Going back to work is a big change for stay-at-home moms (commonly written as SAHM)! For some, the extra income is the deciding factor. For others, it’s the desire to be around other adults, or to advance in their career. One thing is for certain, though. While it’s great to have the income, there are definite costs for SAHMs to go back to work.
I have experienced this myself. After our eldest child was born, I worked full-time for a few months and hated the work-life balance. I found a job where I could work from home part-time, and that was perfect for me! But after the third child was born, and we decided to homeschool, I quit that job. A few years ago I started working very part-time from home, a contract that was only 10 hours per month! But recently this contract increased, plus I was offered another contract. In total I am now working about 50-75 hours per month. It’s mostly from home, but includes business meetings two or three times per month.
So let’s take a look at the true cost for stay-at-home moms – or dads – of going back to work.
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The Cost of Childcare when you go Back to Work
Babies and Toddlers
One of the biggest costs of going back to work, is paying for childcare. If your children are babies or toddlers, then you are facing expensive full-time daycare. Alternatives to daycare include a nanny or sharing a nanny with a friend. Or perhaps a neighbour takes in children into their home. Regardless, childcare is expensive.
If you have waited until your children are in school full-time, then your childcare costs will be much lower. But likely not zero! There may be a cost for before- and after-care. And what will you do for school professional development days and holidays, such as March Break and winter break?
If you are working full-time or part-time, you will need to consider who will look after the children during the long summer holidays. Often parents will take a couple of weeks of their own work holidays during this time, and put together a patchwork of summer camps to keep the kids occupied and supervised.
In my case, my children are old enough that I don’t need to worry about daycare. And I do most of my work at home. I always need to confirm with the teens and Mr. Tea who will be home to supervise the youngest child when I go to my annual 2-day conference or evening events.
My cost of going back to work: childcare $0
Buying New Clothing for Going Back to Work
As a stay-at-home parent, my usual wardrobe can best be described as “comfortable”. But jeans and t-shirts would not do for my two to three professional meetings I now attend each month, or the annual 2-day conference each summer.
While I had a few nice outfits from before, which luckily still fit even after having four children, they were dreadfully out of style. Only a couple of basic white blouses would be suitable to wear now.
In addition, I could hardly buy just one pair of business casual pants and top and wear the same outfit to every meeting! I have also had to buy business casual outfits suitable for the weather. September was lovely, but the light blouses I bought then won’t keep me warm enough in snowy December.
For you, consider whether you will need new outfits suitable for where you intend to work, and how much this might cost you. In addition to clothes, this may include shoes and boots, coats, or other accessories to make you fit in with corporate culture.
In addition to the cost of new clothing, there is also the additional cost of dry cleaning items that can’t be laundered at home. So far I have had to dry clean only one dress, but that was nearly $20.
My cost of going back to work: clothing $80 per month
This may be somewhat vague, but there are generally certain expectations that you look presentable for your job. This may include getting more frequent haircuts. And for women, you may feel it’s expected to have your nails regularly polished and to wear make-up more than you might as a SAHM.
My cost of going back to work: presentation $10 per month
Cost of Transportation to Work
For me, most of my work is done at home. When I go to meetings, I can choose to take public transit, or drive and pay for parking as well as gas. Remember that the more you use your car to get to work, the more general maintenance it will need, including oil changes but also more expensive work.
As a SAHM, you might have been able to get away with only owning one car, and now require a second car for work. This would substantially increase the family’s transportation cost!
My cost of going back to work: transportation $16 per month
Higher Food Costs Associated with Going Back to Work
I think one of the most overlooked costs of returning to work, is the impact on the food budget. For some this might mean daily lunches out, but you can decrease this by bringing food from home. There’s also the temptation to pick up a quick coffee from your favourite shop along the way, but those add up. After work socializing may be part of your expected job, too.
In my case, I’m mostly working at home, so those don’t apply to me. But I have a lot less time to make family staples, that I now purchase pre-made. I used to bake a lot of our family’s bread, but no longer have time for this. I used to bake a lot of desserts, but now mostly buy pre-packaged cookies or ice cream for the family.
I’ve started to take advantage of the new WalMart grocery pick-up. There is no additional cost for this service, and while it does take me time to place the order online, I save that time by not walking through the store. I find the groceries are well-priced compared to other grocery store options near me. I don’t think I am spending more on groceries this way, but I also don’t have the time to price compare, clip coupons, read sales flyers, or go to multiple stores for the best deals.
And it’s not only the staples. If the afternoon gets away from me while I’m working, I am far more likely to order in a dinner or one of us will pick up some take-out. Even while grocery shopping, those rotisserie chickens look fast and easy, rather than buying chicken for me to cook at home. And after a particularly gruelling week, it seems like I should “treat” us to a restaurant meal.
My cost of going back to work: food $120 per month
Do you have Time to Clean the House?
Once you go back to work, will you still have the time and energy to clean the house? Perhaps the spouse or kids will chip in a bit more and help offset your work load. But it’s also possible that you will decide that you need someone coming twice a month just to keep on top of the basics.
I have not reached this point myself, since I work part-time from home, but the thought has crossed my mind!
My cost of going back to work: house cleaning $0
Other Miscellaneous Costs of Going Back to Work
If you are working full-time, getting home at 6pm, then making dinner. After that, you clean up, get the kids into bed, and collapse ready for the next day. Who helps the kids with their homework? For kids who are struggling with academics, you may need to consider enrolling them in private tutoring, at an extra cost.
Speaking of kids, what happens when they are too sick to go to school? You may have to take an unpaid day off work in order to stay home and care for them. This is an additional cost to you, since you’ve lost out on a day’s pay.
If you’re working in an office setting, you may be expected to chip in for birthday treats or other events, buy a box of fundraiser cookies, or any number of other small expenses that add up over time.
My cost of going back to work: miscellaneous costs $0
Don’t Forget the Income Taxes
It’s tempting to simply subtract all these costs from your gross pay. But in fact, income taxes take a big chunk of your earnings, especially if you’re in a higher tax bracket.
As an independent contractor, I don’t have income tax deducted from my paycheque. So I need to remember to budget for that when I do my taxes each spring.
My work hours have increased only recently, and at this time I’m unsure exactly what will be the effect on my taxes for this year.
My cost of going back to work: income taxes $200 per month (estimated)
Chrissy from Eat Sleep Breathe FI recently wrote a very comprehensive analysis of How Much Does It Cost to Be a Stay-at-Home Parent? A financial cost analysis, on Bob’s Tawcan blog. As a long-term SAHM myself, I felt very validated by the idea of saving $45,000 per year by not working.
Benefits of Working
Of course there are many financial benefits of working. In addition to a regular paycheque, you may also receive medical, dental, and other benefits from your employer. And if you’re really lucky, you might even have a company pension plan.
Promotions and raises tend to build on each other, and so going back to work without a long break likely means that you will get to a higher salary level over the course of your career.
In addition, in Canada the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) retirement benefit is based on your earned income. So working now will mean higher benefits in retirement. CPP does allow stay-at-home parents to drop the young child years from their benefits calculation, but if you have trouble getting back into a high paying job, or forgo a decade of raises and promotions, your retirement benefits may still be affected.
Wrapping Up my True Cost of Going Back to Work
I have incurred many additional costs from going back to work, as compared to being a stay-at-home mom. This include additional food costs, transportation, clothing, and income taxes. Fortunately, I don’t have childcare costs, which can quickly add up to as much as a full-time salary, especially if you have more than one child under school age.
I estimate my additional monthly costs of going back to work part-time, mostly working at home, to be $426 per month.
The decision about whether to stay home or go back to work is often made because you need the money. But it also incorporates the desire to advance in your profession or because it’s just what you want to do. Regardless of why you are thinking of going back to work, it’s essential to prepare for all the potential costs that go along with that decision.
And while I have phrased this discussion towards stay-at-home moms, it applies just as much to dads who are facing this decision. (Except, perhaps, the make-up and manicures!)