Plan to stay at home with the kids
Two years ago, Katie Lancaster left a $60,000 a
year corporate job to stay home with her two daughters. She wasn't
sure that her family could afford to live solely on her husband's
income, and as determined as she was to have more time with her children
at their northern Minnesota home, she was also concerned that letting
go of her hard-earned position could set her career back.
But after considering the matter for a year and a
half, she and her husband decided to take the risk, figuring the
worst that could happen was they'd run out of money and she'd have
to return to work.
"I can't even describe how frightening it was
once we made the decision and I actually left the job," she
says. "I felt like I was jumping off a bridge, but I discovered
that the ground actually wasn't that far away."
According to Public Agenda, a public opinion research
organization, 70 percent of today's parents believe that having
one parent minding the home front is the optimal situation, yet
two-thirds of the parents surveyed say they believe it's unrealistic
in today's society.
Many financial planners, as well as parents that are
already staying at home with their kids, say that it isn't impossible
or as tough as it looks.
Living on one income is not as difficult as some people think, says
Mark Oleson, director of the Financial Counseling Clinic at Iowa
State University. He encourages couples to practice living on one
income to prove that it's possible.
"If you think of it in terms of lower taxes,
and the fact that you might not need a second car and that you won't
have child-care expenses, you could discover that it's more realistic
than you imagined," says Oleson.
Too often, people convince themselves that they can't
make it without ever sitting down and taking a hard look at the
Athens, Ohio, mom Tori Griffith and her husband did
exactly that. After rolling back her work hours in her human resources
job to part-time, she still felt that she was spread too thin between
her office and her home. She and her husband began to prepare.
"The best thing we were able to do was to begin
paying off our debts," she says. "We practiced living
on one salary and put all of the other toward debt."
They also got in the habit of paying ahead on the
principal of their mortgage and cutting back on personal spending
habits. Other couples have used the same theory and put one spouse's
salary toward needs for the baby until its arrival, buying a crib
one month, a car seat the next, and so on, rather than racking up
a heap of credit card debt right before the birth.
Talk with a professional
The best strategy for a couple planning the solo-income lifestyle
is to sit down with a financial planner and get an objective opinion
about their current circumstances.
Oleson recommends that couples shop around to find
a planner that works on a fee-only basis. Some planners receive
sales commissions for life insurance or other products. It's wiser
to find an expert who isn't peddling a product to advise you on
life insurance or college savings plans for your growing family.
"Couples need to find someone who gets $100 or
$150 an hour regardless of whether purchases are made, to make suggestions
in their best interests," says Oleson.
Talk it out
Yet no amount of number crunching is going to make a husband and
wife automatically comfortable with the decision if other factors
aren't taken into account.
"I think the most important thing is just to
talk about it -- to communicate what they think and feel about it,"
"It goes both ways. If I'm the person that's
going to continue working, I need to be a little more sympathetic
to my spouse who has made the decision to work for the betterment
of my child and family. That person is the one sacrificing and I
need to be aware of that.
"There is more to it than just what financially
makes sense. There are a lot of issues to sort through. Planning
the finances is what couples think of first and foremost, but if
the financially sound answer gives you an ulcer, there is no value
Trimming household expenses sounds like a great idea in theory,
but anyone who has tried to change spending habits knows that it
can be challenging.