True Costs of Being a Stay-at-Home Mom or Dad

Stay-at-home parents feeding baby

There’s a lot to consider when deciding to be a stay-at-home parent. It’s important to weigh the costs and benefits.

Congratulations! You and your new baby have managed to survive – even thrive! – during your maternity or parental leave, despite months of sleep deprivation, social isolation and financial limitations. So much so, that you may be thinking about extending your leave, or quitting your job all together, to be a stay-at-home parent.

This is a pretty fortunate place to find yourself, even though it probably feels like a weighty decision. It’s hard to walk away from a career you’ve spent years building, and can be hard to make ends meet on only one income. It can also be just as hard to be away from your baby for 8–10 hours a day, after spending months-to-a-year bonding as their primary caregiver.

Becoming a stay-at-home mom or dad

Of course, not all of us have the luxury of this choice: we need to return to work to pay the bills, manage the cost of living in bigger, urban centres, because we’re single parents, or we’re going back to school. Not all of us want to be stay-at-home parents either, and returning to work with a trusted childcare provider on your side is a valid and valuable transition.

But in some cases, becoming a stay-at-home parent is a realistic option; one that can be incredibly fulfilling for both you and baby, and one that doesn’t have to break the budget. Well, not entirely anyway.

Costs stay-at-home parents should consider

So if you’ve crunched the numbers and it looks like you can make ends meet without going back to paid work, here are some of the true costs you need to consider when it comes to being a stay-at-home mom or dad.

Benefit and retirement savings

Leaving your full-time job and salary also means leaving behind the benefits. This includes your medical and dental coverage (hello braces!), but also your workplace retirement savings plan –things you want to make sure are lined up elsewhere before you leave your job.

Education savings

Your budget on one income will obviously be tighter all around, and making sure you continue to tuck money into a Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP) for your baby should remain a savings priority. Designating a portion of your monthly federal Canada Child Benefit can help you stay on track with your child’s education savings plan while you are on a stay-at-home budget.

Emergency funds

One of the first things to disappear when you’re down to one income is the financial ability to cover things like unexpected car or house repairs and other emergencies. Making sure you have enough money tucked away to pay your rent or mortgage for three months is a wise step to take before you make the switch to full-time days at home.

Current vs. future costs

Keep in mind that while the costs to raise kids can be relatively low when your children are babies and toddlers, it gets exponentially more expensive as they get older and begin after-school activities like sports and music lessons. Ditto for family vacations: once you have to start paying for your child to fly with you, the cost of getting away can be a roadblock on only one income. Your budget will have to reflect these changes as your family grows and develops.

Career and earning potential

It’s worth considering how much time you want – and can afford – to take away from your career if you know you want to return to work eventually. It can feel pretty intimidating to put your professional game face back on and compete in the job market after several years away, and your earning potential may suffer a bit from an extended leave from paid work. Be realistic about your career and future earnings goals, but also keep in mind that nobody can multi-task like a stay-at-home parent, so you’ll be gaining a whole new marketable suite of skills on your time away from the office. There are also ways to boost your resume as a stay-at-home mom or dad, so you’re ready when you decide to return to work.

Thankfully, just like parenting itself, there is no one-size-fits-all model for finding the perfect work/life balance for your family. I know plenty of moms and dads who have negotiated a return to work part-time, on shift work or job sharing, and split the childcare duties with their spouse, grandparents or a part-time nanny.

Others, like myself, have built a home-based business to make time for both the kids and a career, while many of my friends have returned successfully to the workforce full-time after taking as much as 10 years off to be stay-at-home parents.

So once you’ve figured out your own way to provide for your family and be at home with the kids, there’s just one more true cost to stay-at-home parenting you’ll want to consider: your sanity.

And that friends, is a whole other story.


Carmen Kinniburgh

Carmen Kinniburgh is a freelance writer and editor exploring topics and ideas about parenting and families, Canadian science and research, health and medicine, as well as travel and lifestyle. Born and raised in Alberta, Carmen has also lived in Southern Ontario and Manitoba, where she worked in professional communications for a university and a national health charity. Currently living in Thunder Bay, Ontario, she gets all her best ideas and insights for Parentwise from her own three delightfully precocious children.

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