Sunday Conversation #4

This week, I’m interviewing a close friend of our family named Carrie. It was Carrie’s earlier guest post on cloth diapering that inspired us to try it. Carrie is a stay-at-home mother with a husband whose career pays irregularly, meaning they tackle a very uneven rate of pay along with many opportunities for saving money. Beyond that, her family has adopted a huge number of green-oriented solutions for food and household care – they eat organics, do cloth diapering, and so on. Even more so, many of these ideas are guided by her faith. Thus, I thought it’d be interesting to have a conversation with Carrie about some of these issues – and you’ll also find that Carrie’s perspective and mine diverge in several areas.

What were your reasons for choosing to be a stay-at-home mom?

I think it’s important for a child’s parent to be able to be the primary daytime care-giver for young children. I was strongly influenced by my family situation growing up, where even though both my parents worked or were in school full-time, we were always in the care of one of them. So, I’m not personally tied to being the primary caregiver, but (here comes reason 2) since my husband’s work schedule is usually unpredictable and takes him away from home, it makes sense for me to stay at home, both so our child(ren) can have a parent available at all times, and so we can have the flexibility to spend time with him when his schedule suddenly opens up, and he is home unexpectedly. Finances were not a significant factor in making this decision.

Do you feel that the stay-at-home choice is causing an economic disadvantage for your family?

No, I don’t feel like we’re at an economic disadvantage. While we would most likely be bringing in more money if I were to work outside the home, our current situation fills our needs. I think that perception of economic disadvantage is highly situational, and personal. If we were in a situation where my husband was making a significantly smaller income, then strictly from an earned income point of view, we might indeed be at a disadvantage, compared to others. Some families are in a situation where even after the costs of daycare and work related expenses are accounted for, the extra money, even if it’s just $1000 a year, makes huge difference. Considering my educational training, I know that I could make substantially more than the cost of high-quality day care. That is not where my values lie, however. For some people, not having enough money to travel to foreign countries, or even to buy an expensive, but high quality tool, would cause them to feel at a disadvantage, especially when you know that you could be brining in more income as a family. Although I would love to travel, I don’t place a strong personal value on that. Other people might say that we’re at a disadvantage, I would say we have different values.

What things do you do to recoup that loss in income?

Since I don’t perceive a loss in income, there aren’t things in my life that I do from the mindset of making up for lost income. I shop for bargains and make frugal choices because I believe that it’s a proper use of my resources to do so, not because I feel the need to make up for something.

Once your child/children grow older, do you see yourself returning to full-time work?

I suspect that once my children are all out of the house and on their own, I will return to full-time work that earns money.

This question makes me think some about the perception of stay-at-home parents and how what they do is classified. For instance, I don’t always think of myself as a stay at home mom, even though common use of the term would put me in that category. I spend many of hours throughout the month working on youth ministry volunteer work, and I have occasional – very occasional – think less than 3 jobs per year – contract work. I guess I’m saying that even though I’m not making a significant direct financial input into our family, the volunteer work that I do is significant enough that some people get paid to do it. We’re blessed enough to be able to donate the time.

But back to the question – I know that I enjoy working with people, and I love the challenge of deadlines and creative work. I look forward to the opportunity to apply myself in a way that adds to our income, but I have no idea what I’ll be doing when the time rolls around to get back into the workforce. My interests have changed, and I’ll probably go back to school once I settle on whatever it is I think I want to do!

I’ve observed that you eat organic foods, do cloth diapering, etc. Why? Are these things a “green” choice or are there other reasons?

The “green” aspect of our choices – as in, a positive benefit for the environment, such as a smaller carbon footprint, fewer chemical contaminants in our water and air, less junk in the landfills, things like that – is one reason why we choose to eat organically, use my cheap car that gets great gas mileage, and cloth diaper, and lots of other things. I have been conscious of the impact we have on the environment since I was in high school. I think the thing that really started me in this direction, though, is my belief that it is, in general, healthier for my body, and that such choices can reduce the risk of many of the chronic ills faced by our society. I’m all about reducing chemical exposure. So I suppose, I’m green because I’m selfish.

Thankfully, there are side benefits, like direct savings of less money spent on diapers, and indirect cost savings of less money spent on illnesses.

Your husband’s work is contract-based, meaning that you make plenty of income but it’s irregular. How do you guys manage that irregularity in the face of regular bills?

My husband was doing his line of work long before we got married, and he had already established patterns that now help us get through the year. As our lives have changed – adding a child to the mix changes lots of things! – we’ve adjusted our patterns. Essentially, we’ve taken the time to figure out how much of a paycheck actually stays in our hands on average, with the rest going to business expenses and taxes, and we know how much we spend during the months when income is significantly less. Sometimes we get paid every week, sometimes, it’s less than once a month. We make sure that we set aside enough money over the course of the year to get us through those leaner months. We don’t carry any debt right now, and we make sure that we have a good-sized emergency fund saved up. I suppose that because this is the financial life we have known our entire marriage, it doesn’t seem that strange or irregular.

What role does your faith play in your personal finance choices?

My personal beliefs plays a huge role in my choices. While the organized religious group that I participate with addresses the concept of stewardship, I wouldn’t say that as an organization we are all living green and making sound financial decisions. My personal finance choices are a reflection of my interpretation of scripture, and really, it extends beyond managing money. The concept of being a good steward is central to my interaction with everything around me – the money in my hands, the earth around me, and my relationships with others.

I know Carrie will be reading the comments here, so feel free to add in any additional questions you may have.