that a reality.
Though, in my case, it was easy to make the decision to stay at home, we still had to prepare and coordinate to make it work for our family.
Considerations and preparations for being a stay-at-home parent
We surely didn’t think of everything, but in our grand plan of having me stay at home with our children, here are some of the practical things we did to remove the potential financial constraints and make our plan a reality.
Learn to live frugally
Living on one income in a two-income world, we knew we would have to be careful with how we spent our money. Thankfully we both come from frugal families, so we had plenty of frugal experience to draw from.
We lived in some pretty interesting places before we had kids! From half of a converted garage behind an elderly woman’s home, to an apartment in a third world country, to a basement space where my husband had to duck for the lights in the hallway, we didn’t always have a traditional residence, but they were always interesting, and we loved them. They were also inexpensive.
As our lodging went, so did our other financial decisions. We learned not to be concerned with what others thought or how others spent their money. Being able to live happily on less has been a real advantage.
Make a budget
I had never made a written budget before I was married. Although budgeting was new to me, I actually really enjoyed it. Having a plan of how we would spend our money was so freeing. It was comforting to know that we would be able to cover our expenses and know where the money was coming from.
If you’ve never really sat down to make a budget, I guarantee that you will be surprised at what your income and expenses really look like. A solid budget will really help you see the effect of going down to one income.
Practice living on one income
One of the best ways to prepare to live on one income is to do it before you have to. We wanted to make sure that we would be able to cover all of our expenses with just the income that my husband brought in. At the time he was still a student and just working part time, but thanks to our frugal accommodations we were able to get by.
If you are planning to stay home with your children, start putting your income into savings and live solely on your spouse’s income. Not only will it be nice to have a cushion of savings built up, you will become confident that you can live completely on your spouse’s earnings. When the time comes to stay home, you’ll avoid financial shock because your financial adjustments are already in place.
Make a plan for you
When I was pregnant with my oldest, I learned about Etsy. I thought it sounded like a dream to work from home doing something I enjoyed. How great it would be to work from home on my own schedule!
As it turned out, the Etsy shop I opened on a whim turned out to be a very significant income while my husband was in law school. It was also a much-needed creative outlet for me as I learned to adjust from the working world to being a stay-at-home parent.
Questions to ask yourself before making the big decision
Deciding to stay home or return to work is a major decision, one that most people don’t take lightly.
There are definitely more factors to consider than just the change in income. Northwestern Mutual has some great questions to ask yourself when you’re deciding if you’ll stay at home after you have children.
Rest assured that whatever you decide doesn’t have to be permanent. Maybe you’ll stay at home until your kids are in school and then you’ll go back to work. Or maybe the other way around.
The right answer is yours to discover! Go check out these questions and see if there’s something you forgot to consider!
This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Northwestern Mutual. The opinions and text are all mine.