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You know the dilemma: Will I make more than I spend on child care and other expenses?

4 minute read

I didn’t have kids just to pay someone else to raise them. And I’ve come to realize, I can’t afford to hire help anyway.

Fortunately for me, I chose a profession where I can work from home. Many can’t. I still weigh the pros and cons of working for someone else because I want what’s best for my two children, and that means feeding them as well as properly funding their education.

In comparing the prices of daycare, gas and health insurance with the average wage I was likely to make after my first child was born, I determined the net profit from working would be only slightly higher than staying home. I thought about the cost of working, and decided to stay home from 2011 until 2014. With two children under the age of 4, I’ve been doing a lot of math to see if I can afford to return to work.

Can a working mom afford to work?

There are so many factors to weigh when you have kids and no full-time income. A lot of them are financial. My job paying $11 an hour let me go in 2011, when I had a 6-month-old daughter and an $1,100 monthly rent payment to make. I’m married to a guitar teacher who works in private music stores as an independent contractor, so we didn’t have health insurance after I left my job.

Knowing I qualified for Medicaid without a job meant I would owe nothing, compared to the $1,500 I owed the hospital after my daughter was born. I’d also not incur any $40 co-pays during my next pregnancy, which we were already planning.

The cost of working while my children are toddlers (ages 3 and 1) involves more than just the financials, though. For instance, I want to help them sound out their first demands by encouraging them.

“Say ‘juice’ instead of pointing,” I say as my 1-year-old son pounds the table with his fists and screams.

If not me, I wanted my husband to be the one to change the babies’ diapers and hold their hands as they learned to climb stairs. These moments were priceless and by staying home to see them, I feel I saved more than just the price I would have paid in gas to drive to work and pay for childcare.

I’m happy we stuck it out through the early years, but like many other moms, I’m ready to get back to work. As much as I love my children, staying home too long can hurt my career and stunt my earning potential.


Men still make more than women across the board

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, among married men and women in 2012, weekly earnings for fathers and mothers with children under age 6 were $935 and $765, respectively. That means the median married mother earns more than $19 an hour, or more than $39,000 per year.

My husband earns about $30,000 as an independent contractor (though taxes aren’t taken out of his check, he’s taxed at a higher rate, and he doesn’t have access to employee insurance benefits). But he works far fewer hours and is home until about 2 p.m. every day.

My earning potential makes the difference in our family. If I can’t make a profit because all my earnings go to childcare, then it doesn’t make sense for me to work outside the house.

According to CNN Money, the median annual starting salary for journalists climbed to $32,000 in 2012, from $31,000 in 2011. This means I can expect to average about $15 an hour. My experience so far has proven I need to pay at least $10 an hour for childcare in or out of my home.

According to Census information on childcare, the average weekly cost of daycare for a preschool-age child is $179. Double that and deduct about 10 percent to get close to what it costs for two toddlers. The data explain why 49 percent of preschool childcare arrangements involve a parent or relative.

How to determine if working is right for you

I’m constantly walking the line, balancing my family’s needs with our wants, and weighing the prices against the costs of working. The following questions are what I use to make my decisions:

1. How much can you make working?

If you know your salary is around $12 hourly, you can reasonably expect half your pay to go to daycare. That’s per kid — so obviously not enough for me.

2. Do you have health insurance?

If you are the spouse bringing home the medical and dental insurance for the family, your plan’s price will vary wildly depending on where you work. Estimating how much you will pay for health insurance is tough, but if you’re a single mom or your spouse has no insurance, you must consider how much of that weekly paycheck will go to health insurance.

Your first stop should be to see if your kids qualify for free or low-cost health coverage.

3. How far do you expect to travel for work?

If you know you can get a job that you could walk to, then working won’t add to your price of gas and wear and tear on your vehicle. Everyone else needs to factor in vehicle maintenance and the ever-changing gas prices when making a decision to work outside of the home.


4. If you stay home, will you be able to cook more, clean more and spend more time educating your kids?

Ultimately, this is my most important question because when I stress myself out trying to do too much while working from home, I question what good I am doing for my kids. But, I still manage to prepare healthy foods and educate my kids more than I would be able to if I worked 40 or more hours a week.

For me, working part-time until both kids are in school is the answer. With my husband home in the mornings and my mom occasionally available in the afternoons, we can figure out a schedule that works for everyone. If you can’t balance the budget to afford to work while your kids are young, enjoy the priceless moments and stay on a budget until they’re older.

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About the Author

Ellen Eldridge

Ellen Eldridge

Eldridge is a freelance journalist based in Atlanta, Georgia.

Published by, LLC Mobile users may also access the AMP Version: Working Mom Math: When Is Working Really Worth It? - AMP.