Let me get this straight right from the start. This is NOT a post about stay-at-home moms. Nor is it a post about any moral values or judgements. Our situation is that my wife is “at home” (more on what that means in a bit), but someone else’s situation could be different. Wife, Husband, Partner, Girlfriend, Boyfriend, Significant Other, and on and on. I will use the word wife because that is our setup, but feel free to substitute to fit your specific situation. Anyway, with that out of the way…
Every so often, my wife and I have a conversation about her getting a “real” job. (Her words, not mine) The conversation takes on a few different forms. Sometimes it is, (from my wife), “I should bring in more money to help with reaching our goals quicker.”, other times it is, (from me), “If we were a dual-income family, we could have less overall pressure on any one income and diversify our income streams.”(see post). Still at other times it is the both of us just wondering if it is “right” for us to be living a single-income lifestyle in this day and age without us being trust fund babies or one of us making seven figures a year. The conversations are rarely heated and usually pretty brief, but I thought it would be fun to walk everyone through our logic and how we always come back to the same answers.
A little background. My wife continued to work for about a year after our oldest child was born. Her mother lived with us and I had a good deal of flexibility in my location / hours at that point. Shortly after I took a more demanding position, we moved, and mother-in-law was not available as often so we switched to the single income model. It’s been quite a few years like this and we have tested the model in a few countries with a few different jobs / lifestyles. This is important to mention because even with dramatically different costs of living and lifestyle expectations, the model has worked for us. Those are two important points.
So how does it work? Much like you would expect. I have a 9-5 with a lot of flexibility and variation. This is the “steady paycheck”. My wife takes the kids to school, picks them up, cooks, and does a lot of cleaning during the day. This may sound antiquated, but all these things need to get done and someone has to do them. Shopping, cleaning, cooking, etc. are all things I really enjoy doing, but neither of us want to be doing those things during the precious hours that the whole family gets to spend together so my wife takes care of most of them during the day while I take care of another vital component to the equation. A little 1950’s ish? Maybe, but it works for us and here is why.
This one is huge and family specific. For all you DINKS out there (Double Income No Kids), good for you. There are other benefits for us described below, but I couldn’t not mention the childcare value.
“The average cost of center-based daycare in the United States is $11,666 per year ($972 a month), but prices range from $3,582 to $18,773 a year ($300 to $1,564 monthly), according to the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies.”
That is significant. And also keep in mind that this is for one child. Yes, the average drops for multiple children given sibling discounts and I would guess the overall need to find a cheaper solution, but that average only drops to $773 per month. So for two kids, you can easily be approaching $20k per year.
This is also only the direct cost. Add gas, travel time, gifts for the daycare providers, etc., and you can rack up even more. In addition, many people, us included, derive a significant amount of stress not being able to have a parent with our children. This is personal and subjective. That is why this is our story and meant only as an illustration. There is a real value to us in having a parent with our children most of the day. Even for the oldest, who is in grade school, morning prep, drop-off and pick-up, dinner prep, etc., these are all opportunities for us to bond with the kids. I am absent for a lot of that and is one of the main reasons I am seeking FI, but if I can’t be there, there is only one other person in the world I want around the kiddos.
After school programs cost, on average, $67 a week (link to PPT) according to the After School Alliance. So even if you have one in school, that is a couple grand a year if both of you have a 9-5 job. Another big point for us is the usefulness of after school time. We are demanding parents. Judge if you like, but we like to set the example that learning and self-discipline are as important as sharing and kindness and all of the other life skills you try (in vain) to teach young children. My wife spends an average on 2hrs a day with both our kids teaching foreign language, math, reading, or science. This is focused learning time with someone I consider to be quite qualified 🙂 While after school care may average $67 a week, a private math or Chinese tutor can be $30-$40 and hour and that may or may not require you to be present. Add in the logistical nightmare of getting your child from the school to the tutor and you can see how this becomes significant. At $35 and hour, 2hrs a day, 5 days a week, 48 weeks a year (assuming a few weeks for holidays), and this is $16,800. Those are full-time childcare numbers.
Minding your business
Ok, back to benefits without kids. If I haven’t lost all of the DINKS by now, there are additional benefits for us outside of the kids. As I have mentioned before, we have built a number of passive income streams that are relatively low maintenance. That said, they still require some tending to. In addition, it takes a good deal of time and research to find good business opportunities in the first place. As I mentioned before, I like to spend my evenings with the family playing chess or talking about the day, not necessarily brainstorming new ventures. Who does a lot of the legwork? The stay-at-home. I can’t tell you how often my wife has suggested great ideas that have netted us some really decent cash. Having someone full-time to be focusing on building your own business and thinking about financial independence is huge. Imagine what it would cost to hire a full-time manager for all your side gigs. Most general managers I know get paid a decent amount to manage the day-to-day and be on the lookout for new opportunities. My wife is worth her weight in gold when it comes to this. I honestly feel that this alone is reason for us to have a stay-at-home spouse.
Half way to FIRE
My wife joked the other day that she was already retired early. This was a bit of a jab after I had had a particularly long day at work and was obsessively ranting about our plans for FIRE. But this is a real thing. There are so many good posts about being mentally prepared for financial independence or early retirement. Early retirement, especially with a family, doesn’t mean lounging by the beach and mid-day margaritas. There is still a structure to the day and depending on your personality, you may or may not enjoy that. My wife has designed a lifestyle that she really enjoys and would be happy to spend the rest of her life living. She has been testing it for years and tweaking it to get the most out of the freedom of not having a 9-5. She also serves as an example for me when I am thinking about how to structure an early retirement. I look to her for how to stay productive, enjoy the little things, and still find meaning. My father used to say that nothing will kill you quicker than retirement and I can start to see why. If you have a stay-at-home something, they can start to experiment with not having a 9-5 and give some great advice on how to get the most out of it.
Job / Location Freedom
We have been able to earn more as a family because I have been able to be truly global in my employment searches. This has been key. I have been able to move up the “ladder” faster, by being willing to take opportunities anywhere in the world. The only way we could have managed that is by having the flexibility of only one working spouse. Not only has it allowed us to choose from a larger pool of opportunities, it has also allowed for the sheer logistic of it all. Moving across the globe with a family takes some coordination. Moving period can be a challenge. Many companies see relocation as a key aspect to new hire retention. With the structure we have, I can find and focus on a new position anywhere in the world and we can take a much more leisurely approach to the logistics of moving, finding schools, homes, cars, etc. If both of us had to handle new jobs and the move, I don’t think we would be able to be as flexible as we are. This flexibility has allowed me to take executive postings that many of my peer group would not have been interested in or able to take. This has helped build my experience and skill set. Without the support of my wife at home, I don’t think it would be possible.
This list could go on and on and on, but you get the point. The Bureau of Labor Statistics say that in the 4th quarter of 2017, the average US salary was $44,564. For us, childcare alone would be more than half of that. Add in the opportunity costs of not having the time to develop more side gigs, the cost of having to outsource the management of our current passive income, the lost income from not being able to be flexible in job location, and the peace of mind that comes from having one of us with the kids all day and it adds up to be a no brainer.
I love Mrs. Sloth more than anything and we are partners together in this crazy jungle. We love our lifestyle and wouldn’t have it any other way. Both of us keep grinding at what we do so that we can achieve our goals, together.