Reader Case Study: Stay Home With Baby or Return To Work?

Welcome to this month’s Reader Case Study! Case studies are financial dilemmas/questions that a reader of Frugalwoods sends to me requesting that Frugalwoods nation weigh in on. Then, Frugalwoods nation (that’d be you), reads through their situation and provides advice, encouragement, insight, and feedback in the comments section. It’s a way for us to support and assist one another on our diverse financial journeys. Since many of us don’t discuss money with our friends in a conventional setting, I find that having these conversations online provides a wonderful resource.

Today's case study family: Kelly, Joe, and their daughters

Today’s case study family: Kelly, Joe, and three of their four daughters

Last month was our first in this recurring series and I was BLOWN AWAY with how incredible your responses were. From in-depth advice, to compassionate encouragement, to offers to connect via email, you all seriously impressed me. Julie–last month’s case study subject–wrote to tell me how much she appreciated your help and I completely concur. If you’re wondering what type of conversation a case study generates, check out the comments on last month’s post. It was a case study on how to be helpful with a case study!!! Thank you to everyone who offered Julie advice.

I want to share an update from Julie: she was offered a full-time position at the firm she was previously temping for. Plus, she reduced her monthly expenses below $1,400, while her income went up roughly $300 per month. She also paid off her car and her school will contribute to her tuition starting in April. Hooray, Julie! These are some amazing changes!

I probably don’t even need to say the following because you all are the kindest, most polite commenters on the internet, but, please note that Frugalwoods is a judgement-free zone where we all endeavor to help one another, not to condemn.

With that, let me introduce you to Kelly, this month’s case study subject!

Kelly’s Story

Kelly wrote to me:

Kelly and Joe's home

Kelly and Joe’s home

My husband Joe (34) and I (38) have four daughters–Olivia (9), Mihret (6), Ada Mae (3), and Eliza (3 months). We raise pastured beef and pork on 24 acres in mid-Michigan. When my husband took over grocery shopping for our family a few years ago, he said he wasn’t going to pay $10 a pound for organic meat. He suggested we find some cows and pigs and do it ourselves. And so, we did! We make $5,000 on the animals after all associated costs are deducted.

In addition to our farm, Joe and I each make $72K/year working for the federal government. Joe will be able to retire at 50 with a full pension, TSP (that’s a 401K for federal employees), and benefits. I’ll be able to retire at 56 with the same. His pension will be $3,400 per month and he hopes to have at least $500K in his TSP before retiring.

The family with their cows

The family with their cows

Joe was a Marine and I went to college. We met at work and have been married for 4 years. I never thought I would get married and so, earlier in my life, I decided to have children on my own… hence our 9 and 6-year-olds :). In our expenses, you will see $600 per month for school. We live in a very rural (read: zero diversity) area and our older daughters are African-American. We send all of our children to a private school in the city so they can be exposed to various colors and cultures. This is not an expense we are willing to cut out as education and diversity are priorities.

We also own a vacation cabin in northern Michigan, purchased in April, where we go at least once or twice a month.  We’ve been renting it out one week per month at the rate of $900/week, which covers the mortgage. Our hobbies include hiking, swimming, canoeing, skiing… basically anything outdoors, and our vacation cabin is in an area where we can participate in those activities. The cabin is fully updated, maintenance-free, and located in a forest, which means we have zero lawn/landscaping expenses.

We do not have childcare expenses because our employer allows us to offset the days we work so that one of us is home. Once or twice a week when our work days overlap, a grandparent comes over.

Their pigs

Their pigs

Kelly’s question for you:

  1. Should I/could I stay home for 5 years until our youngest is in school? I’m currently on maternity leave and am debating whether or not to return to work.
    • If I stay home, where should we cut costs?
    • If I continue working for a short period of time to increase our savings, what amount should we have in the bank to ensure we don’t get in a bind?
  2. Several considerations:
    • If I do quit my job, I wouldn’t be able to go back to the same position and when I returned to the work force I would most likely make considerably less, say $60K.
    • If I do not return to work, my pension will be $1,000/month as opposed to $1,600/month if I return.
    • Additionally, I am a licensed substitute teacher and could substitute on my husband’s days off, which would mean a continued stream of income while also ensuring that a parent was in the household raising the children. I’d earn $100/day as a substitute.
    • Other possible income streams: watching another child in our home (around $300/week) and/or raising more animals on our farm.
    • We currently contribute to 529s and ESAs (college savings funds for our daughters). If I quit, we wouldn’t be able to.

Kelly’s Finances

Yearly Take Home (Net) Income

Kelly’s annual take-home $72,000.00
Joe’s annual take-home $72,000.00
Vacation cabin rental (1 week per month at $900/week) $10,800.00
Income from animals $5,000.00
TOTAL: $159,800.00

Monthly Expenses:

Item Amount Notes
Primary residence mortgage, taxes and insurance $1,100.00 $148K remaining, $100K in equity, 3.25% interest rate
Vacation cabin mortgage, taxes, and insurance $850.00 $134K remaining, $30K in equity, 3.25% interest rate
School $600.00
Groceries & household supplies $400.00 This sounds low, but we don’t buy any meat or eggs
Gas for cars $400.00
Animal feed $400.00
Healthcare $300.00
Auto insurance $250.00 We have a 2008 Toyota Corolla, a 2005 Ford Freestyle, and a 1998 GMC Sierra, all paid off
Violin and piano lessons $250.00 For the two oldest girls
Charity $200.00
Student loan payment $150.00 $18K remaining; 1.5% interest rate
Vacation cabin electric $150.00
Cell phones (2) $100.00 Provider is Sprint
Farm maintenance $100.00 My father-in-law works part-time at a car parts supply store and we get everything free or wholesale.
Primary residence electric $80.00
Internet $60.00
Propane $50.00
Additional $100K life insurance policy $12.50
Clothing for adults $8.33 I estimate we spend around $100/year on clothing for Joe and me. All of the kids’ clothes are hand-me-downs or gifts from my mother-in-law who loves to shop.
Drama club for kids $6.25
TOTAL each month: $5,467.08  
TOTAL annually $65,604.96

Life Insurance:

Life insurance through employer (Kelly) $700,000.00
Life insurance through employer (Joe) $700,000.00

Assets:

TSP (Kelly) $120,000.00
TSP (Joe) $82,000.00
IRA Roth $27,000.00
IRA Traditional $10,000.00
Stocks $10,000.00
Cash $10,000.00
529s $8,000.00
Mutual Fund (Kelly) $4,000.00
Treasury Bonds $4,000.00
ESAs $2,000.00
Mutual Fund (Joe) $1,200.00
TOTAL: $278,200.00

Mrs. Frugalwoods’ Recommendations

First of all, I have to gush over how adorable Kelly’s family is! Plus the farm! I swoon. I get the feeling that Kelly really wants to stay home with her youngest. And before we go any farther, I think it’s important to realize that part of that decision is non-financial and much more related to her desire to be a work-at-home mom. As someone who made this decision myself earlier this year, I completely understand the emotional argument and the desire to be at home with your baby.

The cows!

The cows!

Kelly’s ideas for taking on substitute teaching or raising more animals or doing home daycare would certainly help the family’s finances and I commend her for thinking creatively. Plus, the fact that they’re able to avoid childcare costs whether she works or not is fantastic. All this being said, I’m a bit cautious about her not going back to work simply because their non-retirement savings are pretty small.

With their income level, and their relatively low spending, they should be able to sock away more into non-retirement savings. According to the above net take home total ($159,800) and yearly spending total ($65,604.96), Kelly and Joe should be saving $94,195.04 every year, but that’s not reflected in their assets. As a person who didn’t carefully track my spending for many years, I 100% know the feeling! Thus, my first recommendation to Kelly is to judiciously track their spending every month (I use and recommend Personal Capital, which is a free expense-tracking tool). No frugality optimizations will matter until they know where every dollar is going each month. It’s also possible that Kelly and Joe just recently began earning at this level and hence, haven’t had the opportunity to save at such a high rate.

What I suggest is that Kelly and Joe buckle down and have an uber frugal month. Then, based on that level of spending and how sustainable it would be–from both a lifestyle and a financial perspective–they can seriously consider whether or not Kelly should return to work. A key element of this exercise will be to determine if they can comfortably live on Joe’s salary alone. Without Kelly’s income, they’d bring in $87,800 per year. With the above listed spending, they’d be able to save $22,195.04 per year, which should be sufficient for them to boost their investments, their savings, and contribute to their daughters’ 529s.

Ok Frugalwoods nation, what advice would you give to Kelly? She and I will both reply to comments, so please feel free to ask any clarifying questions!

Would you like your own case study to appear here on Frugalwoods? Send me your story via email (mrsfrugalwoods@gmail.com) and we’ll talk.

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137 Responses

  1. The one thing that stripuck me is I didn’t see a line or mention of the current cost of day care. My family recently went to a single family income because daycare for 2 kids alone was eating the first 40k a year along with taxes. My wife is exploring technical writing using sits like upwork and contracting during the kids sleep schedules/when I’m home to supplement.

    • Helen says:

      They have no daycare costs even if she works – that’s mentioned in the explanatory copy. Either she or her husband is able to be at home by trading days with their employer, and on days that both work, the grandparents step in.

    • Melissa says:

      She mentioned that they don’t need day care because the parents work on alternating days and grandparents step in on the overlap. But I totally agree; day care costs can be ruinous!

  2. Kathy Opperman says:

    I think you are doing great and understand the want to be home. I am a firm believer of Dave Ramsey and doing a monthly 0 based budget. I would get intense with your budget and pay off your student loan, have a six month emergency fund and at least one of the mortgages before making the transition to stay/work from home. Good Luck with whatever you decide !

  3. That is a tough decision, no doubt. I must say it takes a special person to be stay at home until the kids are old enough for school and not everyone can do it. I even know a few folks who thought that was for them, quit work and then realized that it was a mistake. So like I said, tough decision.

    If that is where your heart is pulling you though, I’m sure you will find ways to cut back. I think having your own home daycare is a great option to keep bringing in some money as well. Maybe you can take on a couple kids and see how it goes.

    Best of luck!

  4. Ms. Montana says:

    Staying home with kids is such a tough call. I have done both. Sometimes I worked and put my babies in daycare and other times I took time off. When we found out we were pregnant the same year we adopted a sibling group of 3 (and already had one bio child), we both decided to quite work for a year. It’s been an amazing time off. I will say that if you take some time off, it can be a great time to try some other money making ventures. And as a mom of a big family, it’s hard to have both parents with full time jobs. Everything gets harder. Sick days for the kids, dentist appointments, teacher conferences. So sometimes just quality of life plays in there as well. Good Luck! I know it can be a tough call.

    • Linda says:

      Ms. Montana, you adopted 3 siblings… I commend you. You and your husband have huge hearts. Everything does get harder with 2 full time working parents. When 1 child gets the flu, they all do! It’s hard to manage stress levels when things don’t go well and you have to go to work too. If at all possible stay home with the children to nurture and guide them in the right direction. I have found out from experience bigger families, bigger problems, but the reward is more love all around. Family is priority, not “things we have or want”. Love your big heart and giving soul!

  5. Sarah says:

    I’m a big believer in that if a parent wants to stay home, you will find a way to make it work!! Like Mrs. Frugalwoods said, the emotional aspect sometimes outweighs the financial one. While yes you always should be prepared financially, worst case scenario is she could return to work if they got in a bind. Even if your salary decreased a bit, $60K would absolutely be enough to supplement the shortcomings 🙂

    -Sarah http://www.thefrugalmillionaireblog.com

  6. Craig says:

    Hey, fellow mid-Michigander! Born and raised, moved away after college, but thinking of moving back in the next year or two once “retired”.
    I was helping a federal employee friend of mine with finances and I was a bit envious at the options he had in the TSP retirement plan. Extremely low cost investing and great options. Best I’ve ever seen!
    I agree with Mrs. FW, track the finances and then cut out what you don’t think worthwhile, keeping in mind that going back to work is the trade-off.
    Also, you’re spending too much on animal feed, just kidding. Good luck!

  7. Miss Mazuma says:

    Yes!!! That was my question too, FTF. He much will the cost of daycare be if she goes back to work? That’s a huge factor to be determined.

    Other than that, I agree with Mrs Frugalwoods. You need dollar for dollar tracking to decide if the option of staying home will work for you. That is the one thing that I did that really changed my thinking about spending and where my money was going. Granted, it’s just me so it’s a lot easier to do when mine is the only income and expenses to track! But it can be done. After that, I recommend trying to live off the one income and sack the rest into savings and retirement. If it means going back to work for a few months just to see if you guys can do it, then buckle down for that time and get it done. It’s a real time answer to your should I/could I question.

    As for the emotional side, I’m sure in your gut you already know which way you are leaning. Do what ever steps you need to to make that idea happen. 🙂

  8. It’s very hard to quantify the decision of whether to stay home with a baby. I agree that a super frugal practice month where they see how much they can cut would provide very helpful information. It seems like financially they could swing it if they cut expenses a bit. They’d sacrifice some retirement savings for those five years, but for some it’s worth being home when the child is young vs. when the child is older or out of the house. But they’d need to make sure they have a firm grasp on what they’re really spending, as you said.

    It’s unfortunate that women sometimes have to expect to make less when they return to the workforce. I believe being a mom can build so many skills that are valuable in the workplace.

  9. Elizabeth says:

    What about a reduced work schedule. Many places offer an 80% option with pay and benefits prorated. This could give you more time at home but allow you to maintain your level of pay once your youngest is in school. Also you should still be able to grow your retirement.

    • Leigh says:

      I would definitely check out options for part-time work or job sharing since the federal government is very friendly towards these types of arrangements (check out the OPM website for details). You can work as little as 40% time (2 days a week!) and, while your compensation and benefits are decreased proportionally, your years of service still accrue by calendar year (so the date you hit your “30 years” won’t change). Plus you’d get to keep your foot in the door to possibly return full-time to the same position when that makes sense for your family. Good luck!!

      • Kayla Worden says:

        I am a federal government employee, 7 months pregnant and I am negotiating with management to take 4 months off (utilizing annual/sick/comp/LWOP) before returning to work part-time for ~3 months, using FMLA (& LWOP). I would LOVE to be able to return to work part-time for much longer than this (a year or two, in a perfect world until our little girl starts school). But this is the first I have heard of part-time work or job sharing. I’m starting to do some digging, but if you have any specific information or advice about how to make this happen I would greatly appreciate it! I would love to share more of my story and hear more of yours, please send me an email at kaylar4@gmail.com. Thank you!!

        • Leigh says:

          My husband is the federal employee, and we’re investigating part-time as part of (or in lieu of) and early retirement plan. So, alas, I don’t have specifics about making it happen (sorry!). But the OPM website has info about benefits, leave accrual, status during a RIF, years of service, and tips for applying (https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/hiring-information/part-time-and-job-sharing/#url=Personnel-Policies). I know that opportunities vary based on one’s specific federal job, but you’ll never hear a “yes” if you don’t inquire 🙂 Cheers!

          • Kayla Worden says:

            My husband and I both work for DoD, doing basically the same job, so job sharing may be the blessing we’ve been looking for. You’re absolutely right, we would be silly not to try. We are fortunate in that my mother-in-law also works in HR, so I will definitely start pulling this thread…thanks again for the idea!

          • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

            Yay! I love when these connections are made :). I hope this works out for you!

  10. Vicki Lindstrom says:

    As the mother of 3 daughters, I can totally identify with Kelly, though all my daughters are grown. When my first daughter was born, I was able to stay home for 7 months. When my second daughter was born, my husband and I decided that I would stay home, though it meant cutting our income in half. I was a stay-at-home Mom for 9 years, and I am totally grateful that it was possible. There were definitely sacrifices, but they were so worth it! Children grow up so fast! Don’t miss any of it if you can help it!

  11. Diana says:

    If the kids were spending tons of time with a babysitter or at a daycare, it would make sense to stay at home (maybe). But since they are able to move work days around (meaning one of the parents is usually home with the kids) I think it makes more sense to go back to work. You’re still spending a lot of quality time with the kids, so I don’t think they’re suffering. Plus, you have a great salary and a chance to put more money away for your future and theirs. If anything, I would say go back to work and reevaluate things in a couple of years.

    • Conrad says:

      100 agree. Sounds like you have a perfect arrangement where you are not sacrificing on time with you kids or a career. Seems like a no brainer milk your current situation for as long as you can.

  12. ME says:

    Not sure I missed this or not, but is there a chance for either of them to work part-time? I did this and if you can negotiate that deal, I highly recommend. It’s been a wonderful option for my family as we have raised our family these last 14 years.

  13. Christine K says:

    That seems like an ideal situation to me honestly…I’d go back to work. It sounds like either a parent or a grandparent is with the kids at all times, so no daycare cost and lots of time with various loving people in their lives. The fact that it’s a govt. job with a pension also weighs in for me. I don’t really see a downside to keeping this situation as-is. If childcare were a factor, I’d say stay home. It’s not though and work is flexible with the schedules so it’s hard for me to see a downside.

    That said, I’d live the uber-frugal life so that work can be a choice, not a necessity.

    • stephanie says:

      I could not agree more – financially they have so much to gain by continuing to work and their assets, in my opinion, aren’t where I’d want them to be to quit. Plus, with daycare not a factor, you’re already experiencing the best of both worlds – your kids ARE with family all the time, while you continue to earn a good living. Also, I think you cannot stress enough – if she quits and needs to go back, how difficult it will be to regain entry to the job market at the same level, which she pointed out, actually.

  14. Emily says:

    I’m a frugal newbie still trying to get down the basics, so no sage advice here. Just wanted to drop a word of encouragement on your journey. Good luck on your decision!

  15. Katie says:

    Super cute family! I love that you have found a way to eat healthy and save money with your whole eggs and meat thing! Being a stay at home mom is an awesome thing and with 4 girls, you must be busy! I would suggest being super frugal and selling some things to make your dream of being a stay at home mom a reality. Could you sell one of your cars? I would even consider selling your vacation cabin if needed. You can always find another if your finances allow, later in life. If it lets you live the dream, it might be worth it. Sounds like you have quite a few side hustles that you could use to make even more money if needed. Congrats on the new little one! You are very fortunate to even have the option to stay home!

  16. Jason says:

    I think you made an error in the assumed amount they should be saving each year. From the way I read her email to you, it seems that their gross income is $159K. That puts them somewhere in the 30% total tax bracket (including state income), leaving them with ~$112K net or so. After paying their expenses of $65K, that should leave approximately $47K left over, but that doesn’t account for them maxing out their respective TSP’s of $36K/year. With those things included, that leaves $11K a year, or ~$1000/month unaccounted for, which I assume is going into taxable investments, or cash.

    In any event, I think that the decision to stay at home is obviously personal. For me, I would recommend Kelly continue to work, for the following reasons: If you can arrange your schedules so that either you or your husband are home, then you will not need to pay child care (assuming help from Grandparents when needed). This is huge IMO. While the $600 extra to your pension upon retirement isn’t a huge amount, being able to max contribute to your TSP in the next 10 years is. Unless your work is dangerous (law enforcement?) I would think that there is low risk and that it also provides some level of satisfaction/social interaction you enjoy.

    If Kelly leaves her job, their tax rate would drop, but it looks like they might still not have sufficient income to cover their expenses. I would not advocate considering $100/day substitute teaching as a viable income alternative, as if she could do that 90 days a year (a LOT!) it would only gross $9K additional for what works out to be ~$12.50 or so an hour…So doesn’t seem worth it…

  17. Kelly says:

    Good Morning Frugalwoods Followers!
    Thank you for all of the insights and suggestions. Yes, we are fortunate that we do not need daycare. I know that it is a large expense that many families struggle with. I have tried for almost a decade to reduce my hours at work, however the federal government is still behind when it comes to work/life balance. I do feel blessed that they allow my husband and I to work opposite days though. Deep down I know we need to be more diligent about tracking our spending. I think it is something we really need to do before any decisions are made!

    • Geeka says:

      I’d also look at the future value of the money that you could lose during your stay at home period (both in total, and as a percentage of your current salary and predicted future salary).
      Lastly, if you work as a federal employee where you have to keep up with certifications or education, I’d factor either retraining when you go back, or the cost of keeping your professional status intact during mommy sabbatical.

  18. Christine Sierakowski says:

    Although I have read your blog for quite some time, this is the first time I have responded. So I hope I can offer some beneficial advice. Although I could only wish that I was in the financial position, savings wise, and that I didn’t realize as Mr. and Mrs. Frugalwood and Kelly and Joe, we have not been so financially fortunate due to health reasons , and so forth .

    But I can tell you that when we first had our three children, we seriously considered me remaining as a stay-at-home mom and homeschooling our children. I completely understand and respect your decision to keep your two oldest children in school for the various reasons you mentioned. But I would also be wary of the future complications it could cause by having some in school and some not. Raising a house of all girls, we have learned that if you don’t treat them equally, they tend to turn on each other. I can see where one might become jealous of not going to school and having the public interaction with others , while the others could become jealous about not having that one-on-one time with mom, which also almost always turns out to become the better education as well.

    When we first started having children , my husband wanted me to homeschool our 3 girls . Although it was an excellent idea, and I wanted my daughter’s to have the best education possible, and I knew in my heart that I would not make a good teacher . You having the benefit of already being a school teacher, may not find this to be an issue. But I do know from other parents who have home schooled their children, that there are activities, etc for home schooled children. So you might want to find out what’s involved there and the costs associated with those activities. I would also wonder if you would need to think about costs such as utilities, food, school supplies, etc also going up by educating at home. Just something to think about.

    But on the flip side, you might be able to rid yourself of 1 car, add a vegetable garden, maybe even rent out space for other animals or a community garden for some added revenue. And in regards to your charity expenses, I am a firm believer in charity. My husband is a war veteran and I spent over a year in the hospital. If it wasn’t for our local church, which we were not members of, and the girl’s pre-school, we would have never made it. But I believe there are other ways to donate besides financially. (My girls all give blood now that they’re old enough, assist in food banks, knit hats for newborns, I donate everything that can be resused every month, we too donate clothes to those with growing children, if a neighbor needs help we always pitch in, etc.) Also, if you ever buy anything online, there are sites that will donate a percentage of your purchase to the charity of your choice. If you’re creative enough, you should be able to still provide at least $200/month in tax deductible charitable contributions. Best of luck to you and your family! Christine in KY

    • Kelly says:

      Hi Christine!
      Thanks for sharing your story. All of the girls will go to the same school. The two youngest are not school aged yet. I commend and respect anyone homeschooling. I admire their patience. Like yourself, I do not believe I could teach my own children. The three cars are required because when one of us is at work the other needs a vehicle. The farm truck is used to haul our livestock. We do have a large 2000 sq ft garden to offset our food costs. The youngest girls and I currently deliver Meals on Wheels each week and act as sanctuary stewards for two local nature preserves. I also know, financially, we should be more charitable. Please tell your husband “thank you” especially with Veteran’s Day approaching!

  19. Lindsey G. says:

    This is a tough one and indeed a more values + emotion driven vs financial decision. I have always been the main breadwinner of our family and felt I had no option but in going back to work (luckily for a very flexible employer) when our oldest was born 7 years ago a and a year and a half later when our twin boys arrived. Even though they are in Kindergarten and 1st grade now, my husband and I have made drastic changes over the past 2 years that will allow me to retire from my job by early 2017. Given that we used to live above our means of nearly $200k/year combined income, the thought of living on just his ~$70k income was once something that seemed impossible. Through simplifying and frugality, we now save over half our income and the tips I’ve learned and would like to share with Kelky are below.

    *Look at every single expense again for an alternative. Example: could the music lessons be less costly through a group style lesson vs private lessons?
    *Are you under contract with Sorint for your cell phone converse? We too paid $100/mo for our 2 lines and just switched to Consumer Cellular and cut our bill in half. There are many of these “discount” cellular companies now that provide the same service at vastly cheaper rates.
    *Could you rent the vacation cabin for an additional week per month for a further income stream? If your not working that could go straight to savings.
    *I love the idea of substitute teaching as it is not the same commitment of a FT of PT job. You call the days you work and keep the same (or similar hours) as the kids.

    In the end it’s such a personal decision where financial changes make a difference but the reality is these years go so very fast. Something I did earlier this year that really helped me focus in on making this change a reality was writing a list of all the things that “matter” most to me. And a further exercise (though it seems morbid) was to write my obituary as it would be now vs what I want it to say. That alone gave me the answer I needed and since then it’s been much easier to make drastic changes knowing that my #1 job is being mom to these 3 boys. I wish Kelly and her family all the best in navigating this decision!

  20. CarolineRSA says:

    I am also a government employee, and LOVE my benefits (great pension and medical aid). We have also made the decision to send our son to a private school; it’s not a ‘snob’ thing, it’s our “value based spending” (thank you, Kalie). The local public school simply cannot offer the quality for which we choose to pay handsomely. My husband is fortunate to be able to work from home, and so we also avoid day care costs. He took a pay cut to be a 90% full time dad. Also cut stress, office borne illnesses, work wear expenses, travelling time and costs. We’re able to have the best of each world for our family, and don’t miss the meals out, shiny stuff etc. Look carefully at your numbers; but I say go for it!

  21. Hadilly says:

    I agree with the other posters suggesting Kelly and family take a close look at expenses. Electricity costs for the cabin sounds really high to me. The car insurance also sounds high, none of those are new cars. Shop around and maybe consider selling one of them. I question $200 a month for charity too. You still have student loans to pay off yourself and only 8k in a 529.

    No matter what you do about going back to work, I would start reducing expenses as you begin to track spending.

    Enjoy your beautiful family and farm this holiday season!

  22. Raina says:

    Hi Kelly! What a beautiful family. 🙂 So 18 months ago my husband read a story on Vox about FI ( which quoted Frugalwoods!) and we changed our lives dramatically. We sold our house, got rid of our commute by moving to a close in rental, and started challenging everything. I also immediately quit work to be at home with our preschool age daughter, because the changes in our expenses made it possible, even though we obviously would have made a lot more progress had I been working the last 18 months. But I don’t regret it. 🙂
    We had liquid assets for about six months of living expenses when I quit. We decided this was enough cushion that should he loose his job, it would give me enough time to find work.
    Our daughter does no extracurricular activities (she did when I was working), with which that savings goes into her college fund. This was hard for me because I put a lot of value on those activites, but she has barely noticed.
    I agree with Mrs. Frugalwoods, you might want to try living only on his salery for a few months and save all of yours for the dual purpose of feeling comfortable at that level of cash inflow, plus plumping up your savings a little. The uber frugal month challenge is eye opening if you haven’t done it. I was surprised.
    Know at the end of the day this really has more to do with what situation bring your family the most joy. That might feeling more secure financially by having dual incomes, but it also might be the atmosphere that having a work at home dedicated adult creates. My husband says the lowered stress level in our house alone has been worth it. Good luck!

  23. You’ve thought this out really well, so in addition to Mrs. FW’s excellent advice I’ll add that the decision is more personal than financial. What do you and your husband really want? Make THAT happen. If you want to stay home, that’s awesome. If you’d miss work too much, then keep working.
    You said that if you stay home now, you’d take a pay cut when you go back and your retirement would be lower, etc. However, a lot of government jobs pay less than the market rate so you might be able to go back to work in the private sector for an even higher salary and save even more then. Or you might be able to find a private sector job that would allow you to work very part-time for a few years then ramp back up to full time when you’re ready.
    Best of luck!

  24. Audrey G says:

    I agree with Mrs. Frugalwoods-definitely need to track spending while you’re at home to see where money is being spent. What my husband and I are doing is trying to live on just his income right now and putting my paycheck into savings; the goal is for me to retire early and take care of our grandchildren. We’ve just started this; so far it’s tight but manageable.

  25. GettingThere says:

    OK, my observations:
    From the pension to Kelly perspective alone, I’d say it’s not worth for her to go back to work and stay there for 18 years in order to increase her pension from $1k to $1,600 a month. That’s lots of sacrifice for the $7k/year increase unless she enjoys her job and knows it’s stable.
    However, like Mrs. FW noted, they have awesome net income but less than $300K in assets to show. I had the same questions.
    How long have they been earning such salaries?
    Are their jobs stable to continue at this level?
    If they’ve had such income for a few years, then they’d need to figure out where $95K/year vanished. Miscalculated expenses? Bought a stock and the company went bust?
    Is it really $144k/year NET income AFTER contributions to their TSP’s?

    Ultimately, what’s the LT goal for this case study and your life?
    If you really wish to stay home, yes, you can afford to do it if you’re 100% sure your expenses are this low. You DH would save in TSP (make sure you both MAX them out as TSP is considered the best “401K” out there) and both of you would max out Roth IRA’s. Then after you return back to work you’ll be able to max out your 401k. I disagree with Mrs. FW that Kelly’s monthly expenses are high. If the $95k difference between their income and expenses is brand new then they’re in the clear ;-), IMO. One question though: Would your health care be 100% covered for the whole family via your husband? You’ve got a very cheap health care expenses, do you have extra or need to save for out-of-pocket expenses?

    Having said the above, I personally would return to work for 7-11 years.
    I’d do this not for the pension, but for increasing balances in your portfolios in TSP and taxable accounts.
    Maybe you will struggle with your daily routine juggling your childcare, but it sounds you’ve been able to handle it thus far, so why not try for the next few years until the youngest start school. Plus grandparents help. Zero childcare expenses even if you return to work = Enviable situation from parents who work and pay $200-300/week for this service.
    It’s a struggle a bit, but as you’re able to get away from the farm on the monthly basis, I think that replenishes your energy to face your work. Other people cannot do it. Of course, if you must work on the farm in addition to taking care of your kids and working FT for the government, then I would ask you: what’s your secret and how can you do it because that’s LOTS of draining work.

    If you returned to work for say 7 years and both of you maxed our all available retirement accounts and ALSO saved $95K in taxable accounts you’d be more than all set, health willing. In addition, you’d still have plenty of time to spend with your kids in their teen years that are said to be very important to nurture correctly. Good luck!!

    • Kelly says:

      Where did all the money go right?!
      So, I paid off around 40K of my husband ‘s debt. I put 40K down on the purchase of our farm. Everything we have for the farm… truck, trailer, ATV and tractor were purchased with cash totaling around 20K. I hope that helps to explain the meager savings.

    • SJ says:

      They’ve only been married for four years. She was a single mom. Financial outcomes change a lot when you add in another working adult.

  26. Felisa Savage says:

    Since you mentioned that your jobs allow you to flex your time so you don’t have to pay childcare, I would recommend you go back to work and focus on increasing your retirement savings. You didn’t really state if you love or hate your work but there are other benefits of working. I think it allows you the benefit of adult conversation plus keeps your equal with your husband in the importance of raising your kids. Focus on a plan where you can both retire at about the same time. As for your finances, I think you are doing pretty good. Keep up the good work.

    • Kelly says:

      I love my job, but I don’t like the fact that I work nights, weekends, holidays and a lot of forced overtime.

      • Leah says:

        The extra time is hard. I am a teacher, and I have found I am a FAR better mother when I work hard to not bring work home with me. I feel you on not always being able to be there for your family. Work life balance is a big challenge.

        This is a personal decision that will really depend on how you feel. If you decide to stay home, you’ll figure out how to make it work. I chose to go back to work and am glad I did. I like the interaction, variety, and stimulation. But we also make considerably less (two private school teachers) and really need the extra income, even tho we also pay for daycare.

  27. Miranda says:

    In addition to what Mrs. FW wrote I suggest getting very clear on what your main priority is. Spend some time to get really quiet and listen to your heart. Then come back and look at the numbers to find the best way to make that happen. Once you know what your priority is the rest will fall into place.

  28. Stacey says:

    Just a little background on me before I give you my advice, so you understand my position. I did not return to work when I had my kids. I was 25 at the time. Through the years I did go back for periods and always felt the call to stay home with them as well as the convenience of not having to worry about which of us, my husband and I, would be picking up the kids when sick or after school. We had to buckle down and not overspend, we used coupons and were frugal with vacations. We didn’t save a ton but we did well enough to feel safe for a few months should something happen to my husbands job.
    Fast forward to the present. I am now 44 and retirement is looming in the background for my husband who is a month from 47 and I’m ready to go back to work.
    However, now I have no current skills and have to start from scratch. Not to mention it’s downright scary! We have a much smaller savings than I feel we should and our retirement although not horrible is not close to being ready. My husband has worked very hard and I would like him to have the possibility to retire at 60 so my new income would also help with that as well as my two kids’ college expenses.
    I feel very very proud of my children and what my husband and I have done in raising them. We afforded private christian school for them their entire school lives (we lived in a poor performing school area) and we managed to take them on a few very nice vacations. All while owning a house and 2 vehicles. But in hindsight I do wish I had incorporated some small part of my life to working consistently at any point so that I would continue bettering my husband and I’s financial situation and when my kids left for school I didn’t have to start over again. We would be in a much better situation with even a part time job consistently. We would also be more helpful to our kids in that scenario during their college years. The pull was very strong for me to stay home with my kids and in our situation we had no help to care for them, it would have been all daycare, but hindsight is always 20/20. There could have been nice balance to care for them and us. It’s so easy to forget the us when you love so much.
    In light of my experience my view of your situation, if I understand it correctly, is that you should continue to work. If you have the option of you, your husband and occasionally your mom caring for your children then the best situation at 38 years old is to continue working towards that retirement that will be upon you before it seems possible. If you could change your work schedule to part time until your new baby is 5 and in school that would be ideal. But the way I’m looking at this complex situation is balance. You have to have a balance of both time with your baby and providing a retirement for you and your husband in the coming years. I always refer to the speech the airline gives when taking off. You are to put the oxygen mask on yourself first and then your children. It’s a good reminder for us moms who would willingly give everything and anything to be with, care for and love our children. But in the end if you don’t take care of you and your husband first then your children will have to take care of you. That doesn’t sound quite as good and working longer doesn’t either.
    It’s a hard decision and I feel for you. I wish you and your family the best.

    • Kelly says:

      I love the airline analogy! So true!

    • Lisa says:

      This is something with which I have seen my own mother contend as she started looking for employment once my youngest sister was getting ready to head to college. She started doing part-time work in her field during my sister’s high school years and had volunteered using her skill set in the public school for many years, but her technology skills are not high, which could have been helped by remaining in the workforce. She doesn’t really know how to search for jobs in her field, and my father, who has been at the same company for over a decade (after working at another business for 25+ years previously), is also ill-equipped to assist her.

      Fortunately my parents are not in a place where they need my mother’s income, but it has been difficult for her to figure out her own identity independent of her children’s needs and the community that comes with having small children in public spaces. I think she would have been well-served by working at least part-time over the years or developing contacts that did not revolve around our activities.

      The choice to stay home is very personal, and I don’t think it’s one I will make full-time when I have children for the reasons I’ve listed here. Unless we’re completely financially independent when we have kids, I don’t see my husband or I completely forgoing work.

    • SJ says:

      Thank you for sharing your story. My mother stayed home after I was born. She was 25. Unfortunately for her, her marriage dissolved when she was 48 or 49. She was very intimidated to get a job and never did. My parents had ended up quite wealthy and if she had played her cards right… adopting a frugal lifestyle and maybe getting an enjoyable part-time job like at REI or a bookstore she would have been completely okay. But she didn’t do either of those things. She’s now 63 and terrified: Money is running out… her hips ache and she’s worried about medical costs as she ages.. I also had a child right before turning 25 and didn’t go to the work force full-time. I’ve done small things here and there.. right now I am technically self-employed and I have an LLC as a professional pet caregiver. The income is ridiculously variable, but per hour it’s double what I ever made working for a company. And seriously, spending my time with dogs and cats is really a dream job anyway! I have time and so do you…. I look back at how fast the last 14-15 years have flown by since I told my mom “you can do it! “… and the she most certainly *could* have! I did the math… at this point it’s about $175k-250k in income that she was simply too intimidated (and too proud) to earn. My mom is not my role model, she’s the cautionary tale.

    • S.G. says:

      Have you looked into a training program or a couple classes to refresh your skills? Your skills are rusty, but they become less relevant if your story is coming out of a training program rather than jumping straight into the work force.

  29. Awesome family! Are we sure they take-home $72k a year each? Seems high for federal government employees. I think that’s a big question that needs to be addressed first. If it is true, I definitely think they can make it work for a few years with her staying home.

    But on another note, I WANT TO VISIT THIS AWESOME FARM. I live in the Midwest and if you allow visitors please email me at ferventfinance @ gmail . com
    Thanks!

    • Kelly says:

      Hello Fervent Finance!
      My husband and I both work in the field of anti-terrorism which unfortunately is fairly in demand lately. We both make 72K after taxes. More importantly, we love visitors! I’ll send you an email shortly!

  30. Kathryn says:

    Taxes are a huge consideration in this, probably much more than has been contemplated. I’m assuming that the $72,000 wages each are after taxes, in which case I would estimate the federal tax bracket at around 28% with most of your second income being taxes at 25%. I happen to know that Michigan state tax is 4.25% (fellow Michigander). FICA taxes are 7.65%. Likely, you are paying 36.9% in taxes alone on your income.

    My first consideration though would be to throw the financial considerations out the window, since it seems clear that if you build up your savings a bit, you could make one income work for your family-if…it’s what you really want.

    My second consideration would be to make a budget exactly as shown above but with amounts included as if you were to stop working and live on one income. And especially don’t forget about the taxes :).

  31. Katharine L says:

    This was an interesting case study to me, because I recently made the (very hard) decision to go back to work, after 5 years of staying home with my boys. We also had to take into account day-care costs, as my youngest is only 3. While I would never trade the 5 years I had hanging out with my boys, I have to say that the thing that *did* change, when I went back to work (and mind you, it’s only been about 3 weeks so far!) is that even though we’re more disorganized, the house is messier, there’s a little more chaos…. we also feel like we’re saving for a dream, so we feel like we’re getting closer to where we want to be. Now, you sound like in many ways you may already be where you want to be (we eventually want a farm where we can raise our own food, etc. because we miss that) and that’s something to take into account. But while we were living on one income, we were able to save *some*, but not dramatic amounts. We lived very frugally (which is how I found the Frugalwoods) and didn’t go out to eat, etc. etc. Even with those cost-cutting measures, we weren’t able to save tons- we barely got by with our basic saving. Currently we are able to save almost my entire salary (minus additional daycare costs) and that’s a significant savings “bump”- one we think will allow us to “step back” in 5 years, because our savings for college, retirement, etc. will be DONE. At that point, we’ll only have to meet immediate spending needs, so that’s a goal for us to work towards. So I guess I tell you all this to let you know that I would also look at your “big picture”. What gets you fastest to the lifestyle you desire most? What trade-offs are you willing to make to get there? Oh- and two sidenotes- I wouldn’t sell that vacation cabin ever! A paid-for (by rental) retreat? That’s the most awesome idea ever! And my going back to work has been a breath of fresh air in my life. I love my boys dearly, but I also really love my profession, and getting to work again has been a complete joy!!! (something else to take into account- I hadn’t realized how much I missed it until I got back into it!)

    • Kelly says:

      Working towards fulfilling a dream definitely makes going to work more bearable! Best of luck realizing your dream. When I work I do get stressed and overwhelmed keeping up the house, laundry, cooking etc!

  32. Melissa Ferguson says:

    I’m married to a Marine as well. I worked full time and part time from home (after kids) only going in for meetings and events until this year. My husband and the grandparents provided childcare as needed. It was a weekly juggling act, but I had what many people considered the “ideal” situation and felt like it was too good to give up. After agonizing over it (for three years!) I still decided to quit and stay home and I not only don’t regret it, I wish I had done it much sooner when the kids were babies instead of when they were 3 and 6. Our lives are so much more relaxed, we have more time and more energy, and the budget impact has been pretty small just by focusing more on where our money goes. We did reallocate our Roth IRA savings so that more went to my account as my husband continues to accure retirement savings through work. We do homeschool and while our family is not as diverse as yours, I love the time we can spend on exploring countries and cultures and the diverse community we have in the groups and clubs we have joined. I feel like my children are actually getting more exposure to diversity than in a school setting. I will let others address the budget details, but I know our situation changed far less than I anticipated just by having less expense related to work (wardrobe, travel, convenience foods) and having more time to track spending.

  33. Marcia says:

    Hmm…this is a tough one for me. I think it’s going to come down to what you *want* to do.

    I’m impressed with the income/ mortgage ratio. It reminds me of how well we COULD be doing if we weren’t living in California. And the fact that you have no daycare costs is pretty darned amazing.

    So, as a working mom who likes to work – the workplace flexibility and the grandparent care on the 1-2 days a week, makes working SO MUCH EASIER than it is for most people. You have SUCH a sweet deal. Plus, the pensions!!

    But. What it comes right down to is -what to YOU want to do? Even with grandparent help, and offsetting work days, working full time with an infant/ toddler is exhausting. Even now, with my kids at 10 and 4, it’s tiring. I’ve learned a lot of techniques for survival (namely: cutting my work hours). If you are offsetting your days, do you get any family time together? Or is one of you always working? Are you working longer hours? A lot of time these flexible schedules come with 9-12 hour days. That’s tiring too. Everyone needs some “down time”, and while you can survive this way, it’s not fun.

    (If you get some down time on your days home with the kids, that’s great then.)

    Is there a part-time work option? In my experience, it was the best of both worlds. That’s not true for everyone though. For me, it was shorter days. For some people, it’s fewer days. Leaving work an hour or two earlier each day was glorious.

  34. It sounds like you really want to stay home. You should find a way to make it happen. If you can rent out your cabin for another week, cut your spending just a bit more, sell a car to get you started,etc., you’ll be able to get going in no time. I think it’s hard to step away from a flexible job and lose that $600 in future but $600 does not make up for the time with your kids you will gain if you stay home. I haven’t had kids yet but my plan is to stay home despite trying to hack the career ladder in the short term.

  35. kim says:

    First thing I would do is talk to HR at the employer. I know some government agencies around here (Canada) will hold your position for 2-3 years after maternity leave is up (we get 1 year paid leave). Although you wouldn’t be receiving a paycheque during those years, you would be able to go back to your job at your current salary – they hold your position for you until you return. If there isn’t a formal program, your employer may be able to work out something that allows you to return after a few years.
    In theory, they should be able to make it work, but I’d also ruthlessly track every dollar to know what your spending. When you have a financial cushion, it easy to be a bit more lax with budget lines. If you’re dropping one income, you’re going to have to make sure you know where your money is going to make sure it’s doable and sustainable.

  36. Kathryn says:

    I guess what jumps out at me (and I could have missed it) is savings for big maintenance expenses for when there’s a major repair bill at either home (primary or vacation). Something to think about, especially if you want the 2nd home to be consistently rentable–things may have to be taken care of without much time to DIY or shop around.

    Is there a temporary agency for the type of work that you do? Government jobs (at least on local levels) love to fill in personnel gaps with temps coming out of the same type of work.

    I worked straight through until retirement at 52 (local government allowed full retirement benefits after 30 years). While I’m very happy with my pension and what it lets me do for my kids and grandkids, I wonder now if some of my kids’ occasional pitfalls could have been avoided if I’d been at home more, especially in their teen years. Good luck in whatever you decide!

  37. Suze Wannabe says:

    It’s interesting, Money questions are rarely about money. It’s always about emotion because personal finance is personal 🙂

    I retired at 46, & we own a grass fed cattle ranch (for sale!)

    It sounds like Kelly wants to stay home with the wee ones and it seems fiscally possible.

    Here’s what I would do:
    1. Check how many “credits” you have w Soc Security. You need 40 over your lifetime to collect

    2. Create a simple retirement budget and double the costs (it’s about 15-20 years out).

    3. Consider selling the vacation home for now (its temporary). You could have great vacations for $10,800:year. (Does it feel risky about renters for winter?) Charge a bit more rent for the place to make more profit if the Market will bear it.

    4. My mom was a teacher-she worked far more than 8hrs/day. The real pay might be $100/12hrs or $8/hr. I would pass on this

    5. Do same calculation for bringing in another kiddo to watch $300/week for how many hours/day?

    6. Bravo on the college funds! Push pause on contributing to those. They will grow and young adults can earn some $ to supplement the rsst.

    7. Create a special savings acct where you DO NOT TOUCH it until the student loan is paid off.

    8. Push pause on all retirement and college contributions until that student loan is gone.

    9. Paying off that loan:

    Sell cabin? (if no renters in winter). $850

    Charity-pause this until student loan is gone
    $200 ( You can give in other ways. Food, canned food..)

    Violin & Piano $250

    Poss sell 1 car and apply towards student loan

    Push pause on contributions

    Take the $9,000 in cash and put it into that special savings account.

    When you have saved the $18,000, call for a loan payoff in writing. Send the check with s copy of the letter certified mail and explain you want to pay it in full.

    Then, your husband can continue to contribute to his retirement plan.

    10. Get a term life policy on you. Estimate what it would cost to replace you being a stay at home mom, chef, homemaker, etc.

    11. Investigate sunc costs and tax advantage of buying more pigs and cows (and maybe a male calf who can stud mommas). Beef mommas can usu have babies for about 4 years.

    Hope that helps, What a lovely family 🙂

  38. Little Green says:

    My question is if they qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness because they work in the public sector. That may be something to look into with still $18k left to go on the loan.

  39. We have a similar sort of conversation coming up in the next year or three, as we start to make our family bigger.

    Off the cuff, I’d consider selling the rental property. If it’s just barely covering the mortgage, I don’t think it’s worth the risk (all homes will require expenses, eventually you’ll get a bad renter, etc.) I’d reduce the monthly costs/risks, and gladly take whatever equity I got from the sale and invest it as a buffer for reduced income, or knock out the student loan.

    The substitute teacher idea is a great option. It’s flexible (key for bigger families, since something always comes up) and $100 a day is nothing to sneeze at.

    Reduced income isn’t all bad: reduced federal income taxes, too.

    Some easy wins: move to a cheaper & better MNVO cell phone provider (I’m a big fan of AirVoice Wireless, which puts you on the AT&T Network), possibly trade services for instrument lessons rather than shelling out the cash (maybe the instructors would be interested in some really good meat?), and reduce the gas expenditures by perhaps losing the most gas-hungry vehicle (and its insurance bill).

    Anyway, I’d say go for it if you want to stay home with the kids. There’s enough wiggle in that budget that you may not even feel the pinch that badly from losing an income.

  40. Lynn says:

    This was fascinating! I absolutely feel that a parent should stay home with a young child, if that’s what they want and can afford. But I will add that returning to the work force is not guaranteed, not even at a reduced salary, so make sure you’re okay with it being forever. It has been shown time and time again that women have a very hard time returning after taking several years off. Even if you get preference in being hired as a federal employee, there could be (another!) hiring freeze, or more competition, etc. You seem to have a great position with a lot of perks; that’s great, but it’s rare. I would hold on to it.

  41. Ilene Anna says:

    I agree that paying attention to where and what we spend can be life-changing and lead to more frugality than first imagined. In the end a decision must be made based on family needs now versus probable financial comfort later. My children grew up in the blink of an eye and they always preferred ‘me’ to’ things’.

  42. As far as Kelly’s concerns, I think it really depends on what you want to do. If having a parent in the home is important to you, that’s what you should do–if having a career while being a full-time mom is your preference, you should keep your job. It’s a super personal decision, and while finances are important, your family’s goals and values are also important.

    If you choose to stay at home, I think income streams like subbing would be a fantastic way to bring in some additional funds. More animals is good too, but that also means more maintenance and costs associated with those animals. If adding a few heads won’t burden you too much, that could be a great way to get some extra moolah. Can you breed your own cattle?

    Is there a way to increase the income on the rental cabin? If it’s just paying for the mortgage and not returning profit, you may want to get rid of it altogether. Even when it’s paid off you’ll owe property taxes and an electric/gas bill for it, so it looks like it’s costing you money right now, plus the effort of maintaining it.

    A few other places you could cut costs would be for the girls’ lessons. Since you live in the country, could you trade food/animals/etc. for lessons in lieu of financial payments? Almost like bartering?

  43. Anna says:

    Thank you for sharing your story and agree it is a tough decision. You mentioned possibly minding another child in your home and just wanted to share that from my experience it has really helped our family financially to both bring in extra income and cut any childcare costs. In a weird way it”s a bit like being a pre-school teacher (for both my children and the two children I mind) 😉 If you were thinking about it, it definitely has its rewards. Good luck with your decision….the main thing is to be happy 🙂

  44. Andria says:

    This is a small thing, but since they already use the Sprint network, I’d suggest switching to Ting, which is “pay for what you use” and uses Sprint’s network, so they wouldn’t even have to change phones. I pay about $20/month, so they’d be saving $60 right now, and it would be much cheaper to add the kids as they get older. https://z3d26b2a2b1.ting.com/

  45. Theresa says:

    Kelly, I think the decision is already made. If you don’t take this time away from your current job you will always regret it. You can only find out if it’s best for you and hence your family if you try it. I applaud you for reaching out to this community for helpful suggestions and support.

  46. Melissa says:

    Hello,
    I doubt I can add anything of use on the financial end but on the interpersonal end…. I’d say Lean In. As a career changer from attorney to social worker I would give my left arm for a federal job where my pay is steady, my vacation days plentiful and my pension was accruing.
    My mother worked all while I was a child, from my earliest days. And even though as a kid I might have been a brat about it, as an adult I am so happy that she did. Not only was a private school education and private college in the cards for both my sister and I, but more importantly I learned incredible self reliance and strength from being the child of a working mother. We had a wonderful neighbor who took care of my sister and I for most of our childhood. Now both my sister and I have graduate degrees and are working in professions we love.
    I know its still unpopular to want to Lean In, but do it. At 56 that’s still really young to retire, and you can have a whole second career. I get intellectual and emotional succor from my career as a social worker and I wouldn’t trade those hours for anything. And no, I don’t have kids. But, like you, I’d like to adopt in a few years after I finish my graduate degree. And I want my future daughter to see her mother working a job that fulfills her and makes her a better person.
    Its not always about the money. Just my two cents.

    • Laura says:

      I like this comment about having a working mother – self-reliance, etc. Well said. I had a very similar experience growing up.

      Kelly – Thanks for sharing your story here. I feel that staying home with kids is such a personal decision, that I don’t have anything to offer there. I will tell my story quickly:

      My Mom was a nurse (she is now retired) and she was part-time when we were really little and the rest of the time my parents couldn’t cover, we were with our grandparents. It was a great situation for my parents to have wonderful grandparents so close. When we were a bit older, my Mom went full-time at work. My Dad died suddenly when I was 14 and there was no life insurance, etc. to help out. (there is a whole different story about financial planning here I could tell!). Luckily for our family, she had a great job with a good salary and benefits. I really feel that while it would have may have been nice to have her home more, she saved us from being on welfare had she not worked. We lived in the country near a small town and good paying jobs were few and far between. I was also very proud of having a Mom that was so smart and capable (and still am!).

      I really hope you can find a solution that works for you and your family. Parents here in Canada with federal government jobs are very lucky – they get 1 yr paid parental leave and the option of up to 5 yrs additional leave (unpaid) but you are then guaranteed a job at the same pay level as when you left.

  47. Diane says:

    Are there any other goverment jobs that you could apply to that would be for flexible? That way you can keep your pension, benefits and time served but have more work/life balance. My son is 2 years old now and I would love to spend more time with him, but I also enjoy working. I just wish I could work less hours. Maybe if you could work 30 hours or less a week you could have the best of both worlds.

  48. Kara says:

    I have nothing to add on the financial aspect that others above have not already said. I just wanted to say that I also have a transracial home, and I love that you’re making the conscious decision to send all of your girls to a school with a diverse make-up. I follow several Facebook groups that I think are really helpful: Transracial Adoption 101 is a really good place to start, and Not Just Hair: The Intersection of Hair/Skincare and Transracial Adoption is a more “advanced” group for bigger questions and issues. If you’re not already a member of either group, I would encourage it in your continuous journey as white parents to black children. Best wishes to you and your family!

    • Kelly says:

      Thanks! I’ll look in to both of those! Lord knows I need help.

      • Leah says:

        Miser Mom is also a really great blog. It’s mostly about frugality, but she also has a transracial family with two adopted boys, and she writes a lot about how she navigates their interests and needs. And, since it’s about frugality, she might give you some ideas! I’ve learned tons from her, both about parenting and being frugal.

      • Kara says:

        I’d love to connect on Facebook if you’re interested. My last name is Barr.
        I should warn you about those groups I told you about – they’re “adoption support” groups to support our KIDS, not us. Sometimes what’s posted is hard for us white parents to hear, but the group is designed to have those difficult conversations so that we can raise our kids to their full potential, and for that I’m very appreciative – I need all the help I can get! 🙂

  49. LeAnna says:

    I hope you choose to stay home with your precious kids. As a mom of 3 grown sons ( and 3 grandchildren!), there is NO GREATER JOY than making memories with your kids. My kids still talk about the fun times growing up and thank me for staying home( while living on my husband’s paycheck of just $35,000 a yr.) Your farm is a dream!! Enjoy it! God bless you!! 🙂

  50. SisterX says:

    The numbers are VASTLY in favor of having you go back to work. This is a not a cut-and-dried “make memories now or never spend time with your kids again” situation. If you improve your numbers you could retire earlier (take advantage of that compounding interest!) and spend time with your kids when they’re older.

    That being said, I’m a mom myself and understand the pull of being there for your kids when they’re small. Working while you have a newborn at home is HARD, I can’t imagine what it’s like with three other kids! I think this is something that only you can answer, really. Which is more worthwhile to you, staying home now or buying earlier freedom from work? It’s a hard, and very personal, question. Will having you at home reduce the craziness at home and give you more time to save money?

    FWIW, I wished I could be a SAHM while mine was little. And if we’d had actual maternity leave in this country (6-12 months) I would have done that in a heartbeat. I got the opportunity to be a SAHM when mine was about 18 months old and I was SUPER EXCITED. Then, after a few months, I realized I didn’t actually like it. I wanted adult conversation and something of my own to do. I tried a few work from home options by my busy child wouldn’t give me the time or space to really make anything come of them. So now I’ve found part-time work and OMG, it’s wonderful. I still get to be home with my kiddo a lot of the time, take her to gymnastics and the library and whatnot, but I have my own life too. I love it.

    Good luck!

  51. Amanda says:

    If you do stay home and open an in home daycare, thank you from a person who went to one. It was a much more fruitful and flexible option for my parents than daycare would have been. I don’t have anything to offer on the stay at home or not decision except be honest with yourself and remember its ok to change your mind. Both moms I’m close to (my sister and mother) decided to return to work, both wanted to. Everyone’s different.

  52. Rob the+hubby says:

    Maybe instead of just quiting you engineer your layoff, in other words you take a buyout instead of just quiting. Financial samurai wrote an expensive ebook on the subject, if you don’t want to buy it than just google it

  53. Agree to track spending! I use YNAB but any method will work. You might find that working is more expensive than you realize.

    I have no idea if this is realistic option for you, but you mention being a licensed substitute–is there any way you could take some kind of permanent position at your older daughters’ school and get a tuition break?

    Subbing might be a nice compromise position–you would still have some money coming in, which you could use to keep funding the college plans to some extent. I have done it myself and while it’s not easy, it is nice to be done within an hour of my kids getting out of school, as opposed to my regular part-time job that has me working evenings and weekends.

    I’m also wondering if staying home would open the potential for expanding your farm business to bring in a little extra money.

    And agree that babysitting is another option–and one that would be very generous if you are willing to help with nontraditional hours. I have had to turn down extra shifts at my job because I can’t find child care that goes late enough into the evening. Could be a chance, if you feel pulled toward it, to provide a real blessing to a single parent or working family.

    Good luck, Kelly! Thank you for sharing your story!

  54. Marisa Stone says:

    First of all. I want to commend you for having the courage to ask in this forum. Always a bit of a risk.

    I am a mother of 4, one is adopted(my husband’s daughter, have had her since she was 6). I had two(then 10 and 6), he had one and we had a joint venture. 8 year later I wish I would have kept working. And here is why:

    First of all at little background. By the time we got married, my husband had been through a divorce that wiped him out financially, I had been a single mom for 10 years and my industry took a very hard hit during the recession so I was not financially sound(no retirement, little savings, I mean little). Working the numbers had I continued to work, we would be FI(8 years later). At this point, I could have retired from regular work. Still adding alot of value to the kids.

    It sounds like you have a perfect set up now with the ability to work from home a couple days a week. This is really how is would wind up being if started your own home business but it could take years to get to a point of replacing your salary and make up for the gains of retirement investment, employer match, etc. Also having a home daycare is going to be a much work as your current job and you wont get to spend as much time with you daughter as you think, also, I would imagine in Michigan, it will not compare the income you can take in, versus your current salary.

    I completely understand how you feel, after many years of being a single working mom, then finally getting to stay home with my kids was what I thought I wanted but financial security is very. Which frankly, I am kind of stressed out about.

    As others have said, work your budget, see if it is possible to live on one income?

    Good luck to you!

    • eno says:

      Agree with Marisa.

      There are some unpredictables here that need to be considered: (1) Will the marriage outlast your stay-at-home years and beyond? If there’s any doubt (any little tiny doubt), then being able to provide for yourself and your children is crucial – even if it’s staying in the industry PT and keeping your foot in the door and maintaining those professional connections; and (2) How easy will it be to re-enter the job market once you’ve left? As a hiring manager, I see stay-at-home moms returning to work all of the time and they just aren’t as competitive as their peers who have been active in the field for the past 10-15 years. It’s very hard for them to find FT work (but that’s my field, maybe not yours). They typically do not re-enter at the salary level they left and have to work their way up again, so this means lost income compounded over years.

      Good luck!

      • Marisa Stone says:

        Eno,
        These are really good points. In fact, my father died when I was 15, my mom did not have the skills after staying home for 15 years to support herself and was financially devastated after his death. Looks like Kelly has good life insurance on both so that is not a factor.

        I thought of one more thing…if you start an in home daycare, you will be working from 6-7 am when folks go to work to 6-7 at night when typical parents return to work. This might be more than you are working now.

        Also…in about 5-8 years when the kids have more activities, you will need to be available about 3:30 in the afternoon to shuttle kids around. I have two basketball players that play year round and I am driving them 7 days a week(which I am happy to do) but this is something else to consider.

  55. I totally agree with the suggestions you’ve made. One of the reasons I still work my day job is to make sure we have a good savings built up first. However, I do know there is a lot we could give up to make that reality happen without having to keep me at my job. My suggestion would be looking into a work at home job through a call center or somewhere else where you can still bring in some money to help with the savings, and see if you’re able to live off your husband’s income with a frugal lifestyle.

  56. We were very poor when my son was a baby but I stayed home anyway. I’m glad I did. No one can take the place of a mother. I realize, though, that for many women this isn’t a choice. I do think it’s very important for a stay-at-home mother to have some alone time and for many women an outside job may keep her well-balanced emotionally.

    Could you compromise? It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Maybe you can find a part-time job.

  57. Vicki says:

    I see a lot of people talking about this being a more personal decision than a financial one. I also see people asking what your goals are. As someone who focuses on decision making (that’s what my dissertation was on in my doctoral program) – I’d just add that ranking your written goals from most to least important will help too. You can then compare your options to those goals. I write about decision making a lot – happy to help explain more if you are interested. You have a beautiful family! The best to you no matter what you decide 🙂

  58. sheilap says:

    I SO wanted to be a stay-at-home mom after my second child was born. It is such a tough decision. I decided after my six month leave was over, to go back to work. Good thing I did! My husband had a mid-life crisis in his 30s. He quit his job ($40,000/year back in the ’80s) saying he was going to be self-employed, tried a lot of different things and didn’t bring home a nickel for a year. He incurred over $100,000 of debt that I knew nothing about, until the bill collectors started calling and the police arrived several times to service collection papers. I was so in love with this man and couldn’t understand how this could happen to me. He let our two rental homes go into foreclosure and he refinanced his car (which was paid off). I don’t know what he did with that money. He declared bankruptcy. The IRS put a lien on our house because of a tax shelter he invested in…one of those get-rich-quick schemes. I agreed to stay with him if he never lied to me again, got a job, and never talked about self-employment again. That was good for about three years, then he began asking about self-employment opportunities and he didn’t want to get up to go to work. I never believed this could happen to me. Good thing I went back to work. I guess I’m saying that things can change. Be sure to look hard at both alternatives.

  59. Jessica says:

    It may help to do a benefit/cost analysis. Do the benefits of staying home with your son outweigh the costs of going back to work? There are many benefits of staying home with your kids, such as a consistent routine and stability for them, it can reduce stress, you don’t miss out on “firsts”, you have more time for them and for tasks at home. The cost is of course less income, less pension, less savings, and eventually when you decide to go back you lose your position and salary. If you do decide to go to work, you do not have to pay for daycare, which is a huge benefit, you go back to your flexible schedule, your salary and your benefits, your pension increases as well as your savings. What are your savings goals? Can you accomplish them while staying at home or do you mind taking extra time to meet them? I think in order for her to answer what she wants to do she needs to ask herself these questions. It will be different for anyone even if they have the same financial picture.
    If Kelly decides to stay home, she could cut costs by selling one of the vehicles. They may not need three cars between the two of them, and this would cut down on insurance. Other than that, I think they are keeping costs pretty low for their family, and that low clothing expense is superb! Also it doesn’t look like they spend on eating out or entertainment which is great as well!
    Also, it’s a pretty good rule to have at least 6 months amount of expenses saved in a savings or emergency fund. This should give you enough time to find another way to make income if you need to in 6 months time, or if an emergency occurs you will not be strapped for cash.

  60. Kelley says:

    This couple is far better off than most people I know, especially with the government jobs they have. Most people would love to have the flexibility that they have in shifting their days/hours so that someone is always home with their children. Sadly, this is not a reality for most parents. They should consider themselves extremely lucky!

    • Kelly says:

      We feel extremely blessed to be in our situation! It is an ideal arrangement and thus why I am struggling so much with the decision.

  61. Kaylin says:

    Oh wow this is such a hard decision! First off, I also work for the federal government and just came off maternity leave. I have a 5.5 month old. Whether to stay home or not is such a complicated decision. I think it’s best to make such a major decision a few months coming back from maternity leave – it’s just such an emotional time and there are so many hormones raging in your still healing body. So I would not make this decision now, give yourself some time to process it. I personally love every second with my little guy BUT I think I would go a little wacko staying home 24/7, it’s REALLY hard work. Going to my out of home part time job is work too but it’s different and in some ways gives me a “break” – I’m around adults, I can listen to my favorite radio shows on my commute, I can pee in private, I can eat a full nice lunch with other people. : ) If you feel a big tug in your heart to stay home then I would stay a few months at your job and take a paid vacation later where you “practice” what your new stay at home parent life would be. I also think part time work is a great option more people don’t think of! Best of both worlds in my opinion. Can you negotiate your job to part time? If this is something your interested in then I would wait and see if you can transfer to a different department within the federal government for a part time job. You know how hard it is to get those jobs, it would be much easier to just wait it out and transfer. Now if you feel a STRONG tug in your heart to stay home then do it but with a plan. Start living on your husband’s salary only and see whether that’s something your comfortable with. It might be or it might not be and cause stress that makes staying home not even worth it. I would also pay off the student loan and one of your mortgages before staying home. I know it’s not ideal but I’m a better safe than sorry person. Good luck!

  62. Carol says:

    Did I miss something? I do not see any expenses for health insurance. This is one of my top expenses each month.

  63. S.G. says:

    First: Run last year’s taxes, but take out your salary. It will probably surprise you how much different the numbers look. The system is set up against two income earners at your level.

    Second: If you haven’t already, talk to the grandparent that is watching your kids when your schedules overlap. Watching a single older toddler is a lot different from watching an older toddler and a newborn. He or she may not be comfortable committing long term. While having a grandparent watch grandkids can be an awesome blessing it can also result in a lot of hurt feelings, so make sure you approach it in a loving manner. Grandma/pa’s willingness to continue helping indefinitely may impact your decision.

    Third: Articulate your tradeoffs and discuss them with your husband. I have found that I am willing to make a lot more of those tradeoffs than my husband is. You staying home could be important to him. Or the vacation property could be more important. Such wildly divergent paths will have huge impacts on him. You both need to buy in. You mentioned a number of things you could do to make money at home, but you also mentioned overtime in relation to your work. Is he willing to make himself available for more overtime if you take over more responsibilities at home? Is there anything else he could do to bring in more money? Does he enjoy childcare, or does it tolerate it for the good of your family? His preferences are a HUGE factor that you haven’t included in your description.

    Other thoughts: You have a very aggressive retirement schedule you are trying to support while trying to figure out if you can step out of the work force. While plenty of people around here are huge proponents of retiring early, I personally would reconsider the retirement goals as the first potential tradeoff. Are you willing to tack those years on to the end of your career? My approach to having a young family has been that as long as I’m making my bills for the handful of years until they’re in school I’m fine. I’ll run my retirement numbers when they’re all in school and I have a stable schedule. Until then I keep my expenses as low as I can while working the hours I want to work and enjoy the time with my kids.

    Right now you and your husband work full time on opposite schedules. While that sounds great for childcare, it kinds sucks for a marriage. I’m assuming you enjoy each other or you wouldn’t have gotten married. How much more time would you have together if you stayed home exclusively?

    If you bring another child in as home daycare would you be the primary care giver or would you trade off with your husband? Some people might love, but others might be uncomfortable with shared duties. I’ve never tried it, but it was a question I had while reading through.

    With the status quo you should reconsider the rental if you stay home. you can’t afford the risk of a large expense without your current high incomes. On the flip side, if you can rent it for more than one week per month you might be able to turn this into a great supplemental income while you stay home. I was unclear what the current arrangement is, if you don’t offer it or if you can only find renters for a single week on average.

    In the end you might really be surprised at how much money you can hustle on the side and how much better you are at managing expenses if you don’t have both adults working full time. But it’s a huge shift so you have to make the jump with your eyes open.

  64. FrugalFox says:

    I believe there could be some significant savings made by not going to work.
    1) Reduced levels of gas to get to work?
    2) Reduce the amount of money given to charity, use the extra time you have to actually do something for a charity (bake sale, volunteer work)
    3)Animal feed; with the extra time from not working could additional feed be grown?

  65. I have only scanned the 80 or so above responses, so my apologies if I repeat something already said.

    I agree with the general sentiment that deciding to stay home with your daughters is a decision to goes well beyond finances. It sounds like you have the support of family and that, if you you wanted, you could make the numbers work with some careful planning.

    My comment is geared toward later on. I am in my late forties. I left the work force about a decade ago to care for our three boys. One child has severe disabilities so the decision to leave work was much more straight forward. Honestly, I didn’t feel I had much choice given his demanding care! His care costs were extraordinary and working didn’t make financial sense. Nor did it make sense when it came to my sanity and our family’s quality of life. In the end, leaving work was a no-brainer.

    As I am learning, the catch for many women who leave can be the return. I have not worked for pay in any substantial way for many years. I do the odd teaching, which I enjoy, but a return to a full-time salaried job is highly unlikely at this stage of my life despite the fact that I have maintained, even enhanced, my education and training. We are fortunate. Our family can afford for me not to work and if I cannot ever return full-time we will be financially okay.

    If you do leave and hope to return work at some point I would encourage you to spend some time now thinking about how you might like that process to unfold. How many years would you stay at home? How will you maintain contacts, education, and skills? I have learned advancements in the workplace can move quickly! Are there any credentials, licensing requirements, currency hours etc., you need to maintain? If so, how will you manage that? And so on. Perhaps your job with the government is well-protected and a return would be pretty seamless. If that is the case and you want some time home with your kiddos then I would suggest you do the math, trim your budget, and enjoy your time with your wonderful girls. Even if your return would require some effort and you wish to be at home I would simply encourage you to do some of the thinking and planning for the return at this end of your working life – my two cents from the other end!!!

  66. Shelia says:

    I read most but not all of the excellent advice you’ve received and don’t remember seeing this addressed. One of your options was watching a child in your home for at a possible earnings of $300 a week. In the midwest and, frankly, in a rural area, it is unlikely the earnings would be that high. Having worked at a home based daycare, we charged 126.00 a week per child and that was pretty average for our area even for infants. One thing that is never addressed is the additional taxes you pay as a self-employed person. I’m not trying to discourage you but it is something to take into consideration. Beautiful family!!!!

  67. Sally Kanter says:

    I would recommend that you not rush any decision until you have looked at all of your income versus expenses. After you have completed that, then you might want to try one month of living off of one person’s income (while the other person put their money totally in savings) to see if it would be something you could accomplish long term. The year before I retired (2014) I put as much money from my net monthly income into savings, and cut expenses back as much as possible. I know that with young children it would be really hard to cut any expenses (having been a single parent of 2 while working for the government). I wish you all the very best, I know you will succeed.

  68. totoro says:

    “Without Kelly’s income, they’d bring in $87,800 per year. With the above listed spending, they’d be able to save $22,195.04 per year, which should be sufficient for them to boost their investments, their savings, and contribute to their daughters’ 529s.”

    That is good news! You really do have the option.

    I guess where you are at is both a math and a quality of life issue: will the income differential from working (after accounting for the real cost of commuting, taxes and other revenues you would earn while at home) provide more quality of life for your family than having you at home would? You need to account for stress levels in this too imo.

    I think if I were in your shoes I’d attempt to negotiate a reduced schedule with my employer down to two days a week. Is this an option? I would prefer to have the time with the kids than the money myself.

  69. Rachel says:

    Kelly, thank you for sharing your story. Is it possible to negotiate a longer maternity leave with your employer? This may give you a bit more time to decide if you really do want to stay home for the long haul. I stayed at home with my daughter for about 10 months – an amazing and precious time, but I was ready to return to work by that point. The short parental leaves offered in our country end up putting women in this predicament, which is such a shame.

  70. Rachel says:

    Your family and farm sound wonderful, Kelly! This is a tough call since your children already have the benefit of being home with family members at no cost. For me the choice to stay home was easy because the only options were pricey day care ($1200-2000/mo x 2) or a nanny who would make more than I do in a year. Personally I wouldn’t add on substitute teaching if the whole point of staying home is to be home–when I have tried things like that, I end up asking myself “what’s the point?” One thing to consider in your calculations: are there efficiencies or savings that could be achieved by you having more time at home? Things like growing your own veggies to save on food, couponing, cloth diapering, home improvements to reduce electric bills (esp at vacation home). Having more time for “home-making” may mean more savings in these areas. I think it would also be wise to commit to having your new “job” as a SAHM be to track expenses and savings really carefully. One more question: do you have hobbies or side interests that could earn income without taking you out of the home? I’m talking “dream big” kind of things, rather than just a side gig. As a stay at home mom myself, I think it can be really hard psychologically to not have something else you are working on, so that’s something to think about for both your mental health and potential earnings. Whatever you do, good luck and we are rooting for you!

  71. Laronda says:

    Since you have what many commenters here are calling, with reason, an “Ideal” work and childcare situation and yet still want to stay home, I’d guess you really want to stay home. Reading your responses on your job, it sounds quite high stress with holiday hours, forced overtime, plus the stress of trying to cram housework, etc. into off-time. I’d echo others who advise tracking your spending and spending a month trying to live on the one salary, but I’d also say that, while our family’s financial future is vastly different than it would have been if I hadn’t stayed home with my 3 for the last 9 years, my husband and I wouldn’t change a thing. And yes, as people have pointed out, things can change and crises can arise, but I don’t think that’s reason enough to not do something if your heart’s really pushing you there. Sure, your financial situation could be even better, but that’s the case with 99.9% of us who do stay home. We do what we can, and you seem like you’ve got a very good starting point. Also, our home life is so much less stressful than my friends’ who do have dual jobs which is a big plus. While I know it’s not for everyone, I wouldn’t trade this precious, sometimes crazy-making time with my kids while they’re young for anything. Good luck with whatever path you follow!

  72. shannon says:

    New to FWNation and excited about these case studies! Thanks Kelly for sharing and for seeking our input! I attempted a comment yesterday but don’t think it went through (dang) so I’ll try to re-create the gist.

    1. Can the vacation cabin be rented out more weeks each month? It looks like there are 1-2 weeks/month that it is empty. This could be an additional $900-$1800, and Kelly could devote more time to advertising/managing the property if she is not at her government job.

    2. Regarding cost-cutting, the first thing that jumps out at me is the phone. We were also on Sprint and switched to Republic Wireless, thereby saving nearly $90/month. They are also running a sale right now on the model of phone that we both have and love (the Moto G3)

    3. If you do go back to your job for a time (say a year) and then quit until your youngest starts school, I’d suggest a) doing the uber frugal challenge lifestyle for that entire time, and b) paying off as much debt as possible while you are working. Then, when you do stop your job, you will have fewer debt-related expenses, and you will be used to generally spending as little money as possible.

    4. In the end, this really comes down to what you feel most called to do. Have you always dreamed of being a stay at home mom? Do you miss teaching – and could you teach at your kids’ school, perhaps receiving a tuition discount? Do you love your job and feel like you’d miss that? Is taking care of more animals something that appeals to you? I’d suggest doing something like an ideal day visualization (sounds hooky but totally works – search for “what is your ideal day” on personal success factors.com for a guide) and just see what comes to mind!

    Best of luck Kelly, and I hope the right choice becomes clear.

  73. Katherine says:

    Here’s an idea that I don’t think anyone has mentioned yet:

    Is one of the things you would hope to gain by staying home more family quality time? It sounds to me (and I may be totally off base) like your staggered work schedules mean that you don’t get to spend much time with your husband, either alone or together with your kids. It sounds like you basically never have a weekend as a family, because every day is a work day for one of you.

    Could you de-stagger your work days so you could have at least one day off together each week, and offer to pay the grandparents for childcare an additional day per week to make that possible?

    This way you would keep your salary, and have more family time together, and still have a family member caring for your kids …

  74. My mother in law and many others told me that I would totally regret quitting my job and staying home with my son. I knew that I wasn’t going to put him in daycare so we needed to make some decisions fast because I had already worked for two years while taking care of him full time. We decided to see if we could live off my husband’s paycheck and make all of my paycheck go into savings. We cut back to $160 groceries for the month by shopping sales, using coupons and making more food from scratch. We cut back eat out to practically nothing and moved it up slowly as we had other income like me subbing at the local nursery school ($40 a day). We cut off cable and turned the thermostat down as low as we could so that it wasn’t running. It is nice to figure out how little you can live with when you still have a little wiggle room to not get it right!! We had a spreadsheet with all the monthly bills and made sure that we would live within the money available. When things were really tight, I sold items online or my husband tried to pick up some work fixing. I can tell you that for me other then feeling guilty that I wasn’t “contributing” the household, it couldn’t have worked out better. I love being home with my son and glad that I haven’t been working so that we get to spend all summer together and all his holidays. I went back to work at the preschool he used to attend to make a little more money for the family but overall, we are still in the same plan as always. I hope that you look at all the options and get to stay home too!! Saving is great but there are a lot of ways to do that without having to work a full time job.

  75. Deb says:

    As many have commented, you should do what you really want to do as you need to be happy with the decision. Of course, you may always have the arguments with yourself as to whether it is the “right” decision, but there are many right decisions and paths so you should do what you really want.
    I am a stay-at-home mom – now going on 12 years. I stopped working when my second child was 2, my job was being relocated and it seemed a good time to transition. We now have 3 children (youngest is 10) and I am contemplating re-entering the workforce. Both for financial and non-financial reasons and it is scary to feel out of touch.
    Having only one income does create its own pressures. What if the main money-maker loses their job? This can be stressful for the working and non-working partner. Even if you have a safety net, how long will the safety net last with barely any income? Then you may have two parties trying to find employment at the same time just because you need to. Currently, you have arranged with your employers so that a parent can be with the kids – this is a wonderful thing. What if this was not possible? Will you feel responsible for doing everything for the kids and house if you stay home full-time. This can also be self-inflicted pressure. My husband has never said that since he makes the $, it is my duty to take care of everything surrounding our house and kids, but I feel it. The work is 24/7. Who knows it may be the same situation if I was working, but I feel it is my job, and certain days I really stink at my job and I don’t get to call in for a sick day or vacation. (And it is completely self-inflicted grief. eke)
    In hindsight, and if it had been a possibility for me, I think reducing hours (or working from home) to keep a chip in the game would have been better.
    But, again, there are many paths in life. Good luck.

  76. snowcanyon says:

    I’d like to give a different perspective. I assume your eldest two daughters are adopted? If not, disregard.

    I am an adoptee, and one thing that has really hurt my relationship with my adoptive parents is that my adoptive mother stayed home, thereby decreasing our family income and taking away many opportunities. As a nonwhite adoptee in a white family, and in a world that prizes whiteness above all, not having the newest clothes, nicest bag etc was very traumatic. I would have gained much, much more if my adoptive mother had spent her time earning money rather than at home with me. Having a white family (kind though they tried to be) was emotionally devastating; had I had nice things I think my esteem might have been better!

  77. KTQ says:

    From a financial standpoint, there are 2 major thoughts I had reading through this. The first is exactly what Mrs. Frugalwoods stated, the budget, income and savings do not seem to tie out as expected. I don’t know if you are getting paid on maternity leave, but you should try a month or 2 living on one income and saving the other so that you boost your savings and know whether or not you can be comfortable with only one income.
    My second concern is the life insurance, if you were to stay at home, I would highly recommend purchasing your own life insurance coverage. Providing care to 4 children is extremely valuable and if something happened to you, the 4 girls would still need care, education, someone to drive them, etc. and that would become a huge burden for your husband. So I would purchase some term insurance, with a term long enough to at least get all 4 girls to college, if not through college. So those premiums should be factored into your budget to replace the employer provided coverage. Its possible to save some money long term by doing multiple policies with varying terms, for example maybe a 10-year term to get your eldest to college age then a 20-year term to get your youngest to that age.

  78. Judy says:

    Just a handful of thoughts. First, I personally would not be comfortable living on one salary while so heavily leveraged (two mortgages, student loan). If it were me, I’d pay off the student loan, sell the vacation cabin, and put more money in savings before quitting work. Second, has husband “bought back” military time towards civil service retirement? If not, it would be worth considering whether buying back that time would be worth retiring sooner. Allocating money in this way would also possibly affect how long you continued to work. Third, I also (as other commenters have) recommend looking at alternative phone providers, such as Republic Wireless (uses Sprint network as a back-up; wi-fi as primary). Fourth, not that it’s any of my business, but if you both make the same salary, why will your (projected) pension be half of his? Finally, how will the girls feel if you stay home with your youngest biological children when you (presumably) did not stay home with the older adopted ones? Something to consider. Also, I will echo what others have said about the difficulty of re-entering the workforce. I sacrificed my career for my husband’s and, while we’ve had a good life, I have found it very difficult to resume my career many years later. I will admit there are some regrets and some resentment.

    Just some things to consider. Best of luck with your decision.

  79. Nora Singleton says:

    This is me going overly political here, but based on what I’ve read/heard/observed, I think both government jobs should be kept as long as possible. It may be that, whatever the choice, the subject or her husband, or both, could be at home with the kids before too long. I don’t know exactly what will happen, but I tend to be overly cautious: because you both have government jobs, and the incoming administration has no previous behavior to weigh against, keep both jobs until you have an idea which, if either, job might be eliminated in the new administration. Again, this is me exercising extreme caution, but don’t change horses and streams at the same time. If it were me and my family, I’d wait six months, then revisit the situation.

  80. AW says:

    My one observation is that $600 per month for 2 kids in private school sounds crazy cheap to me. I pay $450/ month for after school care only (3-6pm) for my older child (plus $1250 for full time care for the little one).

    Good luck with your decision. I have nothing new to add to the advice already given except to say my children are 6 and 3 and I am considering the same change to stay at home with them. I won’t go into my whole story but I will say that I go back and forth a lot and run all sorts of numbers, but as others have said, in the end it’s not a financial decision, it’s a personal one.

  81. Jenny says:

    Many, many years ago when I had my first child, I continued to work and my child went to daycare. When my second child came along, the cost of daycare for 2 was just about the amount of my salary and so I decided to stay home until the second child started school. This was one of the best decisions for me (it’s not for everyone). I will always cherish that time that I spent with my children when I wasn’t too tired from working all day to help them with homework, crafts, whatever! When the second child started school, I was ready to go back to work and found a part-time job that allowed me to pick up the kids after school. I say if your heart is telling you to stay home, you should listen and then tell your head to figure out the money. Staying home to raise the kids doesn’t have to be permanent – it can be for just a few years. Options to consider….ask about working a reduced or part time schedule, ask about extending your leave another month to figure it all out, look at other incomes such as renting the cabin 2 weeks instead of 1 week a month, become a daycare provider (but don’t take in the first family that applies unless you feel it’s a good match for you), track your expenses for a month and find ways to economize (do you really need 3 cars even if they are all paid for? Are you paying insurance on the third? Check to see if the premiums are worth the value on the car). Best of luck to you!

  82. SusanP says:

    This post is making me wonder if I should stop reading frugalwoods… This family’s financial situation is so stratospherically above my own! If this is the typical situation that this blog is talking to then I’m out of my league.
    For the past 5 years we’ve lived on one income. We have 4 kids, 8 and under. I went from full time (35k) to part time to full time at home. My husband now makes 37k a year (after some raises). We also make 5k/year with a side hustle and 5k/year rental income with investment property we bought when the market went bust about 5-6 years ago. We gambled on starting a business with a friend a few years ago. It hasn’t gone under yet but we are making zero on it so far. We might start seeing some return in another 3-5 years… maybe… We had no debt until then other than our house, now we are trying to pay back 70k with the realization that the payback from the business we projected may never happen.
    Well, writing all that makes me feel like we are doing pretty good just having any money left every month, which we usually do! Although ER visits and a broken front window put a dent into emergency savings recently!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Hi Susan, thank you for sharing your story! So my goal here on Frugalwoods is to address all levels and ranges of financial situations, goals, and management techniques. Not all of our readers are wealthy, not all of our readers are debt-free, and some of our readers are early retiree millionaires–we have the full range here! And the goal with case studies is to address individual situations in depth in an effort to help our fellow financial sojourners. You can check out last month’s case study for a very different financial situation as well :).

    • LeAnna Seckler says:

      To Susan P. : Thank you for having the courage to write your response about feeling out of their league.You were a huge encouragement to me. I have felt that way also. You are not alone.I hope that your business does really well,so you guys can get back on your feet again. One day at a time….

  83. wow, how exciting to have such a sweet family and lifestyle! difficult decision you have in front of you. I come to this discussion much older than most of you. our children are grown. we farm full time (and both grown children with us as well) and while I was able to stay home their entire childhood, that doesn’t mean it was easy. farm income is so completely dependent on weather, fluctuating grain/beef prices, it was often scary, especially in lean years, but it is possible if that’s a decision you make. reading between the lines, I believe you want to be home just now. if that’s the case, make it work. it won’t be easy, but the rewards will out weigh the inconveniences. I remember thinking once my kids were all in school, I have so much time on my hands, I could return to work, but the opposite was true, after school activities, doctor/dentist appointments, dare I say HOMEWORK etc were even more time consuming. I think this young family would find the same to be true. if you want to go back to work, do it. you have a great set up with family able to help out, but that won’t be enough if your real desire is to stay home. your budget appears to be excellent and if need be, i’m sure you can tighten your belt a bit more. I’m not making light of that because it’s always a hard thing to do, but the pay off will be worth it if your true desire is to stay home. lastly, don’t underestimate how much time and energy is spent taking your kids from activity to activity. it’s a bit easier when it’s your full-time job (so to speak) than if you have to fit it in around your full-time job. good luck!

  84. Kim from+Philadelphia says:

    Hi Kelly,
    I’d follow Mrs. Frigalwood’s advice to track all spending and have an über frugal month.
    My thought is that a few more years working would be super helpful to bulk your savings and investments. Could you possibly cut back to part time?
    I’d also make it a game to see how quickly you could pay off your student loans. Perhaps you could put as much of your salary as possible towards the loans and get them
    Paid off quickly. I realize your interest rate is only 1.5%, however debt is still debt.
    Any chance you could rent your cabin for 2 weeks a month? That extra income could go towards doubling your monthly mortgage payment and pay it off more quickly.

  85. Liz says:

    Nice case study! I think one decision I can give is that you need to consider staying home as there are still other means to earn some income like blogging or online-related jobs.

  86. Melissa says:

    Staying in the workplace, even in a reduced capacity is critical for future earnings and to ensure retirement fund and investment contributions continue. The opportunity cost of totally exiting the workforce is too great – both in re-entering the workforce years later and the loss of capital gains over time. My recommendation would be to find some sort of part time or flexible work arrangement with the current employer so you can be with your young family while maintaining your financial stability. You can also see if they are open to a part time back to back person so they get Full time coverage but you only work part time. If that’s not an option the substitute teacher route is a good one with some sort of side hustle thrown in (maybe sell some grass fed beef to neighbors or at local farmers market?)

    Good luck!

  87. I had to make a decision like this recently and just wrote a blog post about it. I just came off of maternity leave for 5 months with my 2nd son. I could’ve taken off more time but that would have been without pay. I too think about staying home all together but when I think about the goals I have for our family, it makes more sense to work, for now. We want to pay off our primary mortgage first and build up our investment accounts so that living off my husband’a salary is more doable.

  88. Stephanie says:

    I don’t know if this was mentioned but what about renting the cabin full time and finding some other places to hike or do nature related activities. Sub teaching is just trading one job for another. Child care is a good idea to boost income but then you are stuck a bit since if you on a whim wanted to take a trip or hit the museum you would be tied down to your day care business.

  89. Jillena says:

    All of the above! Uber frugal month for certain. We just did a few of frugalwoods challenges including eat all the things to really help us wrap our heads around how much non essential and under utilized groceries we were buying. Loose a car, lower the insurance. Even if it’s $15 a month. Pay off the school loan. Add a few more cows. Truly asses how often you use the vacation home. Consolidate trips until you are heavier on retirement money. Rent the vacation rental out at least double what you are now. Easing into life with four kids and half the month open for vacation should be more than enough to keep your head in a good space. I would delay college savings until yours is paid off. Add up all the extra here and there to pour into the little debt you have and then to maximize the retirement accounts. As Mrs. FW says you could save a ton more theoretically.

    You might ask for an extended unpaid protected leave to practice Uber frugal living for a whole then go back for 1-2 years before quiting. Then you could bank a bunch before actually letting go of the hire salary.

  90. Ann says:

    I live in scandinavia and we sort of get up to 1 year paid child leave, a part of this is only for the father, none is spesifically for the mother, the mother, though, is supposed to breast feed for up to a year, and can get some time off for this while at work. The sentiment is that women need to be able to support themselves and their kids.
    Personally I stayed home with my astmatic kids for 3,5 years while finishing my master, this was very unpopular with my friends. I am glad that I got to stay home.
    Our pension age is going to be 70. Being allowed retirement at 56 sounds terrific!
    I think my conclusion is that you have to do what you want, but I would be very reluctant to give up a good job.

  91. Angela says:

    I think this is more personal than financial. What do YOU want to do? Do you want to spend more time with the kids? Someone else watching your children is not the same thing as you watching your kids.

    I have two children. My son is almost 3 and attends a full time daycare at a cost of $230/week. My daughter is 9 months old and spends her days with her grandparents for free. My husband is in school right now working on his second degree to put us all in a more financially stable position. I am supporting all of us on a 55k year + bonus salary (final yearly income around 80-110k). Once he finishes school I plan to resign and spend more time with my kids because it’s what I want to do. I know my children are in great hands and they are enriched throughout the day, but I am missing that time with them. They won’t remember the years, I will. I understand it will be hard to return to work when I’m ready, but having a few slow years and a little less in retirement is a small price to pay for the best years of my life.

    It is so hard to be a working Mom and to have to make these decisions. I wish you the best of luck.

    • Angela says:

      And no one is ever on their death bed saying I wished I would have spent two more years at work or I wish I would have made x amount of dollars. Anyone who is a parent can attest to this. Life is too short.

  92. Allison S says:

    Any chance your employer would allow you to cut back by 1 day per week? It doesn’t have to be an all/nothing scenario which I think you touched on with the possibility of sub teaching or farming. Continuing with the government part time would let you continue optimizing retirement opotions.

  93. Christine Sierakowski says:

    I’m sorry to post this, but I just couldn’t figure out how to unsubscribe. I love your blog, I really really do. I’m just getting too ‘m much email and I don’t have time to read all your responses. But keep up the good work and I will try to keep up with your postings when I can. Thank you.

  94. Conrad says:

    there is 130k in real estate equity that is kind of hidden. Makes the meager assets list not feel so meager.

  95. Veronica says:

    On the side of the phone, Republic Wireless is a fantastic low cost phone carrier that uses Sprint’s network. I have had it for three years with no issues. While it does only support Android Phones, I only pay $15/month for unlimited talk, text, and 1 gb data. They have increased their prices to $20/month now for the same plan, but it’s still a way to cut costs by 60%!

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