So you want to stay home with your kids



Back when John and I first got married, we both imagined that I would work at least part time, even after our kids came home.  And for a good long while I did, as a nurse working first on Pediatrics and OB at a hospital and later at a birthing center, helping women labor and give birth and take care of their babies in those first precious hours after birth.  I had the ideal job really– definitely the happy side of health care.  I was even able to have my husband bring our babies to me on my breaks, to nurse.

But the more our family grew, the more John and I both longed for me to be home with our children full time.  And so in our wish to make that happen for our family, we began looking at ways to save money in our budget. We didn’t do everything perfectly.  For example, straight out of college I bought a one year old car on payments.  Big mistake.  But we did do a fair number of things right.  Here’s what I give the most credit to in our success.

1. Keep your housing affordable.  To be safe, your house payment should be no more than 25% of your take-home pay.  Our first house was an uber-affordable fixer-upper with house payments of $212 a month.  Even back in the 90’s you could barely rent for that.  Our next house was a bigger stretch and for several years it was pretty tough to make that house payment.  You’ll save yourself a lot of stress if you buy less house than you think you can afford.

2.  Learn how to cook.  Menu plan.  Double recipes.  Shop with a list, and shop with cash.  If you need help with any of this, check out my cookbook Family Feasts for $75 a Week.  Most people recoup the cost of the book on their very next shopping trip.  The average family has lots of fluff in their grocery budget, so it’s a great place to start if you’re serious about saving money for an important goal.

3. Discover the joys of thrift stores and yard sales for clothing.  It is totally possible to dress your family well AND affordably.

Thrift store wins

4.  Ditch debt It sucks up all your future spending power. We haven’t had a car payment since 1999, choosing instead to buy affordable vehicles with cash, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

5. Get rid of cable TV.  There are so many great TV options on Netflix these days and it’s much more affordable.

6. Most important:  be content with what you have.  Know what tempts to you spend.  Some folks feel more discontent after visiting Pinterest and Target. I use Pinterest mainly for cheap crafty ideas, so it isn’t too problematic.  Target is definitely a weakness, so I try to avoid it.  My big Achilles heel is Amazon, which I’ve tamed in several ways.  First, when I hear of a new book, I wait to buy it til I try to request it at my local library, or checked if it is available on Second, I make myself wait at least 3 days to order anything on amazon.  Often by then the impulse has passed, and our money stays in my wallet.

Over the years we’ve made many sacrifices for me to be home with our children, and sometimes it does get tiresome to be watching our money so carefully.  But remembering our priorities and being thankful for what we have helps me stay on track with wise spending.

How do you save money at your house?  What helps you avoid the temptation to overspend?  I’d love for you to add your wisdom to this conversation.

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  1. Mary,

    I am a big fan of your blog and know that you are an adoptive parent. I have no doubt that being able to stay home and be available to your kids has helped to foster a wonderful and beautiful attachment. Thanks for these tips for all families but especially for families who wish to spend more time bonding with their kids!

  2. kelly cox says:

    I really enjoy your book (Family Feasts……..etc.) and am blessed to be homeschooling our 3 children. I also volunteer teach a class on budgeting and lifeskills once a week at a nearby women’s rehab center. The ladies there are super excited about the ideas on saving on groceries and food etc. I only wish I could buy each of them their own copy of you book, but talking about it and some of the ideas is sure wonderful! Thanks for all you do!

  3. Honestly, what helps me is actually budgeting a tiny splurge along with doing all the things you mentioned. My husband’s income varies each month, so depending on what’s coming in and what else is going on in the budget that month, we discuss a reasonable amount to set aside for each of us as splurge money. Now, I’m just talking a clearance top from Target ($10) or a fancy coffee shop drink ($5) every other week or so. Having just a little something there for that purpose helps me not to overcompensate when/if I am feeling a little deprived, for I know from experience that I can definitely overspend when feeling sorry for myself. It also becomes a challenge… “How well can I treat myself with $20 this month?!”

  4. Tammy from Ca says:

    You must have read my mind…..Was just looking up the info….I work just 3 hrs and make 700.00 take home.My gas just to go to work is 250.00 a month.I wish I could quit.My husband is in construction and its been up and down.The only bill we have is a house and utilites and food and well just living.We cant move due to upside down and parents live on our property.Its very upsetting that only 700.00 stands in my way…..big sigh……

    • If gas costs that much, then really only $450 stands in your way, right? How much do you spend on groceries? Most people can shave off a couple hundred from their bill and still eat great. And sometimes working moms do more convenience food since they are home less. Be home full time and you will have more time to cook– and save on groceries even more. Check out my book from your local library for ideas.

      Then look at your vehicles– can you sell one and drive a junker? Maybe cut out cable? Get cheaper cell phones. (Just an example: my trac fone is $25 a month.) Also think if there is any work you could do from home? I bet if you think and scrimp a little, you could come up with a way to do this!

  5. I love to read so bought a Kindle, the first reader, and have over 2000 books on it that I have received for free. There are so many sites that send emails daily telling you about free books…..Bookbub, bookgorella, pixel of ink, spirit filled Kindle, etc.

  6. I love to read so bought a Kindle, the first reader, and have over 2000 books on it that I have received for free. There are so many sites that send emails daily telling you about free books…..Bookbub, bookgorella, pixel of ink, spirit filled Kindle, etc.

  7. My husband and I have struggled to figure out a way for me to stay home. Now that we’re about two months away from having our fourth child, we’re taking the plunge! I’m not coming back to work after my maternity leave! Yes, it will be hard, but I have Faith it’ll all be okay. So, I’m particularly interested in all the other comments and the wisdom here!

  8. I am a stay at home mom since my third child was born in 2008. On paper, it looked LIKE IT WOULD NEVER WORK. We would always be “short” every month by several hundred dollars. However, I quit my job and in faith tried if for 3 months and planned to re-evaluate. At 3 months,it was still tight, but we were making it. Somehow God always provided. We decided to go another 2 months, than another 3, and before long -it was a way of life. 5 years + 2 kids later, we are living on even less income with a larger house, and more mouths to feed, and homeschooling. We have never been on food stamps or government assistance, even when my husband was unemployed. I teach piano lessons a few hours a week, which quickly adds up to help buy groceries. I have also done “trades” with other moms to help boost our income/profit such as trading things like help tuning a music instrument for sewing lessons, etc. We also drive used vehicles. We pay cash for everything, the only debt we have is our house and some medical bills. But we didn’t start out that way. We got on a budget and “snowballed” our debt and creating a plan like advocated by Dave Ramsey’s financial peace/money makeover. We also have a small garden for personal enjoyment, but it also supplements the grocery bill in the warmer months. We hardly ever eat out. I have become a very resourceful cook! 🙂 (very proud of that – to create a meal out of little is my daily creative endeavor that has helped me grow a lot as a cook and teaches us to experierment with different flavors, spices, etc.) We do clearance, yards sales, swap shops, etc. We don’t have cable. In regards to avoiding the temptation to overspend…stay out of the stores as much as possible!!! Sometimes its just easier not to know what you are missing.. 🙂 Although, I confess — I have a teenage daughter now, so we end up “shopping” more and more. LOL. IT IS POSSIBLE to do without a second income. Either way there are sacrifices. One route is time with your children. The other is material possessions. My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner.

  9. I *wish* we could do more thrift-store shopping, but it is just not practical for us. We live about 25 miles from the nearest one, and it’s rather small. The next closest one is over 80 miles away. And since we live out in the middle of nowhere, garage sales are also few and far between. We do the best we can with ‘regular’ stores, by shopping clearance and asking for gift cards for Christmas and birthdays.

  10. Mary, what a wonderful conversation. You hit most of them right on the head and other posters have written about their lives but…
    Living in a small town has been a life saver in all aspects of our lives.
    We live in a town of less than 1,200 people who love our family and have been the best support we could have asked for. I cannot imagine raising my children anywhere else on the small amount of money we have.
    As I have said over and over ‘It is so much easier to be poor in the small town or country in America than it is in the suburb or city.’
    For me staying home with my children, was all about where we lived; if we had lived in a suburb or big city–it would have been so much harder.

  11. Once a week, a group of moms meets for a couple hours over snacks and coffee at a local church (the ladies used to take turns hosting at their houses).
    The kids play, the moms chat.
    A great feature of that group is what we call our -stuff exchange.
    Anyone who comes can bring unwanted items from their homes and put it on the trade table. Anyone is also welcome to take from the table.
    Whatever is left is brought to the thrift store. We have done that for a number of years and some ladies say they have never bought clothes for their children because of that exchange table!

    • this is a brilliant idea! I’m thinking it would be a great addition to our homeschool craft day.

      • We do this at our homeschool co-op every week and it’s awesome! I love being able to bring stuff to give away, knowing that it will bless other families at co-op. I have also picked up a few items for myself and the kids that were a blessing to us.

  12. Is there a Kindle/ebook version of your book? I’m in Australia, so the shipping is a little high 🙂

    • Sorry, I don’t think the cookbook is on kindle yet, but A Sane Woman’s Guide to Raising a Large Family is, and it talks some about budgeting too.

  13. Leslie Creech says:

    Great post. I’ve had the opportunity to stay home as well. LIke you, we’ve never had elaborate vacations or a big house, but we’ve had everything we needed. Although my daughter would argue she does NEED a NEW car. While staying at home isn’t for every mom (or even dad), I wish more would consider it. Really, is that extra 500 sq. ft. of house or the two new cars worth it? You can always go back to work but you only get once chance to raise your children! Mary, how do deal with kids that want more, newer, or better–you know, that inability to be content with what they are given? Thanks for you great blog! Leslie

    • Leslie, while other people might have different ideas about your question, let me give you my thoughts on it. Having teenagers visit other countries or locations within the United States has been the best way to teach my kids to be happy with what they have living where we do. All of my girls have gone to South Africa for three weeks, my boys have gone to Mexico for a couple of weeks, a couple have been to the Philippines, and one has been to the poorest section of Scotland for a couple of years after high school and to Calcutta for six months; and two children lived in Cambodia for six months after high school.
      Being immersed in a culture that does not have flushing toilets, water that they cannot drink, where they eat bugs daily, poor healthcare and no education to speak of, and where the majority of the population is thankful to have a roof over their head at night— makes kids come home and focus on something other than themselves and giving to others.
      In a society of me, me, and me in modernized societies–stepping into a country that has very little—teens learn very quickly that they are so many more important needs people have than owning the latest designer clothes!

      • Leslie Creech says:

        That’s a great idea! My daughter would like a break from school. She doesn’t know what she wants to do and her heart is just not into school right now. She was hoping for a trip to Paris (her grandmother was French) but this by far a better option. I think she would truly learn from it. Thank you so much for your post.

    • Hi Leslie, That’s definitely a heart thing that we humans all suffer from to various degrees. Most of the time when my kids want something that we can’t afford, I encourage them to work and save up for it for themselves. Or I will offer the amount for the ‘budget’ pair of jeans or shoes, and suggest that they earn the difference. Often if work is involved, kids become less interested. But quite often’ wanting stuff encourages kids to be workers, which is a good thing in the long run.

  14. This is a great post, Mary. I married a man with good financial sense, which means that many times I’ve had to forgo things I was sure we could afford, and it hasn’t always been easy. Thankfully, Russ loves me and takes good care of us. One of the best things we’ve done to save money is not having car payments. In our 29 years of marriage, we have never had a loan for a vehicle. It’s been a challenge for us at times, and the cars we drive don’t look pretty, but overall, it’s been a good thing. We would rather put our money into our home where we spend our days as a family, than in our cars.

  15. We have always lived below our income level — at first, it was just below with very little to spare. We buy almost all clothes second hand (I love thrift shopping), don’t believe in car payments (driving a 13 year old mini van), live in a small house (our boys share a room — we think it’s good for them), my daughter’s room is very tiny, and garden, cook at home (I love to cook and I love your cookbook, Mary!), and do lots of cheap or free activities. We are happy living this way.

    Leslie — to address your question, I think having teens do volunteer work helps balance some of the selfishness of those years. Do for others, think less about yourself kind of thing. You do not need to visit another country (though it would be a wonderful experience), as serious poverty can be found close to home as well. My 15yo son volunteers at a crisis nursery and it has been eye opening for him. Also, mind who your teens hang around. My 13 yo daughter has a delightful group of friends who all love to hang out and craft or bake or just be silly. While she’d love an iphone (ha!), it’s not happening and none of her friends have one either.

    A life of frugality is so worth it in the long run. It has enabled me to stay home with my kids (I quit work when my first child was a toddler), volunteer at their schools, be a foster parent for a while, help with my elderly in-laws and just be present for my family. All of that (and so much more) is so more valuable to me than the many gourmet meals out, new cars, fancy vacations, big house, etc. we may have missed.