Updated on 02.05.10

The Cost of Returning to Work

Trent Hamm

Pam writes in:

I have been a stay at home mom for most of the last 19 years. Our oldest son started college this year. We still have our other son who is 16 and our daughter who is 13 at home. I have returned to work part time as a caregiver and my husband is pushing me to work full time. I don’t want to and think it is counter productive because I believe I already have a part time job saving us money. I work very hard at keeping our expenses low. I only spend about 90.00 a week for our family of 5 on groceries, pet food, toiletries. We eat very healthy home made meals. Over the years people have commented to my kids that we must be rich because we have all this nice stuff and I don’t work. Well I do work. I work hard at getting the things we have for much less than most people pay. My husband makes about 60,000 a year and has full medical, dental and vision benefits and pension through work. So as you can see we are far from rich. I have taken on extra hours at work for the last 6 weeks or so and have noticed that our grocery bill has gone up by at least 50.00 a week and commented to my husband about that. If I were wonder woman I know I could continue to save us money and work but I am not.

Here’s the situation as I see it. Both you and your husband want you to choose a path that puts the family in the best financial situation. Since your husband works, he sees work as the best way to put your family in that position. Since you’ve been a stay at home mom, you see the various home economics you do as the best way to achieve it.

The real solution to this whole question, though, is the numbers. That’s where you have to start.

First of all, you have to both be in agreement that the goal is to maximize the difference between what you spend and what you earn, a number I like to call “the gap” (a term I use many times in my upcoming book). If you return to work, the amount you bring home will go up, but so will the amount you spend. If you stay at home, the amount you earn and spend will stay roughly the same.

So, the question really is whether or not the amount you bring home will match the amount you save from working.

This is where the calculator is going to come in handy because you need to carefully calculate an accurate budget for both scenarios. How will your true spending change if you return to work? You know from experience that your return to part time work has raised your food budget by $50 a week – that’s $200 a month. What will it go to if you work full time? I’m pretty sure your food budget will go up even more than $50 a week from where it is now if you do. What other elements of your household budget will be adversely affected?

There are several other factors to consider, too. What costs are there associated with your work? I’m not sure what caregiver means, as it could mean anything from an in-home daycare to something like hospice work. In either case, extra work will mean extra expenses for that, such as supplies for in-home child care to transportation costs for hospice work.

What about taxes? Every dollar you bring in is taxed at the highest rate. Thus, the first $7,900 you earn will have 15% go to federal income taxes, and every dollar beyond that will have 25% go to federal income taxes. You may also have state taxes, and you’ll certainly have FICA taxes, which tack on another 15% or so.

Figure up all of these factors with real estimates. I honestly don’t know how it will all turn out for your case (as there’s not enough data here), but I will say that I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the numbers are close.

Of course, in a few years when your children are independent, the equation will shift in favor of you returning to work – and you should return to work at that point (if you want to, of course). Your total family cost for food and household supplies will drop drastically, for example. That, however, is a bridge to cross in several years.

The way I would do it is to simply make two budgets and make direct comparisons between the two so that the costs and benefits of your returning to work are clear.

Good luck.

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  1. Anna is now Raven says:

    Pam seems to know herself very well and to put full value on herself and her contributions to the family economy. You go, Pam!

    Her husband may not be as fully aware as she is. Pam has been practicing household thrift for so long that he may take her efforts for granted and not realize their true impact. Pam’s choice of words — that when the grocery bill went up after she went back to work, she “commented” on this to her husband — suggests that they need to talk more. A comment is not a discussion.

    It sounds as though they need to have several in-depth conversations about more than the dollars and cents, as Trent has laid out. They need to clarify to each other their feelings and opinions about work and their respective roles in the family.

  2. Beth says:

    Trent, good advice but you’re forgetting that she’s carrying the burden of work in the household. If she goes back to work full time (now or in the future), is hubby willing to step up to the plate and take on his fair share of the housework? In many cases, working wives end up doing double duty.

    If hubby doesn’t step up, then quality of life is going to seriously decrease. All those healthy homecooked meals? Get ready to eat out or eat convenience foods if working mom doesn’t have the time or energy to keep up with the shopping and cooking. That nice clean house? Is husband ready to hire a maid? It’s not just a numbers game.

    Crunching the numbers is a great idea, but I think the plan also needs to include a realistic allotment of who is going to take on what household duties.

  3. mljhouse says:

    Pam working less and having more time at home when two teenagers are in the house is important. Who knows what kind of costly foolishness might happen with unsupervised teens at home. I know I cost my parents plenty due to just a few stupid antics while I was at home unsupervised.

  4. Cheryl says:

    Pam may also have additional expense for clothing and things like haircuts. One of the Tightwad Gazettes had an analysis of the costs of mom working vs not working.

  5. Michelle says:

    I think they should include the children in the discussion. My mom went back to work full-time when I was 15 and I was devastated. I really missed having my mom around after school and having her be able to go on school-trips and such. Maybe Pam’s children aren’t as attached as I was, but it’s something they want to discuss with them. Don’t just spring it on the kids.

  6. Marjorie says:

    I get a queasy feeling when I read about women who for various reasons do not want to work outside the home. One must consider the worst case scenario – what if due to circumstances (death, illness or divorce) she is suddenly financially responsible? I am sure her cost-saving knowledge has its value now but being prepared for both empty nest and future financial needs would be advised. My sil found herself in that position recently when her husband was laid off unexpectedly. After a year of his unemployment, the entire family had to move in with an elderly parent. After years of not working, she had to get a low-paying retail job with horrible hours just to pay basic bills.

  7. Kevin says:

    It’s hard to argue with Trent’s answer – the numbers don’t lie. As I read Pam’s letter, I got the strong impression that she doesn’t WANT to work, and is using the “but I’m saving us money!” argument to rationalize her casual, flexible lifestyle.

    On the other hand, her husband’s encouragement for her to return to the workforce hints to me that maybe he’s jealous of her lifestyle, and maybe even resents having to work so hard to enable her to spend her days however she wants. Perhaps its an indicator that her husband is unhappy at work?

    Anyway, Trent’s answer points you towards the undeniable mathematical truth, and I strongly suspect the result will be that Pam should return to work. However, I think it’s clear that Pam and her husband need to communicate better, clarify and synchronize their long-term goals. I think it’s crucial that both spouses feel the other is working as hard as they are, and I get the sense that at the moment, Pam’s husband does NOT feel that way, and Pam herself even knows it, but (understandably) doesn’t want that to change.

  8. Strick says:

    The parts that stand out to me is the “I don’t want to (work)” and there is no indication they are having any financial difficulties. As someone who is glad their wife works part time and hopes to do the same long before traditional retirement age, I think if their financial needs and goals are being met, “I don’t want to” is the answer to whether she should go back full time.

    I guess all this further math could help convince the husband though and justify it to herself, but I don’t don’t belive that the ultimate goal is “to maximize the difference between what you spend and what you earn” unless your financial needs are not being met. If this is the ultimate goal, then they should probably both work more, given their children are too old to “require” childcare.

    Maybe this a ‘fairness’ issue between the couple (husband thinks its unfair wife gets to work parttime, wife thinks its unfair she is expected to work full time and take care of kids/house/etc), at which point this is a relationship problem, not a financial one.

  9. J says:

    Seems like a communication problem rather than a money problem. Pam and her husband need to talk not only about budgets and money but also expectations for the changing roles in their marriage. The kids should also be involved in the discussion at some point, too.

    If Pam’s husband wants her to work full time, I’m guessing there’s a reason — perhaps the husband is wondering how they will have the money to pay for two kids in college for the next 8-10 years, since I’m assuming the 16 year old will be there in the next year or two, then the sister will follow and then finally they will have the sister only in school. That’s a valid concern and they need to talk about it as a couple first, then talk with the kids about how it’s going to go.

    Also, both Pam and her husband need to show up with open minds when they have their discussion and realize they will likely need to compromise on some things to reach their common goals. Not only should the money budget be discussed, but also the time budget. The husband needs to know that the wife’s increased hours will have consequences on his free time, as well.

    The kids may not exactly like the “new order”, either. However, being 13 and 16, they can certainly do a lot of work around the house that Pam likely does already — cleaning, coupon clipping, grocery shopping, cooking and so on. They might complain about it, but they will be gaining life skills that will help them on their way to adulthood, if they aren’t doing this already.

  10. rxtx says:

    I think people are missing an important side to this – why does he want her to go into full time work? Over the past 19 years its probably been a huge burden on him that he has been solely responsible for keeping a roof over their heads. I would guess that its a relief if he now feels able to share that

  11. Maureen says:

    When doing the comparison, keep in mind that each dollar that Pam saves the family through her thrift is worth more than the dollar she earns at work. This is due to the fact that the family pays for goods and services with ‘after tax dollars’.

    I think that working part time is really the best of both worlds. Beth made a great point about sharing the burden of homemaking responsibilities.

  12. Beth says:

    @ Michelle — I agree! My mom went back to work full time when I was in high school too. There was a lot of friction and fights after the balance shifted. I often felt like I was never doing enough to try and keep the peace.

    In our house both parents were working long hours and we kids were managing school, homework and part time jobs (to save money for university, not for spending money) so there simply wasn’t enough time and energy to go around. My parents were tired all the time, they gained weight, they didn’t exercise, they gave up volunteering, and their social life went steadily downhill.

    I’m just saying it’s one thing to look at the numbers, and another thing entirely to consider quality of life.

  13. I agree with Michelle and Beth. Quality of life needs to be considered along with the numbers.

    I’m in the opposite situation – I want my wife not to work while our children are young (we have a 5 year old and a 2 year old), but my wife is concerned about our finances and wants time out of the house. I’ve tried to persuade her that the extra money will mostly be offset by higher taxes and expenses, and that it will be negative for the children, but she’s not convinced. I’m hoping that we can find a way to compromise, perhaps with a part time job after both kids are in school.

  14. A.M.B.A. says:

    @ #10 Mike; why don’t YOU be the SAHP? We also wanted a SAHP situation. My husband was the one to be home for the first six years, now I have been the one home for the last three years.


  15. Karen604 says:

    I am very much like Pam. For the past 19 years I too have been at home for the most part. In the past 10 years I have periodically worked full or part time on a short tern basis. The results across the family have been an increase in stress, the grocery bill, transportation costs and illnesses. there has in general been less laughter, less free time for hubby and an accumulation of things that do not get done or get missed.
    By being at home it has allowed us to have a productive veggie garden, sun dried clothing, home made bakery items, made from scratch meals hand made sweaters, clothes and blankets. We do not have to pay after hour fees for repairmen. I believe that the research I do have saves us thousands in the purchases we have made.
    I addition to all of that. I know my three kids 24,19 and 16. We have a marriage of almost 29 years and we highly value each other.
    I realize that Pam’s husband may be thinking that a little more in the checking account might be nice but what is he willing to give up.

  16. Anna is now Raven says:

    @ #5 Kevin: Your interpretation of Pam’s situation is not at all consonant with her description.

    You allude to her “casual, flexible lifestyle,” which you evidently feel she needs to “rationalize,” and later you say that she’s spending her days “however she wants.” That implies that she puts out minimal effort and has lots of discretionary time.

    Pam made it very clear that she works hard to keep the house in order, and maintain a home environment that is pleasant and supportive and healht-giving, in a way that makes a substantial financial contribution to the family. There’s nothing casual about the effort required to make all this happen. It requires planning, methodical implementation, and regular evaluation—just like a “real” job. Pam’s husband will most likely have to be educated to understand this.

  17. Bridget says:

    The books “Tightwad Gazette” actually have a very good way to calculate this. I realize it is an older book, but the techniques used and expenses to collate are listed in the book. It really comes down to how much extra is the second person making, i.e. does the amount they are making truly cover all of the increased expenses. For the most part it doesn’t – and in fact, Amy showed that. However, if the homemaker is a professional of some sort who can pull down 6 figures or more, then the decision is usually one of time expenditure and not money.

  18. Kevin says:


    I didn’t mean to imply that Pam spends her days lounging around watching Oprah. But let’s be honest. It doesn’t take 10 hours to do a little laundry and clip some coupons. Maybe if her children were still young, I’d be more sympathetic, but they’re old enough that they should not only be able to take care of cleaning their own rooms and dressing themselves, they should also be pitching in around the house.

    I’m assuming Pam’s husband’s job consumes around 10 hours of his day, from the time his alarm goes off till the time he walks through the door at the end of the day. Thus, he’s “working” 10 hours a day. I’m highly skeptical that even the most devoted housewife is truly working a full 10 hours a day. My wife and I both have careers, and somehow our house manages to stay in order (groceries get bought, meals get cooked, bathrooms get cleaned) without a third person devoting 10 hours per day to the task.

  19. M says:

    I suspect your husband has gotten so used to your running the household efficiently he doesn’t really realize all you do, and how much it saves. Finding the numbers could help. I’m very impressed by your grocery bills – you might show him how much less than is than average (didn’t Trent have a post on that in the last year??). I think I lot of people don’t realize that making 4 loaves of bread a week vs buying it can save $60/mo, etc. And to replace those $60 you would have had to earn $100 before taxes, which might be 10 hrs of work!
    In another vein…and I hate to bring this up…but…you might want to at least consider that he’s pushing you back to work because he’s unhappy in the marriage and wants you to have a job before he asks for a divorce. Marriage counseling,reading some good books on marriage from the library, or programs like Retrouvaille might be the answer more than trying to convince him of the financial value of your staying home.

    @Mike – I really value having a SAH parent, so I get where your coming from. Please remember, though, that staying home can be very very isolating, and if your wife is an extrovert she might be going stir crazy with no one to talk to but a 5 year old and 2 year old all day long. And if your kids are extroverts, they might quite enjoy preschool/daycare.

  20. SusieQ says:

    As a single parent who has clipped coupons, made nutritious meals (in big batches on weekends) and kept a house reasonable clean for a dozen years now, I would have to agree that it does not (have to) take 10 hours a day to run a household.

    I agree also that it this couple needs to have a heart to heart “this is what I want” discussion. If husband wants more financial cushion, the reassurance that they can pay for kids’ college,have enough for retirement someday, etc. that is a reasonable need. Could he define it numerically? Maybe it’s a small amount which could raised without Pam having to get a job.

    If Pam wants to continue to be a homemaker, that’s a reasonable need also.

    There are many potential areas of compromise (a small home-based business for Pam; husband takes on specific household duties, etc.) – I would encourage them to get creative, to talk about their underlying needs and to document what it would take financially to allow both to have at least some of their wishes honored.

  21. Anita says:

    I have several girlfriends who were in a similar situation as SAHMs. Then devastating things happened. One husband died unexpectedly, another lost his job. Both had kids in college/HS and were fairly debt free, but were caught with their pants down financially. There seemed to be enough in the emergency funds, but in one case, one of the kids had to leave college, and the college funds were used to support the family.

    In both cases the SAHMs had to get back into the job market, not an easy thing to do. One was able to find work (pre economic downturn) but at significantly less than what her DH made when he was alive. The laid off family has been forced to short sale their home.

    One side of the coin in this situation is that the wife working more hours could make her a more viable income earning candidate in the future.

    I have always been a working mom (I actually am the higher income earner in our family) and my family has eaten wholesome foods, our home was always neat (not spotless, but presentable), kids grew up happy and stable. It IS possible to have 2 working parents and a good home life.

  22. Nicole says:

    Everything Beth at #2 said. She can go back to work full-time but he has to step up in with the household. He can’t get both a full-time housewife and a second full-time income. He’s going to need to make up the slack if he wants more money.

    Don’t forget to take into account diminished financial aid for students in college in the cost calculation.

    In the general situation (which doesn’t apply in this situation), a stay at home parent should also consider how much their human capital, or skills will deteriorate while not in the labor market. Some careers are very conducive to time spent out of the labor force, but others are very difficult to return to once they have been left. It may be worthwhile to work at an effective loss if it means more career satisfaction and/or more earnings potential later. For example, in academia the low earning years often coincide with the child-bearing years.

  23. matt says:

    Another possibility is the husband may not have job security at work and doesnt want to bring that up and wants her to return to work in case he gets canned. Too much missing here, but I would say your first choice shouldn’t be to run to some guy on the internet looking for an excuse to justify you not wanting to go back to work (i read that as ‘trent please come up with some mumbo jumbo i can show to my husband to prove I should stay home because it will save money’. You need to be honest with each other and have an open dialogue and lay everything out to bear.

  24. MattJ says:

    I also think the children should be included in the discussion. Being a stay at home parent is a lot of work, but surely it’s a lot more work when you have four children under 12 than it is (or than it should be) when you have four children over 12. If the kids are old enough, they should be cooking, cleaning, shopping, and even driving each other around. As they get older they should be pulling more of their own weight, anyway, if for no other reason than as preparation for when they’re going to be taking care of themselves. Eventually they’re all four going to be grown and out the door, and she will no longer be a (mostly) stay-at-home parent in any case, she’ll be a (mostly) stay-at-home wife.

    The discussion needs to be: If Pam is going to work outside the home more, then here’s a list of things that she does inside and for the home now, and somebody (Pam, her husband, or the kids) will have to step up and fill all of those roles.

  25. Nicole says:

    #4 Michelle– It was probably good for your character. Remember that your mother had her OWN life. Mothers have a reason for existence besides their kids’ field trips. Worrying about devastating a 15 year old who is 3 years away from being a grown-up is probably not something that should go into a person’s equation… in fact, if it were my kid I would think that my daughter needed more independence.

  26. MattJ says:

    That said, the list of tasks that are done around the house should include any that he does, as well. Does he already do housework, shopping, childcare? Does he care for the yard or the vehicles? Etc.

    Not just an ultimatum from Pam: “Here’s a list of things I do around the house, and someone else will have to do it if I work full time” but “Here’s a list of all the things that are done around the house, and if we both work 40 hours / week, we’re going to have to split evenly whatever work we choose not to assign to the kids or stop doing altogether.

  27. Jill says:

    Though home bread-making isn’t the best example there since it requires very little labor if you score a $10 thrift store bread machine. Same thing with a lot of household tasks that were once very time-cosnuming, but have become much less time and effort because of labor-saving devices.

    I’d also be concerned about having enough money heading into retirement years, even with a spouse with a fully-insured pension. At the very least, she should have enough quarters of work to qualify for social security on her own, and I’d also think it would be a good idea for her to either have a modest IRA from her own wages or to help make sure the house is paid off before retirement.

  28. Des says:

    @Kevin –

    The reason your groceries get bought, bathrooms cleaned, etc. without a third person working 10 hours a day is that you and your wife “work” extra hours to do it. DH and I both work, and yes our groceries get bought, but I feel like I spend all my spare time managing the house: dishes, cooking, meal-planning, cleaning, laundry, bills, errands, etc. I feel like I have no time for hobbies or for spending time with friends and family. And we don’t have ANY kids! And after all that, the house is never as clean as I would like…I just don’t have time to keep it that way. I guarantee I could fill a full work day managing our house to the level I would prefer. Our quality of home life suffers because we both work. (Obviously, the quality of our finances is improved, and that is the trade-off.) Add kids to that (even older ones) and there’s no question it is a full time job.

    Also, why would you count her husband’s time getting dressed and brushing his teeth as “working”? Doesn’t everybody have to get ready in the morning, whether they work at home or at an office? Does it take more time to change into a suit than it does to change into day clothes? It takes me the same amount of time to get ready in the morning on Saturday as it does on Monday. I work for a bank.

  29. Steven says:

    The way I see it, her husband is worried about college expenses. College can be expensive, and at $60k, won’t qualify for much, if any, need-based aid.

    They have another child who is about to go to college as well, and another in a few years after that. The husband could be trying to save up for a few of those expenses.

    But for now, all we know is that Pam doesn’t want to work full time. Next is for Pam to find out why her husband wants her to go back to work.

  30. Beth says:

    @ Kevin — Funny that in your calculations the husband’s day includes getting ready for work and eating breakfast, etc. but the wife’s does not ;) I’m reminded of TV shows where women always wake up with make-up and perfect hair ;)

    I agree that kids can help pitch in and it’s vital to include them in the conversation, but it’s important to remember that they aren’t miniature adults. From a developmental standpoint, they don’t have the maturity, sense of judgment or responsibility. They’re still learning, and they’ll need guidance, supervision, and nagging to get things done :) They have their own obligations — like homework, extra-curricular activities, friends and part time jobs.

    MattJ’s comment sounds like an excellent way to start a family discussion.

  31. M says:

    @Jill – LOL, you’re right. Breadmakers now let you make bread overnight instead of needing to be around the house for a few hours to occasionally spend 2 minutes attending to the bread. I was thinking about all the yummy bread my mom made while I was growing up, and how I made bread regularly in grad school but never do now that I have a “real” job. Your comment is leading me to start scouting out a bread machine!

  32. Dizz says:


    That is exactly how I feel 100% of the time. My house is never as clean as I would like it and I always feel unsettled.

    I can either spend time cleaning my house or exercise and I have to choose exercising (8 hours per week).

    So my weekend is completely filled with cleaning while my friends have fun.

    I can’t wait to hire a maid.

  33. Roxanne says:

    There is a real qualitative, not just quantitative, difference between full-time and part-time wage-earning. For someone working a full-time job, it’s hard not to gravitate toward the notion that that is one’s “real life.” Personally, I balk at that mindset.

    I’d be concerned with why the husband is jealous, if that’s the case. Would he like to work fewer hours himself, and can only do this if his wife works full-time? Will bumping her hours as a caregiver really cover eight years of university education?

    With this superficial knowledge of Pam and her husband, I speculate that he has had home-cooked meals, clean clothes, frugal groceries and a tidy home so long that he doesn’t think of them anymore. He might be surprised to find his own quality of life diminished by Pam’s padded paycheck.

    Someone suggested that Pam’s husband might be pushing her toward her own maintenance so he can leave. I hope that’s not true, but it’s plausible.

  34. kristine says:

    Kevin- “and do a little laundry”…way to minimalize! No family of 4 with teens has a “little laundry”. You come across as ill-informed and judgemental if you think that is all a homemaker does. Wow. I have been Creative Director of a large publisher, shouldering high-pressure deadlines with a lot of money at stake, and a stay at home mom. My at-work was easier. You have no clue.

    You cannot assess her contribution, as you do not know if she hems the clothes, sews the curtains, makes the blankets, grows their produce, runs every single errand, does all the chapperoning and chauferring, or is active in the school and therefore part of the critical yet rapidly disappearing entity we call “community”. And it is the least appreciated and most undervalued job in the world.

    In any case, studies show that most teens get into trouble between 3 and 6pm. That is when too much TV, eating garbage, friends over, casual sex, drugs, sadness, and boredom happens- when a kid goes home to an empty house. Of course, this is not true of every latch-key kid, but it happens infinity less if a parent is there when you get home! Cell phones are not a substitute.

    There is a REAL value in being home. I changed careers to become a teacher so my day would parallel that of my children. But I was lucky enough to get the expensive required Masters for free- I doubt this is an option for the writer.

  35. Nicole says:

    Another point… caregiving can be a very draining occupation full-time. Not many people have the ability to do it, much less enjoy it. Pam may want to consider other vocations that she might find more fulfilling– she sounds like she’d make a crack accountant or office manager or even CFO! (In addition, of course, to getting higher level nursing degrees.) I also encourage both she and her husband to read Your Money or Your Life and think about what financial independence and enough would mean to them. It might be worthwhile to sacrifice a little today if they can both enjoy a more relaxed lifestyle later. They need to be on the same page and have shared goals– it isn’t a matter of one person winning or making all the sacrifices.

    Ditto on all the posters who said that teenagers (both the boy and girl teens) need to be pulling their weight around the house. My parents put me to work starting at age 7 (cooking, ironing, mending, washing dishes) and man was I way more prepared for adult life than my husband and many of my friends. Heck, at age 31 my husband is spending an enormous amount on a cooking class full of other adults who never had to help out around the house. (I’ve taught him well since marriage, but couldn’t fix his lack of knife skills.)

  36. Nicole says:

    “both her and her husband” not she… sorry bad grammar

  37. Rose says:

    @#14 Kevin:
    Let’s be honest. If you think that the complete job description of an executive home manager consists of doing “a little laundry and clip[ping] some coupons,” then I’d be sympathetic to your ignorance. But!! Are you serious?

    “I’m highly skeptical that even the most devoted housewife is truly working a full 10 hours a day.”

    Kevin, this comment just comes across as smug and demeaning. Your wife works full-time, and I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that she’s a wonderful wife to you. She is clearly NOT the most devoted housewife, and she clearly does NOT devote 10 hours a day to the maintenance and success of your home. Therefore you have NO idea how hard a devoted housewife can work.

    I AM a “devoted housewife,” and I DO work more than 10 hours a day to run a successful household. I wake up at 5:45 with my husband most mornings, get ready for the day with him, cook us both a hot breakfast, spend some quiet time planning my day (writing lists, attending to business, paying bills online, etc.), get my children up, feed them, make preparations for supper…that’s just the bare bones schedule of what needs to happen every single day. On any given day there will be errands to run, shopping to do (which shopping trips represent quite a lot of effort in terms of research, planning, and execution – not quite your effortless “just clip a few coupons”), appointments to keep, bread to bake, laundry to wash, and a rotating schedule of cleaning, all of which takes longer because I am training my children to do the jobs right so that very soon they will begin to pull their own weight around the house. (At which point my household burdens will not magically lift, because by that time there will be a greater workload created by the growing workforce. It sounds like you and your wife don’t have kids. That’s fine for you. Please don’t spout trite platitudes about how families with teenagers ought to operate.)

    This is just an example of how MY life works at this point. This is not to sound smug just because I wake up early and cook for my husband, for instance. I enjoy cooking and baking, and I find eggs and toast far superior to sugary glop that comes in overpriced cardboard boxes. There are many fabulous women out there who run homes much more efficiently than I do, and who accomplish amazing things. Some women don’t bake their own bread but do hang up their laundry to dry. Some women teach music lessons, or spend three hours in the kitchen each day just making food their family can eat due to strong food allergies or sensitivities, or spend hours driving older kids to lessons, classes, and other opportunities. Every family’s situation is different, and most women I know are working hard to do what is best for their own families. It is a personal matter of priorities.

    My husband’s job pays him to take classes and pursue other training opportunities. No one pays me to improve my mind and business acumen, hone my business and writing skills, improve my time and money management, and broaden my culinary horizons – I do that myself. (Right now, with three little children under five, I’m actually finding myself with a bit of free time in the afternoons when the naps converge, and I’ve gotten into the habit of checking out books from the library and reading as much as I can on nutrition, business, finance, politics, and culture, to name a few.)

    “I’m assuming Pam’s husband’s job consumes around 10 hours of his day, from the time his alarm goes off till the time he walks through the door at the end of the day. Thus, he’s “working” 10 hours a day.”

    Okay, so I get breaks throughout the day. Sometimes I pop online to browse a few blogs, catch up with friends, and even venture onto personal finance blogs where I get embrangled in online discussions. Guess what? My husband gets these breaks too. Coffee breaks, lunch breaks, personal time – you can bet that even the most devoted careerist will be having a few minutes of personal time WHILE at work to check Facebook, read personal emails, chat with buddies at the water cooler, etc. I adore my hard-working husband, but few people actually put in 10 hours of non-stop sweat-of-the-brow stuff at the office every day.

  38. Martin says:

    Speaking as someone who’s spouse has been earning income no more than part time (if at all) since we’ve had kids, I can say I feel a twinge of resentment now that the kids are older and she hasn’t made any effort to increase her hours or go back full time. As a matter of fact, all I’ve heard is complaints about the hours she does work and what a “hassle” going to work is.

    So from my point of view I hear:

    Gee, I don’t have to do as much with the kids, so now I’ve got all this time I can spend with my friends socializing or helping out with non-profit making activities and work is cramping my style.
    You, on the other hand, need to keep chugging away for at least the next fifteen to twenty years and figure out how to not only keep your job but keep getting more income in an increasingly competative and cutthroat market, figure out a way to pay for the kid’s college in the face of major tuition hikes, make sure there’s enough for retirement for both of us given the dangerous investment horizon and probably decline in social security and work related benefits, and make sure you have your end of year bonus money available since I’m planning for a “girl’s weekend” next month.

    Obviously that isn’t the way she really feels and she does do a lot and I don’t want to minimize her contributions to everything we do. Yet I do feel a lot of pressure right now, given the economy, given the market, given kids approaching college, given the midlife stresses at work. So while the pressure seems to be increasing on the primary breadwinner (e.g. me in this case), the pressure on her for the forseeable future seems to be decreasing.

    Hence the need for communication, not just justification. The primary breadwinner, particularly now, may be feeling overwhelmed.

  39. Crystal says:

    If she and her husband can agree on the same goal, they should be able to work together to accomplish it. She could work full time and her family could still keep their bills low if her husband (and the kids) can help pick up where she has to leave off.

    My husband and I have reduced our bills and both work full time by simply helping each other at home. I handle our schedules, most of the small errands, and updating our budget regularly (we track our expenses). My husband takes care of most of the housework when school lets out (he’s a teacher). I handle alot of the housework the rest of the year and he chips in when I run out of energy or when he has spare time (he works, officiates high school sports as a hobby job, and is in graduate school right now). Work at home probably balances out to a 60-40 or 65-35 split, but I don’t mind. We are accomplishing our goals by working together…that makes me happy.

    It’s about finding a balance that works for the couple.

    If this couple wants to maximize their money, the hubby will have to step in to help with the stuff that has been helping their finances at home. If he’s like my husband, he won’t mind as long as he knows it’s really helping them out. Show him the numbers and he’ll agree.

  40. Bev Carney says:

    While I agree that a full time job would probably cost more than it would be worth, the tax figures you use are way off. If hubby earns 60,000, then you need to factor in exemptions for 5 people, a standard deduction (or itemized ones), etc. Currently the 15% bracket runs through $67,800 AFTER all of those deductions.

    Social security/medicare is 7.65% unless self-employed. All important numbers in any such decision.

  41. DiscoApu says:

    There is absolutely no way the 8 hours while the kids are gone can be filled with housework. Anyone who says otherwise is inefficient and kidding themselves.

  42. J says:

    @Beth — at 13 and 16 those kids are most certainly “miniature adults”, and should most definitely be capable of taking responsibilities like household chores. A 13 year old should be able to do laundry, clean floors, do dishes, manage a pet, make themselves a snack or basic meal. Cooking may or may not be possible at this age (maybe with a parent in the house), but at 16 most of that stuff should be able to be done unsupervised — especially if that 16 year old is entrusted to drive the lethal instrument known as “the car”.

    Are they going to bitch, moan and complain? Probably. But there are a variety of motivational techniques that can be employed to encourage the tasks to be performed. But they aren’t two year olds, they are on the cusp of moving out of the house in a few years and they need to know how to do household chores.

    My father worked full time, my mother worked part time. Before I could go do a thing with friends, there were chores that had to be done. I also had to watch my younger sister, too, till my mom got home from work.

    Kids can do a lot more than you might expect.

  43. Evita says:

    Good grief! Pam is working as a care-giver, a job that is typically hard (physically and emotionally) and ill-paid. No wonder she does not want to do it full time!

  44. Kevin says:


    You’re right, the reason those things currently get done is because my wife and I do them. But it certainly doesn’t take 10 hours of labour (5 hours each) to do them. If it did, we’d have absolutely no time at all for anything else! We’d get home at 5:00 PM, spend 5 hours doing various chores and errands, go to bed at 10:00 PM, wake up and repeat the cycle. Needless to say, that’s not our current situation. We spend maybe 2 hours per night getting groceries, cooking, doing a load of laundry, paying some bills, or whatever. On the weekends, we might invest a few more hours than on a weekday (mowing the lawn, cleaning the bathrooms, etc.). But in absolutely no stretch of the imagination does all that add up to anywhere near 50 hours of labour per week.

    I counted some of the husband’s time getting ready because it involves a lot of things he wouldn’t have to do if he got to stay at home all day like his wife. Things like shaving, ironing a shirt, commuting, etc.

    My point is, even if the homemaker were actually doing things all day, every day, she gets to CHOOSE what to do, when to do them, what to wear, etc. She doesn’t have to answer to anybody or be accountable or worry about losing her job. It’s a much lower-stress role than being resonsible for every last penny that comes into a household with 4 other mouths depending on you.

    If it were me, I could see why Pam’s husband might be a little resentful that she would get to keep doing what she WANTS to do, while he has to keep slaving away for “the man.” If Pam really things what she does adds more value than a job, then surely she’d be agreeable to the suggestion that she and her husband switch roles, right? Why doesn’t SHE go out and get a job and the HUSBAND will take care of the groceries, bills, watching kids’ soccer games, etc.? I’m guessing that would not sit too well with Pam, so what’s the difference?

  45. Working male says:

    Perhaps the husband resents the wife sitting at home all day commenting on blogsites?

  46. Michele says:

    I have to add my two cents here. I CUT BACK MY HOURS working to part time when my kids were teens…and I’m very happy I did. I was the Mom who was home in the afternoons after school to supervise the house full of my own two and someone else’s kids who had both parents working full time and who had no one at their home. I made sure they had a place to go, had a healthy snack, and had adult supervision while they played video games and skateboarded at my house with my sons. I made sure they started their homework, talked to them about their day, listened to their concerns about girls/boys and school and struggles in life. I am the one who hugged them when they needed it, and wiped tears away. It is not only little kids who need parents at home after school, BIG KIDS NEED THEM EVEN MORE. I usually had at least 8-10 kids at my house after school for 8 years of high school almost every day. I also went to the high school track events, soccer games, and baseball games at our local high school so that someone was watching them. Not only my kids, but someone else’s kids. Pam, stay home. Your kids need you and so do their friends – especially the friends who have rich and successful parents with two careers- because they certainly don’t have the attention of their own parents. You and your husband will be thankful when you have grown up children who are responsible, kind and connected to their family and understand the need for good parenting. And when all those kids still email you and make you their facebook friend, even when they are serving in Honduras or Chile in the Peac Corps or Jesuit Volunteer service, or working as teachers in Boston or computer specialists in Phoenix or Baltimore, you will be happy that you contributed to their upbringing.

  47. Jill says:

    In a marriage, neither partner (whatever their role)is given the right to become resentful. If there’s something happening that’s causing you to be resentful, you have to talk about it and figure out how to prevent that as a team. If there’s no resolution, you’re still responsible for your own heart and resentment isn’t healthy for us. I am a SAHM with two small kids, and there are times it can be easy to focus on the work I’m doing…but the truth is, I’m so much happier when I’m instead thinking of all the things my husband does for me. I tell my kids when Daddy leaves for work that he’s doing that so I can be with them during the day (because it means a lot to me that I can do it). We don’t approach it as the kids are my responsibility and preparing for our future and all money-making is his responsibility; we’re a team. We divide them up in the best way we can and will continue to renegotiate that list as the needs of our family change. And I am with Pam–I am frugal as can be and in my mind the money I save is money I contribute to my family. Just one more opinion: there are no clear-cut prescriptive answers you can give about people’s needs. Not every man thrives working 50 hours, not every woman thrives staying at home, not every child thrives in daycare, not every toddler thrives staying at home, not every 15 year old will build character by having their mother work full-time. I as a mother have to do the best thing for my family, and my husband and I are the only ones who know what that means for us.

  48. AnnJo says:

    There’s a very good chance that Trent’s suggestions about “running the numbers” won’t do Pam any good, because the numbers aren’t the real problem.

    Martin @30 explained very well one possible reason Pam’s husband wants her to return to work – that he may feel overwhelmed by the burden of his responsibilities and uncertain about how he’s going to carry them. Those feelings may be justified by the realities of his situation, or may be exaggerated by depression or anxiety disorders.

    A couple of others have commented on the possibility that Pam’s husband may be considering leaving the marriage, perhaps when the children are a little older. This is a hard thing to contemplate, but better to know than not know. Or Pam’s husband may fear “leaving the family” in another way – through death or disability or simply aging out of a physically strenuous job or burning out of an emotionally draining one. He may worry about how the family would cope in that eventuality.

    There may be some real communication challenges facing Pam and her husband, no matter how well she wields her calculator. Trent is usually well attuned to these kinds of quality-of-life issues but didn’t give them much consideration in his answer today.

  49. AnnJo says:

    One more possibility I should have added to my post above:

    Maybe Pam’s husband has some life goal that he fears not being able to accomplish under the current budget – whether it is extended travel, a change of careers, a year of RVing around the country or sailing around the world, or the time to spend really working on a hobby or craft. Working to put food on the table for our families, as important as that is, is not always enough to sustain our spirits.

  50. Crystal says:

    When I first read this, I thought it just sounded like a woman who didn’t want to work full time. But, I agreed with Trent’s way of approaching it because she wrote into a personal finance website. If she and her husband are having communication issues, they’ll need to work them out and a personal finance site won’t help much.

  51. Evangeline says:

    Dear #14 Kevin: Please crawl back under your rock. You are implying that poor hubby ‘works’ 10 hours a day which is silly. Driving to and from work isn’t working, a lunch break isn’t working, chatting at the water cooler isn’t working, nor is checking email, cracking jokes, gossiping, the list is endless. When you compare apples to apples, using your analysis of the wife’s schedule as the basis, it simply doesn’t hold up. Your clear disdain for the wife is obvious and arrogant. The bottom line is this couple needs to get to the true root of the issue, make honest and fair assessments, and only then make a decision that benefits everyone.

  52. Des says:

    @Kevin –

    So, lets add up the hours then:

    If you and your wife each pend two hours a night, that’s 4 hours a day or 20 hours a work week. Then you say you “invest a few more hours than on a weekday” If you spend 4 hours each weekend day, that is another 16 hours a week. So, you’ve reached 36 hours and haven’t included lunchs (which are part of hubby’s 10 hours) or the getting ready time that would doubtless be part of a homemaker’s day. If we remove commute time, that’s still and hour each morning, or 5 hours a week, plus 30 minutes each day for lunch. Now, we’re at 43.5 hours a week. Looks like a full time job to me, even by your own stats.

    And that’s assuming a stay at home member of your family wouldn’t take on additional responsibilities such as couponing, better meal planning, or deeper cleaning.

  53. Beth says:

    @J #32 — I didn’t say they couldn’t do those tasks, and I totally agree that they should learn how. I had a lot of responsibility when I was younger, and I’m glad for it.

    I used to teach teens, so I’ve seen a lot of amazing things that kids can do. But the fact is that they don’t always do their work, they can be preoccupied with themselves and their friends, the are affected by hormones, and sometimes they just can’t be bothered.

    It’s the job of parents and teachers to work through this, to guide them, teach them and discipline them. That’s why I think assigning chores should be more than just mom and dad’s coping strategy — it’s going to take work. Do I think it’s worth it? Yes. But I’ve met plenty of parents who are “too tired to be the bad guy” at the end of the day. I’m just warning it isn’t like outsourcing a job to a maid.

  54. jim says:

    I think Trent nailed this one.

    The key is for her to add up everything she saves and then do a comparison to her take home wages less work expenses. She needs to convince her husband who is the one currently believing they’d be better off financially if she worked. $50 / week in groceries isn’t all that much compared to full time wages. So she needs to demonstrate the full extent of what she does save them.

  55. Pam McCormick says:

    Wow so much came from very little info from Pam and her situation.I have successfully raised a daughter who is married 5 yrs and has accomplished 2 masters/own house etc.We used team approach to our household everyone pitched in both of us worked full time outside the house and inside the house.We juggled hours/shifts weekends week days to have 1 of us home.Everything was divided by the team members(age appropriate)and by the time she went off to college she could have run a household or a company and the hubby and I are still living by the team approach to all responsibilities.I am compensated better financially so I work 2 jobs the hubby doesn’t miss a beat with cleaning,groceries etc.It can be done with cooperation and communication.I think the mention of the economy and stressful worry is right on! if sources of income are multiple much safer in todays enviroment-no amout of saving will protect the family if you don’t keep the stream of money coming in.My 2 cents

  56. Maria says:

    I know the ladies won’t agree with me, but I’m with Kevin. I’m a 51 year old mom have 3 kids, two still in college and I’ve worked full time forever. It was hard when they were little and a sacrifice, but we didn’t have much choice because my husband’s ex-wife who insisted on being a “stay at home mom” with their son took my husband to the cleaners in child support because she wouldn’t work. So I had to work full time to make up the difference. Ironic? you bet. But my kids grew up fine, they never knew what it was to have a stay at home mom, so it was never an issue. I would save my vacation days to attend field trips, etc. so they weren’t neglected in that area. I attended every home soccer, field hockey game, I resent Michele’s comments that the two career parents are too busy to raise their kids. My kids are now honor students in college and they don’t need to hang onto mommy’s apron strings. My family sat down to a HOME COOKED dinner five days a week. Sometimes on the weekend I would prepare a couple meals so during the week I just had to heat them up. The only treat was pizza on Saturday nights. My kids to this day, don’t eat fast food. I’m not wonder woman, but I get so tired of hearing these stay at home moms complaining about how hard they have it. Give your husbands a break and contribute more to the family than a meal and laundry. That’s what you’re supposed to do anyway. If Pam’s husband is asking her to go to work, maybe the guy is just sick of carrying the load for 19 years. And by the way, if the husband left her tomorrow and she has no income and no marketable job skills what then? Collect alimony for 10 years? Take care of yourselves ladies. Show your daughters that there’s more to life than monitoring the video games and skateboarding in the afternoon. In other words, get a life

  57. J says:

    “they don’t always do their work, they can be preoccupied with themselves and their friends, the are affected by hormones, and sometimes they just can’t be bothered.”

    How is that different from any other human being? :)

  58. guinness416 says:

    Interesting comments but everyone seems to be projecting their own issues and opinions onto a 15 sentence email excerpt that speaks almost entirely to finances (which could be a red herring, sure, but who the hell knows). I agree with Jim, for the information we have Trent’s suggestion is great.

  59. jim says:

    #39 Evangeline “chatting at the water cooler isn’t working, nor is checking email, cracking jokes, gossiping,”

    You criticized Kevin for trivializing the wifes work and then you trivialize the husbands work. What reason do you have to assume the husband has such an easy & casual work environment? That isn’t any fairer or right than trivializing the work of the wife.

    We do not have any reason to assume the husband or wife works excessively hard nor has a super easy job.

  60. kristine says:

    Kevin, The idea that Pam, as a caregiver, and someone who has not held a full-time job in many years, could replace a 60K job, is not even remotely possible. Caregivers are poorly paid, and almost never receive benefits. Perhaps if Pam could walk into a 60K job with benefits, it would be a worthwhile suggestion. Jeez, you sound so andry. Are you even a parent? That’s a lot of stone-throwing for someone who may not have walked the mile.

  61. Alexandra says:

    What about the years of lost raises? If she goes back to work now and continues working until retirement (say 20 years), she’ll get the benefit of receiving raises in the working years. Not so if she stays at home for several more years before returning to work. That’s lost income that can never be made up – less pay for the exact same amount of hours worked.

    What about the investment she will make on any money she saves from her earnings? Doesn’t this count? What kind of return can she expect on 20 years of investments – shouldn’t this be part of the equation?

    Tha calculations in Trent’s reply seem a little simplistic, and only apply to the here-and-now. Not returning to work until the last child leaves the house will far longer-lasting implications on her overall finances than just having to spend an extra $50 on groceries each week.

  62. Steffie says:

    imo there is lots of info missing that would assist in giving advice, is their house and car paid off or close to paid off ? do they have an emergency fund ? are the kids in lots of after-school activities which wouldn’t be possible if Mom didn’t drive them etc ? what kind of retirement fund do they have ? are there older family members who may need assistance, medical or financial ? all of these questions may be weighing on the husband and contributing to his resentment etc

  63. RobD says:

    This is definitely a tough one. Trent’s comments on analyzing the numbers are sound. I recognize the value of home economics, and went through the drill of estimating the dollar value of my wife’s contribution to the overall state of the family on more than one occasion.


    the relationship issues need to be considered as well. My marriage fell apart at about year 20, and this was one of the issues. Communications broke down, and things spiraled to disaster from there. Martin in #30 captures a lot of my situation as well. So, since this is finance rather than relationships, let’s just leave it at the point that even if the numbers are close for an outside employment/home decision, increased flexibility or perception of equity should carry some weight in the decision making process.

    (And yes, I now do all the house tasks–laundry, cooking, cleaning, meal planning, finances, transportation to kids’ athletic events, scheduling of medical appointments, etc.–on top of my regular job and a freelance job, and am the custodial parent of a high schooler and a college student, so I don’t think I’m undervaluing those tasks.)

  64. Sandy L says:

    Teenagers are capable of alot. By 14, I was doing my mom’s taxes (her english wasn’t great) and working a part time job. I WAS a miniature adult, playing translator on utility bill disputes, negotiating with repairmen, etc.

    I did grow up fast but liked being independent..so I guess no harm done.

  65. Kara White says:

    While I think that sitting down and crunching the numbers is a good start, I don’t think that “just the numbers” is the real problem. Pam needs to sit down with her husband and ferret out the real problem. They need to sit down and have a “State of the Union” meeting. They both need to sit down with open minds, and not let the conversation devolve into “Who works harder and brings more into the family.” That’s pretty easy to do–as evedinced by some of the comments, but its petty. They can work through this, but not without some serious communication. If they can’t solve this on their own, maybe some marriage counseling is in order. Counseling is not just for marriage on the rocks; it has it’s place in healthy marriages too.

  66. Elaine says:

    Anyway, I am the primary wage-earner in my house by a long shot. My husband works part time now, and we have 3 kids (6, 8, 10 years old). I insisted he go back to work when the kids got to school age, not because I felt short-shrifted, but because he was going stir crazy and wasn’t talking to anyone but me and the kids and it was putting a strain on our marriage. Now the kids spend more time with strangers/caregivers, our house is messier, neither of us gets enough sleep, we spend more money than we should, but its working ok.

    I’ve had a career all my life, although I took maternity leave after having each of the babies (6-8 weeks). I know, first hand, how hard parenting and true homemaking is. Yes, if the person staying home doesn’t clean or cook much, the house is dirty, you order out, etc..I could see getting upset about the stay at home spouse appearing to be idling. But proper, Amy Dacyzyn style, homemaking is really hard work. Yes, you get more freedom than you do at a outside job. Yes, you get more socializing with an outside job. Yes, its hard to quantify your value when you work at home. I think that’s the point of the post.

  67. Lib says:

    I just wanted to point out that in these calculations of “hours of work,” Pam is already working a part-time job.

    So, assuming she works 20 hours, the housework and kid-related time needs to add up to another twenty, NOT forty.

    I think that’s very possible.

    I’m in the opposite situation right now – I work as a high school teacher, and my fiance is taking one graduate course and doing some work in a lab on campus.

    And I do come home tired and exhausted and grumpy, and hear about how he and his friends played tennis and cooked and ate lunch after class, and feel overworked.

    Its a delicate situation. For me, I work so hard that I think he should do ALL the weekday housework, and we can split over the weekend. I get frustrated at having to do dishes, and he gets frustrated at me not wanting to do anything.

    Its really, really easy to “forget” that my laundry is always done, and that he has dinner waiting on those days I remember to call when I’m starting home. But we’re slowly figuring things out.

    Wow, that was a long degression.

    All I STARTED out to say was, its easy to put in 20 hours a week of work as a SAHM if you’re also schlepping teenagers around to activities.

  68. Rosa Rugosa says:

    Wow! I agree that it’s interesting to see how so many posters are projecting their own wants and needs here, but isn’t that what these forums are all about? My husband and I have always worked full time, and we have no kids. I do housework, laundry, scheduling of appointments, and the books. He does the cooking, dishes errands, and groceries. We share on gardening and home improvements. I have always devoted more time to home tasks than he has. He very recently lost his job, and I must say that I love having a stay at home husband! He loathed his job, so he is already a much more relaxed and pleasant person. All the extra things he is now able to do around the house are a weight off my shoulders. I enjoy my job, and earn the higher salary, but we would have to live in much reduced circumstances to keep this up indefinitely (once severance runs out). But I think I would really prefer it if he takes a part-time or lower-paying, lower stress job. I definitely value the things he does at home that are a benefit to both of us, but I don’t think I make quite enough to carry us comfortably over the long haul. If I did, I would gladly support us both! We have been married for 25 years and communicate pretty effectively, and I agree that communication about this type of thing is critical. We’re currently engaged in an ongoing and mutually supportive dialogue about what comes next. I must say that a more responsible approach to personal finances over the past couple of years has better positioned us to handle this change of circumstances. Thanks, PF Community!

  69. sue says:

    wow -I thought this was the “simple” dollar – how about just deciding how much is enough money. And then deciding how or who should earn it. Always wanting more will just leave you…well…always wanting more. If you got this far on 60 grand I can’t see why you would need more at this point, with the kids soon out the door.

  70. Lisa says:

    I have seen an awful lot of attention paid to the finances, but my concern is the family. I got into an awful lot of sticky situations when my mother went back to work when I was 14. I currently work part time outside the home and am not home for 3 out of 5 school days when my kids now teenagers are home. I do not worry about them getting into trouble because I have a very good understanding of what they are up to(except in all honesty internet wise… which is very scary). But I do hurt because I am not there when they get home. Because I am busier when I do get home there is much less conversation, as I am running around doing things i didn’t get done during the day. And I do have my doubts that after taxes and expenses that I am earning more than a few dollars an hour. Find me a husband that would be willing to stay at a job he earned so little at.

  71. MightyMighty says:

    Amy Dacyczyn makes a good argument for how household labor should be divided. Each partner should “work” an equal number of hours per day. My husband and I keep this concept in mind (loosely) when we are juggling things. When our son was a newborn, he was nursing EIGHT hours a day. I was home on maternity leave at that point, so although I wasn’t at work, and my schedule was more casual and flexible, I was still spending 8 hours a day nursing + time for other types of childcare/housework. Once I mapped this out for my husband, his sense of maternity leave being a vacation vanished. (Which is not to say that I didn’t love it and love cuddling my baby–I did. But just because work is enjoyable doesn’t mean it doesn’t count.)

    Right now I am shifting from a “part time” teaching job that has me teaching more classes than my full time teaching husband (private v. public), to teaching one full day a week. Because my dad can watch our son that one day, my take home pay will be the *same* as it is now for five days of work with four days of childcare. My husband LOVES the idea. This is because he loves homemade bread, no convenience food, a clean house, an energetic wife, a SAHP, cheap groceries, and not having to run many errands/make calls or appointments.

    We intend to have more kids and homeschool them. In this case, it would be 25+ years before working outside the home would make financial sense for our family. By that point, we will have to consider whether me earning more money is more important than keeping the household running quite so smoothly.

    This by the way, is one area where men in this conversation seem a little lost. Running a household includes everything from groceries and laundry, to repairing things with a DIY manual and making appointments, to disputing things with service providers that have overcharged you, etc.

    I know now that my husband, who is very fair and the least sexist person I’ve ever known, is awful at making calls and dealing with paperwork in a timely manner. He is very focused on his career when he’s out of the house, and very focused on his family in the house. I prefer for him not to take on paperwork tasks since it usually involves me following up 5+ times and things being done super late. Sometimes it make sense to divide labor in a way that allows one spouse the time to increase earning power, and have the other spouse take on most household tasks, and try to leave the evenings/weekends open for family time and personal fulfillment.

    A great quote by Matthew Kelly is “Carefree timelessness is the reason why teenagers fall in love so easily, and why we fall out of love so easily. Relationships need carefree timelessness or they will die.” I always think about this when we are planning out a week. What will we do this week to leave enough time to just be with each other?

    Money is really the means to an end. The end should be a vibrant homelife and fulfilling personal life. I really doubt that Pam taking on more hours at a physically demanding job is going to be good for her family. Despite the stereotypes, teenagers need their parents. One friend I know calls it the “Be By” method. He sits in the same room as his kids, and after about 30 minutes, they’ll start sharing stuff. Stuff that would never come up in a few distracted minutes between tasks.

    Also, I really do sympathize with #30, Martin, who struggles to feel satisfied with their division of labor. There is a way to express that to your wife that might make her more sensitive to how it feels for work to not be “optional.” (And I feel the same way as a teacher when my students tell me they couldn’t do their reading because they were “busy.” Give me a break. You have no responsibilities and I’ve seen how little HW is assigned. You are home by 3:30. You watch two hours of TV a day. Shut up. If you’re busy, I don’t know what that makes me.)

  72. Louise says:

    When I worked for an Asian company, I found that most of the mothers there planned on becoming stay-at-home Moms when their kids entered the dangerous teen years. As one explained, “That’s when kids get into alcohol, drugs, and sex. That’s when they have relationship problems, can get profoundly depressed, and really need us.” I thought that was a very interesting and valuable way of looking at things.

  73. colleen c says:

    Kristine #27, thank your for your comment. I am currently a SAHM and was thrilled with your statement. I do SO much every day that I am proud of, from running our school PTO and tutoring kids at the school to tutoring my own kids at home. I often say I have the best job, I just don’t get paid, and it kills me when people casually say to me that “I don’t work.” I do part-time work as I can get it and I feel I contribute very much to my family. I also feel strongly that if I did return to full-time work, my husband would first have to show me that he would take over half of the household duties. His life would change drastically and he recognizes that.

  74. I love that Pam goes right into the facts of what working more is costing the family like how much more the grocery bill was. Often we focus on the emotional drain when trying to solve a problem rather than the whole picture.
    For about 1yr my husband was the stay at home parent and my life was so happy and EASY. He took on all the shopping, driving the kids around, household chores (remodeled our house),etc. My job was 9-5 while his was 7-7. He had it much tougher than me!

  75. CindiCCC says:

    Besides the money issue, please consider the benefit of a parent at home for a 13 and 16 year old. These are key years where keeping in touch with teenagers can make for life-long success. Waiting just 5 more years before going full-time (when your 13 year old heads to college) isn’t long.

  76. jc says:

    some comments above have led me to think that there may be some Myers-Brigg type differences across this couple at the root of this conflict (and the underlying communication issues). If one or the other of them is drawn to self-diagnosis and has an interest in how personality types interact, I’d recommend Sherman & Jones’ book “Intimacy and Type.”

  77. gail says:

    From a purely financial status, Pam and her husband should follow Trent’s advice and crunch the numbers and evaluate their present and future goals. And, as things appear now, it seems like Pam and her husband are doing well financially, as he has a stable job with future benefits. Why rock the boat and have Pam go back full-time when it will be disruptive to their family? I always tell friends going thru this dilemma: If you have a CHOICE about whether you need to work or not, you are WAY ahead of the crowd. Now go do what will work best for your family and your sanity. Also, you can have it all; maybe just not ALL AT ONCE. Right now, Pam wants to be there for her kids, so working part-time is a great compromise. In a few years when the kids are grown and gone, she can go back full-time. Don’t try to fix what ain’t broken….

  78. Kathy says:

    Gail #54, really nailed this for me. Most people aren’t fortunate enough to have a choice. I would kill to be in Pam’s shoes, to have the choice to work part time or stay home.

  79. jgonzales says:

    Kathy, I think you’d be amazed if you really crunched the numbers how many people could afford it, if they cut some of the extras.

    Like you, I didn’t think I’d ever be able to afford to stay home with my kids. We were in major debt with maxed out credit cards and negative balance on our checking account (to the point that we hit the max negative the bank would let us go). Bills that literally hadn’t been paid in months. We were rock bottom. We also had 2 full time income, with 1 child and 1 on the way.

    We signed up with a financial counselor (mentioned it on Trent’s previous post about the subject) who is still teaching us quite a bit about finances. A month after we signed up with her, I lost my job (it was mid 2007, so it was the beginning of the economic mess). Being 5 1/2 months pregnant I was having a very hard time finding a job (the temp agencies wouldn’t even consider me for anything beyond a substitute for a day or week).

    We did what we had to do in order to make ends meet. We cut out cable. We had an entertainment budget of $30 a month. This was to cover basically anything fun, including eating out. As people who ate out 3-4 times a week, it was a shock to the system. We kept our internet but used that for 90% of entertainment needs. There was no clothes budget, we made do. Our food budget was $250 a month and gas was $150 a month. Even though we wanted to, we didn’t move to a bigger place. The kids got hand me downs (we were fortunate to have 2 daughters) and if was new, it was from a relative or friend.

    I finally got a part time job at night about 8 months ago, just shy of 2 years since I lost my job. I work graveyards between 1-4 nights a week, depending on the schedule that week. Over those years and even now, I’ve looked for a full time job to supplement what my husband brings home, but without anything full time in the evenings/graveyard (or paying twice what I used to make) we’d lose money through daycare and work related expenses. In that same time period, all of our family budget (food, gas, entertainment) went up. We even were able to take a family vacation for my dad’s wedding. We haven’t moved yet but it’s part of the goals we have set and are working hard toward.

    It’s possible if you want to make it happen and are willing to sacrifice some of the stuff we think we need.

    As for Pam, I think she & her husband need to sit down and figure out what’s important to them and their goals. Once they have that, they can go through and see if they will reach those better if Pam stays home or goes back to work full time.

  80. teresa says:

    The one comment I havn’t seen is that a SAHM day ends at 5:00, let me tell you it just doesn’t end! Kids at any age need assistance any time of the day. So saying that the husband works so many hours and the wive has X amount of “active” working hours is comparing mars and venus. I bet this husband has no clue how much is involved in running a household and if given the chance to change places for awhile would beg to go back to work. For some reason our society thinks that having a bunch of crap(tv’s, new cars, huge houses) is so much more important that raising our children. Why do you think we are building so many more jails and drug abuse is rampant. If there is any way possible for a parent to be at home full time for their children I think every family should make that choice. Getting your kids bailed out of trouble or into rehab is going to cost a whole lot more than you could ever earn.

  81. SLCCOM says:

    Something everyone is overlooking is the blithe assumption that the husband will remain employed, at at least his current salary and benefit level and/or won’t get sick or injured and end up on permanent disability, or even die.

    It is possible that he wants her to work full time because he realizes that his job isn’t actually secure, but he doesn’t want to worry her by telling her that. It is also possible that he sees that she is becoming more confident and secure with her part time work and wants to help her continue grow as a person. She is certainly young enough to work her way up and perhaps get a degree to move into a high-paying job someday. Maybe he is not secure about his health and wants her to start becoming self-sufficient.

    In any case, an older woman who has not worked for a decade or two in this economy is at such a serious disadvantage that getting a minimum wage job is a major accomplishment.

    I am ashamed to say that when I was a teenager, my parents discussed having my mother go back to work. Selfishly, my brother and I voted against it. Her mental health and self-confidence today would be so much better had she had a life outside of us.

    And if something had happened to my father, she would have been much more financially secure than she would be with just life insurance. We did see what happens to investments sometimes, but job skills don’t nosedive like stock markets.

    These are at least as important to consider as crunching the raw numbers on a spreadsheet.

  82. Rachel says:

    A few thoughts:

    Firstly, there are shortcuts that can make house duties for working parents easier, without a significant loss in quality. Bulk cooking certain dishes for the freezer is not all that much worse than cooking from scratch every day.

    As others have said, older children can and should be encouraged to chip in with household chores (cleaning their own room, washing dishes, help with laundry) – and once they are helping, they might realise that they can take more off the load by behaving differently (if they do laundry, they might think twice about tossing a barely used item in the hamper, or with dishes they might rinse a water glass straight away instead of leaving in the sink).

    On that note, I would recommend taking a look at all the housework done and examining how much of it is necessary chores, how much is money saving hard work, and how much is “proud housewife” i.e. justifying being a SAHP (such as cleaning more frequently than necessary or making particularly elaborate meals)?
    If Pam went back to work, the necessary chores would still need doing (perhaps with a different division of responsibility), the money saving work would be desirable (but perhaps no longer as pressing to do it all), and the proud housewife stuff could be discarded (because, as Pam herself put it, she isn’t wonder woman).

  83. Sandy says:

    I think some publication just valued the SAH Parent, and it cam out to about $120,000/yr. I’ve been lucky to have been a SAHM for most of my children’s lives (16 years, 2 girls). Currently, my PT job is during the hours of 10-2 and am home in the morning an the afternoon. Our school system just eliminated bus service for the HS, so while she has a friend drive her to school in the morning and a few afternoons per week, she needs a ride around 2:30 to her afterschool job at 3. Also, I appreciate the fact that I CAN be there for them…my youngest is a chatterbox when she gets home from school, and I love that I’m still the one she’s chatting with. Sorry…there’s no paycheck that could outdo that.
    I am one of those moms who cooks from scratch, bakes several times per week, hang dries almost all of our laundry, am the obvious chauffer and appointment setter, gardens and preserves foods, etc..I don’t make a lot of money at my job, but the hours are perfect for me, who wants to still be at home with my kids,plus do all of these other cost-cutting measures to help our household bottom line. I’m the Girl Scout leader and church volunteer, and help out as needed at the schools. The way I look at it is, the kids will be off to college and out of the house before I know it (6 more years). Frankly, I am happy to put a career on hold and work at a part time job and everything else at home while the kids are under our roof. Then, I’ll be happy to work full time, and my husband can take a work break if he likes, and he can bake the bread!

  84. skp says:

    Caregiver jobs are usually extremely flexible and do not include benefits. One could work 20 hours during the summer when the children are home from school and more hours in the winter when the children are at school. Unexpected bill??- work more hours. Planning a big party or holiday celebration- work less.
    OR May be a better idea would be to keep at part time and go back to school. LPNs can finish school in one year full or 2 years part time and make twice what an aide makes.

  85. partgypsy says:

    I think there are such varying responses because there is insufficient information. We are only getting Pam’s side; we don’t know why, if everything is so great why her husband is pushing her to work. Coul we get an update of the husband writing with his perspective : )?
    Myself having a spouse that is mostly SAH gives us some cost saving measures but more quality of life improvement. However if it came down where there was increased need for money for retirement, college, etc, no amount of cost cutting measures is going to give you increased income. That’s when both partners need to talk and possibly give up some quality of life benefits for common financial goals. So she needs to be open to that conversation as well.

  86. partgypsy says:

    #59 not to be too crass, maybe my husband and I could both stay home. That way we would be “earning” 240K a year! Sounds good to me! Don’t get me wrong; stay at home and people who volunteer do not get the recognition they deserve. However I can’t imagine that figure of 120K may be a tad inflated, especially when you consider the single mothers out there who are doing it all.

  87. jgonzales says:

    #62, partgypsy

    No, the number isn’t inflated, but it also wouldn’t work out to 240K for 2 of you either. The number is based on the jobs that the average SAHP takes on, like driving the kids to various events (chauffeuring) or housekeeping (maid), cooking (chef), childcare (daycare provider). If you hired people to do all the things a SAHP does, it would cost you around 120K a year.

    I’ve always found this number fascinating, it’s a comment on our society that often looks down at people who choose to stay home yet will happily work full time and pay others to do the same thing. SAHP contribute quite a bit and yet many people look down on them calling them lazy or telling them that they should be out getting a job to help pay for all the “stuff”.

  88. Mo-Town says:


    Yes. The number is inflated and grossly so. The easiest way to calculate the unrealized salary of a SAHP is to look at salary figures for full time caregivers. I can assure you, the average full time caregiver does not make $129K/year. The magazine arrived at the $120K figure by assigning a dollar value to everything a typical SAHP does during the entire day, but this isn’t how real life works. I do many things outside of my job that I’m not compensated for. I mow the lawn every weekend, cook, clean, do laundry, etc. The “value” of these tasks doesn’t get added to my salary.

    I understand that the magazine article was just trying to make a point about the many things SAHPs do that go unnoticed, but suggesting that the average SAHP saves a family $120k per year is a huge stretch.

  89. partgypsy says:

    Thanks Mo-town I looked at the original article and they included jobs such as accountant and CEO(because SAHM does the bills and is the “Head” of the household). I don’t think I’d hire an accountant who used practices to arrive at such a figure, would you? A truer reflection is how the budget would change if the caretaking parent went from non-working to working, taking into account the increased income but also the increased costs (wardrobe, commute, daycare, etc).

    To be a devil’s advocate if you wanted to give a fuller accounting you would also have to take into account the benefits of being the stay at home parent, such as being there for their first milestones (first word, walking, drawings), able to attend school events and meetings, extra hugs and confidences, all the experiences that contribute to them growing and changing into the person they become. Yes, stay at home parents make sacrifices, but you have to acknowledge the working parent is also making a sacrifice for their family. They also bear the stress of being the sole wage earner for a family, not insignificant in these times. My point being, is that a successful partnership means each partner appreciates what the other brings to the table, but should also be flexible to adjust if need be the roles.

  90. Nicole says:

    Is that moderation function still not fixed? It’s definitely irritating when 20 odd posts are just randomly scattered throughout an old post because it took several days for them to be approved. The discussion becomes kind of weird.

  91. Kevin says:


    Regarding the assertion that a homemaker’s effective “salary” works out to $120k, or whatever other outrageous number you want to put forth. That calculation is based on the absurd assumption that the homemaker is performing several jobs that could be outsourced to a professional (chef, accountant, nurse, etc.), then multiplies the salaries of those jobs by the number of hours the homemaker spends doing them.

    The reason that calculation is nonsense is because it assumes that the homemaker is doing all of those jobs with the same degree of skill and expertise of the actual educated and experienced professionals she’s being compared to. I’m sorry, but being able to pay your phone bill online does not make you an accountant. Putting a bandaid on a skinned knee does not make you a paramedic. Stirring some milk and butter into a pot of Kraft Dinner does not make you a chef.

    That’s why that “study” always irritates me.

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