I List My ‘Income’ As a SAHM on My Family’s Budget to Value My Labor

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  • My family budget has a line item for my income: my paid work as a writer and my unpaid work as a mother.
  • This budgeting strategy gives value to my unpaid work – it recognizes that I work 12-14 hour days.
  • That’s why I cringe when I hear moms like me being called “soft” workers.

This essay is part of “Home Ec: The Economics of Stay-at-home Parenting,” a series from Personal Finance Insiders about the financial realities of staying at home with your kids.

My husband and I are on a budget for our family of three, soon to be four. My husband’s salary appears under “Income” and so does mine. My husband gets one line item for his salary and I get two: one for my part-time paid work and another for the thousands of dollars I save each month from my full-time unpaid casual work. mother at home.

This unpaid work is offset in the expense column, so it doesn’t result in a positive cash flow, but it still shows up in the budget.

Based on my conversations with other parents, it’s unusual for a stay-at-home parent to see its monetary value in the family budget. But according to the Pew Research Center, about one in five parents in the US stays at home, and these parents deserve full recognition of their financial contributions.

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I chose to stay at home and freelance rather than work full time and spend most of my money on childcare

In my case, I was employed full-time until my son was born, but balked at the prohibitive costs of childcare, nanny, and even nanny shares. And I’m not alone. According to McKinsey, childcare for 80% of families exceeds the affordability level recommended by the Department of Health and Human Services.

As it turned out, my net salary after childcare was comparable to my potential income as a freelancer, so I decided to stay at home and freelance. Our bottom line would be the same whether I return to the office full-time or not; other families are in a similar situation.

My workday is around 12-14 hours, most of which consists of raising a wild 3 year old. This includes all the duties we would expect of a daycare center or nanny in terms of education, skills development, basic behavior training, exercise, meal preparation, feeding, cleaning, safety and health care.

I’m also a journalist, so I either work on my assignments while my son sleeps, which isn’t always the case at his age, or I manage to work while he’s making noise in the background or, frustratingly, in the foreground.

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The work I do now would be more valuable if I were a nanny to someone else’s children

It’s not an easy day at work, and yet some people describe parents like me as “gently employed.” If stay-at-home parents talked more about our financial worth, we might more accurately be viewed as aggressively busy.

If I were a nanny for another family and used that paycheck to have someone else look after my child, the monetary value of my childcare work would be widely recognized by society. And yet stay-at-home parents who do exactly the same work in their own homes often don’t get that recognition.

Salary.com estimates that the median would exceed $184,000 if stay-at-home parents earned an annual salary for all the jobs they hold every day in 2020 and 2021. That number assumes the outsourcing of a range of expensive services — including a chief operating officer, event planner, private driver, and kitchen manager, to name a few — but it still makes sense.

That number also rose during the COVID-19 pandemic that spawned the Marshall Plan for Mothers. This campaign was created by the non-profit organization Girls Who Code to improve jobs for moms. change how we value motherhood; and improve access to childcare, paid leave and direct government payments to mothers.

Many argue that there was a childcare crisis in this country well before the pandemic, which shed light on the issue when so many parents were forced to pull their children out of schools and daycare and become, at least temporarily, stay-at-home parents.

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I think the work of stay-at-home parents needs to be recognized for the financial value it offers

Parents who stay at home often become financially invisible because they “don’t make any money” or “don’t have real jobs.” Not only is this rhetoric misleading and inaccurate, but it also fuels the fire of what some people call the Mommy Wars, the unfortunate term for the perceived animosity between mothers who mostly work away from home. That dichotomy doesn’t even include parents like me who have managed to strike a balance, make some money and sustain their careers as best they can without paying for childcare.

I’m probably a member of too many Facebook mom groups, and sometimes tempers run riot when deciding whether to work outside or inside. A person may comment on the “luxury” of “not working” as a stay-at-home parent, when in fact they know nothing about that person’s full-time or part-time earning potential, access to benefits, vacation time, childcare costs (which vary depending on vary widely in location and quality) or even how many children they have and whether those children have special needs that affect the cost and time of childcare.

Perhaps if we spoke more about the monetary value of unpaid childcare, starting at home with our personal budgets, judgments would ease.


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