When I first got pregnant, one of the first things I did was figure out how much it was going to cost. I wanted to understand what formula, diapers, wipes, clothes, and childcare would cost. I wanted to start planning for it now and creating a reasonable budget. One of the things I quickly found out is that childcare costs are insane! We live in a relatively small city, and it was going to cost us about $1,000 per month to put our future child into daycare. Not to mention, by that point, the pandemic was raging, and it didn’t look like it would be safe to put him into daycare anyway. So, we quickly nixed daycare, and I wondered how I could afford to be a stay-at-home mom.
Now, earlier this year, I got lucky. I found a job with flexible hours that would allow me to work and stay home with my son. This makes things financially easier, but it’s also a whole other can of worms. But I wanted to share what I learned during my time when I was determined to be a stay-at-home mom.
Tips to afford to be a stay-at-home mom
Most of these tips boil down to being more careful and deliberate with your money. It’s about understanding your individual situation. You need to take the time to think about what you’re willing to give up and what you need to keep. Let’s be more specific.
Have a budget
This is so crucial that it has to be number one. You need to have some sort of monthly plan for your money. Start by spending some time tracking your expenses. Know your fixed expenses (rent, car payment, phone bill, etc.) and your variable expenses (groceries, gas, utilities, etc.). You can only start creating a reasonable budget once you understand where all of your money is going. Then, you can start building out what your monthly budget is going to look like. Personally, I think the 50/30/20 budget is a good place to start if you can. Don’t cut all the joy out of your budget, but start thinking about what you can live without.
Know the difference between want and need
This is the real next step because you can’t cut what you don’t need if you don’t understand the difference between want and need. Take a good long look at your finances and think about what you need. Know what the things are that you honestly cannot live without.
Spend some time thinking about how many of your expenses are the result of lifestyle inflation. Lifestyle inflation is when your expenses increase with your income. Basically, you convince yourself that you need more and more luxuries as you start to make more money. There are ways to manage lifestyle inflation.
Cut what you can
After you understand the difference between want and need, you can start cutting things out.
First, check out your subscriptions and really think about if they’re bringing you value. Are you using that gym membership? Are you actually using Audible? Take a look at those monthly subscriptions and figure out if you can cut them. You can also research things that can replace them. For instance, your local library might have audiobooks that you can download instead of you paying for them.
Then, look at the other ballooning areas of your expenses and see what you can cut down. Are you eating out frequently? Are you buying too many books, movies, or video games? What are the areas that you can reasonably cut back on? Once again, you can also do research to explore more cost-effective options. Once again, I’m going to plug your local library.
Cook at home as much as possible
Let’s be honest. There are always going to be those nights where no one wants to cook and everyone’s exhausted. There will always be pizza nights. But if you want to save money and be a stay-at-home mom, these nights have to be the exception, not the rule. Our food budget, including eating out, can easily balloon and take over. The biggest tip for this section is to plan ahead. Pinterest has tons of articles that go into cheap and easy recipes to help save you money. Take some time over the weekend or whenever you have time to plan out your weekly meals and figure out exactly what you need to buy. This can keep you from too many impulse purchases that increase your food cost.
My husband and I utilize Instacart to figure out our weekly food purchases. We don’t (usually) actually order the food because we don’t want to pay the extra money. But we use it to add up what everything is going to cost and look at prices/sales. Then, my husband goes to the grocery store and can use that list to buy exactly what we need. It’s super useful.
Utilize rewards programs
All of them. All of the rewards programs. Almost anywhere you go nowadays has some kind of free rewards program, even your grocery store. I will sign up for any rewards program if I go there frequently enough. I also use general rewards programs like Swagbucks (You can use my referral link to get an extra 300 Swagbucks if you earn 300 Swagbucks in 30 days!). Swagbucks is amazing because you can earn gift cards just for doing stuff you would normally do like shop and search. Personally, I order everything online now so I can run it through Swagbucks. I recently had enough Swagbucks for a $100 gift card, which was amazing.
Live below your means
This is a tricky one because it might mean a large life change. It might even mean changing housing. If you’re renting, you might move to a smaller apartment with one less bedroom. If you have a home, it might mean refinancing or buying a smaller home. This might even mean moving to a town/city with a lower cost of living. This seems like a major change, but it can be super important when it comes to being able to live on one income. Think about how you can create that cushion between what you need to spend and what you do spend.
That being said…
Be careful about purchases
When I was doing research, I came across an article in which the stay-at-home mom recommended buying an inexpensive car to get rid of your car payment. This isn’t always the best move. Less expensive things or older things tend to not last as long or have different issues. This woman even mentioned that the car they purchased had bad gas mileage. I personally wouldn’t consider that a great money move unless their car payment was truly outrageous. If you’re close to paying off your good car, don’t replace it for a car that isn’t going to last as long and might cost a lot in repairs soon. Pay off that good car and drive it until you absolutely can’t anymore. It might seem like a good idea to get a cheaper car, but that doesn’t mean it is.
Keep this mindset in mind when you make a big, or even a small, purchase. If you can afford the investment, more expensive things might last longer and be worth the extra cash. This basically means doing your research and taking that time to really consider your purchase.
Build an emergency fund
This is so important, and if you can do it before you leave your job, even better. I recommend having at least six months of expenses in savings if possible. This is especially important if you’re going to be a stay-at-home mom because if you lose that one income, then you want to make sure you’re covered. This means that your emergency fund comes before anything else. Build that up first, and then worry about other types of savings.
Find free and cheap activities
You’re home with kids all day. You need things to do and places to go. So, find places that are cheap or even free. This generally means your local library, but you might also be able to find inexpensive museums or zoos. Your local library might even have passes that make nearby fun places cheaper. And don’t sleep on your local parks and playgrounds.
You can also find activities that use materials you already own or can easily buy for cheap. Once again, Pinterest is a great resource for this. There’s also a good amount of baby/kid-related content on TikTok, so you can find some interesting crafts and activities on there too.
Earn extra money (if you can)
This is heavily dependent on your situation. But if you have the time and energy to throw into a money-making project, go for it. It’s always nice to have the extra income when you’re a stay-at-home mom. This might mean starting a blog, selling digital products about things you’re an expert in, or selling crafts on Etsy. Whatever you can see yourself investing a lot of time in. Just know that all of these things take time. Despite what a lot of people will tell you, success does not happen overnight or possibly even within six months. It’s going to take a lot of time and energy to start an online business. It also might require a money investment. I don’t want to discourage you. I just want you to go in eyes wide open.
The most important thing when it comes to how to afford to be a stay-at-home mom is to be intentional with your money and understand what you’re spending. Keep a close eye on your bank accounts and continuously evaluate your budget as time goes on and things change. Odds are, being a stay-at-home mom is possible. You just might have to make some changes.
Erin Lafond is a writer, website creator, and mom. She survived new motherhood by Googling things a lot, calling her mother, and embracing trial and error. Now, she shares her knowledge with all new moms. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and son (soon to be two sons!).
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