Financial Sacrifices, Budgets, and the Single Income Family

Welcome to the October Carnival of Natural Parenting: Money Matters
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared how finances affect their parenting choices. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

Financial Sacrifices, Budgets, and the Single Family Income:

Is it possible to really live on a single income these days? Won’t that hurt my child’s future opportunities? Can I really give up the “before child” lifestyle I was accustomed to when we had two incomes? How will money (or lack thereof) affect my parenting? How will money (or lack thereof) affect my marriage?

These are just a few of the questions  my husband and I mulled over, discussed (rather passionately), stressed about, and made tough decisions on shortly after I gave birth to Tiny. These are just a few of the questions we continue to deliberate today.

Money matters. The decision to live on a single income or a dual income is ginormous and has far reaching repercussions. There is a LOT to consider when you look at finances and budget.

This is not something that I would typically discuss on my blog but my husband and I are in a financial, err, crisis I suppose. I am sure many of you, my dear readers, are as well. This economy has turned so many lives upside down and I feel that it is important to pool our collective knowledge about how to make ends meet so that our children have the best life possible. And by best life, I do not mean that they will have “things.” I am referring to a roof over their heads, food on the table, health care when needed, and loving, supportive, happy parents who live within their means and craft a budget that does not negatively affect their ability to parent with warmth and grace. Because if mom and dad are stressed about finances, it WILL be reflected in their ability to gently, peacefully, and creatively parent.

First I would like to share a brief overview of how I craft and stick to a budget. If you do not already have a budget in place, this is something that is imperative to do.

I use Excel to track all of our spending. I have created a spreadsheet (which anyone is welcome to…just email me and ask) that tracks all income by category as well as all expenses by category. I have line items for each recurring monthly expense that are typically a fixed amount (mortgage, car payments, utilities, insurance, and so on). I then have line items for typical monthly expenses that can fluctuate in amount (food, gas, pet expenses, Tiny’s expenses, medical, toiletries, household supplies, entertainment, gifts, lawn and garden, etc…). Having used this style of budgeting for over a decade, I have it down to a science. However, as incomes change, so does my budget. But, I basically know how much we spend on average in each of the “fluctuating” categories. It is VERY important to know this which means that if you are just starting out with budgeting, you will need to track your spending METICULOUSLY for three months so you can get an accurate average.

Ok – so the whole sticking to a budget, meeting the needs of the family, and not stressing out and becoming a mean mommy when finances get tough! Heh – easier said than done. This is actually an area where I have made a rather major recent change. Since my husband is in the construction industry, work is never guaranteed or steady. When I worked full time, we relied on my income to pay the bills and his income was there to supplement any overage. When I became a SAHM 2 ½ years ago, we made major changes to our lifestyle, got rid of extraneous financial commitments, and tightened up our belts. As my husband has worked less and less due to the economy, we have less and less available to pay for just the basics and have had to make tough decisions about whether or not to pay the mortgage or other bills. I devised a plan to make sure that we A) stuck to our budget and B) had funds available for the categories we determined are crucial to survival.

This takes a little finagling but here is what I do. I DO NOT SPEND any of my husband’s income during the month he earns it. Instead, I use the ACTUAL amount he made to craft the budget for the following month. So, right now we are paying bills with money he made in September. This allows us to know EXACTLY what we have and to decide what to pay and what not pay for that month. If we do not have it, we cannot not spend it. You have to be very disciplined NOT to touch the money earned in the current month. I have a separate account that is not linked to an ATM card in which I will hold that money.

After we have appropriated money to each category for the month, I use the cash envelope system that I lived and breathed by as a young adult. I wish I had never gotten away from it as I was not in debt in my early 20’s. I place the allotted cash into the envelope for each expense and when the money is spent, it is spent. If you decided to rob Peter to pay Paul, well that is a decision you have to live with. But at least you have a solid visual on your spending. ATM cards and credit cards make it too simple to live beyond your means.  

Now, I could EASILY go to work full time (I say easily and do not mean that it would be easy to get a job, just that I could make the decision to work) and our financial stresses would be reduced. Depending on the salary I was able to get, we might be able to live a much more relaxed lifestyle. However, I actually see working full time as MORE of a stress than dealing with the current financial situation we are in. You see, when I compare the cost of going to work with the cost of staying home, I really would not bring home enough money each month to make it worth our while financially or make it worth the toll on my sanity but more importantly the toll it would take on Tiny. My working (from home or outside of the home) would have detrimental impacts on Tiny. DETRIMENTAL. DE.TRI.MEN.TAL.

But first things first. Here are all of the costs I considered when looking at how much I would spend to “work” each month:

  • Child Care (our only option for Tiny is an in-home nanny due to her health) = $1,500 per month minimum
  • Transportation (gas/wear and tear on vehicle) 40 mile average round trip commute X 5 days X .60 (current federal average per mile) = $120 per week/$480 for a 4 week month
  • Auto Insurance = $90 per month
  • Clothing Care (laundering or dry cleaning) = $30 per month
  • Toiletries/Makeup = $30 per month
  • Electricity and water used to get ready for work = $15 per month
  • Hair Upkeep = $60 per month
  • Food and Beverage (federal average is $15/day X 5 days) = $75 per week/$300 for a 4 week month
  • Work related supplies not provided by employer (briefcase, cell phone, pens, paper, calendar, etc…) that I would need to perform my job = $20 per month

Total = $2,525 for a 4 week month.

You also need to consider things like bridge tolls, unpaid sick days if you use more than you are allotted (which often happens for work outside the home moms), possibly being pushed into a higher tax bracket with a second income (which means higher tax payout on paycheck as well as losing certain deductions on yearly taxes), and other deductions from your paycheck like dues and health care overages.

Here is a link to a simple calculator which helps you determine how much you would actually make AFTER work related expenses.

IF I were to find a job with a salary of $50,000 (tough in this tight market) my net pay based on our current tax bracket would be approximately $3,100 per month. If I am basing my calculations on the above monthly figure exclusive of any of my other noted considerations, I would actually “earn” approximately $600 per month. Uh yeah….that is NOT worth the time, effort, and stress of working. The toll on Tiny, the toll on me, the toll on our family is NOT worth $600 per month. $1,600?  Maybe. MAYBE! In a perfect world I would bring home at least as much as I am “spending” to work. However, I do not see a $5,000 paycheck in my future.

What about the “other” costs of working. Things that can’t be measured in a dollar amount?

  • Child care is not MY care. No one will ever be able to mother Tiny except for me. No one will care for her the way I do. Tiny is a higher needs child and would not do well in the care of someone else 5 days per week for 10 hours a day. Her quality of life would deteriorate. And I could not guarantee that she would be gently, peacefully parented.
  • My ability to continue cooking real foods from scratch. This would be a huge issue considering my nutritional needs related to health issues as well as Tiny’s gluten intolerance. A nanny may or may not be able to handle this sort of cooking which means that after spending 5 days away from Tiny I would have to spend all weekend cooking. Not exactly a great way to reconnect.
  • My ability to manage household tasks like laundry, cleaning, etc… As I have mentioned before, Tiny’s sleep issues require me to be with her in bed pretty much all night leaving me little opportunity to sneak away and get anything done. Therefore, all chores would pile up for the weekend unless I spent more money and hired a housekeeper or paid the nanny more to clean and do laundry.
  • I would probably not be able to use as many reusable products as the time it takes laundering them would be more than I could handle. I wash 2-3 loads of reusables (dish rags, cloth napkins, family cloth, etc…) per week. This does not include cloth diapers which is a whole other issue. I wash 4-6 loads of clothes and bath towels per week. That is a lot of laundry to cram into one weekend. No way I could add in additional loads.
  • I would never want to go anywhere on the weekend because I would be stressed about all the cooking, cleaning, and laundry that needed to get done. Therefore, I would never do anything other than go to work and maintain the house. Life would get pretty frustrating pretty fast.

So for me and for my family, it makes very little financial sense to send me out into the land of work-outside-the-home-mamas. Maybe down the road, circumstances and needs will change. Right now, I would rather lose our home and be able to stay home and mother Tiny in a cheap rental house than stubbornly try to keep up with the Joneses (and not have to admit defeat).

Being in a bad financial position and embracing it certainly does not alleviate the stress of being in a bad financial position. However, I know that I am doing everything possible to live within our means, that I am doing what is best for Tiny, and that I am not alone. Ultimately, I am a better parent to Tiny in these lean monetary times than I would be if I would raking in the dough as part of a two income household. For me, for my family, being home with Tiny is more important than anything money can buy.



Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama Visit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon October 11 with all the carnival links.)

  • Money Matter$ — Jenny at I’m a full-time mummy shares her experiences on several ways to save money as a parent.
  • A different kind of life… — Mrs Green from Little Green Blog shares her utopian life and how it differs from her current one!
  • Show Me The Money! — Arpita of Up, Down & Natural shares her experience of planning for parenting costs while also balancing the financial aspect of infertility treatments.
  • Material v Spiritual Wealth – Living a Very Frugal Life with Kids — Amy at Peace 4 Parents shares her family’s realizations about the differences between material and spiritual wealth.
  • If I Had a Money Tree — Sheila at A Gift Universe lists the things she would buy for her children if money were no object.
  • Financial Sacrifices, Budgets, and the Single Income Family — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama looks at the importance of living within your means, the basics of crafting a budget, and the “real cost” of working outside of the home.
  • Overcoming My Fear of All Things Financial — Christine at African Babies Don’t Cry shares how she is currently overcoming her fear of money and trying to rectify her ignorance of all things financial.
  • Confessions of a Cheapskate — Adrienne at Mommying My Way admits that her cheapskate tendencies that were present pre-motherhood only compounded post-baby.
  • Money MattersWitch Mom hates money; here’s why.
  • Money? What Money?! — Alicia C. at McCrenshaw’s Newest Thoughts describes how decisions she’s made have resulted in little income, yet a green lifestyle for her and her family.
  • What matters. — Laura at Our Messy Messy Life might worry about spending too much money on the grocery budget, but she will not sacrifice quality to save a dollar.
  • Making Ends Meet — Abbie at Farmer’s Daughter shares about being a working mom and natural parent.
  • Poor People, Wealthy Ways — Sylvia at MaMammalia discusses how existing on very little money allows her to set an example of how to live conscientiously and with love.
  • The Green Stuff — Amyables at Toddler In Tow shares how natural parenting has bettered her budget – and her perspective on creating and mothering.
  • Jemma’s Money — Take a sneak peek at That Mama Gretchen’s monthly budget and how Jemma fits into it.
  • 5 Tips for How to Save Time and Money by Eating Healthier — Family meal prep can be expensive and time-consuming without a plan! Dionna at Code Name: Mama shares five easy tips for how to make your cooking life (and budget) easier.
  • Belonging in the Countryside — Lack of money led Phoebe at Little Tinker Tales towards natural parenting, but it also hinders her from realizing her dream.
  • Total Disclosure and Total Reform — Claire at The Adventures of Lactating Girl gets down to the nitty gritty of her money problems with hopes that you all can help her get her budget under control.
  • Save Money by Using What You Have — Gaby at Tmuffin is only good with money because she’s lazy, has trouble throwing things away, and is indecisive. Here are some money-saving tips that helped her manage to quit her job and save enough money to become a WAHM.
  • Two Hippos & Ten Euros: A Lesson in BudgetingMudpieMama shares all about how her boys managed a tight budget at a recent zoo outing.
  • ABBA said it — Laura from A Pug in the Kitchen ponders where her family has come from, where they are now and her hopes for her children’s financial future.
  • Money vs. TimeMomma Jorje writes about cutting back on junk, bills, and then ultimately on income as well ~ to gain something of greater value: Time.
  • An Unexpected Cost of Parenting — Moorea at MamaLady shares how medical crises changed how she feels about planning for parenthood.
  • 5 Ways This Stay at Home Mom Saves Money — Charise at I Thought I Knew Mama shares 5 self-imposed guidelines that help her spend as little money as possible.
  • Frugal Parenting — Lisa at My World Edenwild shares 8 ways she saves money and enriches her family’s lives at the same time.
  • Conscious Cash Conscious — Zoie at TouchstoneZ shares her 5 money-conscious considerations that balance her family’s joy with their eco-friendly ideals.
  • Money, Sex and Having it All — Patti at Jazzy Mama explains how she’s willing to give up one thing to get another. (And just for fun, she pretends to give advice on how to build capital in the bedroom.)
  • Money could buy me … a clone? — With no local family to help out, Jessica Claire at Crunchy-Chewy Mama wants childcare so she can take care of her health.
  • Spending IntentionallyCatholicMommy loves to budget! Join her to learn what to buy, what not to buy, and, most importantly, where to buy.
  • New lessons from an allowance — Lauren at Hobo Mama welcomes a follow-up guest post from Sam about the latest lessons their four-year-old’s learned from having his own spending money.
  • How to Homeschool without Spending a Fortune — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares tips and links to many resources for saving money while homeschooling from preschool through high school.
  • It’s Not a Baby Crisis. It’s Not Even a Professional Crisis. — Why paid maternity leave, you may ask? Rachael at The Variegated Life has some answers.
  • “Making” Money — Do you like to do-it-yourself? Amy at Anktangle uses her crafty skills to save her family money and live a little greener.
  • Money On My Mind — Luschka at Diary of a First Child has been thinking about money and her relationship with it, specifically how it impacts on her parenting, her parenting choices, and ultimately her lifestyle.
  • Spending, Saving, and Finding a Balance — Melissa at The New Mommy Files discusses the various choices she and her family have made that affect their finances, and finds it all to be worth it in the end.
  • Accounting for Taste — Cassie at There’s a Pickle in My Life shares their budget and talks about how they decided food is the most important item to budget for.
  • Money Matters… But Not Too Much — Mamapoekie at Authentic Parenting shares how her family approaches money without putting too much of a focus onto it.
  • Parenting While Owning a Home Business — In a guest post at Natural Parents Network, Lauren at Hobo Mama lays out the pros and cons of balancing parenting with working from home.
  • Crunchy Living is SO Expensive…Or Is It? — Kelly at Becoming Crunchy talks about her biggest objection to natural living – and her surprise at what she learned.
  • Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems — Sarah at Parenting God’s Children shares how a financial accountability partner changed her family’s finances.
  • The Importance of Food Planning — Amanda at Let’s Take the Metro discusses how food budgeting and planning has helped her, even if she doesn’t always do it.
  • Kids & Money: Starting an Allowance for Preschoolers — Kristin at Intrepid Murmurings discusses her family’s approach and experiences with starting an allowance for preschoolers.

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  1. says

    You have some good solid evidence here that working outside the home is not worth it for your family! I think you’d have to pay even more for childcare than that, given that you’d need a nanny (unless you did a nanny share), so your choice makes total sense. I want to adapt your budgeting ideas. I keep thinking we need to start paying cash, because it’s sooo tempting to spend over what we can immediately afford with credit cards. And your idea of spending the previous month’s income is a stellar one. Our income fluctuates as well, so that would help keep us on track.

  2. says

    Hey Jennifer! Thank you for this detailed account of how to budget on-purpose, regardless of income. I have always felt strongly about staying home and I am glad that I still do… :)

  3. says

    Thank you Jennifer for this incredibly open and honest post! I also used to budget on the previous month’s income and found it was the only way that I could actually STICK to a budget. Through our struggles with infertility one of the things that my husband and I often talk about is if it makes financial sense for me to go back into the workforce after babe comes along, when as you pointed out, the extra income needs to match the cost of other people raising your children and the time lost doing household things. It’s not something we have the answer to, or soon will, but your post definitely helps to outline the pros and cons! :)

  4. Dionna @ Code Name: Mama says

    Your technique of budgeting according to the previous month’s income is exactly what I used to do when I lived alone. It is so helpful for incomes that change!!

  5. says

    “Ultimately, I am a better parent to Tiny in these lean monetary times than I would be if I would raking in the dough as part of a two income household. For me, for my family, being home with Tiny is more important than anything money can buy.”

    This exactly how I feel! And you’re right, Jennifer. You’re not alone!

  6. says

    Thank you for sharing this post and information. We struggle to stick to a budget, but now that my husband stays at home with our son, we really need to be on it. He does work outside the home two nights a week as a personal trainer, so using last months income would really be helpful with his fluctuations. I am going to give it a try! :)

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  8. says

    Wonderful post with lots of helpful suggestions. Thanks so much for sharing openly and honestly about your financial situation; I appreciate it and I’m sure you will help a lot of people. Your planning is excellent; something I don’t do well, but now I’m inspired to try harder to get my act together…

  9. says

    Love your post! And your spending technique! I’d love to have a look at your Excel template if you don’t mind as I have a similar tracking but more for my husband’s business (a simple one to track sales, purchase and expenses)

    I became a SAHM when my boy turned 3 months old, although I would’ve wanted to continue working, but I also wanted to breastfeed my boy for at least 6 months and my ex-company wouldn’t allow me to take unpaid leave and definitely refused to consider letting me work part-time or freelance, so I quit my job in June 2009.

    Of course, with 1 less income, we have to look into cutting down our spending but 2 years+ now, we are still living comfortably and I’d really like to credit and thank God for blessing and watching over us. My husband’s IT business is growing steadily and with our 2nd child (she’s 5 weeks old now), I’m confident we’ll do just fine.

  10. says

    Great post! I also record all purchases in a spreadsheet (I use google docs so my husband can access it from work too) and I would love to see yours to get some ideas. I can’t get your “email me here” button to work though. Possibly because I’m on Chrome?

    I also would love to hear more about the envelope system. Right now I’m just giving myself a solid amount that I’m allowed to spend every month (salary minus bills) because when I did a certain amount devoted to each category, I would end up going over in some categories and give up. This way at least I’m not spending more than we earn, but it really is a “robbing Peter to pay Paul” kind of thing because if I decide to go out for dinner, I have to spend less on groceries and stuff like that. I’d love suggestions!

  11. says

    I definitely agree with you about working outside the home not always being worth it. We are really struggling financially, but I’m not convinced this would change even if I went back to work. The most I’ve ever made was $27,000 a year for my fulltime job … and any daycare I’d really trust would take a large chunk out of that. And it would be hard to put a number on my close relationship with my son, which sure is helped by my actually being there for him.

  12. says

    This is very similar to the model that my husband and I use. After watching that show ‘Till Death Do Us Part’ on TLC, we implemented the cash jar method and it saved us a lot of money. We’ve also had to re-evaluate our spending after having our son and decided to invest our time in raising our children rather than having a glitzy lifestyle. As such we’ve had to let go of certain luxuries but those were willing sacrifices for the benefit of our family’s emotional health. It takes some juggling to make ends meet on one income but it’s actually thrilling to make the most of each dollar.

  13. Jennifer says

    I totally hear you on this, Girl! I went to the supermarket today. I took the Little Guy in a wagon and walked so as not to waste gas. I paid for a few essentials with $10 in rolled change and added the things up in my head as I put them in the wagon. I actually put back a $2 piece of ginger so I would stay on budget!

    I became a SAHM by accident and it was an accident of the universe b/c I feel it was what I was meant to do! When I was working full time 40-50 hrs and making “slave wages”, a lot of my salary went to day care. We were eating processed food from the freezer A LOT. I still had to take care of nearly all the laundry, cleaning, shopping. I got stuck at work on a regular basis with no idea when I would be home. We all suffered.

    Now I am fortunate to collect unemployment benefits (I had disability benefits for a while…money from a settlement we put in savings…I was in a car accident…) and we make my “earnings” work for us to pay for food, clothes for everyone, an occasional treat/splurge/outing, and gifts for other people. The husband’s salary covers everything else. We make it work MOST of the time. I just went over budget last week!!!

    Anyway…now that I am home we are eating nearly all home-cooked meals, a lot more organic and natural products, zero fast food, and we are all a lot more conscious about ingredients like preservatives, corn syrup, sugar. I got myself on a very clean diet and am losing weight and the rest of the family is following suit in eating much much better. So it is working for us for now but yes it can be tough! Best of all is that I am seeing my 2 year old achieve those little milestones instead of hearing about them from someone else.

    Hang in there, Jen!!!
    -Jen Bair

  14. says

    So great! I know a single income lifestyle is *just* not possible for some, but I have some friends who think it’s not possible when it probably really is. I’m glad you’re following your gut even when it’s hard!

  15. says

    this is pooja……….
    A “real foodie” is someone who cooks “traditional” food. We cook stuff from scratch using real ingredients, like raw milk, grass-fed beef, eggs from chickens that run around outdoors, whole grains, sourdough and yogurt starters, mineral-rich sea salt, and natural sweeteners like honey and real maple syrup.

    We don’t use modern foods that are either fake, super-refined, or denatured. This includes modern vegetable oils like Crisco and margarine, soy milk, meat from factory farms, pasteurized milk from cows eating corn and soybeans, refined white flour, factory-made sweeteners like HFCS or even refined white sugar, or commercial yeast.

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  16. says

    Wow Jennifer you said it perfectly. The pay-off for working outside the home is not worth it for me either. My M-I-L always tells me that she went back to work when her kids were 3 months old and they were with various forms of childcare from then on…I would not be able to cope with being apart from my children for so much time…they are mine and I want to be with them. However I do work from home (in the evenings which generally means very little sleep) With your talent at writing there are surely some opportunities to look into…I’ll email you with some links if you are interested.

    I so admire the spreadsheet idea.


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