I’ve been a stay-at-home parent for years because it doesn’t make financial sense to work full-time, but my feelings about it are complicated
Insider’s experts choose the best products and services to help make smart decisions with your money (here’s how). In some cases, we receive a commission from our our partners, however, our opinions are our own. Terms apply to offers listed on this page.
This essay is part of “Home Ec: The Economics of Stay-at-home Parenting,” a series from Personal Finance Insider about the financial reality of staying home with your kids.
When I left the workforce to raise our first child, my husband and I had decided it made the most sense for our family. But it wasn’t a decision that came without financial strain. Staying home required our family to make financial sacrifices, decreased our earning potential, and made us slow our pursuit of financial independence.
But these past few years as a stay-at-home parent have been some of the most rewarding and fulfilling of my life. They have also allowed our family more flexibility and decreased our stress as a whole — and you can’t put a price on that. Still, my journey as a stay-at-home parent hasn’t been linear.
I left my full-time job when the pull to be with my daughter became too strong
I never thought I would be a full-time, stay-at-home parent, but before having children, my husband and I knew we did not want to do daycare right away. Our hope was to have my mom, who had recently retired, watch our oldest until she turned 1 year old.
When I got pregnant, I was working as a financial advisor in downtown Minneapolis and coaching high school soccer. When our daughter was born, in May, I took some time off then went back to working as a financial advisor in October; I was working about four days a week in the office while my mom watched our daughter.
As the months went on I felt the pull to be with our daughter more and more. I kept cutting my hours until it got to the point where it did not make sense for me to keep working in the office.
As I transitioned to full-time, stay-at-home parenting, I did some financial coaching and started a podcast on the side. Later, after the birth of our second daughter, I switched to freelance writing since it was much more flexible.
Even though I was a stay-at-home parent, I still wanted to continue helping clients and educating others in the personal finance space as it was something I was passionate about. I knew growing a business part-time would give us additional income down the line and make it easier when I transitioned back to working more once the kids were in school full-time.
When I was ready to return to full-time work, I realized it didn’t make financial sense
I was starting to miss working with high school kids after the birth of our second daughter, so I looked at getting back into the classroom part-time. I was hoping to be able to continue writing and work part-time at a local high school. But I quickly realized it didn’t make sense for me to return to work in the traditional sense due to the high cost of childcare.
When I left teaching in 2015, I was making approximately $45,000 a year gross income. That was my fifth year of teaching.
When I looked at going back to teaching, the salaries were a little higher, but I would be starting over in a new district, so I figured I could make about $25,000 a year teaching part-time. Spread out throughout the school year this equates to $680 a week before taxes and deductions, or $2,777 gross a month.
We knew we would need structured childcare and started looking into our options. One of the local care options we looked at, a Spanish-immersion center, gave us a part-time rate of $400 a week for two kids, for three days a week, totaling $1,600 a month. When speaking to local moms in our area, I found that that number was about average. One mom pays almost $2,500 for two kids for four days a week. Those who have children at in-home centers pay less, around $700 a month for two children.
My husband carries our family’s health and dental insurance, so I knew that wouldn’t need to be taken from my paycheck. However, other taxes, such as state and federal income tax, and deductions, such as Medicare and Social Security, would be taken out. I also knew if I started working for a school district I would want to invest in my 403(b) retirement plan again.
With these deductions added in, I’d be looking at approximately $430 of take-home pay each week, barely covering the amount of childcare we’d need. And that doesn’t include the amount of money spent on gas and car maintenance, clothing, and other unexpected costs of working in a classroom (such as purchasing needed supplies the school can’t afford). So I decided not to return to teaching after all.
After talking to some of my local mom group friends, I found I wasn’t alone. Several of them left their careers, switched to part-time, or found a job with a flexible schedule because the childcare costs just didn’t add up. One mom in particular, a registered nurse, would have had to pay $740 a week in childcare for her two children, including a newborn. For her, after taxes and deductions were taken out, she would’ve been taking home a negative balance.
I’m still earning some money as a freelancer — but I look forward to having 2 full-time incomes again
These days my husband and I budget our expenses off his income, and any money I make freelancing goes toward savings, additional house projects we want to complete, or extra vacations we want to take. It’s not a ton of money, but it does help cover some of these extras for our family.
Staying home with my children has also allowed me to pursue other interests, such as creating short-form personal finance video content, doing some travel writing, and even writing a children’s book. I’m sure that if I were working a full-time job I wouldn’t be able to pursue these side projects.
On the other hand, while it’s nice to spend time with the kids and save on childcare, it will also be nice when we have more disposable income to work with.
Taking a break from working in a traditional sense has been challenging at times. There are days that I long for structure, interactions with colleagues, and the ability to use my brain to collaborate and create in a professional setting.
However, with the fast pace that children grow, most days I relish the fact that I get to be home with them, watching them learn and grow and getting to know them in a way I wouldn’t have been able to without this break from work.