A few weeks ago I was sitting with a few fellow moms and running some article ideas by them while our kids played around our feet. My friends were being kind. To one idea, “Yeah, that sounds good.” To another, “Sure, that could be interesting.” And then I named off one more.
“So, I was also thinking about doing something like … you know … things you should do before you have kids so it’s financially easier to stay at home later.”
They hit the roof.
“Absolutely!” one cried, practically leaping off the couch. “That’s the most important thing they need to know!”
“I sooo wish someone had told me that kind of stuff,” the other agreed, emphatically nodding.
And so started a 45-minute conversation on “what I wish I had known back then.” It was as if we all desperately wished we could send a letter back to our 20-something selves. We wanted to tell ourselves how important staying home with our kids means to us and how we needed to shape up financially to make it easier on our 30-something realities.
Unfortunately, not possible. But we can do the next best thing — we can send a letter to you. So, this is it. Our “top 10 things we wish someone had sat down and told us back then.” May it bless you on your journey to motherhood.
1. Ask God
All the financial wisdom in the world is garbage compared to God’s wisdom. As you look down the road to motherhood, place it all in God’s hands. Ask Him to give you wisdom, financial and otherwise, to prepare you for this incredible voyage. As you read through this list, I hope you’ll ask the Holy Spirit to come along with you. Ask Him what you need to be doing. Maybe it’s on this page, maybe it’s not. He’ll know.
2. Prepare to stay at home, even if you don’t think you will
One of the mommies in our group, Ashley, hadn’t thought much about staying home after her first child was born. After all, she had a “dream job.” She expected to take her 12 weeks of maternity leave and dive back in.
But as the day approached for Ashley to return to work, things changed. It was “agonizing,” she remembers. “I just broke down in tears at the thought of leaving my own child.” So Ashley went to her husband. They knew money was going to be an issue — there was law school tuition to pay off — but both agreed that Ashley should stay home to raise Anna.
“Frankly,” Ashley says, “I felt relieved. I just didn’t care as much about my job as I did my new baby daughter.”
You may think now that you’ll want to work full time after having children. You may feel the same way after your baby is born. But you may not. Arrange your finances now as if you are going to stay home, then you’ll give yourself the option.
3. Beware the student loan
The average four-year college graduate leaves her university with a degree and $29,400 in debt. That comes out to a payment of around $245 a month for 10 years — $490 a month for your “average” couple. Imagine trying to repay that while eliminating one income.
So what’s a girl to do? Sacrifice her education? No. But do keep your educational goals in perspective with your other life goals. The simple truth is that you don’t have to take on that much debt. There are steps you can take to reduce, or even eliminate, student loans.
4. Communicate with your future spouse
A few years ago, an old college friend came to visit. As we were pushing our infants on swings in the back yard, she turned to me, “I wish I could stay at home like you do, but we just can’t afford it.” I was little incredulous. Couldn’t afford it? This couple, I knew, had two homes, two beautiful cars and took wonderful vacations.
As she continued to talk, though, it became clear. Her husband was not willing to adjust their style of living — at all. She was absolutely right. With their financial commitments, they simply could not afford to lose her income.
What about your future spouse? Will he support a decision for you to raise your children? You need to find out, my friend Ashley advises. “Talk to him about what you envision happening after the birth of your child. I think we all play out scenarios in our head of what life will be like. Make sure that your scenarios are pretty close.”
Ashley counts herself very lucky. “I cannot imagine what I would’ve done if my husband had disagreed with me.” My college friend knows. She’s still working.
5. Pay off debt
In A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens describes Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s ghostly visitor and old business partner, as dragging an oppressive chain of “cashboxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel”? Good visual, huh?
“I wear the chain I forged in life,” groaned the Ghost, when questioned about it by Scrooge. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.”
The chain, of course, is symbolic of Marley’s greed. But it wouldn’t be a bad symbol of our personal debt. How many of us have built our debt link by link, of our own free will, only to realize that it’s like a prison to us.
It’s so tempting to buy. But later, when you are holding something eternal in your arms, will those purchases be blessings or burdens? If you haven’t already, make getting rid of any debt your No. 2 financial priority! Drive older cars, eliminate credit card debt and only buy big items once you’ve saved to pay for them. I promise you, you will reap the rewards. Instead of dragging your debt chain around the playground, you will feel like jumping and skipping with your kids.
6. Save for your wedding
This may seem a little strange, but if I’m going to advise you to cut expenses on cars and other large purchases, it would be remiss not to mention one of the biggest expenses that newly married couples have: their weddings.
According to a 2013 study, the average wedding now costs over $30,000. Wow! That’s a lot of money for one day. But if it’s a day you’ve been waiting to celebrate your whole life, it can be downright difficult to be disciplined.
So, let’s look at two things you can do. One, of course, is cut the expenses. My sister got married in 2006 in an absolutely gorgeous ceremony with a wedding budget of $2,000. I saw what she did. It can be done! The second is to save like crazy for it. Will you be able to save $30,000? I’d be surprised. But you can save a lot. However much you have, you do need to commit to only spend what is in your budget. Let’s all say it together: “If I need to finance it, I cannot afford it.”
7. Live on one income once you are married
This is from my friend, Christine. Every time I ask her advice on what I should write an article about she says the same thing, “Tell them to live on one income when they get married!”
“You can never remind them enough,” she says.
8. Beware the mortgage monster
The first time I heard the word “DINK” was when I was one.
“You’re a DINK,” a male coworker told me.
“I’m a what?”
“A DINK. You know, a Double Income No Kids,” he said.
“OK, yeah, I get it.”
“Soon, you’ll be a SIKOM.”
“Define,” I said.
“A Single Income with Kids and an Oppressive Mortgage.”
He was right. I’m now living on a single income. I have kids. And, though my husband and I have taken steps toward taming the mortgage, it’s still there.
Housing will be your No. 1 budget expense. If you want to stay home with your kids, you need to be extraordinarily cautious about buying more house than you will be able to afford.
9. Look for a side income
I freelance write. One friend teaches gymnastics lessons. Others do decorative painting, part-time public relations, photography, graphic design or makeup sales.
For many stay-at-home moms, our “side incomes” help to keep our families in the black. It may help to keep your family in the black, too. Have you thought about what you might be able to do while staying at home? The time to start developing that business is now, when you have the energy and time to devote to it.
My sister-in-law, Stacey, will soon be reaping the rewards of just such planning. Five years ago, our pastor asked her if she would be willing to teach his daughters piano lessons. Stacey had never really considered it before — she already had a full-time job. But, she says, “After praying about it, I decided to try it and see what God was up to.”
Now, as Stacey expects her first child this summer, she sees exactly what God was helping her to do. “He was beginning a great work,” she says. “I’m so thankful that I will be able to stay at home and teach piano lessons around the schedule of my family.”
It would be unfair, though, if I didn’t mention that working out of your home while your children are young can be extraordinarily challenging. Those same friends who have side jobs also have to juggle babysitting schedules, willing relatives to watch their kids, or very limited periods of productivity. Often I’ve found myself writing during nap times or very late at night, and am thankful for a husband and in-laws who help me to get my job done.
10. Don’t give up!
Does reading over this list discourage you? Are you feeling like you have so little time and so much to do? Like you’ll never be able to stay at home and still make ends meet? Then, please, take this encouragement. You can do it! It may take a little sacrifice, it may take a lot, but you can do it. And I truly believe that God will delight in you and bless you for it.
Copyright 2007 Heather Koerner. All rights reserved.