Monday, January 30, 2006

Can One Parent Afford to Stay Home?

By Christina VanGinkel

I hear the same sentiments all the time that sure, one parent, or the other, would like to stay at home, but it takes two incomes to keep the family running. I can speak from experience and say to some degree that they are right, but not all of the time. Each family's circumstances are different, but if both parents agree and are willing to trade certain benefits for other equally important perks, most households can go from two incomes to one.

I have been 'at home' for years, but I have also had an income, though somewhat sporadic, from my writing and design work that I do on a part time basis. I did work full time years ago, but when the company I worked in management for went bankrupt, my husband and I did a quick review of our incoming income and outgoing expenses and made a decision. With what I would save on gasoline spent driving back and forth to work, childcare, my work wardrobe, and other small expenses that came with my job, that the cost of me staying home was not as big as we originally thought. By trimming a few extras from our budget, such as a social life, we made the decision that we would be able to survive on just his income alone. This first review of our budget has undergone many changes through the years, just as any budget would, but we have always kept the goal of one parent being at home at the top of our goal list.

Through the years, our incoming income has gone up and down, as my husband is self-employed, but we have managed for me to continue to stay home through the majority of our two oldest children's school years, and now through a good portion of our youngest child's, due to diligent budgeting. If you want to become a stay at home parent, it can be done, as long as both spouses are serious about making it happen, and are willing to be realistic with the family budget.

Set down together and list everything that could conceivably be considered an expense. This will range from the mortgage and taxes, to groceries, to lunches out. If you already have a budget, that will be a good place to start, but you will most likely still, have expenses related to work, that are not normally included in the average budget. For this to have a chance at succeeding, you must include every single item that you currently spend money on to give yourself a clearer picture of whether the plan is doable. For example, if you have a standing date to go to the movies with friends, write it down.

Once you have the complete budget in hand, start cutting. It is as simple as that. Be realistic about what can be cut. Some things will be obvious, such as those expenses that come from your current job, as they will no longer exist. Other expense cutting may have to be a united decision, such as cutting the cable off, or at least reducing the size of the package you currently have. Be realistic. Do you really need every single movie channel made? When compared to whether it will help one parent be at home, you may suddenly realize that there are many things, you can do without. When I said we cut our social life, I was not exaggerating. We always went to dinner on the weekends, out to a movie, and usually stopped for a drink or two on the way home. We both made the decision that this was not what we wanted, that the money would be better 'spent' by taking it right off the top of our budget.

We made many decisions that day years ago. Most of them have actually stayed with us all these years. Others have been modified, such as the cable one. My husband is a sports fanatic, and though we can live without the movie channels, he cannot live without ESPN. Our youngest child is very much into sports himself, playing them that is, so that is a big part of the reason I have continued to bring in an income on a part time basis, to help fund numerously increasing sizes of cleats, snowboards, and helmets through the years.

If it is your family's dream to have at least one parent stay at home, do not just assume that it cannot be don. Look at your budget for starters, and good luck!

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