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Ask the Miserly Mom: The cost of working

Jonni McCoy, the “Miserly Mom,” totals up the cost of working. Does working full-time make financial sense for a single mom who is receiving child support payments?

Woman going over finances after divorce

The question

I’m a single mom with an ex-husband pressuring me to go to work so he can lower his child support payments, and I want to prove to him once and for all that it costs more for me to work than to continue to be a stay-at-home mom, totally available to my children and the ministry of raising them. Can you help me? Thank you very sincerely – Anne

The miserly mom answers

To calculate your cost of working, you need to add up the individual costs that you would acquire if you started working.

First, look at the difference between the taxes you are currently paying and what you would pay if you worked. Take this off of your IRS forms that you are filing this year. More than likely, it would put you (and your husband if you file jointly) into the next highest tax bracket. Take the difference between these two tax due amounts and divide by 12 to get a monthly amount. Do the same for your state and local taxes. Now look at any childcare costs you would have, and add in the monthly cost.

Then add in any transportation costs you would have each month… parking, bus fee, bridge tolls, the mileage costs to and from work each day (use 31 cents per mile for the wear on your car). Your car insurance will increase if you classify your car as a commuter car instead of a leisure car. Ask your agent what the new monthly rate would be. And now for a big one…your groceries. When we both worked, we relied on convenience foods for meals, such as instant mixes, frozen dinners, etc., and our food bill was 4 times higher than it is now. So figure on a large increase in these expenses as well. Add in the number of times during a month’s time that you may eat out, or order pizza in because you will be late coming home or because you’ll be too tired to cook.

Your monthly clothing costs will increase since new clothes for work will be necessary, as well as dry cleaning costs. Then there are those lunches out with co-workers. If someone eats out for $4 each work day, that adds up to $80 per month just for lunch! Figure what you might spend in a month. Are there office gifts that you are required to participate in? Count those in the total as well. What about having your hair done? I always had it done every 6 weeks.

Take all of these numbers and add them together. This is your monthly cost of working. Now take a guess at what your gross earnings might be per month. Subtract your monthly cost of working from your gross earning. That is your true take home pay per month. Some people may even have a negative number! That means you are paying to work! Divide this number by the number of hours you work in a month. That is your true hourly wage.

Show this to your ex-husband and see if he still feels that working is worth it. Also, tell him that his expenses for his child’s care may actually go up (daycare, more expensive food, more frequent illnesses from being in a daycare, etc.) if you worked.

Tips for working moms

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