Want to Stay Home?

If so, here’s how you might make it on one income.

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In 2000, the U.S. Census Bureau reported the first significant decline in the number of new mothers in the labor force. If you, too, are thinking of not returning to work but aren’t sure if you and your partner can swing it on one salary, these 10 tips can help you make that dream a reality.

1>Do the math Take your net (after-tax) salary and subtract all work-related expenses. Those costs might include child care, commuting, dry cleaning, meals, manicures, birthday lunches for colleagues and other job-oriented upkeep. If there’s only a small amount left after all those costs, you may be able to afford to quit your job and stay home.

2>Take a trial run Simulate a one-salary income while you’re still working. This way, you can determine whether you can afford to stay home and also catch any potential glitches. Have your paycheck deposited directly into an account earmarked “baby’s future.” Then pay close attention to when cash goes in and out of your regular account. Does the arrival of bills correlate with the arrival of your spouse’s paycheck? If not, you might need to keep a little extra in your checking account at all times, and perhaps less in savings, to accommodate ebbs and flows.

3>Seek expert advice Have a financial planner help reevaluate your cash flow. “Learn to live on one income in advance of the baby by saving the second income in a secure investment that will provide a cushion in the future,” says Jeffrey Silverman, a certified financial planner and attorney in Huntington, N.Y. A professional also can set up a college fund and look into long- and short-term investment programs. Many planners offer free consultations.

4>Make lots of little changes Brew your decaf at home and you could save up to $20 a week. Buy generic items at the market. Scale down your cell-phone plan. Give up cable TV. Avoid take-out dinners. Even designate one spend-free day a week. Minor changes can add up quickly. 5>Make one radical change Sara Alai, a former English teacher in Long Valley, N.J., and her husband, Pete, cashed in thousands of dollars in stocks to buy their minivan outright. “The stocks were invisible to us,” Alai says. “But paying for our car with cash eliminated monthly car payments and maintained our monthly cash flow after I stopped teaching.” Other big changes to consider: Trade in your car for a less-expensive model, refinance or sell your home, cut up your credit cards, even temporarily move in with family.

6>Build a network Create a babysitting group with other parents and rotate watching one another’s kids for free. This way, you get out of the house for a much-needed “date” without the expense of a babysitter. Check your community for stay-at-home-moms groups; if none exists, start one. 7>Accept gifts Write up a list of things you’ll need for the baby—car seat, crib, stroller, highchair—and ask friends or relatives if they have hand-me-downs to share. (Just make sure none of the items has been recalled.) If you’re having a baby shower, go ahead and register. Guests will appreciate the guidance, and you’ll get what you really need.

8>Earn a few extra bucks To bring in extra income without incurring child-care costs, work part time when your partner can watch the baby. Become a neighborhood dog-walker and get some exercise, too. Work a few hours at a doctor’s office or a store where you can get an employee discount. You’ll enjoy some adult contact, too.

9>Think long-term If you’re in the market for a new home, calculate mortgage payments based on one income. Think about moving to a town or state where the cost of living is lower.

10>Be a realist If you decide to stay home with your child, prepare yourself mentally—making the switch to stay-at-home mom can be an adjustment. “It’s inevitable that you’re going to feel like you’re sitting around doing nothing, so I remind myself that I’m still working—I’ve just shifted my profession,” says Tabitha Pearson Marshall of Carmel, N.Y., a former art director and mother of two. “When I’m really down, I call a former co-worker to see what the other side is still doing. That gives me some balance.” Keep your expectations realistic and get an occasional perspective check, and you’ll be well equipped to stay home with your baby.

>>>find out more > How to Raise a Family on Less Than Two Incomes, by Denise M. Topolnicki (Broadway Books, 2001) > Shattering the Two-Income Myth, by Andy Dappen and Andrew R. Dappen (Brier Books, 1997) > You Can Afford to Stay Home With Your Kids, by Malia McCawley Wyckoff and Mary Snyder (Career Press, 1999) > www.athomemothers.com > www.mommysavers.com

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