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Can you afford to be a stay-at-home mum?

Felicity Hannah

Seven out of 10 mums would rather stay at home with their children than go to work, according to a survey of mothers carried out by the website netmums.

But for most, that’s just not possible. In fact, just taking maternity leave can rock a household’s finances, let alone leaving work entirely.

A uSwitch survey showed that nearly three new mums in 10 end up in debt because of their maternity leave, while more than one in 10 cut their time off work short because of financial pressures.

Since having a baby myself, I often hear friends wishing they didn’t have to return to work but most of them have done so. Children aren’t cheap and in this climate, it’s safer to have the security of two incomes.

Of course, it’s not just a difficult decision for mothers. A recent survey by Aviva showed that the number of men staying at home with the kids has tripled in the last 15 years.

That could mean that even more would choose to stay at home if they were able to make it work financially.

So, whether you’re a parent or parent-to-be, can you afford to ditch the job and stay at home?












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Making sense of the money

If you simply add up all your current expenses and then cut your income out the equation then staying at home is going to look completely unaffordable.

Unless you’re fairly wealthy, most people can’t maintain the same lifestyle on half the income, and so they decide that staying home with their children is an unaffordable dream.

But that’s not how it works. Would-be homemakers need to get tough with their expenses, and cut out all unaffordable and unnecessary spending. It may be hard but it’s usually only for a few years until the kids reach school.

Necessities verus luxuries

How much money do you really need to earn as a household? Draw up a list of all unavoidable expenses, including your mortgage or rent, insurance policies, essential household bills and travel costs.

Then every other expense - the gym, the nights out, the TV package, the beauty regime – counts as a luxury and can therefore be cut back.

You’ll be able to set a budget for luxuries once you’ve worked out how much money you have coming in and how much you’re spending on necessities.

If money is going to be very tight then you may need to sacrifice all non-essential spending. Not everyone will be willing to do that, so you need to be confident that you can. It’s better to go back to work than to end up in debt.

When you’re working out your essential expenses, don’t forget to factor in savings – building up a rainy day fund isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.

The best tool I’ve found for working out an affordable budget is on the US website Parents.com. It has a calculator that compares your stay-at-home expenses to your working expenses.

Using that, you can get a clearer idea of how much it would cost you to stop working.

[Related feature: You’re wasting money on your kids]


The cost of work


There is some good news! One thing to factor into your sums is that a stay-at-home parent doesn’t have any work-related expenses.

Simply getting to and from the office, buying work clothes and eating lunch out each day can really add up; read our article ‘How much do you really make an hour?’ to see how expensive work can be.

Not only that, but working parents also have to pay for childcare costs, which are far from cheap.
 
When you confront the numbers, you might find you’re better off staying at home with the kids, at least until they reach school age.

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Finding a compromise

Of course, you can be a dedicated, loving parent but still not want to spend every single moment with your children.

Getting out to work can be a relief and give parents some much-needed adult time. But there can be a middle ground for mums and dads who want the best of both worlds.

You could find that rejigging your finances and drawing up a tighter budget allows one or both of you to reduce your hours, giving you more time with your family.

Long-term costs

If you’re trying to decide whether you can really afford to leave work and raise your children, there is one major expense to consider.

At best, your career will be on hold during the time you spend with your children; at worst, your skills will become less relevant and you’ll be less employable.

This can really affect your earning potential if you decide to go back to work. That’s especially true for parents with demanding careers where they need to keep abreast of changes in their industries.

When you consider the effect a career break might have on your long-term earning potential, you could well decide that it’s better to keep working at least part-time for the longer-term financial benefits.

Finally, if you decide you can’t afford to leave work or reduce your hours, or if your career is too demanding to let you do so then try not to feel bad. Children need security above all else and that includes financial security.

[Related link: Tips, guides and features on parenting from Yahoo! Lifestyle]