Q&A: Transitioning From Working to Staying Home // Finances + Career

_J6A5984

How did you make it work financially to go from a two-income household to a one-income household?

There were tons of questions on finances that were all a bit different, but the gist is just that I think people want to know how we managed to kiss my paycheck goodbye and still survive life. I wonder this same thing some days (haha…)

I think first it’s worth mentioning our financial setup prior to me staying home: All of our finances were combined. I know that’s not the case for everyone and if your finances are currently separate and you’re considering staying home and forgoing your income, things might feel a little harder and/or trickier. Unfortunately I’m not much help with that since that’s not the situation we came from…

Moving on… Finances were definitely the biggest thing holding us back from me staying home. Even pulling both kids out of daycare put us at a pretty large monthly deficit (a blessing and a curse to being successful in your career!). The good news, and simultaneously somewhat shameful news, was that prior to considering me quitting my job we were on no budget whatsoever (face slap). We basically bought what we wanted when we wanted it.  It’s not like we were rich or anything, but we made enough money that we didn’t really have to question everyday purchases like clothes, vacations, dates, etc. We weren’t in any credit card debt, but did have a house payment, car payment and student loan payments that were of utmost importance.

The first thing we did was just to try to make a best guess on where all of our money was going — we tried to list out literally everything, from the big house and car payments to smaller things like buying makeup, shampoo, cleaning supplies, gas, etc etc. I was shocked to find how much money we had going to things we weren’t actually using – like memberships we weren’t utilizing or doubling up on things like iCloud storage and Dropbox storage (but only actually using one of them). We “found” money in all sorts of places when we took a critical eye on our finances. I used to do dumb things like shop online then forget to return things that didn’t fit or I didn’t like. I have boxes of stuff at my house of brand new things that just never went back – so wasteful!! We were frivolous with our money because we didn’t have to be strict with our budget,  and because we felt we didn’t have the time or energy to pay close attention. In hindsight I see how absolutely terrible that is. I am actually so, so grateful we made this decision for me to quit my job because it has taught me so much about money management and I keep a much closer eye on everything.

What this meant exactly was that instead of having the mentality that we could pretty much have anything we wanted, we flipped the switch to think that unless we truly needed it, we weren’t buying it. Need = mortgage, car payments, student loans, diapers, food, clothes for the kids, gas, personal hygiene products, etc — you get the idea. Want = Clothes for us, home decor, vacations, etc. Now, we weren’t totally unrealistic and left room in the budget for things we knew we needed for our own sanity — like date nights and take out food and a very small clothing budget (that I mostly need to save and lump together to get anything worthwhile hah!).

Possibly the trickiest part about this was we were totally going off of our best guesses and were in a situation where we didn’t have much time to make this decision, so we made a leap of faith hoping our estimates were close to right and we could work within this new budget. Our first month on the new budget we had our lowest credit card bill ever — by half. And it honestly didn’t even feel that hard!… The hardest part came months in when it just felt like depriving ourselves of anything extra couldn’t possibly be realistic longterm. My photography has helped supplement our income as well as this blog (a tiny bit), but otherwise we are solely living off only Corey’s income.

One of the hardest decisions to make was coming to terms with the fact that during this period of me staying home we just wouldn’t be saving any significant amount of money — I talk more in the next question about some ways we are investing/saving our money, but it’s definitely not to the extent when we were a two-income household.

Tell me more about the 401k situation:

Right now, we contribute the max to Corey’s 401k with a company match, but aside from that and contributing to college savings for the kids each month, as well as utilizing Corey’s company’s employee stock purchase plan, we aren’t saving any extra money. While this is a tough pill to swallow sometimes, I know there are seasons in life where you can save more and some where you save less. Right now we’re in one where we’re saving less, but also not dipping into the savings we have built up so far, and I’m okay with that.

Do you use a program or app to manage your budget?

Yes, we use the Mint app. It’s not perfect, but it is good enough for us. We set our budget targets right within the app so it pings you if you are going over or close to going over on something, which I really like.

How do you handle buying gifts for each other or if you want to go shopping? 

So as far as shopping, we both have a set shopping budget so that makes it easy. In terms of gifts, we aren’t really a material gift-giving couple, so we actually don’t gift each other things that often — we usually go on trips together or go out to dinner to celebrate occasions. For Father’s Day, though, I did get Corey a few small things and basically just told him not to look at the credit card charges for a week or so before 🙂

Were you 100% on board when you made the decision to stay home?

Much like any big life decision I think 100% is unrealistic haha! I would say I was 80%. Staying home was something I always sort of had in the back of my mind since the moment I went back to work after having Elodie, but not something I actually thought I would ever do. Once we made the decision, I was mostly excited, but also worried about if I’d be able to be home with two kids all day without going nuts. Worried about the money situation and worried about if/how things would change between Corey and me. So I wast mostly on board, but had my hesitations.

Do you ever regret your decision?

Never.  Not once. Truly. Of course I have moments of missing working for various reasons, but I have never thought “Why did I do this, this was a mistake. I regret this decision”. Not even close!

Why didn’t you do it sooner?

With a decision like this I really do believe timing is everything. There’s part of me that sort of regrets not being home when Elodie was a baby (aside from maternity leave), because I see how much more of my attention and love James is getting every day than Elodie did being in daycare from 5 months to almost 3 years. But the truth is, I wasn’t ready to take that leap after I went back to work with just Elodie. It still made a lot of financial sense to have me home and I was still finding my way in terms of what I wanted to prioritize and how we could do it. I truly believe everything happens for a reason and had I gone back to Nike after having James (and not the smaller start up company), I truly believe I would still be there. But something pulled me to this new opportunity, and this new opportunity ended up feeling really incompatible with our lives due to its inflexibility. It sort of forced us to take a harder look at things and make this tough decision. And I’m so glad it did.

I have always been a creative person with skills I thought could work well for a freelance lifestyle, and in my mind I always wondered how our lives would work logistically once our kids were both in school and we were both working corporate 8-5 jobs. It would be hard. And I know a lot of people do it, but I always wondered if I could take the leap and build the foundation so that when our kids are in school I’m working a job that gave me the flexibility to drop the kids off and pick them up and work in-between. I’m clearly not there yet, but this is a step in the right direction, and the fact that I get to be home making these special memories with the kids while I figure out what’s next is so worth it to me.

Do you miss working?

Yes and no. Some days I miss going into the office and chatting with coworkers, working on projects and talking about things other than Elmo and playdoh. I miss “leisurely” lunches (between meetings) and making good money (haha just being honest!), but most days I am so grateful I don’t have to miss the kids all day and squeeze in all our quality time during evenings and weekends, I’m so happy I am not hustling to get them dressed and out the door in the morning and feel so lucky I get to spend my days doing fun things with them. This little piece is so good and explains exactly what I feel knowing both sides of the coin.

How do you feel when people ask you what you do? Meeting someone on a plane, at a party, etc. 

Staying home is still so fresh for me that right now my response is something like “I was at Nike working in e-commerce and digital marketing for 8 years, but recently left my career to stay home with my two kids who are 3 and 1.” — give or take depending on the audience. I 100% feel awkward about answering this question and it will probably take me a really long time before I’m comfortable answering it, and frankly I’ll probably be on to another career or job or lifestyle by the time I get comfortable. It makes me sad that there is shame in my answer, but I just want to be honest that this is something I struggle with. I’m open to any advice anyone has 😉

Are you worried if you ever go back to work you’ll be behind in your field/industry and won’t be relevant?

I have definitely worried about this at times, especially the industry I’m in (digital marketing/e-commerce), it moves really fast and there is probably a lot that can/will change before I’m back in the workforce. BUT that being said, it’s also the reason I do as much as I can to keep up with the industry and stay a part of it through my personal endeavors like blogging and social media. I am also confident that I could pick things up quickly if/when I ever went back.

Do you know if you want to go back to work and if so, what would you want to do? / Will you go back to work when the kids are older?

I honestly have no idea if I will go back to work. I do think about it a lot, mostly because I’m a Type A planner, but so far nothing definitive has been decided. I think it would be really hard for me to go back to a full-time corporate environment. What I really crave is more freedom with my schedule so I can be there for the kids when they need us — I don’t want to feel extreme guilt when someone is sick or has an appointment, I want to be able to drop them off and pick them up from school most days, etc. So I guess in my ideal world I would either work part-time 2-3 days a week in some capacity or be fully freelance whether that be photography, blogging or something else. Only time will tell! (more on this in the last question’s answer!)

I am a part-time working mom, but I struggle with deciding if I want to work more and advance my career or if I should just stay with my part time super easy schedule. I have a daughter about the same age as yours. I feel like I want my daughter to see her mother following her passion, and see an example of an independent working woman, but I know doing so will be at the cost of family time. Do you ever struggle with wanting to model being a working mom for your daughter?

Oh my gosh I could just hug you and yes yes yes yes yes. This was another HUGE reason I questioned if I should stay home with the kids. My mom was a single working mom who owned her own business. She worked her butt off my entire life (and still does) and I know having her as a role model is one of the reasons I am such a hard worker myself, so independent and feel that I can achieve anything I put my mind to. BUT she also couldn’t be around for a lot of my childhood. She never came to my dance performances, had to work weekends and just missed out on a lot. I just don’t think there is a “right” answer on this one – there are going to be tough compromises on both accounts. I think even working part-time your daughter will see a hard working woman who is staying connected to her passion. I don’t think you need to be the best in your field sacrificing tons of time with your family to be that role model. But if you don’t feel fulfilled in the current part-time working situation and your career is super important to you, maybe you do work on advancing it now? From what I hear from more seasoned moms, the time to work is (surprisingly) when your kids are little. Once they’re in school their school schedule isn’t as conducive with work schedules which means before-school and after-school care and their needs aren’t just physical like they (mostly) are now, they are mental and emotional and generally just heavier. So if you are feeling a pull to give career advancement a go – maybe now is the time to do it and then you can reassess again when your kids are in school? Good luck mama, I know this is something we all question and struggle with!

What are your plans/goals/dreams for your blog and photography business? Fun hobby or something you’d like to grow into a work from home gig? 

This is such a great question, and one that has definitely been on my mind a lot lately! I think ultimately I would love to be able to grow my blogging/photography/social media freelance work to something that can be more “full-time” once both the kids are in school, but for now I love having something I can do on the side that is fun for me, fulfills me and also brings in a little (and I mean little 😉 money. I recently took on a freelance blogging gig for a mama + baby brand that is right up my alley and I’m really excited about! But unless I get more childcare help for the kids I am maxed out on time … So we’ll see what happens 🙂

If you got this far and have read both Q&A posts.. Thank you! Thank you for thinking my opinions and experiences are valuable and for asking me so many thought provoking questions! I value this community so much and love the dialogue posts like this open up. I think I got to most every question that was asked, but if you still have a burning one, or would like clarity on something, feel free to comment below or if you feel more comfortable — email me at liz {dot} denfeld {at} gmail {dot} com.

21 thoughts on “Q&A: Transitioning From Working to Staying Home // Finances + Career

  1. I’m not in the same stage as you, but I enjoyed reading your answers. I can relate to the uncomfortableness of answering the “what do you do” question, because its one I cringe over every time I’m asked. Living in Germany while my husband works, leaves me virtually impossible to find a job, so I’m “just” a stay-at-home wife, and that’s SO hard to not feel shame over. At some point I’ll have to figure out a clever answer, but for now, it’s certainly one that I struggle with.

    1. Girl, I’d take your job any day! Hehe Even without kids running a household takes tons of work and I know when we lived abroad and Corey was also going to school I planned all of our travels in my “spare” time after work. And even that was an extra full time job! Don’t even worry about feeling ashamed — just own it. If anything the only thing people will feel is jealously haha But really I know there are probably MANY hard things about being in your position. I’d love to read a post about that!

      1. If I can ever gather my thoughts on it all, I’ll definitely do a post about it. 😉 I know there are tons who would love to do what I do..or I guess don’t do, so I certainly don’t take it for granted, but I sure would like to contribute monetarily, and not feel like I’m falling short in that area. (inner struggle, for sure!) ..any way, completely agree with you on planning travels! That is definitely a FT job right there!!

  2. Thanks for taking the time to write out both posts! Great to hear your perspective given that we have similar aged children and are/were roughly in a similar career (marketing). So happy to see you enjoying your decision and always great to hear your honest opinions.

    1. Thank YOU for reading! I’m so happy you enjoyed hearing my perspective and honest opinions. It can be a little daunting to throw out such personal information, but I know I would’ve loved to read a post like this when I was mulling the idea of staying home around in my head 🙂 Have a great rest of the week!

  3. I loved these posts and your insight. I am a working mom of two (#3 on the way) and I’ve been feeling the pressure of it all lately (appointments, school starting, etc. etc.). I don’t think me staying home is in the cards any time soon, but I appreciate you addressing all these questions, especially the financial ones!! I’m happy it has been such a wonderful transition/experience for you and your family. That has got to be such a good feeling knowing that leap has been a total success!! Good for you!! 🙂

    1. Thank you so much for reading and congrats on baby #3! I think the pressure of ALLTHETHINGS involving kids just doesn’t go away, but I will admit it is really nice to be able to JUST stress about those things and not have to throw work stress on top of that. You are a rockstar and it will be so amazing for your kiddos to watch you as a working mama role model as they grow up 🙂

  4. These were so fun to read Liz! Thanks for sharing what it has been like for you to go from working to staying at home… very timely for me!

  5. I can really relate to how you feel! I left a great job as a cartographer for National Geographic to stay home with our 8 month old son. It’s made me realize how much of my identity I got from my job (I used to love telling people where I worked; now I cringe) and how important it is that my son (and husband) see me as a strong, driven career woman. But at the same time I’m needed elsewhere. Our little guy was born prematurely and still needed a lot of my time and attention long after my maternity leave was up, so while I was leaning toward staying home, I wasn’t left with much of a choice when the time came. Now I’m trying to carve a new path, do some freelance work, and soak up every minute with my baby. I’m sure I won’t regret it and you won’t either but it can be a tough transition at times. Thanks for sharing!

  6. I find your post both intriguing and hypocritical. I appreciate how you explain your decision to stay home while budgeting and being more mindful of your spending, but your Instastories tell a completely different story. While I don’t judge people for how they spend their money and couldn’t care less about how much others make, you say you have such a small budget for clothes, but you linked an almost $200 dress for family photos. You’re leaving for Amsterdam and are taking mini vacations here and there. I’m happy for people that can live that life, but you’ve missed the mark for what most SAHM and families struggle with. Most families can’t just decide to jet off to Europe and then discuss finances and how it’s such an adjustment.

    1. Hi Kristine. First, I want to thank you for your comment — you could’ve easily said what you said in a mean way, but you didn’t and I love that comments like yours can open up a dialogue. I absolutely see where you’re coming from — I agree that there are probably many SAHM’s that can’t relate to our lifestyle, even after having adjusted down to one income. Having said that, I do think it’s unfair to say I’m being hypocritical. I never claimed that we were dirt poor after I left my job, and one person’s budget can and will be very different from someone else’s budget. As you say, everyone chooses how they spend their money. It WAS a big adjustment for us to go from two incomes to one, but I was also really honest with our spending habits prior to me staying home — we were obviously not living paycheck to paycheck and struggling for money. So now with me home, while we can’t spend money the same way we used to, we are still in a pretty good financial situation thanks to my husband’s successful career. I was only telling my story, the only one I can, which I am aware is probably different from many others’, but probably the same for many SAHM’s too.

      And not that I feel like I need to explain myself, but more to show that I guess things aren’t always as they seem — I purchased my dress for family photos on sale for $125. I have a $60/month clothing budget (which given what I used to spend on clothes is a very small budget, but maybe this is still considered a large clothing budget for some people) — so my dress only required me to save two months’ of clothing budget, which was worth it to me. Also keep in mind that I can make a small amount of money when I post current clothing that others can purchase through affiliate links, which also helps offset the cost. I’m not entirely sure about the mini vacations you’re referring to — maybe our staycation? We get a free Hyatt night every year through our Hyatt credit card, which is what we used to stay at the Hyatt in downtown Portland and our kids stayed with their grandparents, so that costed us nothing. My ticket to Amsterdam was $500, which is a lot of money, yes, but costed me less that two photo sessions and I am staying with friends while I’m there. Pretty much any “fun” thing you see me post about is something I’ve saved up for or done extra work for. As always, social media doesn’t always show the whole picture and it’s a whole lot easier to see when someone is spending money versus saving it. I’d encourage you to not make assumptions based on the very small snippets of my life that get shown on my Instagram stories. Again, I appreciate your comment and how it was written and am always open to this kind of dialogue. I hope my response has made you see things from the other side, but I understand if it didn’t. We’re all entitled to our own opinions and we can agree to disagree 🙂 Thank you for reading!!

      1. I do apologize if my comment crossed the line. I truly did not mean any ill will and was speaking from person experience. I do believe that we are often blinded by our own reality that we fail to see others.

        I appreciate you posting my comment and replying! I see that your family has made a huge change and change is difficult. Your change may not be what others are facing and that was the point I was trying to make.

        Almost everyone I surround myself with struggles with the idea of being a SAHM. It’s not easy! From my perspective, most families make the decision based off of the cost of daycare vs. what they’d save from staying home. From my own experience, what I pay for daycare is more than what you’d pay for one tuition year in college. It’s a tough pill to swallow when you write that monthly check.

        What wasn’t said so eloquently was that when people are in this situation, a dress seems like a luxury, a vacation seems like a luxury as well as staycations.

        Since you have mentions your Hyatt card, have you thought about a post of what you do to afford some of these which does come as a cost savings?

        Thank you for your post. I love your honesty and appreciate you responding to readers.

      2. I don’t think you crossed a line. When I put my life online I know I open myself up to opinions and criticisms, and that’s honestly okay with me. I am glad you felt comfortable posting the comment and I’m glad you found a way to say it in a constructive way. I am all about hearing all sides. My hope, though, is that it never seems like I am trying to make it seem as if my life or my perspective is the ONLY way or perspective. I 100% do not believe that at all. I know many people are in very different situations than I am, and I completely appreciate that, BUT like I said, I can only write about my own experiences because that’s all I know!! I will definitely consider a post on how we afford some of the things we do through getting crafty! Thanks again for reading and for the back-and-forth. Have a great weekend!

  7. Hi Liz! I’ve been reading along, usually when nursing and often in fragmented periods so not commenting but wanted to say I’m loving the new blog.
    Also, I’m 7 years into not working and I STILL cringe when I have to answer what I do. I STILL throw in, “I was a teacher but…’ I also really enjoy reading about what life was like when you were working. It’s easy to glamourize the other side of things and because I’ve been home with my kids since day 1, I haven’t seen or experienced what that is like.

    1. Budgeting is hard work, but such a great lesson, too! I am thankful I’ve had to learn more about it 🙂 And thank you — I am having a lot of fun with photography!

  8. I’ve loved this series you’ve done on transitioning to a SAHM! I went from working full-time to staying home a little over 3 years ago when my first was born, so I have only ever stayed home with my kids. And YET, sometimes I still feel the shame telling people “what I do” or feel judgement from Mama friends who work. Reading your posts has really put things into perspective for me from both sides, so I’m ultra grateful for all you’ve shared!

    1. I’m so so glad you have loved reading these posts. Definitely intimidating putting so much personal information out there, but I love opening up the conversation for mamas. I wish we could all feel confident in whatever decision it is we’ve made, it is all so very hard isn’t it?! Thank you for reading!!

  9. What a great post! Thanks for sharing so many personal details on how you’ve made it work for your family. I would love for you to do another clothing sale! I purchased one of your blazers several months ago and I always get compliments on it!

    1. Oh I love hearing that! (Both that you enjoyed the post and are enjoying the blazer!!) I have been prepping for another closet sale for a few weeks now, just need to get serious about it and finish taking the photos and get stuff posted! Stay tuned! 🙂

Leave a Reply