Stay-at-Home Parents: Six Money Secrets for Families Shifting to One Income

Tips for moms or dads who are thinking of opting out of the workplace

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When I was growing up, stay-at-home moms were the norm, and many American household budgets were based on one income. A lot has changed since then, but there are still many parents who choose to leave their job and stay at home with the kids. And, of course, in many families it’s less of a choice than a necessity when someone gets laid off or child-care costs become too steep.

While the number of stay-at-home moms has been holding relatively steady in recent years, at approximately 5 million, the number of stay-at-home dads who managed the household last year while their wives worked was estimated to be 176,000. This may seem a small number in comparison, but it’s more than doubled over the last decade.

My stepkids are all grown up now, but I hear friends and colleagues who are expecting a baby or who have young children agonizing over tough questions like whether they can afford to have one parent stay at home, which parent it should it be and what impact it’ll have on their lifestyle, retirement and relationship. Deciding as a couple to stop earning two paychecks can be difficult emotionally and financially — even if a working mother or father wants to stay at home with the kids.

(MORE: Kids and Money: Is It O.K. to Play Financial Favorites?)

Here are some things to consider if you’re thinking about becoming a single-income family:

  1. Be realistic about your budget. The math may be more favorable with one parent staying at home rather than paying for day care, but you still may need to reconsider your lifestyle expenses. Inventory all of your fixed expenses, including things like your mortgage and utilities, and discretionary expenses, like entertainment and clothing. Be prepared to make tradeoffs on one or both fronts in order to make the arrangement work.
  2. Be smart about credit cards. While the CARD Act of 2009 put in place many positive provisions to protect consumers, it also requires credit card issuers to consider individual income versus household income. This could make it harder for a non-working spouse to get a credit card and maintain credit history. In addition to your credit cards, review your auto loans, mortgages or other debt to ensure that the paperwork is in both parents’ names.
  3. Think about insurance. When only one parent is bringing home a paycheck, it can be easy to overlook insurance coverage needs for a stay-at-home parent. But there are circumstances when a stay-at-home parent should be insured. Young couples may dismiss disability insurance, but it’s crucial to understand that many disabilities can come from sports injuries or car accidents. If a stay-at-home parent were to become ill or disabled and couldn’t care for children or move about their home, the couple would likely need to hire help. And while no one wants to consider the premature death of a spouse, it is prudent to have adequate life insurance in place, especially if you have children.
  4. Think about retirement. If you’re living on one income, it’s critical to plan and use every penny of each paycheck wisely — now and in the future. Upon leaving the workforce, a stay-at-home parent may want to consider rolling his or her employer-sponsored retirement plan, such as a 401(k) or 403(b), into an IRA or a Roth IRA. The working parent can continue to fund a spousal IRA or Roth IRA to save for the retirement of both parents. Also, if you have kids, set up a college fund as early as possible; small monthly contributions to a 529 account or College Savings Plan will add up over time.
  5. Be clear about who’s doing what. While every couple should define roles and responsibilities in their marriage, things can get a bit more complicated when a parent decides to stay home. Figure out who will handle financial paperwork, and if you’d like to do these tasks together, set aside time at least monthly to pay bills, update information and review accounts. Be clear about who will do what and anticipate how household decisions may be made differently now that one person is at home.
  6. Keep the lines of communication open. Paying bills is one thing, but the emotions associated with child-rearing in the home or continuing to earn a paycheck is another. These emotions can be complex and, regardless of gender, if one parent is leaving the workforce, the dynamics of your relationship can change. Assumptions about how you spend time, assert parental authority and maintain independence can all come into question. Though they may not always be easy, have conversations before one parent quits his or her job — and, afterward, along the way — to ensure that the situation is still working for all family members.

(MORE: Women Can’t Have It All, but They Can at Least Simplify Their Finances)

Becoming a stay-at-home parent can be a life-changing — and very rewarding — experience for the entire family. Whether the shift is temporary or if you or your spouse decides to stay at home for the long haul, plan for how your lifestyle, your budget and your relationship may change.

De Baca is vice president of wealth strategies at Ameriprise Financial.

8 comments
StayathomeMoms
StayathomeMoms

There I was sitting cross legged on the timber floor with a frown on my face, a big pile of papers all around me and a bassinette where my baby boy (Jordan) lay sleeping, only a few weeks old.

At that time, we were struggling financially, and living in a cramped, cold unit with very few luxuries.

Our lives were a mess. We had tried dozens of different business opportunities without success. I am almost embarrassed to look back at some of the scams we fell for over the years.

And the more depressed I became about my situation, the tougher it seemed to dig myself out of the black hole I was sitting in.

God I wanted to CHANGE!

Check this out: http://www.workingfromhomereviews.com/

mariagoette
mariagoette

I am a stay at home mom what has helped me keep busy and earn a little extra money is  

MOMMASMAKINGMONEY.WS

it has not made me rich by any means but any little bit helps in my book

Candice Hunting
Candice Hunting

I was a stay at home mom with no income for 3 years. I finally decided I needed to help out to take care of some of the bills. It's hard with just one income. I didn't want to leave home and tried to find a job to work from home. There are way too many scam "stay at home" jobs on the internet. If you want to work from home I would recommend www.socialmediajobhunters.com

I actually get paid to use Facebook and manage business pages/photos, etc.

Candice Hunting
Candice Hunting

Studies show there are almost as many stay at home dads as there are moms. There's nothing wrong with it at all. Society just seems to be stuck on the "stay at home mom" phrase.

Alot of stay at home dads are even stay at home social media managers. They conduct their job part time during the week and get paid well to do so. Companies such as socialmediajobhunters.com are able to provide an income to these stay at home moms and dads.

BeverleySmith
BeverleySmith

 re DeBaca and stay at home parents - I am sorry to see that a woman and someone with obvious economic training, and focusing on an issue dear to my heart, is still apparently of the mindset of devaluing the work of women in the home.  That attitude is one I had hoped we had left behind along with other traditional economic assumptions that only men do work and only money defines whose work matters.  At the UN in 1997, a fair while ago, all member nations voted to make sure women's roles tending others were noticed in the economy.  A new focus on unpaid labor as the one third to one half of the GDP ensued. It was recognized that it was no longer appropriate to say that the parent at home does not 'work' or has quit work or dropped out of work for their work tending the young is part of what keeps society ticking. That being said,the next step is to not just suck it up and endure tax penalties and official credit card and other insults to the role but to lobby government to change policy.  As a homemaker I have worked for many years to do just that. It is the new revolution, as important as women getting the vote. So I like the respect the article shows for moms at home but it does not have enough feistiness. We have to change the paradigm so there is no tax or benefits or pension penalty. Every mother is a  working mother - the slogan in fact of the NOW.