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When I was pregnant with my son, there was no question that I
would go back to work. The choice made absolute fiscal sense.
Besides, being a "stay-at-home" mom sounded as fun as Chuck E.
Cheese on a Saturday afternoon. But when my second child came along
two years later, the decision wasn't so clear.
Jacoba Urist, a family finance expert and attorney specializing
in estate planning and family law, counsels families to remember
that their baby and toddler childcare needs are temporary. "I see
so many mothers who make a short-term financial decision," she
says. "They see the cost of childcare and the salary they would
make if they go back to work and say it doesn't make sense to do
She suggests running the numbers for the year you have your new
baby, and also some years into the future. "Don't just look at the
first 18 months when you make your decision. Three, five, certainly
10 years out, the math is very different."
Urist says the best way to maintain your standard of living is
to remember babies don't actually need most of the things we
Each family faces unique circumstances. When deciding whether or
not to go back to work after a baby-whether it's your first or your
fifth-ask yourself the following questions.
The preschool years can be extremely expensive. At a group
childcare provider you will pay extra if you are late, you may not
be able to take a sick child in and if you do you'll certainly pay
extra. Hiring in-home care makes sense for some, but according to
Urist, many parents forget about the payroll taxes. "If you're not
using a service or agency which takes care of the tax portion for
you, a parent's requirement to pay those so-called nanny taxes kick
in after less than $2,000 for the year."
On the other hand, if you decide to stay home with a child
you'll probably pay for activities or occasional childcare. Make
sure to factor these costs into your new one-income budget if you
think you want to stay home.
You may be able to make up a good portion of your former income
by seeking out bargains and doing things yourself that you may pay
others to do for you now. The trick is, a person really has to
enjoy these things. A working parent should not expect that the
parent at home has unlimited time to clip coupons, chase down deals
all over town and complete the previously outsourced yard
maintenance. But if you love the thrill of getting a bargain or
whipping up meals from scratch, you may not even notice the lost
One big expense is formula. You can save hundreds-if not
thousands-of dollars by breastfeeding for the first year of your
baby's life. Not so easy to do if you're working full-time.
Breastfeeding is extremely difficult to maintain while physically
removed from your baby for most of the day, no matter how many
pumping stations Corporate America provides.
Aside from salary, think about the other things you leave behind
with regular employment. Consider the lost career opportunities
that result from taking yourself out of the workplace, including
continuing education requirements your employer provides. If one
parent does not have access to health insurance, the premiums for
good coverage can be prohibitive. And don't forget about the years
after your baby has babies of her own. Lost retirement savings, and
the compound effect of employer contributions to your account, can
add up to much more than your net take-home pay after
The decision to stay home or return to work depends on many
things, including your support system, where you are in your career
and what kind of part-time employment opportunities are
Most importantly, ask yourself what will really make you happy.
No matter the financial considerations, you can't function well
over the long haul if you're not enjoying your days.
See more of Lela's stories here.
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