Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Finances and Staying Home: Four Words

An anonymous commenter recently asked:
My husband and I have a 7 week old, so I'd love to know some of your tips for budgeting in order to stay at home.
Thanksgiving week seems an appropriate time to talk about this--because when I stop to think about our financial situation, the primary thing I have to feel is gratitude. Steve provides more than enough for our family to live on, so I have the freedom to care for our boys and our home full-time. I recognize that my ability to be at home is a privilege, and the relative ease with which we can make that work is a blessing I don't take for granted.

Really, I feel like the last qualified person to write a post like this, because so much of where we are financially has nothing to do with anything we have done right. Steve and I were set up for success in some huge ways that were out of our control. We don't deserve any of what's been handed to us! Both sets of our parents are wise and generous, having both instilled smart financial principles in us and given lavish gifts to us. I received a scholarship to college, leaving me with no school loans. My husband has a terrific job at a solid company. Did we work hard in school? Does Steve work hard to earn his pay? Sure. But even this is grace: God gave me the mind to be able to excel academically, and put me in a family where education was valued and emphasized. God gave Steve the same, as well as a skill set that just happens to be in a field that pays relatively well. We can't take the credit--it is all GRACE. 

So I recognize that any advice I can give is coming from a place of privilege. We aren't wealthy, but we got a wonderful "head start"--and all we can do is humbly give thanks and seek to be good stewards of what we've been given.

There are plenty of other blogs you can visit on the web for solid advice on budgeting and saving money. I am in awe of the stay-at-home-moms who exhibit incredible diligence and skill in stretching their family's income! So for that kind of advice, you'll have to look elsewhere. But I think I have about four words to offer in the way of general thoughts:

GRATITUDE. Look for the ways God is providing for your needs. Look for the ways He is abundantly providing far beyond what you need. And give thanks--start counting! From the fact that I can drive a few miles and fill up a grocery cart with food, to the hand-me-downs that friends and family give us to clothe our boys, to the skills Steve's dad taught him to be able to work on our house...all these gifts we don't deserve and did not earn, just grace upon grace. And on a similar note...

PERSPECTIVE. You can be Eve, turning your attention away from all that you've been given to focus on the one thing you lack. There will always, always be people who have things you don't have. Or you can look at all the people who don't have what you have. If you make more than $2/day, you are already richer than half the world!

There's a real sense in which you really have nothing; it all belongs to God. And then in another sense, you have everything, because you are His heir! He has merely entrusted money and possessions to you temporarily, to use wisely, for His glory. So give generously and with your eyes on eternity.

FORESIGHT. Though this is too late for the original commenter, it may be useful to younger readers. If the idea of staying home with children is even a possibility down the road, I would highly recommend that you and your husband never get used to living on two incomes. Steve and I agreed from the start that if I worked before we had kids, we would not use my income as part of regular living expenses. Adjusting to the expenses and altered lifestyle of a baby is hard enough without also having your budget drastically reduced! Use the second income to build an emergency fund, or invest for retirement or college, or pay off debt--but don't use it to support a high standard of living you can't sustain on only one income.

And for the single ladies: Think twice before accumulating debt during your single years. Avoid it whenever possible! Even school loans may have a dramatic impact on your future family long-term. I'm not saying you should never take out loans for college. I *am* saying that you should consider this carefully, recognizing that your debt will be a burden to your family, if you get married, and may even hinder your ability to stay home.

SACRIFICE. All things considered, we live very comfortably--you can hardly call our lifestyle "sacrificial." But we do have to prioritize in order to live and give as we do. Every family's priorities are different, so the things we go without may seem like necessities for others, and vice versa. But I'd guess that in almost any family, you can find some ways to scale back and give up things you don't *really* need in order to allocate funds elsewhere. For example, we don't have TV. We have basic cell phone plans, without data or unlimited texting. We drive higher-mileage cars; we have old, hand-me-down furniture. We don't go out very often. These things are minor, but they add up.

Two other quick tips worth mentioning: One key part of our budget is "discretionary money." Steve and I each get a little money out of every paycheck that is ours to spend, no questions asked. Anything extra we want, whether it's coffee at Starbucks, a new book for Kindle, clothes or shoes, whatever, comes out of that money. If I want something big, I have to save up; when it's gone, it's gone. I think this has really helped me to curb unnecessary spending.

And then, learn to cook. We very, very rarely eat out. I think our food budget is actually pretty high because of the way we choose to eat, but it doesn't have to be. You can save a lot of money, even if you're not into "extreme couponing," just by eating at home. Cook for 4-6 instead of two, and eat leftovers for lunch. Buy foods in bulk where possible; cook from scratch instead of buying processed ingredients. Not only can you trim your food budget this way, but you will also likely see long-term savings in your health care costs.

So, that's my two cents on finances and staying at home. What do the rest of my readers think? Weigh in below with your own advice and experiences about managing your money (as well as your favorite websites for budgeting or money-saving tips).

1 comment:

Anna said...

Thanks for sharing so candidly, Amy! I wholeheartedly concur with the "foresight" element. I wish so much that I hadn't incurred school loans!