Thinking About Another (Temporary) Life Change

As most of you know, my wife and I have two preschool-aged children and a third one on the way. From April/May of this year to September of 2011, we will have three preschool-aged children in our home, which will be an interesting experience with a lot of unique challenges.

Currently, my wife works outside the home as a teacher. She commutes almost an hour each way to work, which means that she often leaves before seven in the morning and doesn’t return home until five in the evening. While I’m (luckily) flexible enough in my scheduling to take care of some family matters, she often feels as though she doesn’t get to spend enough time at home in the evenings with the children (and with me, too).

Thus, we’re strongly considering utilizing the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to have her take a one year sabbatical from her job once her normal sick leave from the birth of the upcoming baby runs out. This would allow her to be a stay-at-home mom until our oldest child is in school – a fifteen or sixteen month stretch.

This is a major shift with several financial consequences.

First, her salary would go away. Our income for that period would come solely from my writing. Our numbers on paper show us that this is in fact doable, but it’s still a drastic change from where we’re at.

Second, we would be responsible for health insurance coverage (out of our own pocket) for that year. We would be able to continue using her school’s insurance package if we so chose, but we would have to pay the portion they typically cover out of our own pocket. Again, we’ve already figured this up and we can afford it, but it’s another radical shift.

On the plus side, our child care costs would basically vanish. We would (tentatively) send our oldest child to a private preschool in the area for a portion of the day, but the other two children would remain at home full time.

Our food and recreation costs would go down as well. Such a change would give us more time for meal and recreation planning – and I’m not just talking about Sarah, either. I would have more time as well for these activities because tag-teaming child care with my wife is much easier than bundling kids up for day care when I need to focus on work activities.

We’ve done our best to estimate these costs and savings and our conclusion is that we’ll be able to financially pull it off with some significant breathing room. A big help in easing our minds through all of this is the fact that we have a very healthy cash emergency fund and that the FMLA guarantees her a job if she returns after the year.

I really only have two concerns with this.

First, will I be challenged to have uninterrupted work stretches with three kids at home? I do most of my work in big uninterrupted blocks. In years past, I’ve tried to get significantly ahead on posts for the summer break so that interruptions wouldn’t be as bothersome, but I can’t get a year and a half ahead. Will I be able to find the right balance here?

Second, will Sarah be burnt out and miss her teaching work? I know that she loves her job and she’s a highly regarded teacher (back in the day of, I saw evidence of that). Will she be happy with this transition, or will she find herself going stir crazy this November because she misses the teaching?

The most important thing to notice is this: because we’ve been making little financial choices all along – minimizing our spending and saving for the future – this decision isn’t being made by the almighty dollar. Money isn’t forcing us to do this or to not do this. Our little choices all along are enabling us to make this decision on the merits of what’s best for our lives and, more importantly, what’s best for our children’s lives.

That’s the real power of frugal, financially sensible living.

I’ll keep you up to date on what we decide.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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