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2117 Grover Road
West Falls, NY, 14170
United States

a little bit art. a little bit me.

A little bit art.  A little bit me.

Making it Work

Jennifer Calkins

Show me the money!  Or lack thereof…

Do you want to work part time?  Do you want to stay at home with your kids?  One huge factor that goes into the decision to be a stay at home mom or a part time working mom is “can we afford it?”  As much as we want to say that money doesn’t matter, it’s not the most important thing, etc. let’s face it, money makes the world go ‘round.  It’s a tough pill to swallow at times.  We want to live the American dream by following our own dreams yet for most people those dreams are out of reach because it takes money to live.

I’m going to give it to you straight: if you want to be a stay at home mom and/or follow your dreams while being a mom (like I am trying to do), you are going to need to make sacrifices.  Sorry, no magic here so if you were expecting me to come up with a way for you to stay at home while being able to continue your current lifestyle, you best be looking elsewhere!  I mean, I guess you could play and WIN the lottery?  Good luck with that.  Send me some money if you win.


Let me preface any budgeting tips I share by saying this: A home mortgage is probably the single biggest expense families have.  Right?  Maybe not for some but I think it’s true for most people.  When my husband and I moved back to Western New York four years ago we made a decision to only consider his income when getting pre-approved for a mortgage and when deciding what we wanted to spend.  No, we did NOT make this decision in order for me to stay at home with our kids.  We were child-less at the time and it honestly wasn’t even on our minds.  Truth be told I simply didn’t want to add a job search to my list of a bazillion things to do while tackling the move across state lines shenanigans.  Trust me when I tell you I was a giant ball of stress at the time.  As hard for me as it is to admit that, it’s the truth.  So we both thought it would be easier to simply get a mortgage on one income.  In hindsight it was a good choice and one huge reason it’s possible for me to stay at home.  All that to say if you are considering being a stay at home mom/parent think of the future and your mortgage when buying a house.

We’ve always had a budget.  In an excel file.  It looks pretty.  Not really, it's Excel!  Having a budget on paper is one thing.  Actually sticking to it is a whole other ball game.  There’s this thing called a debit card.  Oy.  It can be a real devil to those of us trying to stick to a budget.  So there was a point where my husband and I looked at each other and were like “WTF?!”  Ok, it was more like “where is our money, our budget says we should have some but we don’t!”  So we combed through our bank accounts and realized we were spending more money than we were bringing in.  That debit card man.  So what now?

Old School.  We went old school.  We decided we needed to get strict with ourselves and only spend CASH for items in our budget so that we don’t go over our budget.  Back when I was a small lass my parents taught my brother and I budgeting by using envelopes.  You put cash in a few different envelopes; say one for gas, one for clothes shopping, one for gifts, etc.  I can’t remember what in the world I spent my hard earned sales associate job income on when I was 16. Anyway… 

So we have envelopes and pay cash weekly for everything:

  1. Groceries: Meal plan to stay on budget!!!  Then you won’t buy things you don’t need weekly.
  2. Gas: for 2 cars; anything left over we use for road trips.
  3. Dinner/lunch out: Everyone needs to get out of the house.  We plan for this once a week.  If we spend too much one week we don’t go out the next week.
  4. Small house projects: Like “oh hey, the sink is leaking!”  Anything in our savings account we use for larger projects like “oh hey we need a new shed because the old one was a turd and collapsed!”
  5. Birthdays/parties: A few times a year my family has like five birthdays in a month!  Not so nice to the budget.  Count up the # of birthdays in your family, multiply that by what you spend per person (adjust if it’s too high) and divide it by 52 weeks in the year.  Put away that amount per week.
  6. Events/Memberships: Being on a budget doesn’t mean doing NOTHING either.  Just PLAN for it.  Depending on your budget, put a little money away per week in order to do family fun stuff.  We use ours for a Zoo membership, sporting events, etc.
  7. Child: Kids need stuff.  We put less away now than when our son was a baby (think diapers, formula, etc.) because he needs less now.
  8. Misc.: Think things like haircuts.  I know!  I didn’t think about that either but it’s something we spend money on so it needs to be in here!
  9. Routine car maintenance: New York State Inspection (grrr!), registration, car washes, oil changes, etc.
  10. Holidays: Same as birthdays.  Count up everyone you buy holiday gifts for (Christmas mainly but you could also throw in Easter, etc.), multiply by what you spend per person then divide by 52 weeks and put that amount away weekly.  I think Christmas is a huge expense for a lot of people but this helps to keep the stress away and keeps your focus on family and friends…that’s the point right?!
  11. Vacation: For us this envelope says “Alaska” right now.  Add this to your budget because everyone needs a break.  We started saving for Alaska a year and a half ago so that we COULD go. At the time we guesstimated what it would cost for a trip like that, divided that by however many weeks away (two years I think?) it was at the time and put that amount away weekly.  This one was a little tough to swing but we’re doing it!  I’d recommend having a place in mind and looking at the cost of plane tickets, hotels to get an estimate of what it would cost and work backwards.  Maybe it’ll take you an extra year to save but hey, you can still go places!  I’m a BIG fan of travel and vacations so this one is important to me!

Try to think of every possible thing you can think of that you spend money on.  The other items in our budget that are NOT in the list above are all of our bills.  Mortgage, utilities, insurance, cell phones, etc.  We put all of those bills into our budget first, along with gas and groceries and adjust all other amounts in our budget accordingly.

Here are some tips to save on your monthly bills:

  1. Utilities: Our local gas/electric companies offer budget billing.  So rather than paying per the meter or estimate per month, they bill you on your average usage for the year.  For example, in the summer our heating bills are less because we don’t have air conditioning but in the winter its high because of heat use.  Rather than pay less in the summer and a lot during the winter, now we pay the same amount each month.
  2. Cell phones:  Check periodically with your carrier to see if the plans have changed.  Sometimes they do but they don’t advertise it!  We just switched to the latest plan from our carrier and it’s saving us almost $100 on our total bill per month.  Also, if you like your family and it won’t cause a fight, combine all of your phones on one plan for multiple line discounts.  Affordable for everyone.
  3. Insurance:  Last month my husband looked at our car and home owners insurance.  We’ve had the same carrier for ten years but just switched and saved a few hundred bucks a year.  It doesn’t hurt to review that stuff every few years.  Be sure to check into any discounts they offer as well (such as multiple line, like house and two cars, safe driver, etc.)
  4. Cable/Satellite TV:  This is probably a big one.  I’m sure there are a lot of people who cannot part with their endless channel selections!  But if it’s the last thing standing between staying at home with your littles/doing something you truly want to do or not then you have a choice!  Cancel that shit!  We have internet and Netflix.  If you have internet you can watch TV through that; plug your computer into your TV (yeah, you can TOTALLY do that these days!).  We also have an antenna that looks like a centipede that my husband made (all you need is a 2x4 and some wire or paint can handles) so we can get local channels/news.  Honestly that’s all we need.  They have quite a bit on Netflix, especially kids shows so we essentially pay less than $80/month for internet and TV.
  5. Credit Cards: Take that tax return and pay those suckers off!  Keep it for emergencies but don’t use them anymore.
  6. Credit Cards again: We have an Old Navy credit card.  The interest rate is RIDICULOUS but the rewards are AWESOME.  You don’t find a lot of cards with really good rewards but if you do, get that free stuff!  We use ours and pay it off right away.  For example they usually have triple points for using it to pay for groceries and gas.  So we use the card to pay for those things then take the cash from our budget envelope and put it away to use to pay the bill when it comes.  We haven't had to actually buy our son clothes in over a year with all the rewards we're gotten.  **only do this if you pay it off every month.  Do not rack up that debt!**

Other tips:  Shop sales and consignment.  We bought a dresser this summer at a garage sale, modified it into a bench/table for our foyer then did the same thing last month to make a book shelf for our son's room.  Of course, if you are not handy/crafty to make your own household furniture/artwork you could 1.) hire me to make stuff *wink wink* or 2.) give a beer to a handy family member or friend and make them make you stuff!

I'm sure these tips and tricks will not work for everyone but I hope I've enlightened one of you thinking about becoming a stay at home mom.  Like I said, you need to be prepared to make some sacrifices but honestly they are so minor compared to the overall thing we call life.  It takes us a little longer to save for the bigger "things" we want to buy (like remodel half our house, build the hubs a three car garage) or trips we want to go on (um I was born to frequent tropical beaches!) but we've been disciplined enough to make it work.  And I know you can be too!  Before we moved a friend told me she wanted to take some time off until after she moved so I asked her why not and she told me that she couldn't because they live a certain lifestyle.  I'll never forget that.  It made me feel sad.  I've always been a huge believer in "to each their own" and if you don't want to make the changes to live the life you want then that's up to you.  I honestly won't pass judgement because we all live our own lives. Just know that anything is possible.  With a little thought and a little work, live the life you want, design your life to fit what you want.  It IS possible!

(Photo: not sure, I Googled "budget memes" and this came up...)

(Photo: not sure, I Googled "budget memes" and this came up...)

Now if you'll excuse me I'm going to go fold an endless amount of laundry.