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April 07, 2008


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I like FMF generally, but the posts about how great it is to have 1 spouse (usually the wife) stay home and how it is financially possible for everyone to have a stay-at-home spouse really turn me off.

Honestly, we've become a culture that moms are made to feel guilty for working. I have no intention of staying home ever, but I've often said "we can't afford for me to stay home" because it is the only acceptable answer to why I work full-time. God-forbid I actually enjoy my work and am a better mother for it.

And what's wrong with enjoying some of the finer things in life that a second income may provide? Just because you enjoy being frugal doesn't mean everyone does.

Should everyone be responsible with money? yes. Frugal? no.

A good start would be dropping cable. If her family is so busy, they must have no time for TV!


I don't recall anyone saying the wife has to stay at home. This particular woman said she would like too. Other than that, it really depends on individual situations,, benefits and the like. I cannot tell you how many post were on here from people that were spending 2 incomes then one loses that job. Now what happens?

To be a little less harsh there are infact circumstances where both parents working is a necessity. I know of one couple that they both spent a lot going to Harvard, and both had poor money management skills thus getting into big debt trouble. Both eventually changed their lives and regained money management skills....but by then they had a lot of debt. They had a baby unexpectedly and though she would like to stay home, its simply not possible at this time. Both make a lot of money...but it is needed to pay off the debts. They live very frugally.

Yes, I think there are situations in which it would be virtually impossible to have one of the parents stay home (or have a single person cut back to part time). I'm sure there are people who live within a mile of me who live on half my income reasonably well, but then they probably don't have one-tenth of my student loan debt, which is kind of non-negotiable. Without that debt, I could earn half my income and probably still be basically comfortable, but with it, well, it's effectively a mortgage payment every month without giving me a place to live. These kinds of debt situations are only going to get more common; I'm staggered at the debt kids these days are carrying out of college (and I'm just talking about student loan debt here), and now that everyone is expected to go to grad school...

The blog author of the "The Juggle" lives in a rarefied world of nannies and dogwalkers and husbands who have investment bankers as clients.

She could probably quit her job and figure out a way to live, but I didn't get the impression she really wanted to, not from the short post linked. It's just a mental exercise for her, or fodder for her next blog post.

Most of the people I know have such uncertain job futures that it is too scary to hinge a family's entire future on one job that could dissappear at any time.

Sorry, not feeling sorry for the people that have school loans up the wazoo and now they always complain about them. I had to pay for everything myself my whole life including college. Worked PT thru college, went to a state school (much cheaper), and left college after 4.5 years owing less than 6k, which I paid off in 3 months. People should think about how much schooling is and the average salary that field will pay and decide whether it is worth it... unless, you really love that line of work, which is fine, but then don't complain about not having any money!!!

One more thing, the fact of supply and demand... The more people that work (double what it was in the past since both spouses commonly work), more supply, means lower overall salaries. Maybe that's the underlying reason why everyone THINKS they can't make it off one salary...

Suze does have a good point though, job security. IF you lose one you still have the other!!!

I really enjoyed this post as you have some great insights into the author's situation. I too read the article as well but just brushed it off until I read your take on her situation. So many times we think we don't earn enough when we really need to just live below our means.

I know that I will be home with our children when we do have them but Im still at a loss for where my career will be once they are school age. I have several irons in the fire and hopefully one of them will allow me to continue working in some capacity when we do have children. My husband makes pretty good money so we are working to reduce our liabilities now soo that we can be comfortable later.

Good post - I am with you about the fact that so many people HAVE TO WORK because of their ridiculous expenses that they have. I am finding that by cutting many things out, you can survive on a much lower income. This provides the perfect opportunity to follow your dreams and do something you love rather than being a slave to a job.

I just want to comment on the education debt that Sarah and Jesse brought up. For those who are already in that situation, well, yes, I suppose that's one case where both parents would have to work. No argument there.

But for those who are at an earlier stage of their lives, there's a lesson to take from this. To take on that much debt is to make the choice to work--possibly for decades--after school to pay it back no matter what else might come up in your life that would otherwise be more important to you. Now, that's not to say don't get an education, or even to say don't go into debt to get it if that's what you have to do. But do choose your major wisely and think twice about picking that fancy private school. This is particularly true for people whose inclinations lead them to fields that are not reliably well compensated, like the arts or politics to name just a couple.

Sometimes it seems to me that people have lost their minds when it comes to education costs, in much the same way as people who drop 20 grand and up on their weddings.

@ Matt, I totally agree. I wont even list the amount that we owe for grad school, not to mention I am considering going back for another one...

It's not always about excessive debt or spending too much. It's about having a safety net. I'm 33 and at a point where I could quit my high paying corporate job and do something different. I haven't because of benefits aka the "Golden Handcuffs".

That is the 300 pound Gorilla no one talks about.

Thanks for that FMF. I'm very happy that my wife & I realized very early on that we wanted her to stay home. We aren't in a pretty debt situation (because of stupid spending decisions, not lack of income) but because we started when we had basically nothing anyway, we know we can make it even without her working. Sure, if she worked we'd be out of debt much sooner but we'd also be miserable.

I really do feel for those that are stuck in the position of having 2 incomes when they don't want to, even those that have "nannies and dog walkers" because they don't realize that they are enslaved and that they CAN get out of it if that's what they really want (with the exceptions you noted in your post). We have 6 kids and we're doing it!

You know, I enjoy FMF as well, but it turns me off as well when everyone jumps on the "one parent can stay at home" bandwagon. We live in a VERY modest house, have no student debt, one car, no cable, Internet or other luxuries, and no children. We also both have well-paying jobs in keeping with our relatively high education levels. However, it would not be possible even now for one of us to stay home or work part-time. Add on to that the cost of raising kids (not just daycare, but clothes, classes, college funds), and there's no way one of us could stay home. Yes, we live in an expensive part of the country (DC), but if we moved we'd have much lower-paying jobs. I don't mind working, but if I did, I can imagine being very grumpy at all the people telling me that one of us could just stay home.

I too wanted to comment on the schooling debt. My husband is currently in law school. We have taken on debt in order to pay for that. I am the only one working right now and we are learning how to live comfortably on what we have. We figured out that if we continue to live on just my salary for 1, possibly 2, more years after he gets a job that we can put most or all of his salary towards paying down his debt and be out from under it quickly. So this is an example of how we are going to live on one salary and use the entire other salary to get rid of debt (this is the only debt other than a mortgage that we have). Mind you this is on my entry level accounting salary so it is not a huge number. This will allow us to be flexible with both our careers in the future.


I live in Arlington so I know how expensive housing is around here. In fact, just for fun and if you feel comfortable doing so, throw out a number so that readers from other parts of the country know how much a "VERY modest" house costs in DC. I always get a kick out of explaining that to my in-laws.

Anyway, back to my point. Even with very high housing costs, without illiquid debt (by that I mean debt you can't get out of by just selling back what you used the debt to buy) it's always possible to live off the income from one spouse. What if one of you, God forbid, got in a car accident and couldn't work for 6 months? Assuming you don't have enough insurance to cover lost income plus long term medical care, which expenses would become negotiable then?

I'm not saying I think you should stay home. With no kids it wouldn't even begin to make sense. But I do hope you'll give your expenses a second look.


One comment, I guarantee in the long run a child would much rather have his mother/father at home with him/her throughout his childhood than have college paid for him/her.... if that's the tradeoff.

My wife and I have always worked full time. We have two teenage kids. We make about the same income and our fringe benefit packages combine to pay all our health insurance costs, and at the time, all our day care costs.

If one of us had chosen to stay home for say, 15 years until our youngest was out of elementary school, we would have about 250k in our retirement portfolio instead of 500k, zero in our college fund instead of 80k, and the person who stayed home all that time would have re-entered the work force at maybe 30k/year instead of the current 50k. In addition, our kids wouldn't have attended music school for 10 years, or been involved in the miriad sports clubs and summer camps they love. They certainly seem well adjusted to me.

Whether or not we live extravagantly is subjective, and nobody's business anyway. But for the record, we have a $600/month house payment and no other debt.

I love it when people preach that all taxes are bad and the big bad government has too much authority over us, then in the next breath pass judgement on how others choose to live their lives, as if there is only one way that okay.

I laugh when reading these comments. "...then in the next breath pass judgement on how others choose to live their lives." No one's passing any judgment, unless you're asking for it, as the author of "The Juggle" did.

You make a choice. You live a lifestyle pursuant to that choice. And all's good. The problem is when you start complaining about it, about not having enough money, about losing your house you got an ARM for and now can't afford the payments, etc.

Regarding whether or not the wife works, I personally am of the persuasion that the wife should not work. I think the Bible makes clear in several places that it is the wife's responsibility to stay at home and care for the kids. However, I also interpret that as a "should" and not as a "must".

Anyway, that's my interpretation, and that's how I choose to live my life. You're welcome to live your life how you please. Just don't complain to me about the consequences of the choices you make.

And one more thing, to "rwh", life isn't just about the money. You mention your retirement portfolio and your college fund. That's all fine and dandy, and that's the result of the choice you made. But there are other ramifications. For many people, the quality of life with one parent staying at home is just so much better, so much less stressful and more relaxing, than having both parents work. No one's passing judgment on you. Just know that there's more to life than money.

The Bible was written by men right? Hmmm...

I'd think twice before telling my wife she "should" stay home and care for the kids...while I hunt and gather for food.


You nailed it. My wife has been home since we started having kids, 8 years ago, and life is soooo much easier for all of us. We could buy a bigger house and pile up more money for retirement ... but why.

We have also added homeschooling to the mix, which gives our kids an even better education and more time with mom and dad. I wouldn't have it any other way. But, everyone is free to live their live.

My brother's wife works and they are always complaining about not having enough money and too many bills. I try to tell him about my low stress lifestyle, but he will not have any part of it. So, to work they go.

Actually, Matt, I came out of my fancy impractical college education with relatively little debt, all of it federal. It's my "practical" professional education that put me deep in the hole. People who preach on this subject based on their memories of what it cost them to go to state college twenty or thirty years ago are seriously, seriously out of touch with reality. My kid brother, who worked very hard in his state school, graduated (about a decade after me) with tens of thousands of dollars of debt. Tuitions everywhere have skyrocketed at rates vastly outstripping inflation, and, yes, expensive graduate school educations are prerequisites for very many of our higher-paying professions. If you have kids, you'll be running into this issue soon enough.

beastlike, I don't think you quite get how it works. It is not generally possible to train for the specialized professions without taking on such a load of debt. Now, people in my position--our salary services our debt comfortably. We correctly judged that our degree would allow us to meet our expenses. Frankly, I probably made more last year than 90% of the commenters here (though I live in an extremely high-COL area); I am accelerating my loan payments considerably with most of the extra income. This was a rational decision as such things are judged. But it does mean that people like me can't suddenly cut our incomes in half, not for the long term. (And it also means that many young doctors, lawyers, finance people who might be contributing to society are instead stuck in private-sector jobs.)


For the record, I came out of state school 6 years ago, not 20 or 30. But I majored in something practical as an undergrad, so I was able to begin a good career immediately upon graduation.

Of course the training to become a doctor or a lawyer is a worthwhile investment, but that hardly amounts to "everyone" being expected to go to grad school. My roommate entered college dead-set on studying physics to become a physicist. A couple years later, as his debt mounted and he realized how much post-graduate education he would need for that career, he decided that electrical engineering was close enough. It's that kind of flexibility I'm advocating.

Part of the reason tuitions have gotten so out of control is that it got so easy for people to borrow money for higher education. There's no reason a college education has to cost so much. Colleges just demand what the market will bear. When a politician talks about creating some new program to make college more affordable, usually all that will be accomplished is to make academics' jobs even cushier than they already are.

Jumping down now to your last statement: if you have the idea that working in the public sector necessarily equates with contributing to society, while the private sector doesn't, clearly you've never worked for the taxpayers (whether directly for a government agency or through a contractor). Well, I do, and the time I spend writing comments on this blog is your tax dollars at work. Of course there are counterexamples on both sides, but generally I think people in the private sector contribute to society much more consistently.

Rick: I never said life is all about the money. However, I consistently read on this board certain folks think it's all about personal responsibility. I think we're being responsible, both financially and as parents.

I consider this a finance blog. I'm not interested in what people think the bible tells them regarding whether mom (or dad) should quit their job and stay home with the kids.

One way to get "unstuck" is to reverse your "have to" statement: now, I *have* to stay home because [fill in the blank, i.e. my child was diagnosed with a rare form of a disease that requires my constant attention.] How would you make it work if you absolutely had to? Life is full of choices. If you decided one parent would stay home, what could you cut to make things cash flow? Most prisons in life are made of assumptions like those of "Mr. Golden Hancuffs" above - "I can't leave my job because the benefits are too good." Just ask yourself, "what if?" or "if I had to, how could I?" [Hat tip to 4HWW.] Best wishes in challenging life's basic assumptions!

Matt, without getting into details, believe me, virtually any job I could take would contribute more to the general welfare than what I do now. And without making the argument that everything the government does is good and helpful, I expect you would agree that the world would be better off with fewer cosmetic surgeons and more doctors able to do primary care in rural communities; fewer M&A lawyers and more lawyers helping disabled people get their Social Security benefits; fewer "financial engineers" cooking up exotic derivatives for investment banks and more people out there teaching math or helping small businesses get financed. Heavy student loan debt shunts many of our most talented and well-educated young people into one tiny corner of the private sector, and it's tremendously wasteful.

(Actually, if your friend had been any good, he would not have had to pay anything for his post-graduate physics education (and if he really needed money upon getting that Ph.D., there are some VERY LUCRATIVE opportunities in the private sector). Academic grad school is actually one of the exceptions, one of the few grad schools where they can't expect much from you because you expect so little in salary upon graduation. But the number of prestigious-in-the-eyes-of-society jobs that require expensive postgrad degrees is quite high these days, and--by the way--an engineer who stays an engineer, no M.B.A., will be stuck in the midranks forever. People can't go on about the importance of increasing your income and then attack students for taking on heavy student loan debt. Not if they understand how the upper reaches of the economy actually work.)


You expect too little of me if you think I'll agree to all those examples. M&A lawyers perform an important role in the economy, facilitating changes in the structure of corporations that lead to less duplication of effort and greater efficiency. These kinds of deals mitigate the fallout when a large business would otherwise have to close down altogether. And I certainly wouldn't rather have those lawyers helping more people get on the dole.

Those financial engineers cooking up exotic derivatives are innovating ways to transfer risk from people or businesses who don't want it to people who do. Many business operations come with inherent risk, and if ways can be found to diffuse it, that eventually results in lower prices and more goods and services offered to consumers. What seems exotic today could one day be taken for granted as part of the financial infrastructure.

Of course the most lucrative, prestigious jobs require lots of expensive education. If there weren't high barriers to entry, they wouldn't remain lucrative or prestigious very long. But whenever people invest that much in their human capital using leverage, they assume a lot of risk. What if after all that effort and expense, they realize they hate their career? Or even if they like their career well enough, they decide something else they could be doing with their lives has become much more important to them? They can't just liquidate their education, pay off their loans and walk away. For women who might want to have children some day, the risk is even greater, particularly in fields with a high rate of obsolescence of knowledge.

I'm not trying to attack students who took on heavy debt to get their educations. That would be pointless. They already made their choice. I just want people who haven't chosen their path yet to be aware of the possible ramifications.

We are in a situation right now where my husband's pay for the year does not even cover our three kids daycare expenses. The expenses are about $2,500 per year more than he makes. He is in academic graduate school and gets free tuition, with the exception that he must pay approx. $800 a semester for an "activity fee" and pay for all his books. In addition, he has to pay for parking, etc., for the school. This means all together his "job" does not cover his expenses related to the job, including daycare, by $7,000 or so a year. However, he is not taking out new student loans which is good. We are just using his entire salary to pay daycare, and some of mine to pay for the rest of daycare, the additional education expenses, and everything else. Clearly, the best solution according to some of the thinking in these comments would be for him to get a real job which pays more or to quit working all together and stay home with the kids, both of which would save us these expenses and probably make life less stressul and hard. However, if he got another job, on top of the full time work he does trying to get his degree, the children and I would never see him. If he just quit school and worked full time or stayed home he would be unhappy because that is not what he wants to do in life. Therefore, these options don't fit in with our life goals at this time although they are financially prudent. We have made a conscious choise to sacrifice now so that in the future he can do what he wants. Instead of telling people they should do things a certain way or not, the bigger truth is, you need to consciously decide how to use your money. The reason we are criticizing the author from the Juggle is that it does not appear she is conscious of her decisions and priorities. She has made assumptions about whether they can survive on one income or not without thinking it through. It is important to be mindful of your goals, mindful of how you are spending your money, and know whether the way you are spending your money now is helping or hurting you in acheiving those goals. That is the real purpose of analyzing your finances. To make sure your decisions are making you head in the direction you want to go, and to be able to accept the consequences of your choices because you know, for example, even though it will make home life more difficult or money tighter for a while, or make things less convenient, it is still the right choice for us.

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