Home is where the heart - and money - is
Being a full-time parent can end up saving you more than you earned
going out to work, says Elaine Saunders
When one half of a couple makes the huge emotional and financial commitment to leave work to look after children, the economic burden often falls on the partner still doing a paid job.
Parents usually wonder how they'll manage without the lost salary. Yet staying at home could be more cost-effective than you think. By ruthlessly evaluating the big expenses of working, it's possible to see that the real cost of full-time parenting is far less than it seems at first.
Any calculation must involve net, not gross income, and forget any overtime pay as lack of childcare provision outside normal working hours could mean that with a baby, you're restricted to basic hours.
Reliable childcare is a major drain on income. This rises with each new addition to the family. While it may be sound economic sense to continue working after the first baby, this reasoning is diluted with subsequent siblings.
Not everyone has family on hand to share childcare or space for a live-in nanny, so day nurseries can be the only option.
Every parent agrees that their child's happiness and well-being far outweighs any other consideration, so peace of mind may have a very high price tag. Though if a parent is the main carer these potential expenses instantly appear as a credit.
Calculate your monthly spending on petrol, parking, tolls and tickets and you could be saving a small fortune by staying at home. Don't forget to factor in maintenance and repair costs on your car. Could you manage with just one car if you gave up work? All that walking with the buggy might mean you can cancel your gym membership, too.
Dress To Impress
In an office you need to look smart, so you have to buy and maintain a working wardrobe. Chances are you don't wear your suits at the weekend so there's another credit in your stay-at-home ledger.
Casual wear is a fraction of the price and the only desirable labels are 'machine washable' and 'non-iron'. New mothers often simplify their hairstyles and beauty routines, so there are fewer trips to the salon.
Other Office Expenses
It may seem trivial to add up everything you spend during the day, but it's essential to build an accurate account. Even a few hundred pounds might tip the balance in favour of staying at home.
Do you pay union or professional subscriptions, or have other office-related out-goings? How often do you pay for things without claiming expenses? Do you ever use your home phone for work without reimbursement? In large offices there's always a collection for someone's birthday or leaving gift, and how many times a year do you sponsor people or buy raffle ticket?
You may be surprised at the final tally of these seemingly small expenses.
Working full time and shopping wisely are sometimes mutually exclusive. Dinner is often a lunge at the nearest ready-meal while ignoring the higher cost of convenience food. You might order take-aways regularly, or take friends out to dinner because you haven't time to cook. Even at lunchtime you probably buy a sandwich rather than take a packed lunch.
At home there's time to shop around and plan meals from scratch, making huge savings.
We've all forgotten a friend's birthday and dashed out to buy a ludicrously expensive gift because there's been no time to look around.
With time on your hands it's possible to make economies here too, buying 'perfect' presents rather than just expensive ones. You could even make something yourself. Friends will be as delighted with a gift you took time and trouble over as with an extravagant bouquet sent at the last minute.
Shop around, compare prices, negotiate a good deal. Even checking bills and bank statements could turn up errors you might have let go.
For people working long hours time is precious, so you can justify employing help in the shape of gardeners, decorators and housekeepers. At home you can do most things yourself, even if you still pay someone to do the bigger jobs. Assign an hourly rate to cleaning, gardening and DIY to see your at-home worth climb. Even better, ask a professional for a quote, then do it yourself so you'll know exactly how much you've saved. You may be surprised.
You can earn while at home. The internet allows many people to work without going out, or you may find part-time work during school hours.
There are plenty of franchise opportunities perfect for those juggling the demands of family life. How much will you be losing after making the above deductions and could the financial gap be covered by working a few hours near your home?
Any playground is a repository of highly intelligent and formerly well-paid women. Having children is the ultimate networking opportunity. Why not pool your skills and see if there's a home business idea between you?
Every month seems to bring a new report on the pros and cons of being a working parent, but ultimately it is for each couple to decide according to their needs. Not all contributions can be assigned a monetary value, however, and you have to make some credit for improved quality of life. Looking solely at the adults' needs, having one parent at home frees the working partner from juggling work and children. If someone mows the lawn in the week it's one less job for Saturday.
As children grow they become more demanding and the average weekend is spent in the car shuttling between swimming lessons and football matches.
With one partner doing the practical jobs you may find you're both less stressed and have time to concentrate on your relationship. Try putting a price tag on that!