When Moms Return to Work: Are You Sure It’s the Right Choice?

8 years ago

Lately I have been watching some of my stay-at-home mom friends take jobs to weather the economy. And I can’t help but wonder what their choice to return to work will do to the family unit. Add workplace stress to existing money stress, and apply to home and family. Is there a different solution than returning to work?


We all have to make choices we don’t like at points in our lives. And going back to work in down times may be one of them. But I wonder if stay-at-home moms who have recently faced the employment line have mapped out the full cost/benefit ratio of getting a job. It may make more sense to cut costs.


This is a question I pose out of curiosity more than experience. I have always worked and managed the home. And maybe in so doing, am fully aware of the balance—and costs—it takes to do both. So I pose to my girlfriends these questions before stepping into the world of the employed: Have you factored the complete costs of going to work? What is the payoff?


A Job Costs Money and Time

One of my friends has been out of the workplace for ten years, raising her family. Realistically, what is the likely salary she can attract each month? $1,000? $5,000? Let’s say she earned $3,000 per month. After taxes, she’s down to a little over $2,000. Then she hires childcare at $10 per hour for three hours a day, five days a week. At $600 per month, she’s already down to $1400. That’s the net take home. Then, she’ll have to factor in the other miscellaneous costs it takes to keep a job: Buy clothes for work. Buy materials if she’s an independent contractor. Buy gas or public transportation. Increased money spent on lunches out, quickly grocery stops because there is no more time for weekly meal planning, and restaurant dinners because she’s so danged tired by end-week, she needs dinner to make itself.


At the end of the month, she is working her butt off to bring $1,000 to $1,500 into the house. What is the tradeoff? Does it really equate? Does her family miss her?


Before heading off to the employment agency, ask yourself if there is a way to cut $1,000 or $1,500 from the household budget. It’s a financial choice. Is it fiscally responsible to go back to work? Does it make more sense to stay at home and live lean for a few years, rather than get a job?


How to Cut Costs and Stay Home

My family cut $1,000 per month in expenses. Another friend stopped her cable service recently because she realized she could watch everything she wanted online, and it saved her $200 a month. If you want to stay a stay-at-home mom, explore how deeply you can cut extraneous costs. If your family has cell phones, get rid of your landline. That’s $80 a month saved.


Call your water company, and your gas and electric companies to reassess your usage. They will send a representative to look at your appliances, your yard, and ask you about your usage, and I promise you they will give you simple tips you didn’t know that will cut your energy and water bills. (My family was over watering our lawn, and we saved money once we followed the company’s tips.)


Become friends with your insurance agents—home, car, health. Call them to reassess your policies. Get to know what you are receiving from your policies, what you are putting into them, and what you can do to get lower rates. Can you plan a higher deductible to pay a lower premium for now? Just have a conversation with your agent. Tell them you are looking to cut costs. For every single expense, from car payments to bank loans to personal arrangements, make at least one call to each see how much you can lower it.


Get your newspaper free online instead of paying for delivery. If your local paper is not free, you can read find others online that are. Figure out how much money you spend on coffee every day. If you buy it at a coffee shop, bring your own cup. The nickel off is minimal savings, but even better than adding up, it gets you into the practice of saving wherever possible. 


Before you say no, no, no, I have to get a job, go through your expenses line by line. You’d be surprised what you can reduce when you put at stake a job or your family, and then, just ask. At least look at the money possibilities you could save.


Keep A Money Watch

It is a daily practice, to pay attention to money, but it may be worth it to your family to be diligent about it. To feel on top of my game, I pay attention to my cash flow at least once per day. At some point, I go back to my computer and enter what I have spent that day. I look at balances, enter new transactions, check my cash flow projection to make sure I’m on target to where I said I was going to spend my money.


And then I keep my eyes and ears open for new ways to cut costs. I listen for what other people are doing, have conversations about how I am doing it. Usually, I learn something new with each conversation. 


After a while, it becomes a game. Have you ever known someone who makes a game out of how much mileage they can get out of their vehicle? Or how many groceries they can squeeze out of $20? Or how many green lights they can make each day on the way to work? It’s the same thing. After a while, the practice becomes a game. The only difference is that you’re playing for the benefit of your entire family. Before you get into the big game of returning to work, play the game of cutting costs and see if you can reach the same effect. It’s so much more fun, and your family will love you for it.


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