April 18, 2012

SAHM: Luxury or Necessity?

This morning as I had my second cup of coffee I pulled up CNN on the iPad. I usually don't watch news programs or stay too current with world events (unless they're really important or specifically interesting to me) because I don't like all the negativity in the media and I like to form my own opinions about things and not be hounded to disagree with one side or another. I do, however, try to peruse CNN or the WSJ or even the Huffington Post when I'm feeling really liberal to scan headlines to see if there's anything new worth reading. Today I  chose the CNN app and when it loaded, the first headline spoke volumes to me without me even having to open the article.

It read: "Moms: I can't afford to work". (Here's the link, it's a short article so give it a read-through) http://money.cnn.com/2012/04/18/pf/moms-work/index.htm?hpt=hp_c1

Let me start off by saying that being a stay-at-home-mom is something that I've wanted to do for many many years of my life. I can't say that it's the only thing I've wanted to do, but it's definitely something that I wished could happen for me. This dream of mine began as a child and as I grew older that dream grew further and further away from me. It wasn't because I ended up married to a cancer patient whose fertility was shot from the first chemo treatment (and ended up remarried to another!). It was because of the changes in our economy, the rise in the cost of living, goods, taxes, health care, education, and pretty much everything else. I mean, come on even the "dollar menu" at Wendy's is now called the "value menu" because they had to stop charging a dollar for everything and had to up their prices. As I found myself immersed in higher education, I found myself drowning in student loan debt. The major I had chosen would only yield a viable career with a post-grad or doctorate degree which was not only a serious time commitment, but an even greater financial one. Everyone hears about medical school and how students can come away from it with hundreds of thousands of dollars of student loan debt, but this is true for many other fields that higher level degrees can be pursued in. While working toward a Ph.D in psychology hasn't turned out to be in the cards for me (at least at this point in life), I don't think my views about that article or its application to my life would be any different than they are now, had that pursuit been the case.

When Matt and I were preparing to move to Boston, we had to consider many many things. His path was set. He had been offered a job with PwC and had accepted. He knew his salary, but the reality of his expenses had to be adjusted significantly when suddenly faced with the prospect of supporting 4 people rather than 1. When he and I met I was on track to apply to nursing school. I was able to take classes in Salt Lake because I had family and friends nearby willing to help me by watching my kids so I could go to class and study. With that support system being absent in Boston, I wasn't sure how I would continue my pursuit of a second Bachelor's degree. What would I do with the girls? I couldn't just have my dad watch them. Daycare? Oh--the things you learn about the effects of daycare as a child psychology major! I definitely wanted to avoid that. What was I left with? Being a stay-at-home-mom? While this prospect appealed to me in the sense that I would be able to raise my own children, be there for their milestones, and have that bond with them, I was definitely concerned about whether this was a realistic financial option for our family. Yes, being in school wouldn't pay, but I would be done with the degree in less than 2 years and would be able to jump right into a thriving workforce. What about finding some office job or doing anything that simply having a Bachelor's degree would allow me to do? In Salt Lake, I could pull down somewhere between $25,000-$27,000 per year working full time in an office. Although the pay might be higher in a place like Boson...so is everything else and it truly evens out. If I went from making $13 per hour in Utah to making $17 or $18 in Massachusetts, I wouldn't notice the increase because the cost of living in this part of the country is so significantly inflated (that and this state loves to tax absolutely everything...ah! there's the republican in me!). Even if I made a high-end $35,000 for the same job out here, the cost of childcare for two children, would surpass the cost of rent. Ridiculous? Ab-so-lutely

After much deliberating, stressing, agonizing, and waiting to see how things would work out, Matt and I decided that me having a job wasn't something that we could afford. It didn't make sense to either of us to throw our kids into daycare only to have me work just to pay that bill. So, by default, I lucked out and landed my dream-job of being a stay-at-home-mommy. That article talks about some women who didn't ever see themselves staying at home to raise their kids, but have found themselves in that situation because, like for Matt and I, it just isn't financially reasonable to send two people to work and pay for childcare at the same time. I feel very very blessed to be able to have had being a SAHM as an option on the table to even begin with--there are plenty of families in this country, and people that I know personally, who don't have jobs that pay as well as Matt's does, salary-wise, or whose jobs offer anywhere near the quality (or quantity) of benefits that we receive. We're very lucky that his one job is enough to support our family. And while he works incredibly hard enduring long, stressful days on his job, we truly are in a position where we are surviving, and where we don't have the luxury of being luxurious. Even with me taking on a part-time nanny job half-days two days a week, and running a photography business (the business is in the process of relocation and rebranding which doesn't provide mountains of income), we're still very watchful and cautious about where we stand financially. We budget like crazy. We pay attention to which car we drive when and where (I have an SUV, he has a Honda Civic). We open windows in our apartment instead of running the AC on days it gets hot, and we bundle ourselves and the girls up when it's chilly so we don't have to turn on the heater. (We're very proud of our $7 gas bills!) We use everything (okay, so maybe not everything, but we really really do try) in our refrigerator before it goes bad, and we make lists when going to Costco and the grocery store so that we don't overspend (yes I clip some coupons, no I'm not into "couponing"). We do things for entertainment like taking the girls to the park, going on walks around the mall (no spending), and utilizing our annual membership to the Science Museum (which allows us 2 hours of free parking in their garage, which is unheard of anywhere else anywhere near that close to downtown Boston). We definitely set aside some funds for things like clothes and toys for the girls when they're needed, a date night once a month for ourselves, and the Internet (so Matt can work from home, and let's face it, so I don't go crazy being at home without another adult all day!). But overall, money's tight, and while it's a hindrance in terms of the lifestyle we'd like to live (and surely will one day in the future), it's absolutely a blessing in terms of me being able to stay home and raise our girls.

I don't know if being a SAHM will change one day in the future or not, but until the future is here, I'll enjoy what I consider to be a luxurious necessity. I wonder sometimes how many other mothers I know would love to be in my position, and how many of them are glad to be able to be in the workforce. For me, for now, I'll stay at home, read stories with my toddlers, teach them crazy dance moves, windex the windows to get their hand prints off, vacuum crumbies out of the carpet, throw out pail upon pail of dirty diapers, have dinner ready for my husband when he comes home, iron and starch the laundry, bake cookies at request, do the grocery shopping, and still make time to watch Mad Men in the evenings. 

And at least I know I won't need to budget for cleaning help anytime soon...

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