Updated on 09.18.14

Leaving to be a Stay-At-Home Parent

Trent Hamm

Kendra writes in:

My husband and I are expecting our first child in February. Currently, we’re in great financial shape: we’ve been saving our money quite diligently over the last few years, bought a house with a large down payment, and have a large emergency fund and several CDs.

Given that and given the desire we both have to homeschool our children, I’ve made the decision with the full support of my husband to quit my job to be a stay-at-home mom.

We don’t think our standard of living will be impacted much from this move since we already spend far less than we earn and our expenses will go down even more when I leave my job in January, but we’re still nervous about this big step. Do you have any suggestions or a list of things to think about during this transition?

Kendra and her husband have come to a difficult decision, one that my wife and I carefully considered before I chose to become a full-time writer (which gave us the flexibility that we were really looking for and sorely needed).

Here are eight pieces of advice I would give to any person in Kendra’s situation who is considering or about to make the transition to stay-at-home parenting.

Making the Transition to Being a Stay-at-Home Parent

1. Have a very healthy cash reserve

It is very, very hard to project what your actual costs will be like after all of these changes. You can make some educated guesses, but you’re likely forgetting something or retaining some costs that will go away.

The best thing you can do financially to prepare for the abundance of changes coming your way is to simply build up a large cash reserve, then tap it only as you need it. Focus on surviving on just one salary – only use the cash reserve if you absolutely have to use it, because it’s not a recurring source of income.

2. Adopt frugal tactics for your child – and invest in some items up front

By this, I don’t mean go out and buy a mountain of disposable diapers. Instead, look for opportunities to genuinely reduce the long term costs of having a baby. Invest in cloth diapers, for example, and avoid the repeated costs of disposables. Breastfeed if you can – it’s almost always the better nutritional choice for the baby and is substantially cheaper than formula. When your child gets older, make your own baby food by pureeing food you would eat (like steamed vegetables) instead of buying tons of little jars. For things like clothes, toys, bibs, and crib sheets, hit a yard sale or a consignment shop – most stuff for babies and toddlers aren’t used much at all and you can save a bundle by buying these items used.

Here’s a visual guide to some of these tactics.

3. Practice frugality now instead of later

Your life is going to undergo many changes in a few months, so now is the time to practice some more frugal habits so that they’re commonplace when other changes arrive. Focus on eating at home more and master the art of cooking at home while there’s plenty of time to learn. Do some basic energy efficiency tasks around your home to reduce the brunt of your energy bill.

You can also look at bigger things. Perhaps you’re now in a position where selling one car is reasonable – that would eliminate the cost of insurance and upkeep on one vehicle, after all.

4. Make expectations clear up front

You may each have different expectations of how life will be after the transition. Sit down and talk about every aspect of the change in advance. It may be that the employed partner will expect dinner to be cooked every night, while the other partner expects cooking sharing to continue. It may be that the employed partner expects to not be awakened by night-time baby needs on work nights, while the stay-at-home partner thinks such tasks should alternate.

Talk about these issues and every other expectation that you have for how things will go in the new era. It’s far, far better to discuss these concerns rationally and openly in advance than to be unpleasantly surprised by your partner’s behavior after the transition.

5. Don’t isolate the child – or yourself

After the child’s birth, you’ll eventually start adopting some daily routines for yourself. Don’t let these routines result in isolation for you and the baby. You both need social contact.

Seek out local stay-at-home parenting groups and look into joining them. Groups like this exist in most communities, giving stay-at-home parents a social outlet as well as providing social opportunities for the child. Look into other opportunities available in your community as well, such as story time at the local library.

Such activities will help you to build a social network that will guide you through both the good times and the bad times of being a stay-at-home parent and will help you in many, many ways along the way.

6. Maintain connections with people in your previous career

The choice to be a stay-at-home parent is often a temporary one, with parents planning on returning to the work force once their child reaches a certain age. In order to make that transition back easier, keep in contact with people in your field and keep at least somewhat up-to-date with what’s happening with those people. Contact them somewhat regularly, sending information about what you’re up to and also passing along anything useful to them that you may have.

Maintaining these relationships will give you a foot in the door should you decide to return to your earlier career path.

7. Don’t rule out opportunities you may be able to do in your spare time

You may find yourself with empty hours as a stay-at-home parent, where the child is napping or engaged in other activities. During those times, you may want to consider some consulting opportunities if they’re available to you in your career path, or perhaps look at other activities you can do in your spare time.

Other options include starting a blog (which can earn you a bit of money and also help you keep your writing skills fresh), sharpening your work-related skills, keeping up on relevant reading, or simply focusing on improving yourself.

8. When either one of you are feeling troubled by any aspect of the situation, COMMUNICATE

This is key. There will come times after the birth of your child where one or both of you will feel things that are troubling you. Don’t let those feelings brew into something worse – instead, get them out there in the open and discuss them.

It is very easy for a child to introduce sand into the figurative Vaseline of a good marriage, and that sand can bring about all kinds of unhealthy consequences – arguments, hidden resentment, unnecessary guilt-related spending, and so on. Don’t let that happen. Discuss those things which are bothering you in an open fashion and your entire family will be better off for it.

Good luck to you and your family, Kendra!

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  1. Saver Queen says:

    All great tips. I recently posted an article on making your own baby food on my blog. However I also recently read an article about a woman’s experience in using cloth diapers – she said she pretty much broke even with the costs of cloth vs disposable diapers on her first child, but figures it will save her money on her second child. Is it worth the effort? Have other people had different experiences?
    My friend also visits Mommies at the Movies – many local theatres have movie times schedule for moms with babies, so you don’t have to worry about your little one making a fuss.

  2. Frugal Dad says:

    It goes without saying that you should aim to be debt free (but the house) along with that significant cash reserve. In fact, it is sad to me that so many parents would like to stay home with their kids, but are unable to because of obligations to repay student loans, car loans, credit card debt, etc. All the more reason to avoid those trappings early on in marriage so that you’ll be free to make decisions on raising your children without finances being a major part of that decision.

  3. DivaJean says:

    We shifted to having a stay at home parent when we went from 2 kids to 3 (and since last year, 4!). When we got around to doing the math of it all, daycare for the two oldest was likely costing us more overall than hubby was bringing in! You need to factor in the overall cost of work- not just no daycare- the extra driving, the convenience foods and takeouts bought, the guilt purchases you make for kids since you’re not home, etc. We tightened our belts and figured out how we would be able to do it. The main thing for us- was we needed a bigger vehicle at the same time. We saved and scrimped until we paid for our van as cash on the barrel head- and we got a huge reduction in the overall cost as a result. Once we had the van, we moved on to having a little savings, then took the leap. Overall, we have never lived better. Food is homecooked and meals are less stressful. Kids have time to play, do homework and daydream- without being rushed here & there. It was a good decision for us- but its not for everyone. We frequently get questions from others as to when hubby will return to work- which very well could be never– or not until kids are grown.

  4. Kevin says:

    I think Trent’s best piece of advice is to practice now what will happen when the baby arrives. It’s a big enough shock to have another life depending on you, so make sure the money issues are sorted out in advance.

    My wife and I had our first child last August and decided well in advance that she would decrease her hours at the preschool to 3 days a week. Of course that meant no health insurance and a lower paycheck for her. We practiced living on less money for a few months prior to baby (actually just living on my paycheck alone and banking all hers).

    I also agree on the social aspect of being a SAHM. My wife still works 3 days a week so she has some “adult” time and our son goes to her preschool 2 of those days – so he gets playtime with other kids as well. She would go stir crazy if she was stuck inside all day. It’s definitely important not to just “stay at home” all the time.

  5. Krista says:

    In North America parents often overlook the option of live-in help like au pairs. For some reason we think that’s akin to handing over our kids’ futures to ‘hired help’.

    But I know from experience – I was a mother’s help for 3 great kids – that it can be a fabulous experience for everyone. I got to live in a different country, the kids got the extra stability and attention of having another adult around. The family gave me room and board so they paid me less in cash than they would to a regular daycare.

    But most of all, the mom wasn’t stuck in an all-or-nothing situation. She was a teacher and having me there every day meant she had the freedom to pick up substitute and short-term work when she wanted/needed to. But she didn’t have the stress of being tied down to full-time, permanent work.

  6. Michelle says:

    I agree the most with the last comment. I know that when I pictured materity leave, I saw myself completing project after project. Nothing could be further from the truth! Once I decided to stay at home, my husband and I were very clear about who did what around the house – if the working spouse expects to come home to laundry and a meal and a spotless house, they might be disappointed. Discussing the priority of tasks is a great idea as well. That way, on a good day all things may get done, but on a bad day at least the basics will be covered. Maybe a hot meal is essential to save eating out costs, but both parents can work on laundry or house cleaning once the kids are in bed. It does not matter what the arrangement is – just that both parties are clear and in agreement.

  7. KL says:

    Staying home to be with my 2 children is the hardest thing I have ever done. There are many days (in the midst of my 6 year old having yet another full-blown tantrum) that I wish I could just wipe off the baby spit and head out with all the other working women.

    Trent, you have hit on a topic that will generate a huge emotional response. I feel blessed that my husband is able to support our family (albeit with many frugal tactics put in place) and there are many times that I am sad for the women who are missing moments in their children’s lives.

    I suppose my comment is, even if you can afford to have one parent at home, make sure it is the best choice for that person. It’s a hard road.

  8. Raised Path says:

    Great article! I think the key which you touched on in the various points is to continue to be active. Whether it be learning to cook, exploring more flexible career opportunities, it’s important to stay engaged in life.

    Too often I see people enter this major life transition without a plan or idea of how they will spend their time beyond caring for their newborn.

    Don’t lose yourself Kendra! Take this opportunity to become a better more developed woman, attentive wife, and awesome mother.

    Best of luck!


  9. cv says:

    One thing that I was surprised you didn’t mention is insurance. With only one income, long-term disability insurance and life insurance become even more important, and with only one working spouse you likely have fewer of those benefits provided through your jobs. Before quitting your job, do a little bit of research and make sure you’re going to be covered appropriately. Check out your health insurance, too, and make sure you know what the premiums will be to put the whole family on one policy if they’re no already.

    I don’t think any of this should really affect the final decision about whether or not one spouse should stay home, but I do think it’s an issue to be addressed before you actually give your two weeks’ notice.

  10. Linda says:

    With my children now in their twenties, something we didn’t fully understand when they were young and I worked only part time, is the amazing costs of college. We were blindsided by the costs, even with what we thought were substantial savings. Not having two people working may mean you cannot save as much for college. There are certainly alternatives to even state universities, such as getting advanced placement credits, attending a community college for two years, etc. Grad school is almost a necessity now. I loved the time I could spend with my daughters, and wonder how the young women I work now with handle day care, transportation, sick kids, even the pure exhaustion of working and coming home to small children. Staying home as long as you can is well worth it, just be very savvy about college expenses down the road.

  11. Merry says:

    Go for it! You and your husband have a great grasp of the financial impact. Trent’s advice is right on, too. I stayed home until my youngest entered kindergarten. Like Diva Jean, we were actually able to save more money after I quit work than when we were both working. I had time to do all things frugal and time to take the children for a walk everyday, nap with them to make it through the evening in good cheer, do art projects, and many other things that I couldn’t have done while working away from home. I will never regret the decision to stay home with my children. It was the best years of our lives.

  12. Sharon says:

    Also, don’t overlook the loss of retirement income for the stay at home spouse. Particularly for young parents you lose a huge amount of compounding.

    And cv is quite wrong in my opinion: disability, health and life insurance SHOULD affect the final decision about having one spouse stay home. Lacking any of the three can result in the surviving parent losing his/her entire net worth and leading to a life of poverty for the entire family. The inability to get any one of the three should be enough to lead to both spouses staying in the workforce. Unless you make enough to self-insure against life maintenance for a spouse who is a ventilator-dependent quadriplegic, those insurances are essential for your financial well-being — and the financial well-being of your children.

    Too many people make decisions based on the liklihood of an undesirable outcome, rather on the ability to manage that undesirable outcome. If you can’t manage it with your existing resourses, you need to insure against it.

  13. It is possible to retire on lot less than we think we would actually require. Many Rat Race related expenses will disappear – once you no longer need to do nine-to-five. Joe Dominguez discussed this well in Your Money or Your Life. Also, a book worth mentioning is Ernie Zelinski’s How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free. It is an international bestseller and sold over 100,000 copies and published in 7 languages. I interviewed him on my site as well.
    A Dawn Journal

  14. Courtney says:

    I second the suggestions about using cloth diapers, breastfeeding, and socializing with your child.

    For the cost of our cloth diapers, I think we will be just under breaking even versus if we had bought disposables. But we plan on having more children, so we already have everything we need for when that time comes.

    I was only able to breastfeed for 7 weeks due to low milk supply, and let me tell you, formula sucks. It’s ridiculously expensive, plus I feel guilty just about every time I make my son a bottle, because I know he’s getting cheated by not having breastmilk. Do absolutely everything you can to try and make your breastfeeding successful.

    And, when you’re ready, check out Meetup.com for SAHM groups. I found a few there in my area that I have really been enjoying.

  15. Karen says:

    Kendra and her husband have come to a decision that in recent history has become difficult for some, but generations of moms used to automatically stay home once they had children. Don’t worry too much about it, just live simply and within your means, and remember it’s not a sacrifice, but a choice to stay home with your children. I think it’s important to find other SAHM’s through organized mom’s groups and that would include homeschooling support groups. Homeschool groups welcome moms with babies – you don’t have to wait until your child is of school age to spend a day at the park with them! Do a search of your state and homeschool and results should appear.

  16. Kathy says:

    Good for you Kendra! You are making the most important investment of all, giving your best to your child(ren). You and your husband sound like you are in an excellent position to make this change and you will not regret staying home to raise your children.

  17. Becky says:

    Congratulations on both the new baby and all your great well thought out decisions! I suggest you look into homeschooling groups in your area when the baby is a few months old and you are ready. Several now have toddler/park day groups and special field trips for preschoolers. It’s never too early to learn about homeschooling.

  18. typome says:

    Just wanted to add that I thought it was a great article too! Thanks for sharing.

  19. Ryan McLean says:

    I will always disagree with homeschooling because I feel that it insultes your children from the real world and causes them to have poor social skills. I have seen it in many kids and I would never do it myself. Plus I have faith in our government system that the teachers who are paid to teach our children will do a good job.
    But I respect that it is your choice and good luck to you

  20. Kim says:

    I homeschooled my kids for a few years and it was wonderful. Thay participated in many extracurricular activities and are extremely well socialized. When they reentered school they coasted for nearly a year…they were that far AHEAD. I find it amazing that people look at one or two homeschooled kids that don’t turn out so well and assume that they represent everyone. Please know that those reality TV shows troll for freaks, not healthy, well adjusted homschooling children who are progressing well. Have you every taken a good look at the large number of ill prepared and socially inempt people that public school produces. There are TONS of them everywhere and yet no one is ignorant enough to assume that EVERY person who goes to public school is a moron or pyschopath.

    P.S. Ryan, insulates is not spelled insultes…what should I infer about you.

  21. Sandy says:

    All of these suggestions are great. As a mom who breastfed both of my daughters exclusively, I can tell you that the best thing you can do to get your milk supply going strong is plan to nurse as much as your baby wants the first few months. That will establish your milk supply.
    Support is also extremely important. If you have noone in your circle who has successfully breastfed, I encourage you to go to a La Leche League meeting prior to the birth of your baby. You will connect with moms who make this a priority in their lives, (not to mention loads of home-schooling moms who will help you with that issue!)
    I made the choice to be a stay at home mom, and it’s been the best decision I ever made! (Well, my husband was a good choice:))

  22. wewally says:

    Go for it, you will never regret it. We had five children and as the younger gets older my wife works a couple of part time jobs but don’t worry about your kids being insulated from society. Get them involved in church, 4-h,arts and crafts, music and they will fit into society a lot better than “school kids”.Plus they can relate to adults and will have there respect.Do check out insurance. It complicates a lot of things.

  23. Karen says:

    Our situation is a little different, but this article was written at the perfect time for me. It brought up one aspect that my husband and I haven’t thoroughly talked about – expectations. We had a wonderful talk last night because of this article and we expect to have several more in the coming month.

    We received full time custody of my husband’s 3 kids last summer and they are having a hard time adjusting due to many decisions made by their biological mom. At the end of December, I’ll be quitting my full time job of 13 years to stay at home with our 4 kids. All of the kids are in school, but our family situation is such that they really need the extra attention and help. This will also allow me to get our home back into shape where I like it to be (lets face it – going from a 3 person home to a 6 person home overnight gets a lot of things out of whack!).

    Keep up the good work Trent! I really appreciate all of the articles you write.

  24. palm says:

    I concur with Sharon that parents who want to stay home with the kids should be certain that they are adequately insured. This issue came up when I was a child and it was unbelievably traumatic to move from being basically middle-class to sometimes eating in soup kitchens because our family was not protected against real disaster. My mom was tenacious and worked whenever she could, even though it meant we were latchkey kids to an extent that would probably make the neighbors call CPS today, so we didn’t lose our house. But we did lose things like utilities.

    To this day I cannot imagine being a stay-at-home parent because we cannot self-insure against the most serious risks. C’est la vie. Instead my husband and I worked hard to find jobs we loved, with flexible hours and part-time options, and have supplemented with the best outside care we could buy for our son for the time we can’t care for him ourselves. This has been the best of both worlds for us, although I realize not everyone wants to do this. But moving to stay-at-home parenting without adequate insurance and the ability to return to work if necessary: this is crazy (and unfortunately very common). If you love your children enough to spend your life with them, you should love them enough to protect them from real risks to their security. Bad things happen.

  25. Vangari says:

    I have been a reader of your blog for a while. But, this is the first time I have ever written a comment on this blog.
    The article is great. The only thing I did not like is ‘For things like clothes, toys, bibs, and crib sheets, hit a yard sale or a consignment shop – most stuff for babies and toddlers aren’t used much at all and you can save a bundle by buying these items used.’ A question for you. Would one buy clothes for oneself from a yard sale? Clothes that somebody has worn and used? I do not agree with the idea of hitting a yard sale for clothes, bed sheets. I would rather go to the cheapest store and buy clothes, only to buy unworn ones.

  26. Lisa says:

    Perhaps it goes without saying, but it makes sense (& cents) on many fronts to space those “children” close together.

  27. Cindae says:

    WOW!!! Great planning ahead. We did this with our first. The one other thing that we had to plan ahead for was health expenses. I was the one to carry the insurance while I worked. I knew that when I quit, it would go away, so we planned ahead. Most of our well baby checks and vaccines were provided by the public health department. But we actually saved money ahead to pay for the births of our future children as well as other medical expenses.
    We had always, since our marraige, lived on my husbands income, knowing that we would have me stay at home once the kiddos were born. So, we always were frugal. I nursed, and used cloth diapers and made all of my own baby food. I even hung them on the line to dry whenever weather permitted.
    AND, we have always homeschooled our children. They never set foot inside a public school until they went on campus to take their AP/PSAT/SAT exams and to attend college. I take exception to the comment made by Ryan about homeschooling. Do not worry about the “SOCIALIZATION” issue. It is really a non issue. My children learned to get along with everyone, not just their peers in a public school classroom. They can (and could when they were younger) express themselves well, and interact with all ages and types of people ~ from all different types of stations and situations in life. The fact is, unless you are abusing your children and purposely withholding them from the public, that you will have so many opportunities to interact with others that you will have a hard time choosing what you will do each day. There are several studies that have proven this to be true. The National Home Education Research Institute has the results of several of them. http://www.nheri.org/. Also, The Home School Legal Defense Organization has some information that can show you that socialization is not a problem. http://www.hslda.org. There are probably several state organizations that can also give you information. Check the HSLDA site for information on your state programs. Homeschooling is the best thing that we ever did for our children. Our children were allowed to go at their own pace, and learn as they learned best. They have been allowed to pursue their interests and excell in them. They were not molested (bullied) by other kids in their classes or on the schoolyard. We set our own schedule, and when my husband had to travel for his job, we could go with him and take our school with us.
    Enjoy the baby and future babies!!! Their schooling begins the day that they are born!

  28. M says:

    I, too, am a stay-at-home mom; and, I homeschool. I think she’s off to a fantastic start and the advice given in the article is perfect. As far as the homeschooling goes, I’d like to add this: This is the 3rd year of homeschooling for us, and it only gets better each year. Remember to be patient with yourself and your expectations, but if it is truly in your heart to do it, you’ll stick with it just fine. There are many options for homeschooling. You can do a Charter school, ISP with the public schools, enroll in a homeschool academy, just buy a cirriculum and use it, or make up your own. There are organizations that can help protect your right to homeschool. If you’re Christian, there’s HSLDA–which is national, but many states (such as California) have several groups that can help, too. There’s many homeschooing groups out there that can be a fantastic resource for support, play groups, and encouragement. I highly recommend getting involved with these.

    One comment you may run into alot is “What about socialization?” (Though, usually, when I tell people I homeschool, I’m met with “Fantastic”, and other thumbs up.)

    The definition of socialization is this: the process by which a human being beginning at infancy acquires the habits, beliefs, and accumulated knowledge of society through education and training for adult status (Merriam-Webster).

    Throwing your kids in a large group with few adults is NOT proper socialization, not even by definition. Socialization needs to be modeled for children by adults, not other children.

    One of our homeschool moms on one of my message boards holds a masters in sociology, and she is a great resource for dealing with these few people who are dead-set against anyone homeschooling. Though, my best advice, is that–after you present the facts to these rare breed of people and they insist on telling your doing wrong, just move on your merry way. As the saying goes, Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig.

    Good luck and God Bless you in your decision.

  29. Anitra says:

    This is timely for me: my husband and I recently decided that if I could not cut my work hours down to 25 hrs/week or less, that I should not go back when my maternity leave ends. It’s a tough choice, but at least we are financially prepared for it, and able to even make this choice. The only major change financially is that we will be scaling back what we pay on our student loans and mortgage. (We’ve been overpaying for the past 4 years, and have paid off over 1/2 our student loans, which is another reason why we can afford to make this decision.)

    It does mean I’m going to need to find ways other than work to (a) socialize and (b) keep up my skills.

    And yes, insurance & keeping up skills/contacts are both VERY important. My parents got divorced after my mom had been a (mostly) stay-at-home parent for 20 years… if my dad had not been scrupulously honest in dividing their assets, she would have been in big trouble, as she could no longer work enough to fully support herself.

  30. Sharon says:

    Anitra, volunteer! That is a great way to network and keep up your skills and add to your resume. Starbucks pays full benefits for a 25 hour workweek.

  31. moolah says:

    These are great tips and I really think that, if we can, we should take care of our children and be with them for as much time as we can. To reduce the expenses build a cashflow table where you can see the money that enter and the money that goes. Be sure that this way you noticed that some expenses can be cut withou any prejudice.

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