becoming a stay-at-home parent

It’s a decision that weighs on many parents shoulders. Should I stay-at-home with my newborn baby or continue working?

When faced with the decision I cried over the idea of staying home and broke into tears over going back to work.

I didn’t love every aspect of my job, but I gained a lot of satisfaction from it. It also came with a high salary and incredible benefits that could not be easily overlooked.

I had every intention of returning to work after the birth of my first child, but a month before my job was set to start I had a change of heart. Rather than walking back into an office I decided to walk away from the workforce.

In doing so I quit my six-figure job and gave up millions of dollars in future market growth. It’s now been over seven years since my last day of work and I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on the choices I made.

Here are 8 steps to take before becoming a stay-at-home parent:

1. Run the Numbers

Let’s be honest here. The decision to stay at home is not just about your finances. Many women want to stay-at-home while others wish to grow their careers. Unfortunately, a third group of women don’t have much of a choice in the matter. They quit working, because their jobs simply don’t pay enough.

There is no doubt that some women must quit their jobs, but not all do. I’ve heard plenty of new moms say, “it doesn’t make financial sense for me to continue working. Childcare will take my entire paycheck.”

That may very well be true, but to know for sure you have to crunch the numbers. Don’t immediately assume childcare will deplete your entire paycheck and render working a waste of time. Instead, grab a calculator and your most recent pay-stub and sit down to figure out the truth.

Factor in Benefits, Pre-Tax and After-Tax Contributions

To begin write down any benefits your job provides. This may include medical, dental, vision and life insurance. Compare these to the benefits your partner’s job can provide. Keep in mind that you may pay much more each month to switch to your spouse’s plans.

Next, factor in your retirement and health care contributions. This includes company matches to your 401k, 403b, TSP and/or health savings account (HSA). A lot of people tend to focus on take-home pay when running the numbers, but automatic deductions to savings accounts should not be left out.

Calculate Work-Related Expenses

Now that you know the facts about your benefits and take-home pay calculate all work-related expenses. This includes gasoline, professional clothing, conference costs, going out to eat at work and any other items you might pay for if you keep your job.

Also, make sure to get quotes from childcare centers, at home daycares and even nanny shares in your area. It’s important to know real costs, which are vastly different depending on which option you choose and where you live.

In one column add up your retirement and health savings contributions along with your company match. In another column write down your take home pay. Now add these two figures together and subtract your work-related and childcare expenses. This will show you exactly how much money you get to keep each month.

Factor in Promotions and Raises

Remember that your current wages are not set in stone for the rest of your life. Over time you will most likely receive raises and promotions. Try your best to forward project salary increases and bonuses. It’s important to figure out how much money you are giving up year after year.

To account for future income growth run the same calculation using slightly higher income amounts. If you typically receive a 3 or 5% raise add in that amount. Of course, taxes will take a small portion of this total, but it’s important to project as much as possible.

Calculate Potential Growth

Lastly, if you have any money left after paying for childcare and other expenses run a calculation to see how much that money could grow after you invest it.

You can run the numbers by hand or use this calculator to demonstrate the hidden cost of leaving the workforce.

The numbers are not meant to dissuade or persuade you. They are simply meant to show you the true facts.

This is a life-altering choice that should not be taken lightly. If you wish to quit your job you should know how much money you are willingly giving up.

Heartfelt Decisions

Okay so you ran the numbers, but your heart is still pulling you in the direction of leaving the workforce.

That’s okay. In fact, if your happy about the decision it’s great! The goal of this exercise was not to convince you to stay or go. It is simply to recognize that you didn’t have to leave your job. You chose to do so. Feel empowered by that choice.

Congratulations! You have embraced the decision to stay-at-home with your children. Here are seven more steps to take before becoming a stay at home parent:

2. Discuss Household Responsibilities With Your Partner

If you decide to stay home you’ll want to have a long and thoughtful discussion about the definition of your new role. What does it mean to be home with your child? Are you solely home to care for your new baby or are there other household chores you should be responsible for?

Is your partner expecting you to serve as a caretaker 100% of the time or are there also expectations to clean the floor, scrub the bathrooms and make certain that dinner is ready.

Resentment often breeds from misunderstandings about the role of stay-at-home parents. Discuss these issues openly and honestly before you make the decision.

Keep in mind that parenting is often much harder than we expect it to be. It may seem like you can do everything before your child is born, but the day after your child arrives you may have different opinions on the matter.

Remember that your partner cannot see what you do all day at home. He or she may mistakenly believe you have plenty of time to devote to other responsibilities outside of childrearing.

Keep open communication about this topic. Even if you initially agree to housework you may not be able to keep up with demand. Discuss your energy level and parenting workload with your spouse often. Ask for help and support when you need it.

You should also be prepared to redefine the role many times throughout your stay-at-home parenting stint.

3. Plan to Leave Your Partner Home With Your Child

A lot of stay-at-home parents become the default provider even after the working spouse comes home at night and on the weekends. My advice is to share parenting responsibilities as much as you can. Plan to set aside time for your partner to stay home with your children for a few hours or even one day a week.

This serves two benefits. First, it allows the working partner to see just how difficult parenting a young child can be. This is especially true if your spouse thinks you can clean the whole house while tending to your baby.

Simply step out for a few hours. Let your partner see how hard it is to get through one task before that adorable baby wants to be fed, changed, bathed, rocked or simply swaddled and hugged.

4. Carve Out Time For Yourself

Second, becoming a stay-at-home parent can quite literally feel like you never leave your home. This is especially true in the first few months after you give birth. Between feeling tired, working around naps and figuring out how to lug a baby, diaper bag and car seat around you might find it easier to just stay home.

That’s why it’s unbelievably rewarding and necessary to take time for yourself. It doesn’t matter where you go or what you do just carve out space.

You could hit the gym, head to the library, take a long walk or sip slowly at a coffee shop. It’s not about the activity you choose. The goal is simply to give yourself a mental break from parenting.

Make sure to discuss this expectation up front with your partner. You will NEED time alone.

5. Avoid the Scarcity Mindset

When I quit my job I turned into a tight fisted miser. I no longer wanted to spend money on myself, so I stopped buying my favorite chicken salad sandwich from the local deli and avoided shopping for clothes. I still bought items for my husband and children, but I felt guilty spending money on myself.

By the time I had my son I’d been working full time for over a decade. I found it difficult to accept the fact that my paychecks were no longer deposited in the bank account twice a month.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect to feel this way. My husband and I combine our finances so his money and my money were always referred to as our money. Yet the reality of financial dependence felt very different.

I wish I had thought more about this before quitting my job. Rather than accepting my new role I turned my focus towards extreme savings. If I couldn’t earn money I could at least save as much as possible. I refrained from buying stuff, started clipping coupons and became obsessed with saving a buck.

Our finances weren’t in dire straights so none of this was really necessary. Looking back I wish I would have spent more time fixing my broken beliefs. Too much of my self-worth was mistakenly tied to my net worth. Don’t make the same mistake!

6. Create a Financial Contingency Plan

No one wants to talk about divorce, but ignoring the topic doesn’t make it any less likely to happen. You can dig a hole and place your head in the sand or prepare for the worst case scenario. Given the high prevalence of divorce I suggest you prepare for the latter.

Before you leave the workforce make sure you open a credit card in your name as well as a small savings account. You can think of this as a contingency account in case your marriage doesn’t work out.

I would suggest setting aside enough money for three to six months of living expenses. If the need arises you will need enough money to support yourself until you can find paid work. A lot of women stay in dysfunctional marriages because they don’t have the means to get out. Don’t fall into this trap.

This should not be done in secret. Simply tell your partner you wish to set aside money to prepare for the worst. Make it clear that you don’t intend for this to happen. Tell your partner you are committed to your relationship, but that you don’t want to be left out in the cold if a divorce becomes imminent.

7. Plan for Retirement

Stepping out of the workforce will dramatically alter your finances. By staying home you lose earning power, raises and bonuses and the longer you remain out of work the larger your losses will grow.

If you are married talk to your spouse about contributing to a spousal IRA on your behalf. Talk openly about your desire to protect yourself as you age.

While you are happily married you might not think this is necessary but it most certainly is. You never know what can happen in the future. Alimony is not guaranteed and many women are left with little to nothing after divorce.

I know these aren’t pleasant topics to discuss but they are unbelievably important. Don’t allow yourself to become entirely dependent on your spouse’s retirement savings.

8. Retain Your Skills

Make strong connections with coworkers and bosses prior to leaving your job. Write down their personal email addresses and reach out to them periodically. Ask them about their work and what is changing in your industry.

When you return to the workforce it may be difficult to find a job at the same salary from which you left. Your connections can help bridge the gap back to work. They can provide recommendations and speak about your prior skills and talents.

Try your best to retain your skills while you are at home. Keep your certifications up to date and keep in touch with former coworkers so you can find out what is changing in your industry.

Technology has advanced dramatically since I left my software development job seven years ago. My previous workplace experience is severely outdated now. Depending on your career path you may encounter the same problem.

Keep in mind that you may also find yourself competing with young college graduates who have more energy, eagerness and technical skills than you do.

If you can take on small assignments, freelance work or even a part time job with minimal hours that will enable you to retain your skills until you return to a full time position. Now may also be a great time to search for side hustles that can earn money.

Navigating the Challenges

All families will inevitably face challenges after bringing a new child into the family, but becoming a stay-at-home parent can throw additional and unexpected pressures into the mix.

I hope this post will serve as a how-to guide for new stay-at-home parents. These 8 steps are fundamental to strengthening your relationship and your finances before you leave your job.