Should I keep working when salary just covers childcare?

When do the cents make sense: stay at home or work?

Original Poster:

"I am a teacher and a mom to a 12 month old. I was lucky with a generous maternity leave and the ability to structure a 4 day a week schedule for the last year. With the help of grandma and a sitter I was able to make it work and justify my salary (65k+benefits).  Grandma is moving and the sitter is going back to school. We are going to have to enroll in full time childcare early next year. The costs seem to be around 22-25k for daycare or around 650 a week (30k) for a full time nanny.  After taxes come out of my salary and we pay for childcare, this will put me making maybe 15k per year. Is this "worth it"? Have any of you experienced this? I would really love to hear other people's thoughts on what you did or what the thought process was. At what point is it "better for you/your family" to not work, or to work yet spend most of the money on childcare? My husband works, and makes a decent salary we could live off of, if we budgeted well. Thanks in advance for any insight."


In this section:

Pro-work: The case for workingPro-work: The case for working

Pro- SAHM: The case for being a stay at home mom (SAHM)

In between: Things to consider

Suggested reading




What’s your endgame?

It's a tough call. I think it heavily depends on what your endgame is. Are you happy working? Do you want to grow in your career and earn more? Do you want to take off time and spend it with your child/ren, then intend to return to the workforce?
Obviously you netting income is a positive - $15K per year seems like it could offset a lot of expenditures. We had a nanny for six years (I earn more, but we also paid her more). I think there were so many times when I resented going to work when some of my close female friends were home with their children, but I am also very ambitious and my career has advanced a lot over the last 6 years - to think about re-entering the workforce after nearly a decade of not working (for me) would probably cause a lot of anxiety for me, and therefore spill over to my family.
I think to answer this, you need to ask yourself some questions about what makes the most sense for your family and your career. My kids are now in school, and I miss the heck out of the convenience of having a nanny (and I miss our actual nanny, who is now a member of our family), but I think I made the right choice. Do I love it when my youngest says, loudly, in front of other parents at drop off, "Will I see you tonight, Mommy?" And I defensively shout about meetings just so people don't think I am just a party animal, but do I love where I am with my career and finances? Yes. It's a total compromise.
I wish you all the best while you make this difficult decision. That said, I am also a firm believer that whatever you decide, it will be right for you and your family. Cheers!


Will not working cost you more in the long-term?:

Should you keep working when your salary just covers childcare? Of course you should!  In today's marketplace, a hiatus of more than a few months from employment is devastating. You need to keep your long-term economic viability sustainable; plus, working is a source of professional satisfaction and financial independence. It will be so difficult to return to the workplace if you drop out now and wait until your child is in KG--you will be yesterday's bread.  Also, no one can predict the future -- what if your spouse (heaven forbid) is disabled or suddenly drops dead? You need to be able to stand on your own two feet.  You don't want to be scrambling for a job in a time of personal crisis after having been unemployed for years. Also, your long-term Social Security benefits will take a hit if you drop out of the workforce.


Weigh in your partner’s salary as well. Child rearing is a shared cost:

I submit that you aren't doing the math correctly if you are just calculating the tradeoff between YOUR salary and childcare. You should be adding your husband's salary and your salary together, and then seeing if your budget covers the cost of childcare. Child rearing is a shared economic cost, not just your problem.It isn't easy to work FT when your children are young. That's just the reality. But it gets easier by the time your children are 5 or 6, and by then you will be so grateful that you stuck it out in the workforce through the challenging early years.


Working offers a lot more than finances:

"My situation is slightly different though may add something to your thought process. I work part time and we have a nanny to cover childcare. We have two kids (ages 6 and 2.5) and we've been doing this since daughter #1 was 3 months. Financially, it's almost a wash. Yet it's been one of the best decisions our family has made. It's allowed me to keep my foot in the door of the work world. My husband was laid off when I was pregnant with our first child. I initially held on to working part time just in case we needed one of us to be working or for me to go back full time. He fortunately found another job and it's been secure, but after that, I think we'll always be slightly worried.
Anyway, the other thing it affords me is a chance to still be "me". To get out and use my skills and remind myself that I can do other things than be the mom/wife/homemaker. I wouldn't give that role up for anything; I love playing that role for my family... and working (especially on a part time basis) is a great way to be reminded of how grateful I am that I get to do both. I realize that as a teacher you'll have more hours and more work... I think that's what you may want to think about. Is the balance of having that in your life alongside being a parent important to you. ln my small subset of friends, those who work wish they were working less and those who stay home wish they had something else they were doing. I think part of the trouble is it's hard to know what you want until you've tried it.
I bet you'll get a lot of responses here... and hopefully it will allow you to think the process through. Maybe also remember nothing is ever a perfect fit. But if finances are not the most important thing (ie: you can make the choice), I would focus on making the decision based on how you think it would benefit you and your family most in terms of making you all feel happy, fulfilled, etc. For some that's working, for others, that's staying home. Both are great choices... if they're a good fit for you and your family."


If you love your job and worked hard to get to where you are, those are important considerations:


"I am in basically the same situation as you and started having the same thoughts when my daughter was about 12 months. In the end, I decided to say at work and I'm glad I did. These were my reasons, but just because they worked for me I know that they wouldn't necessarily work for anyone else:
-I love my job. I'm lucky to be able to work on issues I'm passionate about, and I wanted to show my daughter that she should not be afraid to go out and find a career or a life purpose that makes her feel the same way.
-I worked hard to get where I am professionally and it was important to me that that part of me be acknowledged, which starts with acknowledging it myself.
-I knew I couldn't not work for ever, and I was afraid that when she got older and needed me less at home, it would be harder to re-enter the workforce.
-And last but not least: my daughter is thriving in day care. She is clearly so happy and engaged and stimulated there by her friends, the activities they do, etc.  that is en experience that i know I couldn't have given her at home. So even if 100% or more of my after-tax salary went to daycare, it would be worth it in our minds.
Again, those are my reasons and I recognize that they wouldn't necessarily have the same resonance for everyone. Nor is being a working mom easy. There are times when i desperately wish I could spend more time with my kid, and every time I'm so tired I can only make scrambled eggs  for dinner (not frequent, but more often than I like) I feel a horrible sense of guilt. But in the overall scheme, this is the best I can do for my kid and my family right now, so I'm ok with it overall."


Ask for a raise. Remember that childcare costs eventually go down:

"When I went back after my first child, (and now my second) I had the same salary as you leftover after all was said and done. I basically said to myself that I am working that year to keep my job. I ended up asking for a raise after I was back for a year and probably will do the same again in another year. My job has amazing benefits and they were willing to work with me on a different schedule. I also love the people I work with and enjoy being in the adult world for part of the day so it was worth it to me to go back. The good news is the childcare costs will eventually go down! I guess it depends if you WANT to be home and are willing to live on a stricter budget. If my hubby were making seven figures I might be answering differently, but for now we make pretty similar salaries so I'll keep working for now, but I do dream of the day I will be home for pickup after elementary school."


What are the logistics like with insurance?

“Does your husband's health insurance cover your family? Do you want to stay home to raise your child? If you teach in a public school your job will be held for you for 5 years.”


Be creative with your daycare:

"I will add your daycare costs could be lower. Infants are most expensive and goes down after that.  Also if your teacher hours allow you might be able to do school days rather than full days, which would be considerably cheaper."




For the case of being a SAHM:

“Personally, I would rather be home with my son - I took his first two years off, we were lucky I could. Those first years are so important... But if you are the kind of person who needs to work outside to feel fulfilled, it may not be the best thing for your child. Tough choices. Good luck!”


Being a stay at home parent makes lives simpler and fuller:

"My husband and I are both teachers and faced this problem with both our kids. With our first daughter he stayed home until she was 18 months, and then she went to daycare. For my second daughter, I stayed home for her first year and he is currently home with her, although our older daughter is in pre-school full-time. Like you, our concerns were feeling like our salaries barely covered childcare costs.
The budget has been really tight but we have had no regrets about doing things this way. It makes the logistics of our lives so much easier to have one parent home--no stress about getting sitters or taking time off when kids are sick, scheduling Doctor visits, getting dinner made, and the amount of hours we would have had to pay a nanny felt prohibitive. We have also both really enjoyed having this time with the kids, getting to know the families in the neighborhood better, and being involved in the older one's school. I don't know how your school would handle you taking a leave--we are both DOE teachers, so our jobs are held until our youngest child is school-age, but not sure if you are. But I know a lot of parents who have made this choice recently and they are all happy they did! Good luck with the decision."


Those early years are precious:

“Wow, this is similar to the dilemma I faced.... You will likely get a range of responses.... For me, I was able to choose to stay with my son and I would not have traded those moments with him for anything. I did work some and had him in childcare for a few months and it was so stressful I stopped. My son got sick a lot in day care and kept getting ear infections... he was going to get tubes put in but then we pulled him out of daycare and the ear infections stopped. And he was a much happier baby staying with me.
If you have the option not to work but some folks don't....
I also think it comes down to what is right for you as well, maybe you prefer to work, and would be a better mom if you did. I preferred to be with my son full time while he was young and as he got settled into school, work part time and still be available to him afterschool. I know that teachers really work overtime.”


Spending time your child is invaluable:

“I wanted to chime in because the answers you've gotten so far are surprisingly almost all in favor of continuing to work. Of course the real and only arbiter of this issue is you: you should do what you and your partner feel is right. Think about it and listen to your gut. Stopping work to stay with your child is a valid and important choice. I did it, even though it wasn't what I was expecting to do. And I'm so lucky I had that option. So many people don't, but it sounds like you do. I find spending time with my child invaluable. Once she was born I had a strong feeling that this was my job now, and I neither wanted to nor could choose the other job. Yes, sometimes it's hard to be with a child all day, but not so hard as some others are describing. It can have real, selfish benefits for the parent, aside from the obvious benefits to the child. Compared with my eight-hours-a-day desk job (a good job in which I was intellectually stimulated), it's fun and spontaneous. My health is better because I'm moving and walking and outside more. I nap when she naps, so I weirdly get more sleep than when I was working full-time. And generally I feel more on top of things than I did during the brief time when I went back to work (e.g., not frazzled and trying to cram in time for laundry, child bathing, meals, grocery shopping, doctor visits, sleep, etc.). Sometimes on a weekday I'm at a museum or in the park or on the floor reading or playing with Legos, and I think how much better it is than where I'd otherwise be (at a desk, working, after a commute that was just wasted time stolen from both work and family). I do work part-time from home. I'd also say don't let your decision be based on abstract fears that you'll never be able to get back into your career. That just isn't reality. People leave jobs for all sorts of reasons, and this is a good one. You will find another job someday when/if you want one... it may not be exactly where or what you were before, but you'll find something new and make a new path; many mothers do and find themselves in a different or happier career place afterward. Careers evolve with and over the course of people's lives. Don't let it own you. You own it and decide what to do and when to stop. Life is short. Do what's right for you now.”


More perspective from a SAHM:

“Quite a few people have said this, but it is very important that you consider how the decision will affect your family's overall balance and happiness. I originally thought that I would stay home after my twins were born, but then two months into my leave, I realized that I needed to go back. My salary also barely covered our nanny costs, but it really made for a better home environment for everyone. I worked for a great company and really liked my job and coworkers, which helped.
I did make the decision when they turned two to stay home with them. We knew we were most likely not having anymore children, and the time was going too quickly. So, I've been home with them for over a year now, and I am happy that I made that decision. It did take me more than six months to finally do it.
Staying home is tough work, and it has been harder on me than balancing a career and my children. I get barely any "alone" time, which as an introvert is very wearing on me. I miss my job and my coworkers. It can be isolating. I am never "off" (I never thought I would miss that 45 minute subway ride!). I find it harder to schedule things--when I worked, it was easier for me to get to a Dr, run errands, etc. it was also much easier to be sick myself, as I could stay home & the kids were still looked after. That being said, I in no way regret my decision--I have been able to experience so many great moments and memories with my children that I would have missed out on. But, my decision was made based on whether or not this was the path I wanted to make, not the money aspect. I also want to say that you can set a good example for your children by making the choice that's right for you--teaching your children that you are living the life you want to live is the most important thing.  I understand modeling that women can work, but I also feel that reasoning further alienated women who decide to stay home and adds one more quiver on the working parent versus stay at home parent divide, which shouldn't exist.
An additional $15k to your bottom line is nothing to shrug at, either, if that is really what you're looking at. That's $15k more than you will have if you stay home.
My advice is to remove money from the decision and look at how this would change your life overall. Others have pointed out a lot of what you need to consider, including reentering the workforce, benefits you may not be considering, etc. Perhaps you may want to talk to other SAHM's about how their days go and whether that is what you want. And if you are willing to give up what you are getting in your career. I couldn't tell by your email if you are back at work or taking an extended leave as allowed by the DOE, but I think being a SAHM from the birth of the child versus going back and then staying home is also a different decision, at least in my experience.
Good luck. There really is no wrong decision-only what's better for you and your family.


There is a wonderful quality of life to being a SAHM:

“Before kids I was a Children's Librarian at the Public Library.  My salary might barely have covered the cost of childcare, but I also knew that I wanted to say home with my kids. From the moment my first son was born, I could not imagine going back to work and leaving him.  It tore at my heartstrings just to think about it.  I would not have been a productive member of the workforce.   It is a very personal decision and maybe one that you won't be able to make for sure until after your child is born.  I know people who thought they would stay home, but found out it wasn't for them.  I also know people who went back to work and discovered they'd rather be home with the kids. 
There are times that I feel guilty that I "get" to stay home while my husband has to go to work, but then I try to remind myself and him how much easier our life is since I am home.  We don't have to figure out who will stay home with a sick child, make doctor's appointments, make dinner, do laundry, make sure homework gets done, stay at home to wait for the cable guy, do the grocery shopping, clean the house . . .  I can't imagine trying to get all that done if we both worked. I feel like our time with the kids would be confined to, "Eat your dinner, do you your homework, get ready for bed!"  Since I am home, I can usually get my son to finish his homework before dinner so that he has time to play with his dad before bed.  On the days he has afterschool activities, it's just dinner, homework, bed.  I would hate every day to be like that.
I feel so fortunate that I am able to spend this time with my kids and be there for them at pick up from school and even go on the occasional field trip.  I feel like I will have the rest of my life to work outside the home, but my kids will only be young once, and I don't want to miss it. 
Best of luck with your decision. I know it's a tough one.”




Questions to ask yourself, and with your partner, before being a SAHM:

“That’s a very hard decision. I think that you should ask yourself a few questions.
1. Will you be happy being a SAHM? It’s not for everyone, I tried, and I can tell you, its a hard gig. Even though at the time my cleaning busy was just really getting started, I would have rather go out and clean a toilet than stay home trying to please a baby all day. Also, I looked forward to waking up and taking a shower, being around other adults, etc. My nanny was getting 75% of my pay at the time.
2. Do you mind the gap in your resume?
3. Do you plan on having more kids, and if yes, soon? If yes, you will end up being home for about 2-4 years when you think about it.
4. Sit down with your husband and talk it through”


More questions to ask:

“You are so not alone. I make less than you and I struggle with this too, and for me the factors are:
1) can we get GOOD care? I'm not paying 24k a year for a sitter I don't love or a daycare that makes me nervous. If we could not get baby GOOD care ( not amazing mind you, but minimum good) then I would want to seriously consider staying home.
2) am I at a place in my career/resume where taking 2 or 3 years out would seriously hurt my earning potential or ability to be rehired at my current level? And  how would that affect our long term goals? I try to be realistic about how stressful unwanted unemployment is, and how hard it is to be the single breadwinner (firsthand experience - it sucked)
3) what would be harder - tightening the belt for good care now or tightening the belt later if it's a struggle to find work? Remember, daycare costs go down with age, (though nannies get raises). Once your child is in school, assuming you send him to public school, costs subside a bit.
That's where we're at. We had an awesome sitter the first year, and now we're transitioning to daycare because it's far more affordable and we feel baby is ready for more socialization and educational stimulation. If it goes well I will continue to work.  But if baby really struggles, I think full time parenting will be back on the table.
Whenever I get worked up about it all (usually Monday morning when baby is all snuggly and sweet) I remind myself what another PSP mom told me - everything keeps changing, and you just have to decide what to do now, not forever. And then I decide to go to work, for now.”


What do YOU want?

“You've already received lots of good advice. It really depends if for your own mental/physical/emotional well being you'd rather work a job or sahm.  That's a personal question, for us, it was work. There are longer term secondary considerations that have been mentioned like benefits, career advancement, pension/401k, etc.. Also some stability depending on spouse job.”


Best moms are doing what they want:

“My therapist once told me that the best moms are doing what they want. This means, if you want to work, you're a much better mom when you're home than if you were home full time. You can give your baby all of you when you get home. On the flip side, I never cared about my career and always wanted to be a stay at home mom. I love being with my kids all day. Most days I can even handle the whining and crying without even feeling frustrated. But, it's not for everyone and it is a much more difficult job than the office job I had in my previous life. I think you should take the money out of the mix and figure out what will make you the best mom - and the happiest!”


What does your gut say?

“This is such a personal choice! One question would be - if you quit for a few years- would you easily be able to go back to your job? We try to live as frugally as possible so both my husband and I can make work choices to allow us to be with our small kids at various points and I have been so happy this way. (we work project to project.) It goes so quickly and the first 3 years are so magical. I hope that I will be working full time when they are a little older- and if I knew I had a job waiting for me when I was ready, I'd be even more thrilled. But I have friends who would not be happy without a full time job and that wouldn't be the right choice for them. Try to envision yourself at home- what does your gut say? If you think you'd be happy at home, then maybe the15k isn't worth it? If you wouldn't be happy - then it is!!”


Reduce your workdload. How about work half time?

“Wishing to add one more pro-SAHM point of view. I work in education as well, 10-15h/week, mostly from home and during my 18mos old's nap or when my partner is back from work. When my baby was younger, I worked about 60% for a few months.
Here a few reasons why I have reduced my workload and will keep doing so (lucky me, my partner also earns enough for all of us!):
- investment into my baby's future: a lot of research has come out lately about the huge benefits of attachment parenting and being there as a parent in the first few important years of life. There are great daycares and nannies out there, but no one will replace a parent. I never thought I would love a human being so unconditionally, have so much patience, so much interest and fun -- for and with a little being! I never came close to these feelings as a babysitter in the past or as a (very involved) teacher with any student now.
- investment into MY future: a lot has been said about keeping one's career opportunities open. This is about the next 25-35 years. What about the 25-35 years after that? I would love for my children and their families to be an important part of my life - now, in the years to come and especially after retirement. And I believe that nurturing my relationship with my son now, will pave the way for a positive relationship in the future.
- my interest in my son's development: as a teacher, what more rewarding learning experience will I get to witness than the rapid growth of my own child? Partaking in his emotional, psychological, intellectual and physical development is fascinating every day and gives me PLENTY of interesting "projects" to work on.
- experiencing motherhood: this is a unique and wonderful moment in my life I want to enjoy at its fullest. I have experienced being a student, a friend, a girlfriend, a partner, a teacher, a school director and many others. Now, I am experiencing being a mom and there are only few years in my life I can do so before my son goes to school. I see more and more men enjoying their role as fathers. At the same time, I sense in many women of my generation a disconnect with motherhood. Why? Being there for one's child in the important early years and giving in to motherhood does not compromise our equality in the couple, subject us to the financial mercy of our partner, keep us from being/feeling emancipated or destroy our professional potential. To the contrary, I feel that motherhood has made me stronger, allowed me to better know what I want and see new options for the future. Lastly, boredom, lack of stimulation or the feeling of staying home to "please the baby" never occurred to me once. Yes, there is a lot to take care of, but I am my own boss, which I value a lot, and I find myself more often in museums, in parks, at bookstores, cafes, socializing with other parents, listening to music, singing, dancing, reading, playing, etc. than I would if I had a full-time job. Being mostly a SAHM gives me all the freedom I could wish for, plus enough tasks on my to do list to keep myself very organized!
After all of this, my only advice: listen to your heart and base your decision on trust, not on fear. Thus, you will have no regrets, no matter what you decide and what happens next.”


Recommending reading:

"I recommend that you read Leslie Bennet's The Feminine Mistake. She makes a great case for continuing to work."