I’ve been a stay-at-home mother for more than five years. From a dollars-and-cents perspective, I know I’m blessed. My husband has a decent job that’s relatively secure – something we don’t take for granted at any time, and especially in the tough times in which we currently live.
Still, we don’t come from wealthy backgrounds and are a middle-class family. My parenting full-time doesn’t earn a penny for the coffers, so spending and saving decisions are dramatically different than if there were two incomes.
(Federal ‘child care’ payments aside – seriously, whose decision to stay at home or work is truly impacted by $100 per month per child? But I digress.)
How do we handle money? Carefully.
We are conservative with the big money decisions. The most visible example is our home. Friends and family members our age have all upsized to bigger homes in recent years but we have stayed in the home we bought in the early years of our marriage, ‘BK’ (before kids). It’s considered small by some – although it’s much bigger than the tiny house I grew up in.
Tom keeps saying he wants a pool in the backyard, as there was a pool in one of the homes he lived in as a kid. But even a small, in-ground pool would literally take up the entire backyard. So every summer, I gesture at the $25 plastic blow-up pool we bought at the toy store and say “well, there’s your pool, honey.”
And would we like a front yard that’s bigger than a postage stamp? Um, yeah!
While we don’t have large amounts of space or extra rooms, we feel much better with a manageable mortgage and seeing the principal coming down every year.
I find myself daydreaming more and more about going on a resort trip by the ocean, somewhere hot. But we haven’t done this since before Mary was conceived. Actually, we haven’t taken any vacations away where we couldn’t stay with family members.
A few months ago, we thought long and hard when deciding whether I would go on my own to visit a friend studying in Paris. We considered and reconsidered. After all, it wasn’t in the family budget. We decided I should go, but I wouldn’t have gone if my friend didn’t have an apartment to stay in. Tom was impressed when I came back with little in the way of gifts and souvenirs. (Though, I did spend money on all the pain-au-chocolat, macaroons, beef tartare and other decadent French foods I could get my hands on.)
We really believe in public education, but even if we didn’t, private school is not a choice for Mary (or her sister, a few years down the road). And when choosing a preschool, a glance at the tuitions on the Montessori websites made me giggle. It was pretty clear my kids wouldn’t be going there!
“Together” is the other word characterizing how we handle money. We made the decision together that I would stay home with the children in their early years. All of the money Tom makes goes into a joint bank account, not separate ones. Tom doesn’t think of it as ‘his’ money, and neither do I. Why should I be penalized for our joint decision to have a stay-at-home parent in the family? I joke that we’ll still share the money when I make my future fortune.
Plus, our family arrangement provides a good opportunity to hint to our kids at the reality that money does not, indeed, grow on trees or fall from the sky or otherwise miraculously appear out of nowhere. Like every five-year-old, Mary picks up things in stores as we shop and asks if we can get this or that. “We don’t need that” or “That’s too much money” or “We can’t afford that” is something I sometimes matter-of-factly respond. I say it with no anxiety, and she kind of shrugs her shoulders and says “Okay!”
Mary likes to ‘pay’ for things with her pretend bank card when she’s out shopping with me. I look forward to her doing that for real someday!
Published in May 2011.