If you feel called to life as a full-time mom, you're not alone. The United States has 5 million stay-at-home moms, and you'll find them in about 23 percent of married-couple families with a child under 15 [source: Census.gov]. Many women even leave high-paying jobs to devote their time to their children. So, it's possible to make a family work on a single income, even if you're used to two incomes. But it isn't easy, and you'll have to be prepared for the consequences and sacrifices.
Once they're able to make the necessary sacrifices, many mothers say they're happier for it. In addition to the rewards of being available to the children, it's liberating and even empowering to meet the challenges of living modestly. You'll learn to let go of your attachments to certain products, activities and luxuries and trade them in for simpler pleasures. You'll also be able to teach your children about budgeting and instill them with financial discipline from a young age.
Overall, the key for successfully implementing each of these budget tips is a positive attitude and an open mind. Keep reading for our tips on how to balance both your budget and your bundle(s) of joy.
Unfortunately, you can't avoid this bit of legwork when it comes to budgeting. Simply deciding to save money by resisting a candy bar here and there probably won't cut it. Before you can decide what you can and can't afford, you'll need to sit down and figure out where all of your money goes. This involves gathering receipts, bills, bank and credit card statements, and so on. Determine how much you spend on food (both eating out and in), entertainment, Internet access, utilities, gasoline and anything else.
Once you know where your money goes in detail, you can make decisions about where you can and can't cut spending. Be creative: What do you spend money on that you can make at home? Do you need cable TV? And you may think there's nothing you can do about reducing your rent or mortgage payments. But don't assume anything -- you may be able to move to a cheaper place or refinance your mortgage.
If you're quitting a job, consider all the costs you save by not working, too. You won't need designer clothing, regular dry cleaning or monthly appointments at the hair salon.
Speaking of making things yourself, read about what you can cook up on your own on the next page.
As long as you're a frugal grocery shopper and don't opt for expensive ingredients, making meals at home will usually be cheaper than buying prepared meals -- and much cheaper than eating out at restaurants. This is one area where working a job can put you at a disadvantage. Many people have little time and energy to cook after a hard day at the office. As a stay-at-home mom, you can take advantage of your time at home to prepare meals that are cheaper and even healthier. Also, be familiar with everything in your pantry before going to the store. Don't let things expire, and plan meals around food items you already have.
Experts say that before you buy anything, ask yourself if you can make it at home. But it can be difficult to determine sometimes if something is cheaper to buy at the store or make yourself. According to author Jennifer Reese, who crunched the numbers, she concluded that making bagels and yogurt was cheaper, but not cream cheese [source: Reese]. She has also said that making vanilla extract is one of the best things to do at home to save money.
Buying potted herbs can also be a real money-saver for at-home meals, too; just remember to keep them up. Do you have a yard or community garden area? Consider growing a vegetable garden.
Coupons and sales are great tools for saving money, but only if you're able to use them wisely. It's tempting to use a coupon that seems like a great deal, even if it's for an extravagance you wouldn't otherwise buy. But using a coupon or sale as an excuse to splurge isn't the way to reduce expenses.
Instead, restrict yourself to items that you would buy anyway, or to items that will substitute for other things you would buy. For example, even if you don't usually buy steak, but you find it on sale for cheaper than the chicken you usually get, this is probably a smart purchase, and a welcome way to add variety to home meals.
So that you're more likely to use them, set aside a few minutes every week to gather and organize new coupons as well as throw out old ones. Keep them in a special place or container, and arrange them by category or expiration date. This is also a good time to plan your meals for the week, because you'll be able to choose recipes depending on the deals you find.
Does one of your children have a birthday coming up? Read the next page to find out how to plan for special occasions.
Holidays and birthdays are often our weak spots. We have a tendency to splurge on a spouse or on our children when it comes to these special occasions. How do we keep these events special while staying on budget? Well, first of all, it helps to prepare for them and incorporate them into the budget ahead of time. Perhaps you think it's worth it to skimp on some expense that month in order to afford something special for the occasion.
Parties don't need to be extravagant. For birthdays, keep the party simple and small. Instead of inviting dozens of friends over, invite two or three close friends. Make the food and party games at home. Kids like having a say: Offer them a choice between having a few friends over or going out to an amusement park for their birthday.
If you're able to plan them in advance, you can take advantage of sales throughout the year for occasions that are still months away. Buy blank cards in bulk so you have them when you need them for any occasion [source: Walsh].
If you've worked out your budget and squeezed as much out as you can, and you still can't find a way to live on just one income, there are other alternatives. You might be able to bring in a supplemental income without having to sacrifice all of the rewards of being a stay-at-home mom.
For instance, you might be able to find part-time work that works around your kids' schedules. Especially after your children are old enough to be in school, a part-time job with hours that fall within the school day could be ideal. Another advantage to part-time work is that it's a great way to transition back into the full-time workforce if you need to later on down the line. Otherwise, a long gap in your employment history could make it difficult to get hired again.
Another option is to work from home. If you can't find a job that will allow you to telework, consider freelance work or starting your own business. However, balancing work at home with a family poses its own challenges. In addition to self-discipline, you'll have to make rules and draw boundaries so your kids don't distract you from your work unnecessarily.
For lots more information on budgeting tips, see the links on the next page.
HowStuffWorks talks to financial experts to find out the best ways to save money every day. And none of their advice includes giving up Starbucks.
- 10 Budget Basics Every Parent Should Know
- 10 Green Living Ideas for Frugal Families
- 10 Tips for Staying on Budget
- 10 Tops for a Debt Free Life
- Can you penny pinch and still have fun? Frugal Living Quiz
- How Personal Budgets Work
- How to Know When to Spend and When to Save
- Why does having too many options make it harder to choose?
- Census.gov. "Profile America Facts for Features: Mother's Day: May 8, 2011." U.S. Census Bureau. (Nov. 1, 2011) http://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/facts_for_features_special_editions/cb11-ff07.html
- Drenth, Tere. "The Everything Budgeting Book." F+W Media, Inc. 2003. (Oct. 25, 2011) http://books.google.com/books?id=d3XbCIsvYFoC
- McCoy, Jonni. "Miserly Moms." MiserlyMoms.com. (Nov. 1, 2011) http://www.miserlymoms.com/default.htm
- Pate, Chrissy, Kristin McKee. "Be CentsAble: How to Cut Your Household Budget in Half." Penguin. 2010. (Oct. 25, 2011) http://books.google.com/books?id=XYFG9DHayS4C
- Reese, Jennifer. "Scratch That." Slate.com. April 22, 2009. (Nov. 1, 2011) http://www.slate.com/articles/life/food/2009/04/scratch_that.single.html
- Simon and Schuster AUTHORity. "Can Homemade Meals Really Save you Money?" Shine. Yahoo.com. Oct. 20, 2011. (Nov. 1, 2011) http://shine.yahoo.com/channel/food/can-homemade-meals-really-save-you-money-2590643
- Walsh, Peter. "How to Organize Just About Everything." Simon and Schuster. 2004. (Nov. 1, 2011) http://books.google.com/books?id=koyuAXXE0cgC