The Hidden Costs of Stay-At-Home Parenting

hidden costs

Anyone who is seriously considering stay-at-home parenting is likely to have done the math. Most potential stay-at-home parents know how much they will have to cut their expenses to live on less than two full salaries. They have considered the financial effects of forgoing several years of career experience, and they are even likely to know how much they will save on work and daycare expenses. If you or your spouse is thinking about staying at home with the kids, it’s important to think about the financial changes you will experience.

When parents figure out if one of them can afford to stay home, one financial change is often missed in the calculations — the expenses that will increase as a result of staying home. They are few, but they can make a difference in a tight budget.

For one, the stay-at-home parent will lose out on any perks from his or her employer. I don’t mean just salary and benefits but also any meals covered by the company for lunch meetings, cell phones, discounts on the company’s products or services, and even take-home promotional items (t-shirts, mugs, pens) that you actually use and would be likely to buy if you had to.

Not only do you have to start paying for all the at-home parent’s lunches (if that person did, indeed, eat on the employer’s tab), but you will also have to pay for your children’s lunches. True, you are paying for lunch even if you send the kids to daycare, but lunches included in daycare expenses can be easily overlooked when making a stay-at-home budget. If your kids like to eat as much as mine do, the cost of five lunches at home (plus daytime snacks) can add a significant amount to your grocery bill.

Daycares also provide constant activities for children. When you stay home, you will be responsible for keeping your children busy. Many activities are free, but toddlers in particular have short attention spans, and you will have to find many, many different things for them to do each day. Even if you allow your children to watch more television than the experts recommend, you will need more toys, coloring books, and dress-up clothes than you would need if you only have to entertain your children on nights and weekends. A little creativity and some trips to yard sales will help keep these expenses down, but they are still likely to be higher than you might expect.

Though it sounds obvious, you must also remember that stay-at-home parents are home during the day. That means that your electricity, heating fuel, and water will be used more frequently. Utilities bills will be higher than they would be if the entire family was gone for eight or more hours each day. Not only are former members of the workforce home during the day, but so are the children. Children make a lot of messes, so you will have to buy more cleaning supplies. I clean our linoleum floors about five times as frequently as I did before I stayed home with my children, and the floors still look five times dirtier than they did pre-kids.

Finally, you may spend more on your car and gas by “staying home” than you ever did when you worked. In the 1950s, my mother stayed home with two small children while my father drove their only car to work, even though my family lived more than three miles outside a small town. As a stay-at-home parent in 2008, I can’t imagine actually staying home all day, every day. Our neighborhood is highly unwalkable (scoring 6 out of 100 at, so I use a good deal of gas running errands, taking my kids to the playground and storytimes, and heading to play dates. To be fair, it is probably less than I spent commuting. Some stay-at-home parents will see automotive expenses decrease, but others may see them increase. If you had been sharing a car with your spouse, you may even have to buy a second car to save your sanity.

Many couples mistakenly believe that they cannot afford for one parent to stay home with the children. The extra expenses listed here are real and should be included in a budget, but they are minor compared to the costs of working and daycare. In addition, many stay-at-home parents find that they develop skills that allow them to cut expenses even more than they had expected. Plus, the intangible rewards of giving a child more time with a parent, especially in the early years, should not be underestimated.

Image courtesy of TruShu

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13 Responses to The Hidden Costs of Stay-At-Home Parenting

  1. princessperky says:

    I have to disagree on the ‘keep em busy’ costs. I can not see any reason why the average American toddler doesn’t already have a house full of toys to play with…ones that prolly never get touched while the kid is in full time day care.

    Though I do spend more on ‘educational’ type ‘stuff’ I spend less on toys so it evens out (linking cubes, shape pattern blocks, baking soda for science, etc)

    However the food and utilities bill does go up (though for many it is still lower than average due to the frugal nature of many SAHMs)

  2. mom-from-missouri says:

    I disagree with this article. I have now been a stay at home mom who homeschools for the past two years.

    Yes I lost work perks, but the discounts I lost my husband still has. Most were discounts I never used anyway. To be honest, I really did not value the free company t shirts I got every few months-they were never the correct size anyway.

    I no longer have to pay union dues or buy upper class office clothes. Instead, when we need clothes I have time to check out the thrift stores.

    My company never bought my lunch, and I had to pay for my childrens school lunches or pack them, so food wise I am not spending more–in fact, I am spending less as I have more time to cook from scratch, and I don’t eat out at lunch time. I estimate by staying home I probably save $50 a week in food.

    We do spend more on homeschool materials, but have now discovered the free and pass it on tables at our local homeschool coop. This school year I have maybe spent $100 on materials (yet saving by not paying for school clothes, uniforms, special shoes for PE..)
    We use a lot of free activities in our area at the library and take advantage of homeschool days at the zoo, and free Tuesday at the muesuem.

    I rarely buy cleaning supplies, as I try to clean green. We mainly use vinegar and soda, with a small amount of bleach, commet and wiper fluid to clean windows, and of course laundry soap. So, I see no increase or decrease there. We still only run the dishwasher once a day when full.

    I save HUGE on my auto costs. First, since I am not driving to work on a daily base, I save on my auto insurance, as I drive less miles to work. I also save fuel, oil and miles on my car. This year I have driven less than half of what I drove last year. There are days when we never leave our property.

    We have our own “playground”-a swing set, tire swing, farm full of pets, pool (OK, its a large stock tank), ponds to fish in, and bikes to ride for entertainment. The kids each have their own little garden. During warm weather we often put up the tent to camp in, or pull our RV to the state park 8 miles away for a frugal $12 a night stay. Since I am home I no longer feel the urge to have a weekend out in a hotel every couple months to slow down my pace. Entertaining doesn’t always require money, it does require being creative. Buying more coloring books?? Not in this house, we print them for free off the internet using the front and back sides of the paper, do chalk art on the driveway….

    Our utilites are the same. My husband works a lot of nights, so even when I worked full time, someone was at the house all the time. However, unlike many homes, we keep our heat set between 55 and 63, so our bills still run cheaper than a lot of people.

    Also because I am home, I have time to do jobs that previously were hired out–such as lawn maintance, garden tilling, and cattle/horse sitting when someone was due to colt, calve or was ill.

    I also have time to raise chickens and supplement our income by selling eggs and also bringing down our food budget.

    I also pay little childcare (last year we paid for it two times-at a cost of $60), but am available to sometimes earn a few dollars by watching someone elses child or doing chores at a nearby farm when they are on vacation.

    I have time to plant a garden 3 times the size of what we used to have. I can freeze, can and dry food. I feed 7 people for around $250 a month.

    Since I am home, I only need to use the drycleansers about twice a year now, where as before it was twice a month. I also have time to hang laundry to dry and save on the electric bill.

    There are also the added perks you get from staying home–if you have a sick child, you dont have to worry about missing work. You get to witness their “firsts”. That alone is priceless. You are more available should there be a family crisis. I can now attend the quilting club meetings and Bible study because I am not at work.

  3. Stein says:

    Free pens and pencils from your employer as a factor? Seriously?

    Then she mentions spending more on gas only to admit it is less than commuting.

    A few things hold water, but most is a stretch at best.

  4. mom-from-missouri says:

    I noticed another factor…even if your food did go up some from feeding your children snacks and meals that they got fed previously in daycare, you won’t be paying daycare!
    Are you saying you spend more feeding them then you did on childcare?? I guess if you took them out for all meals and snacks….

  5. brian says:

    Are you kidding me? This is one of the most ridiculous articles I have EVER read. Hilarious! Free lunches and higher utility bills…what are we talking like $100 a year? Get real.

  6. Shannon Christman says:

    I feel the need to say a few words in my defense:

    First, my intended audience for this article was for people who have household incomes low enough that small expenses make a difference. I’m glad none of you fit into that category 🙂

    I admitted within the article (please reread the last paragraph) that these expenses are small in comparison to the savings you get from staying at home. I purposely did not write about those savings because there are tons of articles on them elsewhere.

    Nevertheless, these expenses do add up to more than $100 per year — at least in our household. Missouri Mom, I did not mean to suggest that day care expenses are lower than lunches at home. I simply meant that when you take out the daycare expenses from your budget, you have to add those lunches back in. Even at $1 per lunch per kid, that’s $260 per kid per year for the days they’d be in daycare.

    For utilities, I estimate that our electric bill alone (which also covers our heat & AC) has gone up about $500 per year as a result of my kids and me staying home.

    Gas and lost work perks, as already noted, can vary greatly according to situation. You may not miss your perks, but part of the reason I stay home instead of my husband is because we would pay an extra $110 per month to get the free perks he has (which we use a lot), not to mention that he gets about 2 lunches free per month, a 15% discount on company stock, and a 401(k) match that we would miss greatly. (And laugh all you want at my mention of pens, but I have to go buy some soon — I would be glad for a few freebies.)

    Compared to the costs of working and daycare, these expenses/losses are small, but I still say that they need to be taken into account when budgeting to stay home.

  7. Upset Stay at home mom says:

    This is a RIDICULOUS article. Honestly – it doesn’t even take into consideration the cost of therapy for the children who are left in kiddie kennels. If staying home is too much bother for someone they should not have kids. Society will thank them down the road when there isn’t another person out there going I killed so and so because mom and dad were never there for me. I mean come on, we have teens kidnapping and abusing another teen – you can’t tell me the parents were involved in that situation.

    So if you want to be a parent – suck it up and be a parent. Even if that means making sacrifices. And honestly it doesn’t take much to keep a toddler entertained – all they really want is some love and attention (ie read them a book) and then a few toys they can use to be creative with. Coloring books work wonders too.

  8. missfame says:

    As a mother who works but is considering “retiring” early to stay home with my children, this article was insightful and beneficial. Like you said, I have done the math about what expenses would be eliminated, but had only put in a little bit of thought about which would increase if I were to quit my job.

    The article was excellently explained and, though I do agree with a few of the others’ comments, I understand that you were trying to prompt people to think of the whole picture when trying to make this very difficult decision.

    One more thing I would add to the list of items that increase is health/dental/life insurance. My company supplements a HUGE percentage of my health insurance cost and adding me (and the kids who are currenly covered under my policy) to my husband’s plan will be an astronomical increase in his premium.

    I still believe the value of staying home goes far beyond the monetary charts and figures, but it’s nice to know that there are people like you who are helping me to be well-informed about this decision.

    Pray for me and my family situation that God will show us favor. I know that He will provide for all our needs and not leave us poverty-stricken.

    Many Blessings!

  9. Dana says:

    I don’t understand the kind of negative comments this post has inspired. ‘Upset Stay at home mom’ has even suggested that working couples send their children to kennels! Guess you touched a nerve 🙂

    I am now a stay at home mom and I found the article a good read. Yes, I miss my subsidized lunches from office, my excellent medical coverage (better than the one we have now from my husbands company)and the free cellphone service and of course the money. I made over 80k and so this is a lot of money to lose. But obviously my reasons for staying at home were not monetary.

  10. Texas Girl says:

    As a former social worker who quit to stay home with my babies….I figure I’m coming out about the same financially. We eat out FAR less than we did when I was working 60+ hours a week, I don’t have to have to buy ‘work’ clothes that can ONLY be worn to ‘work,’ never to the mall or church or ‘out,’ my gas usage is FAR less since I don’t have to drive all over Texas; now my car sits in the driveway most days.
    Yes, we do heat/cool the house more since we’re in it, but if I were to truly calculate the costs of 1)gas, 2) work clothes I’d have to have, 3) day care, and probably 4) prepackaged lunches for the kids rather than homemade at home food, 5) babysitters for when I had to work overtime, 6) eating out for dinner nightly because I was too tired to cook …. on a social worker’s salary, at least, I’m coming out WAAAAAAAY ahead by just staying home, wearing my track pants from Sams every day.

  11. Alora says:

    Gas isn’t the only additional cost of staying at home. My husband and I are starting a new business and both working from home. There are a ton of things that have increased daily expenses just by virtue of being home all day: everything from higher electricity bills, to more money on hand soap, toilet paper, bottled water, etc. Those are all things that we never went through that much at home when we were both at offices all day, but being home during the day has a lot of expenses that you don’t necessarily think about. (To say nothing of sanity costs associated with interacting with other like-minded adults all day.)

  12. Gerry says:

    Wow – abandon your children to strangers because you might get FREE PENS on the job!

  13. Plato1 says:

    so the value of the child (free perks by the company)+(cost of lunches)+(salary)-(what you pay for daycare). Now I am beginning to figure out the cause of the change in the “culture” where they call it “the dog-eat-dog” world. I don’t see any “evolution” in this. for it is mostly not getting better results, & definitely nothing intelligent about this design either.

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