to work or not to work, that is the question.

(Disclaimer: This is written primarily for married couples with children. I realize single parents have far fewer options – BUT some ideas might work for a single parent home as well.)

Okay, before I even get started – let me clarify. Throughout this post, when I say “work” I really mean “work outside the home.” I totally understand that managing a home, supporting a husband (or wife) and raising kids is work. I TOTALLY get that.

Since I’ve had kids, I’ve worked full-time, I’ve stayed at home with kids and I’ve worked part-time. I’ve been in all three positions and I won’t tell you one is better than another. I know what’s better for ME. You’re going to have to make that determination for yourself. But here’s the thing.

Decide on purpose.

Don’t just take the next step because it’s next. Don’t just assume you have no options. Make a plan to get where you want to be and don’t lose sight of your goal, whether your goal is to be at home with your kids, to complete or continue your education, to advance your career or anything else in between. Don’t get discouraged if it takes a while (maybe a few years) to get where you want to be. You can be years older and still be doing what you are doing now or you can be years older and be living your dream. Either way, you’re going to be years older. So take action and don’t give up! And more than anything – please don’t judge someone who makes a different choice.

Here’s my story:

Before I got married in 1990, I worked full time and went to school part time. In the early years of our marriage, I continued to work full time and attend college part time. My new husband was on a fellowship which prohibited him from taking a job (or he would have lost his financial aid). So at that time in our marriage, my job served as a significant source of income, paid for my schooling through tuition reimbursement and provided our health insurance. My husband, a full time student, took care of our home (and me) more than I did.

(A note on NOT GIVING UP – It took me NINE years to get my undergraduate degree and another 2 to get my MBA. I was 30 by the time I finished school. But since I was going to be 30 no matter what, I wanted to be 30 with a Master’s degree. My youngest sister will be getting her Master’s degree this year. She’s 30 years old and she worked a full-time job that paid tuition reimbursement too. She’s pregnant with her first child now. Whatever your goal – DON’T GIVE UP.)

Then, within two years, a whirlwind of changes took place in this order: I graduated from MBA school and got a “career” job, we had our first child, my husband got a full-time career position, we bought our first house (the mortgage payment was almost the same as our monthly rent) and I went into business for myself. At that time, because our lifestyle had been adjusted and supported by “college” job wages for so long, FirstHusband’s salary was enough for us to live on. My income was no longer needed for our budget at that point in time. I had also started working as a consultant/computer trainer BEFORE I quit my job and had work lined up. Since my business was service based (no inventory needed), there were very few expenses associated with operating it. So going into business for myself at that time wasn’t as risky as it sounds.

But going into business was FirstHusband’s idea. I would have NEVER had the courage to do it on my own. It was his encouragement, financial and emotional support, enthusiasm and belief in me that bolstered me as I incorporated in February of 1996. My son was just 8 months old. By the end of 1998, I was working WAY more than full time. My journal entries show conflict. Professionally and financially, I had exceeded my goals and the price for this “success” was proving to be more than I wanted to pay. I was tired and I missed my family. We wanted another baby. Unlike many of our friends and colleagues, we hadn’t spent more money when we’d made more money, so financially, we were close to paying off our debt (including student loans) and we had paid 20% of our new mortgage, removing the PMI. But with two kids (hopefully) and the expenses related to home ownership, our living expenses were going to be greater than they were in college. So we needed to make a plan for me to cut back.

If you’ve read my stuff before, you know what I did when I was faced with this problem. I bought books (used books, of course) and learned as much as I could. I sought out people who were making it work and made notes of their successful strategies. I’ll share my original resources, as well as some new ones, later on in this post.

We incorporated many of the ideas I found in my research and in the end, our plan included me continuing to work full-time until we paid off our debt (including both car payments) and refinanced our house from 30 to 15 years. We started working on our plan a year before I got pregnant and PinkGirl was almost 2 years old before we reached our goals. (DON’T GIVE UP!) It was then I stopped soliciting new clients, I ditched the clients I didn’t like (in a polite way), and cut WAY back, MANY months not working at all, some months, working anywhere from 3 to 20 hours. I took a few projects that had me working full-time for up to 6 weeks at a time, but for the most part, I was working very, Very, VERY little.

When PinkGirl started kindergarten, it was weird. Without any marketing, I got a new client and two “dormant” clients became active. (God is good!) I’m now working more, but I only go to client site while the kids are in school – and NEVER on Fridays. With advances in technology, much of my consulting work is over the internet now- even some of the training.

This is what is best and right for my family at this time in our lives.

So what’s right for you?

From all that I’ve read, one of the first questions most people ask themselves is “Can I even afford to stay home with kids?” Good question. I asked it myself.

The first thing to do is get the numbers on paper (figuratively or literally). Figure out ALL your expenses, and differentiate the expenses which result from working in the first place. One thing most people don’t take into account is that there ARE increased expenses when a “non-breadwinner” works outside the home. (I’m not going to say, “when a woman works outside the home” because I know some families who are VERY happy with a reversal of the traditional roles.)

    • Childcare is often a BIG expense resulting from working outside the home. When children are in (public) school, there’s no childcare expense – unless it is for after school care.
    • What about the price of GASOLINE?! Would you use less gas if you didn’t work outside the home? What about tolls?
    • Would you need the same number of cell phone minutes and data if you didn’t work outside the home? Could you ditch certain features of your service?
    • Does this second income throw you into a higher tax bracket?
    • Would you forgo impulse purchases because you would have more time to comparison shop? Would you have more time to shop thrift stores or garage sales? (I HATE to pay retail!)
    • Purchased drinks, snacks and meals during the workday can easily add up to some big numbers. For you AND for kids at school because making and packing lunches is just one more thing that doesn’t always get done at the end of a L O N G day? What about making lunch for the husband too? How much would that save?
    • Is your grocery bill higher when you work outside the home due to buying prepared foods and would the bill be lower if you cooked more “from scratch?”
    • Stopping for takeout or eating out at restaurants at the end of an exhausting day can be another “hidden” expense resulting from working outside the home.
    • Don’t forget the cost of work clothes, including shoes, accessories and consumables, like hosiery. What about dry cleaning? Would that expense be reduced or eliminated?
    • What about personal services, like manicures and pedicures? If you get them regularly, could you do them regularly yourself and TREAT yourself once in a while instead?
    • Would you wear as much makeup? And would you wear it every day? Not sure? How much do you use on weekends? (I’m NOT saying you should “let yourself go” – I still wear makeup. It’s got sunscreen in it.)
    • What about the hair salon you go to? (I still color my hair and get it cut regularly. I just changed salons and now pay HALF what I did before.)

Is it possible that you are actually LOSING money by working outside the home? FIND OUT!

Check out this woman’s story. She worked 40 hours a week at an hourly rate of $11. After calculating her work-related expenses, she made $315 a MONTH. That’s less than $2 an hour!

So do the numbers work out for you? Can you afford to stay home or work part-time? If the numbers don’t work out today, when would they if you made some changes now? Don’t rush it to the point that the process takes over your life, but DON’T GIVE UP.

What if you were in business for yourself? What would provide a higher hourly rate and more flexible hours? What would it take to get there? Don’t say, “But I’ll be 50 by the time I get there!” You’ll be 50 anyway. Be realistic. Ditch pessimism. For me, it took 11 years to complete my education and about 6 years of working more than full time to build a reputation and a client base. It’s NOT impossible. You may need course adjustments along the way. You may need to take time off from your plan (whatever it is) from time to time. Just don’t quit.

The biggest advice I have? MAKE a PLAN! Remember, how long it took for me to graduate. Remember how long it took for our family to reach our goal for me to work part-time. You have to plan for it. Be prepared for it as much as you can. Take a look at this 6 Month Stay-At-Home Mom Plan.

Have I made you curious? Check out these articles for more ideas:
Try this second income calculator to understand the financial impact of a second income.
Microsoft has a great Excel spreadsheet for figuring our your current expenses.
Check out their article at for ideas on how to save money.
Stay a Stay at Home Mom has an article on how to Reduce Expenses.
How to Afford to Be a Stay at Home Mom at
Check out another post I wrote about doing a household expense audit to save money.

And don’t forget the BOOKS! (Don’t pay full price! Buy them USED!)
Women Leaving the Workplace by Larry Burkett (priced starting at 34 cents on Amazon).
Debt Free Living by Larry Burkett (priced starting at $.95 on Amazon).
Family Financial Workbook by Larry Burkett (priced starting at $6.42 on Amazon).
Debt-Proof Living by Mary Hunt (priced starting at $2.39 on Amazon).
The Complete Cheapskate by Mary Hunt (priced starting at $.39 on Amazon).
You Can Afford to Stay Home With Your Kids: A Step-By-Step Guide for Converting Your Family from Two Incomes to One by Malia McCawley Wyckoff and Mary Snyder (priced starting at $1.55 on Amazon).

This post was inspired by reading Chapter 8 of Excellent Wife as part of a book study with Leslie at Lux Venit. I stopped in the middle of writing my post on that chapter to write this post instead. Read my response to Chapter 8 HERE. It appears I’m failing submission school. Again.

I’m also going to throw this in the mix over at Works for Me Wednesday hosted by Shannon at Rocks in My Dryer. (So Shannon, I notice “Atlas Shrugged” no longer appears on your reading list. It seems neither one of us cares about John Gault this year.)

7 thoughts on “to work or not to work, that is the question.

  1. Nice post! Long post, but good words – especially about staying at home really being a full time job and then some!!!

    When I was a teen, I was hired to babysit for a great family. I was amazed at how bright their children were and what engaged learners. They loved to play and read and rarely watched tv. The family recommended me to their friends across the street. Same number of children who were the same ages, still a two parent household, but the kids were lumps on a log. They never wanted to play – only watched tv when I was there. The main difference in the families? Mom 1 stayed home and Mom 2 worked 60 hours a week outside the home.

    I knew right then and there as a teenage that I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom because NO ONE could raise my kids better than I could!

    Amen and YES, YES, YES on the importance of planning to making our dream a reality. My DH and I were married 5 years before we had kids. We both got our master’s degrees in that time – and took a month off of work after we graduated to travel in Europe! When oldest daughter was born, I stayed home for 6 months then cut back to part time work and she got “playtime” a few hours a week with a close family friend. When youngest daughter came along two years later, I left my job altogether to care for both of them.

    Pre-kids, we socked away most of one income. Europe was a planned extravagance, but we stayed in cheap hotels and rode trains a lot so we could save money on our trip. When each child was born, we started saving monthly for college, and we’ve never stopped. We paid off cars promptly and fast so we could save more cash toward the next one. We took a 30 year fixed mortgage and refinanced 7 years in to a 15 year fixed at the same monthly rate!

    We found finances getting a little tighter than we liked a few years ago, so I started waitressing at a local restaurant a few days a week at lunch (NOT what I thought I’d be doing with a Master’s Degree, but they are super flexible allowing me to truly put my kids first. Blog post on that here:

    We’re not rich in money, but we are rich in family blessings. Our children are above grade level in reading and are truly engaged and curious learners. We have a strong marriage and make time for each other. We still go on vacations, eat out, and do fun things, but we don’t go into debt to do it.

    If all keeps going according to plan, we will be completely debt-free (house and all!) in 10 years, when oldest daughter graduates from high school, which will give us lots of flexibility when it comes to paying the tuition bills we will probably have.

    So…my advice? MAKE A PLAN, as Julie says. KEEP YOUR PRIORITIES STRAIGHT and remember when times get tough what your goals are. BE WILLING TO ADJUST – be it forgoing a few extras or going back to work part-time when your kids go to school – or even working from home for money or a sanity hobby (I do both!!). And finally, HAVE FAITH THAT YOU CAN DO IT! Because you can and it’s worth it!

    Debbie – Seems we have some more things in common! (But that European vacation sounds wonderful!) We actually paid off the kids college tuition (Florida Prepaid College Fund) using FirstHusband’s bonus money. Oh how we wanted to use it for fun things. But. Sigh. We were responsible and stuck with the plan. (by JSM)

  2. Thanks for posting this. I worked fulltime up until December 2007. I had an 11 month old and my mom and mil traded days watching her so I didn’t have to pay for a sitter. My MIL moved an hour and a half away so I had to quit because after I paid for childcare(my mom is disabled and can’t watch her all of the time) I would have brought home only $75 a month(was just making minimum wage).

    My husbands business is in a slump because of the economy(he is a brick mason) and now he is talking about me going back to work. When baby girl is asleep, I’m going to read over this better(and show it to him!) I’m hoping to find something I can do at home(without the expense of childcare).

    Thanks for the great post!

  3. We’re huge Larry Burkett have-a-plan fans. You’ve done an excellent job lining these things out. One day I’ll have to post our own have a goal story. It’s these reminders of God’s faithfulness that help us in any current struggles.

  4. I’ve heard so many women, when talking about their lives as SAHM’s taking a tone as though their lives are over, that they will be stuck at home until the end of time. When my youngest is 18, I will be 50. That’s not dead! I can still go to work, go to school, whatever, when I’m 50. And that’s my plan.

    I’d LOVE to go to work, in fact, Brad would like to be a SAHD and brings it up from time to time. But he simply has more earning power than I do, and that’s what it comes down to. If I got a job in my field, at the most I’d make maybe $12 an hour to start (hotel managers do not make as much as you’d think). Not enough to support a family of 5.

  5. Great post! Thanks for including the link to both the article and spreadsheet I wrote for Just Mommies. I wrote it hoping that I could really help some families. I had to work full time until my second son was born and have been staying at home for the past year. Even though I run my own business for two days a week, its been such a positive change for our family to be able for me to be home.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.