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Over 11 million US parents work from home, according to recent US Census Bureau data.
That’s close to one in five parents — and this number looks set to increase considerably through the remainder of this decade.
We’re living in an era of significant financial, social, and psychological stress, and parents are searching for easier ways to successfully raise their kids while paying the bills.
But let’s be clear here: it’s also a big step.
A ton of families are making this work, but to do it right, you’ll need to plan it out, navigate your way through some tricky decisions, and communicate exceptionally well as a family.
We’ve designed this guide as a helpful checklist to walk you through how to make a smooth transition to stay-at-home parenting.
By the time you’ve finished reading, you may not have all the answers, but you’ll know the critical questions — and that’s an excellent place to start!
How to Transition From Full-Time Work to Full-Time Parenting
Before you tackle any of the following transition strategies for budgeting and retirement planning, you might first want to consider two preliminary planning steps.
As a family, before you make any serious changes, it’s smart to sit down and talk about the pressures that are pushing you toward the decision and the incentives that make the idea attractive.
In other words, what do you want to get away from, and where do you want to go?
Some of these may be simple; for example, one or both of you may hate your nine-to-five-job.
Other issues might be a little trickier to parse out and analyze.
As one example, you might decide as parents that you want to be more present in your kid’s education while pursuing a work-from-home career.
Whatever these “why” issues are, get clarity around them.
Reach a point of consensus.
The great thing about planning a shift to producing less disposable income is that you can easily see what it feels like to make ends meet without committing to any permanent changes.
Just set a financial level you intend to live by and try not to touch any surplus funds beyond that amount.
If you can manage it in a trial situation, you know you’re on firm ground.
If it’s a challenge, you now have valuable information you can use to set more achievable goals.
Assuming you’re ready, it’s time to take a close look at your financial present (your budget) and your financial future (your retirement).
Budget Tips for One-Income Families
• Set a new budget: Your first vital step is to build a new monthly budget. The tried and true approach is to start by listing your basic needs and necessary outlay — your mortgage, utilities, and basic living expenses will likely be top of the list. Then cost itemize a list of your “want” items. As a family, decide which of those “want” items you can keep, and which you need to set aside. The number one mistake families make when building a budgeting system for a stay-at-home parenting household is that they assume they already know their expenses. Remember that your home life and cost of living will change considerably! You’ll likely spend more on some items — like utilities — but you may be able to spend significantly less on services like professional daycare, babysitter expenses, grocery store costs, work clothing, and commuting expenses. Don’t cut corners here. Do your math. For extra points, make your budget printable, and stick it on your fridge.
• Cut excess costs swiftly: This is pretty simple and commonsense advice, really, and boils down to ripping the bandaid. Most stay-at-home parenting families report that it’s much easier to save money with a tighter budget head-on than it is to pull back on your cost-saving measures incrementally. You can always loosen the fiscal reins later on if you know you can afford it, but you’ll make the financial transition more comfortable if you start to downsize in the same way you intend to sustain the process. Learning the joys of couponing can help here as well!
• Deal with debt: Household debt in the US is out of control. Therefore, you want to pay down your debt as much as possible, preferably before transitioning to a one-income family. Credit card debt, car payments, student loans, and similar forms of debt will consistently eat into your financial position and heighten the risk of hitting a rough financial patch. It’s smart to amp up your credit score and simplify your financial situation while it’s easier to do so. If you can’t get debt free, try to get as close to that as possible.
• Revisit your emergency fund: As a one-income family, you may face more significant financial uncertainties. It’s prudent to set aside extra money for your rainy day funds. A good rule of thumb is to allocate around six months of living expenses to a separate bank account, and to only dip into this backup savings account in real emergencies. Desperately needing a weekend getaway (or pizza) doesn’t count!
• Set clear and realistic expectations: The decision to transition to becoming a single income household can be exciting. Be careful though about setting yourself adrenaline-fueled budgetary goals you’ll later struggle to meet. Communicating well as a family helps. Studies indicate that families who decide on their budgeting goals together are more likely to make the changes stick. Saving money and frugal living are best approached realistically.
• Revisit and revise: Finally, remember that you needn’t set your budget in stone! Regularly revisit your financial situation and adjust your single income family budget accordingly.
Planning for Retirement as a Stay-at-Home Parent
The benefits of working from home as a parent are many.
Unfortunately, retirement isn’t usually one of them.
It can be tempting to set this challenge aside into the too-hard basket, and many people do; it’s estimated that as many as four in ten self-employed people lack a regular retirement saving plan.
Our advice is probably entirely predictable here.
Your future self will thank you if you think carefully about retirement sooner rather than later.
Along with health insurance and life insurance, a good retirement plan should be one of your first financial goals.
• Self-employed retirement funds:One option you can look into is maintaining a solo 401(k), also referred to as a One-Participant 401(k) Plan. Here the person working from home wears two hats, employer and employee, with contributions to the plan made in both capacities. Effectively, the plan works like a standard employer-offered retirement plan, attracting similar taxation benefits.
• Rollover IRAs: You might also want to research an individual retirement account (IRA). These personal finance investing tools earmark funds for retirement savings and impart several tax advantages. One variant, a rollover IRA, permits you to shift funds from a conventional employer into an IRA. You maintain tax-deferred status on the funds and avoid early withdrawal penalties.
• Spousal IRAs: Finally, a spousal IRA allows a spouse who doesn’t earn wages to contribute to their own IRA. To apply, the other spouse will need to be the family’s money earner. You’ll also need to file joint tax returns.
Whatever plan you pursue, go in with your eyes open.
By grabbing extra quality of life now, you may need to make some careful decisions about your future disposable income.
That isn’t always a bad thing. But it’s about balance.
And always speak to a financial adviser.
They can give you trustworthy and on-point guidance tailored to your financial situation.
How to Make Money as a Stay-at-Home Mom or Dad
Before delving into specific money-earning options, you’ll want to spend some time getting back to your “why”.
If your decision to make money from home is partly motivated by a desire to reduce stress, leaping headlong into an all-or-nothing startup enterprise for a lot of money isn’t likely to be the way to go.
On the other hand, even if you have the luxury of working your own hours, earning an income that can’t pay your bills isn’t going to work either.
Have a clear sense of what you’re aiming for first.
Clarity will let you rule out those stay at home mom jobs that won’t work.
Then you can focus on the opportunities that might.
Here’s a quick run-down of some of the many ways to earn money from the comfort of your home.
These are a starting point only.
Here are some more time-demanding ways to make money online.
Each of the following positions is readily available according to remote job search site Flexjobs, and they all offer the potential to deliver a steady wage.
• Virtual assistant: This is a broad job specification, and includes many organizational tasks — including bookkeeping, organizing meetings, graphic designer tasks, social media support, managing a website, and acting as the first point of contact for your client. Most VA work is for C-suite executives and business owners. Many VA stay at home jobs can offer a flexible schedule, and workers can perform their daily tasks from anywhere via an Internet connection and smartphone.
• Customer service and client care: Customer service representative work also comes in a wide variety of flavors. Communication may happen via email, chat, or phone, usually with one channel of primary focus. These positions depend heavily on good communication skills, patience, and empathy. Beyond that skillset, all a telecommuter needs is a good headset, a cell phone, a stable internet connection, and quality time in a good office chair.
• Data entry: For the details-oriented worker, data entry online jobs consist of tabulating numeric data, transcriptionist work, and manually entering database data. You’ll need a rock-solid attention span, the detailed eye of a proofreader, and a high tolerance for repetitive tasks to do well in this field. This industry is built around remote workers and has been for at least 15 years. A range of accreditation options is available – a good path if you need to re-skill into a work-from-home position.
• Researcher: Quality research will always be in demand. Usually, this work is commercial in nature and may involve tasks like hunting down real estate data, sourcing the raw materials for a startup SWOT analysis, tabulating the comparative costs of childcare nationwide, working with a search engine evaluator, or helping a small business analyze its competitive advantage. There are a few online platforms and survey sites for finding research work; AskWonder is an excellent place to start. You’ll also find a solid line up of research jobs advertised through job websites like Indeed. You’ll likely require a bachelor’s degree for many of these positions. Research work is a particularly good option for work-at-home parents with an existing background of in-demand technical knowledge. You’ll also have the luxury of working on your own schedule.
• Virtual sales agent: For the extroverts, there are always remote jobs in sales. Any sales job requires an outgoing personality and a thick skin, but to make this work from home, you’ll also need to have an engaging phone manner and a willingness to work unusual hours. The unique bonus you may get from a sales job is that working in a virtual call center involves a lot of social interaction. For those worried about work-from-home isolation, a sales position may well be one of the best jobs for stay-at-home moms and dads.
If you need to earn your money with legitimate work that is more part-time in nature, a side gig may be your best bet.
• Freelance work: Freelancing is a vast category of work, and it includes everything from short-term inputs requiring just a few hours to complete, to months-long phased projects with demanding time-bound milestones. Almost any skillset imaginable can be delivered in a freelancer capacity, and you’ll have access to both specialized and generic platforms to ply your wares. Freelancing is a brilliant option if you have an advanced set of skills and access to the resources you need to put them to work. If in doubt, check out Upwork. If freelance writing, SEO, WordPress publishing, or proofreading is your strength, you may also want to look at job listings on the dedicated freelance writer platform, Problogger. If you’re a bookkeeper, Fiverr is a great option. These aren’t the most lucrative of freelance platforms, but they’ll get you started.
• Ride-sharing: If you’re legally allowed to drive and own a reliable vehicle, you have an income stream ready and waiting. It’s also one of the most flexible jobs out there. Your average Uber or Lyft driver doesn’t make a fortune out of ride-sharing. Typically, you’re looking at around $400 per month for casual work. However, the busier your city (and the more you know how it works!), the better your prospects for profit. Ride-sharing is one of the more useful and legit ways of earning cash if you need lots of time-flexibility to be a stay at home mom or dad, and live close to a metropolis.
• Online course developer: Demand for up-skilling is probably more significant than it has ever been; the e-learning industry is likely to hit $400 billion soon. A few years ago, building a course required a bunch of setup expenses, but today robust platforms for learning online can do the hosting and paywall heavy lifting for you. All you need is recording equipment, detailed knowledge of the topic, and the time to organize and structure your syllabus. What kind of content can you teach? It can be almost anything, really. Whether you have years of industry experience under your belt, survival tips for better blogging, or even if you just have hard-won practical advice about back to school preparation for young kids, someone will pay for the benefit of your insights. This can be a great side hustle as you transition to stay-at-home parenting because course development is extremely time-flexible. Oh, and it’s probably worth mentioning that course developers can get cash back deals and other bonuses for developing content.
• Affiliate marketing: Right now, in 2020, affiliate marketing — the art of selling products online for a cut of the profits — probably reigns supreme among side-hustles. And for a few good reasons. There’s near-infinite demand for product promotion. Moreover, thanks to Amazon, the barriers to getting started are minimal, and companies are all-too-aware that influencer-led marketing is one of the most cost-effective ways to sell more products. You’ll likely require some level of web-savvy and good writing skills, but all the other knowledge you need is abundantly available online.
• Dropshipping: In this business model, you sell physical products online but rely on a third-party to manage the stock and handle shipping. The beauty of dropshipping is that the model allows you to market and sell merchandise without the initial capital investment. Effectively you can own a shop without buying floor space, inventory, or the staff to manage it. Like affiliate marketing, the great advantage you have here is the abundance of resources that can help you get started. If you enjoy sales and can speak with authority about a line of products, you have everything you need to manage a dropshipping store from home.
Other Sources of Income
Here are a few different sources of income that may work for work-from-home parents looking for just a little bit of extra cash.
• English teacher: English teaching has become a multi-billion dollar online industry, fueled mainly by the intense demand for English language proficiency in populous countries like China. If you have a teaching background, you may want to explore an online tutoring platform like VIPKid.
• Odd jobs: With the pace of life as it is, not to mention our growing aged population, demand for home maintenance work has peaked sharply in recent years. If you’re handy around the home, take a look at TaskRabbit. It’s a simple way to pick up an odd job here and there. Another option to consider is to advertise through Craigslist.
• Webinars and ebooks: While online teaching can be a full-time job, it’s also well-suited as a side hustle because it’s a particularly good way to build a passive income stream. You can share your knowledge online through webinars, or write instructive ebooks and distribute them through a platform like Kindle Direct Publishing. Both approaches offer an easy path to selling your expertise as a side hustle.
• Sell something you make: While it’s rarely lucrative, it’s worth pointing out that sites like eBay and Etsy allow artisans to build a modest yet rewarding side income while selling things they love to make. A quick word of warning, though, if you plan to sell goods online: Always be mindful of mitigating cybersecurity risks.
• A few other side options: What about setting up your own home for Airbnb? You could try monetizing your own blog, or sell T-shirts online if you have a knack for graphic design.
There are many options out there to earn extra income, from tailored options to earn money online for people with disabilities to more physically demanding home maintenance work in and around your neighborhood.
Best Practices for Balancing Finances and Family Life
Building a good financial plan and vocational foundation for working from home is where the fun (and yes, the hard work) begins.
The next part of the challenge is maintaining a healthy balance.
We’ll give you a few practical tips for keeping your work-home life balance, but before we go into specifics, here’s one broad piece of advice that almost every work-from-home parent will need to learn fast:
Go easy on yourself.
Forget the endless pursuit of the perfect morning routine.
Sometimes best practice just boils down to organization without recrimination.
You, your spouse, and your kids will have good days and bad days as you get used to your modified home life.
That’s to be expected.
Find Time for Special Family Activities
With one spouse spending a lot more time at home, it’s easy to fall into the soothing rhythm of home life, especially amid COVID-19.
Resist that urge.
Getting out of the house to do fun (yet suitably socially distanced) activities will keep every member of your family more energized and inspired.
A bit of luxurious happy stay at home mom nap time has its place, but out of the ordinary activities help keep life fresh and interesting.
If you can ask a family member for some babysitting support, that works too.
Oh, and date nights count as important family activities too.
If the luxury of a nice restaurant feels out of reach, you can always hint to your family that dining gift cards are a welcome surprise.
Create Time for Yourself
The decision to stay at home has a lot of upsides — from extra play dates with the kids to being there to help your young children and high school kids with homework.
Your uninterrupted career trajectory and your social life are obvious candidates.
Writer Margarita Tartakovsky sums it up well in her Stay At Home Mom (SAHM) article, Practicing Self-Care as a Stay-At-Home-Mom.
“It’s easy to lose yourself. It’s easy to put yourself last. You have a laundry list of tasks. […] And your child needs you. All. The. Time. But taking care of ourselves is vital.”
As Tartakovsky and other mom bloggers continually reinforce, it’s vital to find fulfillment outside of your kids and family.
You may be a busy working mom or dad, but you’re also an adult who needs a social life.
We all need alone time too.
Make yourself a priority in this somewhere.
Build a Fair Distribution of Responsibilities
Moving to one parent working from home doesn’t just change your home’s finances and work routine; it also changes how chores get done at home.
You might think that two mature adults should be able to sort out a fair division of responsibilities without much effort, but it’s sometimes not that easy.
This is new for both of you, and for most households, there’s more than a little bit of “learning as you go” on the domestic front.
Regular open, honest, and empathy-driven conversations about who does what to keep the house running smoothly may save you more difficult conversations later.
And where appropriate, it’s not a bad idea to bring the kids into the conversation too.
Remind them that being a ten year old doesn’t necessarily disqualify a person from doing the dishes occasionally, and nor do tantrums!
OK, maybe that last one is a tough sell for 3-year-olds.
Set Up a Work Zone and Schedule
And finally, one little tidbit of super-practical advice.
One of the more challenging psychological transitions of working from home is that you’re never free of the office.
It’s all too easy to constantly feel like you’re trying to make up for lost time.
Setting up a dedicated home office space and designating your start and finish hours will make it that much easier to keep your home and work lives separate.
Less Money, More Quality Time
The best stay at home mom jobs are the ones that fit in with your lifestyle.
You’ll need to build a financial and vocational plan that you can live with, and not just on the easy days!
You’ll need a game plan for the tough days too.
But here’s the good news about work-at-home jobs.
More and more people are making this lifestyle work, and you can make it work too.
We hope you can take your time figuring it out, forgive yourself when you’re not perfect, and most of all, that you can enjoy watching your kids grow up.