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Can a new mom afford to stay at home?

By Gary Foreman

The New Frugal You
New Frugal You columnist Gary Foreman
Gary Foreman is a former financial planner who currently edits The Dollar Stretcher website and newsletters. He writes "New Frugal You," a weekly Q&A column about frugal living, for

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Question for the expert

Dear New Frugal You
I'm a brand new mom with a beautiful baby girl. I soooo much want to quit my job and stay home with her. It seems like she spends more time in day care than with me. But here's the problem. When I add up all of our bills, my husband's paycheck alone can't cover them. We'd be about $400 short each month. I've considered working at home, but don't have any ideas that could make that much money. What should I do? -- Denise

Answer for the expert Dear Denise,
Congrats! Being a new mom is one of the most exhilarating times of your life. I hope you enjoy every minute of it! But you're right: You have new responsibilities and new choices to make.

Your question contains two parts. One has to do with child development and a women's career. I'll leave that to experts in those fields. The other question is financial, and that's where I think I may be able to help.

You've already started to take the first step: estimating what the family budget would look like without your income. But let's take a closer look, because you might be closer than you think to afford becoming a stay-at-home mom.

You didn't say, but make sure that your estimate includes not only the loss of your income, but also the reduced expenses from you not working. To name one big, obvious example, you'll eliminate the cost of child care. Unless you make a substantial wage, you might be surprised at how little of your wages actually make it to your checking account. Child care alone eats a major portion of many second paychecks.

Also reduce your estimate by the costs of commuting, keeping a wardrobe for work, daily lunches and even the extra income tax you'll pay. You may even reduce some of your husband's daily expenses, such having him bring his lunch to work. The easiest way to identify these items is to think of your work week now and then consider what things would no longer be occurring. And, of course, the same evaluation would apply to men who want to be stay-at-home dads.

Once you've fine-tuned a stay-at-home budget, you should have a pretty good idea of how feasible it is monetarily. Every family is different, but frankly, it's fairly common for a family with a new addition to be short a few hundred dollars each month. So let's see if we can't give you some alternatives for covering that shortfall.

First, avoid ads for work-at-home jobs, especially those that require you to send in money first. Chances are that's all they're after: your startup check.

Also avoid ads that claim that anyone can do it. If anyone can do it, it must be very simple unskilled work. Do you know of any very simple unskilled work that pays well? No. Me either.

Any successful attempt to find work at home needs to begin with a self-analysis. What skills do you have? What are you good at? What do you like to do? Then consider your job skills. Are any of them transferrable to a work-at-home setting?

Let the answers to those questions guide you to job possibilities. Think about what types of work requires those skills and interests. That should narrow the search considerably.

Many new moms think that the easiest solution would be to take in one or two other children in a home-based day care. But, if you've never worked in a day care before, move carefully. It's one thing to care for your own newborn, quite another to have one or two others join your angel. Plus, you'll need to fulfill legal and licensing requirements that are often quite stringent.

Consider part-time jobs outside the home that would allow you to take your daughter with you. For instance, I've heard of cases where a school bus driver was allowed to bring her toddler along for the ride. These jobs aren't common, but if you find one it could be the perfect answer.

Don't be afraid to think outside the box. Look for something that you can do while your husband watches the little one. Perhaps you could take on a morning paper route or organize birthday parties for kids? How about providing entertainment at kids' parties (clown anyone?).

Consult with your family and friends. Ask them for their ideas. Also ask what they think of your ideas. Sometimes they know us better than we know ourselves and see things that we miss.

Be realistic in projecting any income from a part-time job or business. And don't forget to include any extra expenses that your job or business will incur.

Also be realistic in evaluating the situation. A $400 a month shortfall means you'll need about $100 each week after taxes and expenses. You probably won't make that doing one clown gig each Saturday. Decide how many hours you can reasonably work and then calculate the hourly rate you'd need to cover your shortfall.

Whatever you decide, a little research now should help you make a decision that best for you and that precious little one in your care.

See related: Getting by on one income, Fed rule limits credit cards for stay-at-home parents

For more than 35 years, Gary Foreman has worked to help people get the most for their money. Prior to founding The Dollar, he was a financial planner and purchasing manager. Gary began The Dollar Stretcher website and newsletters in April 1996. Today the website features more than 6,000 articles on different ways to live better for less. Gary has been interviewed by The Wall Street Journal, The Nightly Business Report, USA Today, Reader's Digest and other newspapers and magazines. Gary answers a question about a budgeting or saving issue from a reader each week. Send your question to The New Frugal You.

Updated: March 8, 2012

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