You cannot afford to be a SAHM

stay at home mom work from hom

Itching to get out of the 9-5 workforce, and spend more time with your kids?

I share why you cannot take the risk to quit your career. 

However, there are countless ways moms can earn a high income, from home, with legitimate, flexible careers — many of which earn $100,000 or more. 

Keep reading! 

The argument is over: You absolutely, positively cannot afford to be a full-time stay-at-home mom.

No need to delve into arguments about personal choice or what is good for children or families. That’s all been hashed out in the mommy wars. It’s not about those issues. This is about money.

You. Cannot. Afford. To. Be. A. Fulltime. Stay-at-home-mom. You just can’t.

What’s that you say? Your husband is a banker? And your daddy is rich? Your spouse adores you – even though you gained, like, 40 pounds with each pregnancy? I don’t care. It makes zero financial sense for any of those 5.1 million women in the United States who are stay-at-home moms (thanks, Census data). That is about one in five married-couple families who have decided to put their family’s futures in jeopardy.

Want to find work-from-home or freelance jobs? My friends at FlexJobs.com offers the best listings of these positions. Read my FlexJobs review.  

Don’t just take it from me. I recently interviewed Joanne Cleaver, a career consultant and author of The Career Lattice.

“Stepping off the career track completely is career suicide,” Cleaver told me. “Don’t do it.”

You cannot afford to be a stay-at-home mom

Her reason? You will no doubt lose the momentum you’ve built, the network you accumulated, the credibility you’ve earned. But these longtime truths are accelerated in today’s tech-driven world – no matter what industry you’re in.  “If you completely leave the workforce, when you return you’ll have to completely reinvent yourself with new skills, new credentials and a new portfolio,” Cleaver said. “You might as well start in a new career.”

These challenges translate into a tougher time getting a new gig when you want one. And once you do, you’ll earn less than had you kept a foot in the workforce while caring for your kids. Researchers at Harvard and University of Chicago found that when professional women leave the workforce for three or more years, they suffer a compensation hit of about 37 percent.  For female MBAs who take time off to be with children, pay drop 41 percent relative to male MBA earnings.

However, if you plan ahead and keep a hand in the game, things might turn out differently. Of course, things don’t always happen as planned.

Take me, for instance. I was married to a really nice, devoted guy who made a handsome income. We had a baby, bought life insurance, set up automatic contributions to our retirement accounts and emergency savings, and even started a college fund. He had disability insurance, but that never came into play after he fell off a cliff and nearly died of a brain injury – of which the lingering and devastating symptoms played a big role in dissolving our marriage.

Who could have planned for that? That is a crazy story. Not so crazy are these scenarios:

  • Divorce
  • Unemployment
  • Death of a spouse
  • Disability
  • Life. Stuff just happens and you have to stop working.

[How to find affordable life insurance for as little as $5 per month for single moms]

When I had my first child I’d enjoyed a lucrative freelance writing business, which I cut down to about third-time after Helena was born. After my ex moved out, I quickly ramped up my workload. So when the child support and health insurance stopped because he was fired (again, related to the injury), I was able to swing my family financially, even after I had another baby.

Had I not had a career, or an ongoing business, my son, daughter and my life would be in a very, very different place. We would likely be broke. I would be angry. I would be selling stuff I really care about and making decisions about our futures out of fear instead of love and happiness. I would have fewer choices, less power. 

That’s all the scary news. Here’s the good news: we live in an age when part-time, consulting and freelance work is not only increasingly available to employees, but also growing in popularity among employers.

[17 steps to a rich life as a successful single mom]

Ask yourself: How can you keep a foot – toe, knuckle, nail – in your industry while still giving your children the time you feel they deserve? Brainstorm, ask colleagues and mentors for advice, and get creative to make sure you remain relevant. You can’t afford not to.  Then, check out these posts about making money now, from home:

Work at home jobs for moms

Start here:

13 highly paid work-at-home careers that are great for moms

This post outlines popular, easily accessible careers that many people can start from home, without special degrees or training, including:

  • Virtual assistant
  • Social media manager
  • Grant writer
  • Copy writer
  • Graphic designer
  • Clinical research coordinator
  • Bookkeeper
  • Coder / programmer
  • Travel consultant
  • Blogger
  • Event planner

Other legitimate work from home jobs for single moms

When exploring what kinds of side hustles, careers, gigs and jobs you may qualify for, consider:

Work from home jobs on a computer
Work from home typing jobs
Work from home data entry jobs
Work from home customer service jobs (chat jobs)
Work from home medical jobs and medical transcription jobs

Where to find a job

In addition to FlexJobs, which is an excellent source of quality, vetted flexible, work-at-home careers, also check out Steady, which lets you create a free account where you can find local and remote flexible jobs, and ZipRecruiter.com.

Related: 82 legit websites to make money right now

About Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.

104 Comments

  1. Mitzy on February 20, 2014 at 4:27 pm

    Perhaps the only way to bring about change that supports the family concept, is that stay at home Dad’s (with no life training, as they probably didn’t have a Dad/husband in their home, consistantly) will see the view from the other side? If just women protest nothing happens. Now, if we could only have the MEN capable of going the WHOLE nine yards of being the ones to be pregnant, and all THAT entails, we might see a shift? That is like asking a chimp to be a swan. Don’t see it happening.

  2. Mitzy on February 20, 2014 at 3:52 pm

    I get very disturbed when visiting sites like Shrinkmen. The hate for women, (not understanding of their differences) is running rampant. Virtually all benefits for women have been ignored, removed or shirked (men just stop being men) in any sense other than as a gender title.

    This makes this old woman very sad indeed. It is how they protest what equalizers generations of lobbying finally obtained for women and their PRIMARY roles in society. I am all for CHOICE, but the hate and terms like Golden Uterus, have only recently been so “accepted” by all that to see someone actually go public with such bad mouthing, and talk of putting “spendthrift” (really the MAIN family consumer, ie women who buy for EVERYONE) women are to blame for men’s total irresponsible behavior towards women and children and just how important those ROLES are, Virtually ANY woman can and are now called such women hating terms as “gold diggers, golden womb num nuts etc.

    This is CLEARLY not a step forward in, what I am sure, were the expectations of women who fought for equality for the differences in the sexes. Equal pay for equal work, adequate and regulated child care, or more workplace childcare. Non discriminating against women and their natural differences as the carriers of the future. Benefits that insured women and children were cared for by society laws in marriages that did break up. Rampant divorices, as “no one” is ever at fault. Children being told to “love” Daddy’s that replaced them too, with “newer” or more accomadating models. This is NOT progress, when several people in a family ALL have different last names. What have we allowed to happen?
    I see far far too many of these men, totally hating and misunderstanding what women are “about” still. I NEVER saw this hate early in my experiences as a woman. I never saw such lazy, irresponsible and accepted behavior in men, either.

    This is how we gain “equality”? Now we have women, also BASHING the female experience, and many who are finding out, (as you only would if in the trenches) how they have been sold a bill of goods by todays “standard” expectations and work load handed to women, and frankly how generations of men, have gotten meaner and lazier in protest, and how THEY and their likes, with the support of many women too young to know (who think they are gonna be the exceptions to this hate) who think a JOB is going to offer them protection from the persecution toward our sex and it reproducing capabilities.

    I see tale after tale of men who “dumped” women of a certain age or the minute they do reproduce and how they KNOW THEY CAN STILL THREATEN, the economic viability of the “dumped” and still go forth and multiply, just to repeat that with ANOTHER woman who “better mind him” and how ALL women are put in a “no win” and are so busy bickering at each other, work vs don’t work, that NO one is really paying attention to the harmful effects such “think” has on ALL women and children.

    If I didn’t know better I would think we have regressed to the 1800’s were women and children are property, not to be cherished, and supported, well, at least until something less “problematic” comes along.

    I do not wish to offend but frankly am very saddened, that with women (and children) far out numbering men, we haven’t accomplished much but go backwards. Once again, women have been “put on notice” and frankly none of them seem too happy with the forced lifestyles, these attitudes are bringing about.

    Please, we need to wake up here, ladies. Anyone can become a mom, and be threatened, anyone can work for peanuts and no benefits to accomadate children, and anyone can be labled negatively. I see generations of young women totally FEARFUL to even THINK about reproducing, getting married, and otherwise in a “no win” of “no choice” and hurt so badly are the children. Our society needs a WAKE up call, just how damaging this “woman” hate is to all women and children. We KNOW it is there, and yet we in fight with each other, and dance around the reasons WHY it is there.

  3. Mitzy on February 20, 2014 at 1:58 pm

    Wow, some real food for thought here. Unfortunately, women and CHILDREN both get the shaft in our society. Women that buy into the you can work too, are the women whose children I cover for when, 1. they are locked out and mom didn’t think to hide a key or give one to the trusted neighbor 2. they are locked out AND hungry and no one will be home for hours so I have ANOTHER kid, not mine, to care for and mom is furious with the KID, not taking any responsibility herself and I have to witness this poor kid take the blame for what the ADULT should have been responsible for 3. Their kids ie the parents, are NEVER taking their turn on the list of carpooling to school, school activities, parties, or are frequently sending their kids without what they need for the day. 4. my family members who are teachers, cannot “conference” with these parents (at work not taking calls) or get them to pick up their SICK kids, which lead to number 5. These “working moms” who can’t miss work or lose their jobs are sending sick kids to school or leaving the home alone all day. (and they get bored and push their way into MY home, under the guise of playing with MY kids and are SICK and hungry and feeling like NO one cares, and frankly can easily eat me out of house and home in the process 6. these working mom’s cause the cost of everything to got sky high and now THREE people working isn’t adequate for anyone to live on 7. they often “flirt” with our husbands and frequently start affairs at the workplace…and we, SAHM’s, look kinda shabby, while trying to live within the means of one income, so we can RESPONSIBLY raise our children. 8. Every day you read about how competent day care worker “oops” forget a poor kid and his brains are fried on the day care bus in 100 degree plus heat. Most day cares and day care workers have NO training or uniform certification. 9. your working woman “voice” has guarenteed generations of women before you who CHOOSE to stay at home and thereby making an investment in HOME, and husbands career will get legally screwed out of their alimony (which is division of shared earnings) and I expect child support payments to soon follow. 10, and most importantly, contributed to an entire nation of “lazy men” who expect to be taken care of like teenagers (who take NO responsibility to shop, clean, maintain or take care of business but play video games all day) by these working women.
    That being said, the best option seems to be NOT getting married, not having children, and never giving up your job for anyone for any reason..
    It is the only way no one “gets hurt” or overworked.
    What women should be doing for each other is not “mommy wars” but defending the procreating aspects of our sex, and fighting for compensation for those that see the rationale of if your are going to procreate you should be present and accounted for in your own childs/childrens lives. Not convincing women they are men. Women don’t have wives, to pick up the slack. So we should be fighting not only for CHOICE, but support for our choices and some “benefits” for doing this all important SUPPORT job, and recognizing that sometimes working actually COSTS us and society more than we make. .
    I know many working women that did NOT benefit in divorice because they worked, but rather they LOST pensions, homes and children too. Working is no guarentee of smooth sailing. Just ask the men. Planning well for a better outcome for all women, just might. We have widened the gap of the sexes not shrunk it. I know many a “working woman” and that didn’t stop their hubby from leaving and giving them and their kids the shaft. The inequities will ALWAYS exist, including the fact that men don’t give BIRTH, and are NOT and you can’t make them, the responsibile primary caretakers of those children.

    . As long as that fact exists there will always be “penalities’ to women. We need to to embrace and accomadate this difference, and make our children (the future) important not expendable to the “money wars”. So much needs to be done but women, rather than seeking equality (which would require men to get pregnant to KNOW the experience and how “nature” truly does “handicap” our earning potential ) and get back some of the equalizing benefits, whether divoriced or not. Whether chosing to work or not.

    Many workplaces STILL see hiring a women as a liability, not an asset. It is nature more that experience that handicaps our potential. Now we have successfully removed the equalizers to that, and have only proven we are willing to have NO equal pay or compensation for our sex and its differences. Sold a bill of goods, hon. And MEN love it, and now feel empowered to just sit back and take advantage? This is NOT progress.

    Yes, you may fare ok, but will your kids in a society where they don’t REALLY matter as much as a dollar? How do they FEEL, knowing these men don’t want to support them, or see them and have left mom (very stressed mom I will add) to do it all. This is good for society HOW? And worse, what example is this for these boy children to see. Maybe that is why men are so lazy and non protective….they don’t KNOW DADS roles anymore, and no one is teaching them. Ya think?
    Money, should not be what widens the divide of the sexes, but the differences accounted for. All working women have done is REMOVE what benefits women did get, for their “nurturing roles”, which every woman may encounter, should she reproduce. We are getting closer, but so far off the mark. The only way to dissolve a man’s world, and male privledge is to equal woman’s privledge as women, not psudo men. Working for equal pay is still a long way away. We need to address those inequities, and restore the intact family by abolishing no fault divorice. What is good for families is good for society.

    • Kim on July 17, 2015 at 9:20 am

      You make incredibly good points. You definitely validate the need for SAHM moms. Society has taken a real hit due to moms leaving the homes and having children basically raise themselves when mom’s away at work.
      Parents definitely need to find flexible work schedules that allow for much needed parental involvement. My advice is to find those flexible employment options and work your butt of to gain the skills, education and experience to get there.

      It’s not an excuse to neglect your kids needs’ just because you have to work. There are many employment opportunities that parents should endeavor to get qualified for.

  4. BippityBoppity on January 2, 2014 at 11:53 pm

    Please advise… I presently HATE my job… and technically, we don’t need the income to support our current lifestyle. I am happily married with one 4 y.o son. I would like nothing more than to tell my employer FU and stay at home and have another baby. But somehow, the rational part of my says that is foolish and unwise. I am looking for a job with a more flexible schedule, but all that interview me seem to think I’m overqualified or pay sh*t. What to do? I am salaried plus bonus, but our bonuses are paid out 4+ months after the quarter ends, if at all… and there are a myriad of other things at work. It is a really unhealthy environment, ESPECIALLY for a mother, trying to look out for the best interests of her son, and her family. And I grew up in a poor/financially-disadvantaged family. I never want that for my son. So which is worse? Sacrificing time/sanity, or income/resume cred? I am literally a week away from telling everyone where they can go.. not in a good way. I need some sane advice. Family, or career? I’d like to attain another position (again, work/life balance), but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of opportunities in my field.

    After our son was born, I took about 12 months off to stay at home, then took a part-time job as a fitness instructor, where I set my own hours, took our son to work… quite happy and satisfied. However, I’m not sure that is financially responsible or relevant, given the economy and our two mortgages now (we bought pre-crash in another state, moved, and have managed to meet payments, keep on keepin’ on despite the loss). Our current mortgage is considerably less than the cost of rent, so yes, the second purchase was not made on a whim. I would just love my “old life” back… is this realistic? I have plenty of other skills (BS Marketing, significant events planning experience, administrative/clerical/AP), but…?

  5. Emma on December 4, 2013 at 7:54 am

    Jacqueline – I agree – kids can and should pay for at least part if not all of their college educations. And clearly many families — whether by choice or circumstance – live on one income. Zero arguments there.

    But, uh, did you read my post? My point is that while this scenario is fine for the moment, it gives zero consideration for the very real likelihood that a second income will be needed — whether the 50% chance you will divorce, or your husband becomes disabled, unemployed, or dies. It is a giant financial risk to abandon your career — not necessarily for the moment but the future.

    • Jenny on January 9, 2014 at 1:29 pm

      Yeah? And maybe you’ll need a THIRD income someday. Shit happens. Try to be prepared, of course, but to say that it’s silly to choose to spend time with your children over making more money – just wow.

    • Faith on October 8, 2014 at 2:00 pm

      There’s risk almost everything about life except for recieving the love and forgivness of Christ. No one is totally in control.

  6. Jaqueline on November 20, 2013 at 9:22 pm

    Perhaps for someone who values their career and/or job more than they value spending as much time as possible with their children this post rings true. However for someone who would be seriously unhappy having to choose work over their children, this whole post sounds like a load of materialistic hogwash. I could care less about how much money I have in the bank, or where I am on the workforce ladder, or where I’ll be 20 years from now. I’m very, very happy staying home with both of my kids and being able to give them a stress-free mommy who has time to colour, play with blocks and scrape her knee trying out her son’s skateboard. (He is much better at it than I’ll ever be!)
    You are free to write what you wish, of course, but please remember that what’s good for one person is not necessarily good for another.
    I absolutely cannot afford to miss out on as much time with my kids as possible, and I’m happier than some who have 10x the amount of money I do.

    • Faith on October 8, 2014 at 2:38 pm

      I really admire you. That’s what I hate about working 40 hours a week. I work at a Veterans hospital as an LPN and it is very rewarding , but my toddlers and 8 year old also need me. I feel I have missed out on a lot. Now I’m pregnant with my fourth and I’m just too tired after work to do crafts and games with them. I can barely even read a book without falling asleep. It takes a lot of effort just to cook dinner every day and I have been failing at that too. I’ve found that I can’t do it all. Work gets 40 or more hours of my time and my home and kids suffer for it. We were broke a lot on my dad’s teachers salary but I always have great memories of my mom taking us to do things and baking, reading, and doing crafts with us. She also homeschooled us full time. I wish I could do those things with my kids.

    • Kim on July 16, 2015 at 8:06 pm

      Duly noted. You can either spend time with them now or have to spend time with them later. It’s no fun having to baby your adult child because of the lack of time you gave to them when they were younger. I think more people need to realize the monetary benefit of parent’s ensuring a healthy and nurturing environment with lots of parental involvement. One would only need to look at the statistics to see how leaving kids to raise themselves negatively affects society. This is often why single parent homes get so much flack. It’s because children are often left to raise themselves when the only parent they have is busy working.

      However, what I take from this article and what parents should try to focus on is creating a balance, whether it be through flexible and part-time work or through home-based endeavors, in order to provide and benefit the family as a whole.

  7. sisters from another mister on November 18, 2013 at 8:36 pm

    All.over.your.blog.tonight…
    Things definitely arrive on your screen at the right time.
    Currently mid divorce, gave up a very lucrative career to follow my soulmate around the world. We lived all over, raising two kids, traveling and homeschooling and then he hits 50 and is apparently not happy …
    A year later, two houses, plus him in a Miami beachfront condo, one child not speaking to him, divorce proceedings just starting after 20 years together … and reinventing a website that I used for fun because it was not good for our taxes for me to ‘earn’ … regrouping. Massively.
    sigh. One lives and learns.
    LOVE your blog.

    • Emma on November 19, 2013 at 8:46 am

      Thanks for chiming in — you have a lot going on and it sounds like taking steps to reinvent yourself. You will find happiness again. Hang in, reach out if I can help.

  8. Emma on August 31, 2013 at 7:13 pm

    Hi Jasmine,

    I’m really glad you commented – thank you. I am sorry you are having such a hard time – I have known people who are hearing impaired and I seen how hard it is for them to develop careers. I am so sorry for your struggles.

    To the point of this post, it sounds like you may need to take even more seriously the importance of financial solvency and independence. Your career choices are limited, but they are not non-existent. Would you like to email me directly so we can figure out a way for you to pursue your dream and/or a career?

    emma@emma-johnson.

    Happy to help,

    Emma

  9. Jasmine on August 29, 2013 at 6:13 pm

    Do you try to walk in a stay at home mothers shoes and look at their points of view on why they stay home instead of working. All I get is negative judgement for being a stay at home mom before people even know the reasons behind my choice to be a stay at home mom. I was born completely deaf in my right ear and minor loss in my left ear but I can still hear out of my left ear. I struggled with school due to having a learning disability. Life has been a struggle can’t find the help I need because people are so ignorant they think people who are deaf and hard of hearing don’t want things out of life either. For the passed eight years because I have to live with my left ear being able to hear one minute to being completely deaf the next. Try being told that by the time you turn thirty you may face being completely deaf, that’s three years from now and having a toddler who won’t understand when mommy can’t hear she’s not ignoring you she just can’t hear you. I had dreams to have a successful career, go into fashion designing, one day own my own clothing line. I have lost jobs because my ear has gone out and the companies unwilling to help accommodate me.

  10. Lana on July 31, 2013 at 7:40 am

    Thank you Emma, I’ll keep you updated. Your blog helps me think that everything’s going to be ok :)

    • Emma on July 31, 2013 at 11:26 am

      It will! Feel free to reach out here or privately if you need anything. You’re strong and awesome, and writing is amazingly cathartic!

  11. Emma on July 30, 2013 at 1:59 pm

    Lana – thanks for sharing your sorry. Sadly, your tale illustrates so many women’s situations. Money and earning potential = power = choices. Keep us posted on your journey!

  12. Lana on July 30, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    Hi Emma,

    I wasn’t a SAHM but I did give up a great career to support my husband’s dream. A couple of years ago I discovered that he was unfaithful. I wish I could have left that night but he made it very clear that he would make the business we had grown together worthless if I left. I feel so foolish for not having my own income stream to be able to support myself and my children. I’m making secret career plans but I’ll struggle to find work at the grade I left a few years ago.

  13. Mathilde on June 16, 2013 at 9:34 pm

    Great article– the grist, for me and really all who want to safeguard the future for their kiddos, is that you just don’t know what the future will bring. I woke up on my 36th birthday needing change. A few years previous, I stepped out of the workforce with my first child but continued to consult, which was great until the jobs dried up. For months I looked for work to no avail. My husband lost his job, found a job, lost the job. It was an unsteady time. All the while, 2 beautiful beautiful boys. However, I could not stagnate anymore and without work prospects sensed I should switch careers. I applied to grad school, got in took classes immediately (despite not knowing how/ if we could really afford it) which led to work within 2 months–quid pro quo. Within my first week of work, I find out I’m pregnant -WOW did I cry and was surprised!. Dear sweet husband on rebound from previous work crisis with sales swagger returned– encourages me to quit job to be home again. He encourages me to just be happy, work because I want to not because I need to. I choose work, I will not feel helpless like before. We adjust, he steps up in every possible way at home (long commute for me, still taking class), things are hard but beautiful. He dies 2 weeks before our third child was born, another beautiful boy. What can I say? I am so grateful for the nudge I got that led me back to work, I cannot imagine where the boys and I would be. Parents basement, likely. Sorry for the length on a comment, but my point is: in life there are no guarantees…build in the parachute, have options.

    • Emma on June 17, 2013 at 12:36 pm

      Mathilde – I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing, your story (sadly) illustrates why it is so important to have some measure of financial independence — not just in times of crisis, but for the ups and downs of life, not to mention for everyone’s sense of fulfillment and mental health.

      • Mathilde on June 18, 2013 at 12:41 pm

        Yep — though I think the fulfillment piece is personal, but survival is not. SAHM’s need to think about life’s curve balls and be prepared. In my town I call what happened to us the “scared straight” plan. Everyone is on it now. Life insurance, people. Living will. Have the hard conversations. Have a plan. Don’t wait.

  14. Emma on May 10, 2013 at 2:22 pm

    Good for you, Kate! Best wishes in your new endeavor !

  15. kate on May 10, 2013 at 2:16 pm

    I have been a SAHM on and off over a period of 16 yrs, doing various different jobs from time to time,i have three gorgeous children but have been through turmoil as one of my daughters has very severe allergies and thyroid problems to name but a few! I have been married 17 yrs
    I know that if my daughter was well i would of managed to hold down a permanent job. However i loved constantly being there for each of my children but i have now been offered a job in an office and yes it will be tough for me to adapt from being a SAHM for so long but i have been given this opportunity so am hoping i will be able to do it well, We have lived of one wage for so long now that hopefully we will reap the rewards!

  16. Caitlin on March 6, 2013 at 7:31 pm

    This is a great article. As a twenty-something who is going through a divorce after just a year and a half of marriage (no kids), who never thought it would happen to her, I thank you for putting this out there. This has nothing to do with trust or love or anything. Do not ever put yourself completely at the mercy of another person. We have no control over other people, and no matter how well you think you know someone, people change. People do crazy things. My soon to be ex-husband has severe depression and decided after we were married that he didn’t want children, even though I did and made that clear before we were married. After a year and a half of taking care of him and enduring him quitting his job without telling me (luckily he had savings and so this didn’t affect me financially), he decided that he didn’t ever want children and we both need to move on. Which is fine–I am heartbroken, but I have a good job and health insurance and I can take care of myself. I’m grateful that he figured this out before I facing this children. Although I didn’t give myself over to him completely or stay home, I’m glad I’m learning this now before I did. Depend on yourself and take care of yourself.

    • Emma on March 14, 2013 at 8:52 pm

      Thanks Caitlin – it is so true that you never know what life will throw at you. Your story and mine are unusual, yet it is so common for people to find they require two incomes, whether because of divorce, illness, accidents, unemployment, random financial blows, etc. It is simply silly to think you can afford for two people (plus kids) to survive on one income.

      • AMANDA on December 4, 2013 at 7:14 am

        I find this whole thread to be so depressing. Having a college savings fund is not a requirement to have children, nor are any of the other laundry list of items you mention. My children can earn their way through college, as that is how they will learn to appreciate what they have. Our society has raised an army of children who have everything handed to them because their parents have worked hard to provide these comfy lives and thus….they appreciate nothing. I have ten brother/sister-in laws that are all SAHM/one-income families with multiple children and they do not use a lick of government assistance. Life happens, stuff comes up. But really, stuff comes up while you’re working, too!! DUH! So your comment that it is “simply silly to think you can afford two people (plus kids) to survive on one income” is not only grossly inaccurate, but simply silly.

        I’ll bet your future self would thank you if you prioritized your life.

        On that note, I am 25 years old…have my BS in business management and entrepreneurship, my MBA in finance, I’ve worked 3 years for a Fortune 500 company, own my own company (www.thevakshack.com), published a 200 page memoir on losing my mom to cancer when I was ten years old (The Woman of the House), got married, bought a nice suburby house, and I have a six month old daughter. I am also going to sit down and write a book about how to become a stay at home mom and live on one income.

        I do make side money here and there with my business and other fun, entrepreneurial things I like to do (like write). But at the end of the day I am with my daughter full-time and my 26 year old husband brings in the steady paycheck. And…guess what…wait for it…we’re happy!

        • Kristin on May 30, 2014 at 6:11 pm

          Thank you! Your response is so perfect, Amanda! I’m not a SAHM yet but we are planning on it as soon as possible. We will be homeschooling so being a SAHM would very beneficial. I have an MA in Counseling Psychology, btw. I know many SAHM’s and many who aspire to be SAHMs. It’s a valid choice. I even know some SAH Dad’s as well. I think it is incredible for the kids if a family can do it financially. PS I would totally read your book.

        • shadow on September 15, 2016 at 12:32 pm

          Well, fantastic for you, but that is definitely not everyone’s’ outcome. Realize the fact you got lucky, feel blessed for that, and take your time to help those who are struggling.

          • Emma on September 15, 2016 at 12:33 pm

            I am … by giving free advice to readers like you!

  17. Erica on March 5, 2013 at 8:26 am

    I am a SAHM (out of the workforce for 4 years now) who has just finalized my divorce. I’ll be going back to start a one year grad business program this summer. Because when I do go back, I’m not just going to settle for whatever job I can get based on previous experience that is now 4 years old. I’m going to go back and kick ass!

    I agree with you now about being a SAHM, hindsight being 20/20 and all that. Though actually I will never regret staying with my kids and getting to spend this time with them, I should have at least more seriously looked at part time work. More so to maintain my individuality and maybe for the mental challenge than for the money.

    The problem is I didn’t make the decision based on finances or future career prospects. And I definitely didn’t think I needed a plan B. After all, I was going to be one of the 50% that was together forever of course! I made it to attempt to make the quality of life for the family as a whole better. And I’m not talking about just spending time with the kids, I’m talking about all the nitty gritty chores, errands, cooking, etc. Which, yes, I could have started outsourcing some of if I worked, you’re right. But I think that when you have kids someones career (usually the woman) takes at least a bit of a backseat for a while, even if you do both work. And actually, I’d already sacrificed my career when I agreed to move to this smallish town with my husband and that was before kids. I thought that for the family, for the relationship, compromises should be made on both sides and that I would find other things (volunteering, or other types of fulfilling work that may not pay much) to fulfill me besides a “career”. Unfortunately, it turned out I was the only one making sacrifices and he couldn’t even keep his basic marriage vows. So, here I am.

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  19. eemusings on November 5, 2012 at 9:39 pm

    This would be my main concern, too. It’s just so risky. Who knows what could happen to your partner, your skills… and what about the lost earning potential/retirement savings?

    • Emma on November 5, 2012 at 9:43 pm

      eemusings: So true. Women (and men) often ignore the long-term ramifications of staying home with kids. The decision need to be more than just whether you can pay the bills those years.

  20. Gina Beckwith on October 15, 2012 at 9:56 am

    Yup. I was out for 10 years. I’ve had dozens of interviews but no one wants to hire me. I wish I’d read this ten year ago.

  21. Annie Logue on October 15, 2012 at 9:51 am

    I would add, as someone happily married: if both spouses are working, it is a bad idea to get used to living on both spouses’ incomes. Use one income to qualify for the mortgage, not both. Use the fact of two incomes to contribute to retirement and college savings. Here’s why: things happen. My husband was unemployed for a while, leaving me the primary support for our family. I was able to make the mortgage because we had a mortgage that only needed one income. We had to cut back on some luxuries, and everyone got new coats for Christmas instead of more frivolous presents, but we did fine.

    • Emma on October 15, 2012 at 10:06 am

      Thanks Annie – your scenario is a classic example of what happens to families all the time — and yours is a dual-income professional urban family. Shit happens. Get real and plan ahead!

  22. Janine on October 15, 2012 at 9:35 am

    I was talking with an economist this weekend who told me for every year a woman delays having children her lifetime earnings go up 10%.

    Spousal support laws need to be changed to take into account the terrible financial hit the primary caregiver in a couple takes over a lifetime. Unfortunately they’ve moved in the opposite direction, putting short deadlines on any support received.

    • Celeste on December 12, 2012 at 2:07 am

      Yes it is true that womens earnings go up the longer they wait. Have you conciser the costs of IUIs? Or IVF? They are STAGGERING! A lot of women who “did things right” are cleaned out after fertility treaments (95% are not covered by any insurance)

      • Jenny on January 9, 2014 at 1:23 pm

        This is a very important point. Fertility decreases quickly after your late 20’s – this is biological fact. Infertility treatments are very expensive, and their effectiveness decreases sharply with age. If you choose to put off having children in order to make more money, you may well end up with no children at all. But at least you’ll have your money.

        • Emma on January 10, 2014 at 10:57 am

          Very well said. Time is ticking, ladies!

  23. Ana on October 15, 2012 at 9:14 am

    Very true. I would not have made the transition to being a stay at home mom if I didn’t have a plan to transition my career home as well. Even with my husband having a decent job it would have been too hard to make ends meet, and I wouldn’t put 4 young sons in that position. And, it’s just not me to NOT write or work professionally, I would have been very unhappy. I think I need to remember more to add the “working” in my new title when speaking with other Moms. I know that many resent that I have quit my job or wonder “how can they afford it?” But, it took many years of planning.

  24. Suzanne on October 15, 2012 at 4:24 am

    Hi Emma, I love this advice and since my own marriage breakup have tried to remind family and friends to plan for the worst case as I’m proof that it can happen to you. I was able to leave my marriage, provide for my child and for the most part be financially unscathed by my marriage breakup because I returned to my full time job after my son was born. Had I not done this – I dread to think where I would be right now.

    BTW, I enjoy your site and I investigated a laundry service this afternoon to do away with the grind of weekly washing. Thanks for the good advice.

    • Emma on October 15, 2012 at 6:47 am

      My favorite part of your comment? About the laundry! Let us know how it turns out

  25. Toni South on October 14, 2012 at 10:53 pm

    Amen, awesome advice… I am all for changing your life structure to do what you can to spend time with your kid(s) which I’ve done in my own life but you can never, ever lose site of your own career path. Life as a single mom becomes an amazingly creative business but it certainly is easier when you have your own career already. The tough thing with your advice is that the people who need to read it aren’t reading this site yet:). You can never, ever depend on someone else for your financial and emotional support. A backup plan is always key!

    • Emma on October 15, 2012 at 6:50 am

      What didn’t make it into this post is the story of a woman I interviewed recently: she was married for 15 years to a very wealthy banker — all the while she abandoned her career all together. She thought she was made in the shade, even after the divorce as she got such a hefty settlement. Then her husband lost his job and continued to struggle — he tried opening a hot dog franchise, but it failed. She is making due with a little child support and is building a craft franchise, but her lifestyle is TOTALLY different and she is really struggling.

    • sarahbee on November 13, 2012 at 7:28 pm

      Ugh, the middle-class assumption that all 5.1 million of those women left fulfilling careers with growth potential to have children. What about those of us who had jobs, not careers? What about all of us who, if we returned to our pre-baby jobs would not even be able to cover the childcare costs to replace ourselves? Not all of us were lawyers or marketing executives or academics in our past lives. I think this advice only makes sense for a minority of women

      • Emma on November 13, 2012 at 8:08 pm

        Sarah, I disagree. Even jobs — opposed to careers — get stagnated by time off. You miss out on raises, promotions and new skills every time you step out of the workforce, no matter if it is a white- or blue-collar job.

        Emma

        • Cidalia Martins on March 22, 2014 at 9:06 am

          That really depends on the job. There are plenty of jobs (retail, cleaning, etc.), that offer no promotions and no raises (and no new skills). This includes my job. For some, a different line of work may be in order, if it’s doable.

      • Celeste on December 12, 2012 at 2:04 am

        I agree! Yes anytime off can put you behind. The reality is that with the costs of childcare staying at home is a better option for our family while I am still going to school.

      • Amy Rose on December 19, 2013 at 11:59 pm

        Why didn’t you get an education and cultivate a career prior to having a a baby? So you could use that you “only had a low-wage job” and no options? Get in the game girl, this is REAL life!

        • Emma on December 20, 2013 at 12:45 pm

          YEP!!!

        • Jamie on January 14, 2014 at 1:53 pm

          That is the most bigoted, mis-guided comment I have ever heard. There are various circumstances and situations that lead people to make differing life choices from yours. you cannot put out a blanket statement and expect it to fit the mold for everyone’s life. I agree that you should plan for your future and family planning plays a huge part in that. But to accuse someone they way you did is counter productive and in fact the very reason so many women feel that they have no options. Try being a little more open minded.

          • SNiclole on February 2, 2014 at 8:39 am

            Thank you Jamie.I thought the same thing. Well, my thoughts were filled with a bit of profanity but still, same sentiment. :-)

          • roger on May 19, 2015 at 5:36 am

            Jamie, its one thing to be open minded. Its another thing to be soft headed. And some choices are dumb. Period. Like driving on a freeway with your eyes shut. Maybe we should be open minded enough to respect that choice too. Doesn’t change that someone doing that could kill themself and other people doing it.

          • shadow on June 16, 2016 at 12:38 pm

            “you cannot put out a blanket statement and expect it to fit the mold for everyone’s life.”

            Yes, actually, she can. The blanket statement here being, “If YOU are not in control of your finances, YOU are screwing yourself over.” There’s no income limit to that sentiment. It is what it is. YOU need to make sure that you can take care of yourself (and any dependents) at all times, regardless of what job/career you take.

            • Emma on June 17, 2016 at 8:54 am

              Yep!



        • Kim on July 16, 2015 at 7:27 pm

          What a great point. When I got married, I dropped out of college thinking I didn’t need it anymore. Shortly before my husband decided to leave, I enrolled back in school and finished my degree with a baby on the way. Now, I’m on to my master’s.

          My advice as someone who has been there and got the T-shirt, find a flexible career path and gain the skills to train for it. Time goes by so quickly and gaining those skills is a LOT easier when kids are younger. There are plenty of flexible career paths that provide high wage, part -time employment (accounting, teaching, social work, speech therapy, nursing).

          • Emma on July 20, 2015 at 2:19 pm

            Agree 100%, thanks for chiming in.

        • Beth on October 24, 2016 at 3:47 pm

          Wow. Why didn’t you read that before you posted it? That was very insulting. I didn’t go to college for a four year degree because I COULDN’T AFFORD IT. And I’m glad I didn’t take out 60k in loans to “afford it” that way either. Everyone makes their own choices in life and have to live with them. No need to belittle her because she’s not living your version of “real” life.

      • Eva kiss on February 22, 2014 at 9:05 am

        I can not afford to be a sahm but I couldn’t afford to go back to work either. I tried to build a career, but I left my country at age 20 and moved abroad. I did not speak English and I used all my money to pay for my fare. I looked after kids as an au-pair for two years and studied for a year after that. I left home as a qualified bookkeeper / administrator, but foreign qualifications don’t matter much. I couldn’t afford uni, but I am smart, quick to learn on the job and hard worker. I landed a job as a sales assistant and was there for two years as I was under the impression that I could become manager. That was used to keep me there, so I left and worked in admin after that. In this job I was always asking for pay rise (got it every time) and more responsibilities, but it became obvious to me that they did not want me to get any more ahead (my manager got told off when I was doing some of her work) and even with all the pay rise I had, I was still the lowest earner there. Me and hubby were both saving up as much as we could, but still couldn’t dream of getting on the property ladder. After I had my lo, I decided not to return to work, as with my hours I was away from home 8-19, and we couldn’t afford child care. Three years on I am looking to return to work part-time. Most of our saving is gone, but I will never regret staying home with my child. I did not give birth to her just to hand her over to someone else. Parenting is the most important, under-appreciated, difficult and rewarding jobs anyone could ever do. I have payed for everything from my own pocket since I was 14 and life was never easy for me, but I refuse to give up. Sadly we can’t afford to give lo a sibling, that is the only regret for me. Oh and we have no family to fall back on on either side, and no one to help to look after lo.

        • Emma on February 23, 2014 at 6:41 pm

          Eva – thanks for sharing your story, so many moms can relate. You worked hard, earned your independence, and now feel tied down with few choices because of the cost of child care. I urge you to expand your job search however. I just wrote this story for one of my clients, Retail Me Not, with some great work-at-home PROFESSIONAL jobs that are perfect for women. Consider all the part-time, telecommute, and entrepreneurial jobs you may be interested in. A lot has changed in the work world in the past few years- – much of it to the benefit of working moms: http://www.retailmenot.com/blog/how-to-work-from-home.html

      • Hannah on November 2, 2014 at 1:38 pm

        I agree, and though I understand to a point what Emma is trying to say below, I don’t think she honestly understands.

    • Felena Hanson on March 10, 2014 at 1:44 pm

      This is such a valuable article! I am the owner of three coworking spaces (franchising 200 in 5 years) and have a lot of members that are also mothers! The rise of the independent workforce is reshaping the way we view/do work and the possibilities of part-time, consulting, freelance work are vast and growing. Our research shows that currently 30% of U.S. knowledge-based workers are independent (freelancers, consultants, entrepreneurs). This figure is projected to reach 60% by 2020 (MBO Partners – State of Independence Report), I encourage all of our members (especially moms) to keep working, build their experience, and take their career into their own hands through freelancing. Love this blog! Great job Emma!

      • Emma on March 10, 2014 at 10:43 pm

        Felena – we are of mind meld! Great on you for the work you’re doing!

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