I think we have a problem. For most of us, it’s nearly impossible to get by on just one income, and yet, having both parents work takes its toll, too. Any parent knows that keeping a home and family running is a full time job. Fitting it all in around a 50 hour work week isn’t easy.
“But it’s totally possible for one parent to stay home if you’re careful with your money!” people say. But those are usually people whose spouse has a job that offers a living wage, people who really COULD pay a mortgage on one income if they are frugal. But that’s not everyone. And let’s not pretend it is.
For the longest time I thought living on one income was the way it was SUPPOSED to be done. But as I looked around, I had almost no peers who were managing to make it work without working at least part-time in some capacity. And we were all being frugal. The post-recession world is just different.
When I became a parent I was working full-time while my husband finished the last 18 months of his degree. I hated being away from my baby. I was living on 3 hours of (broken) sleep a night and completely drowning in the responsibility of my job, my role as a new mom, and trying to fit in all of the home maintenance and adulting that needed to happen in the “extra” hours of my day. Hours that didn’t exist.
We made a move from Texas to Florida when my husband graduated and switched roles as breadwinner. But the job market was rough even for someone like him with a four-year degree from a prestigious program at a private university. After working for a few months as a medical tech at a mental health facility–a high stress job with 12 hour shifts that paid just above minimum wage–he found a salaried position elsewhere with regular 9-5 office hours. The salary was $25K/year.
After our daughter was born and we were a family of four, our household was right at the federal poverty line. We lived in a tiny house. We shared a car (and didn’t have a car payment). We cooked at home. We didn’t take vacations or shop for entertainment. We didn’t have cable. But mortgage, gas, health insurance, car maintenance, some small student loan payments, and groceries couldn’t be covered on that salary.
I worked part time teaching ballet to help supplement. Daniel worked tons of overtime to keep us afloat. We had no savings. How could we? We could barely survive month-to-month. But it made absolutely no financial sense for me to get a job and have to pay for childcare for three little kids. We would be paying more than $20K/year in childcare costs. Even if I could find a job that paid the same as my husband’s (it was deep in the recession so jobs were scarce), I would be taking home less than $5K/year. That $5K would evaporate if we needed a second car to get me to work. I would have less time to meal plan, cook at home, and save money. We could actually LOSE money if I went back to work. And I would be missing out on being home with my babies–something I did not want to miss out on.
There’s major problems with an economy that requires both parents to work in order to survive. As devout Catholics, we believe that children are gifts from God and that openness to life is a virtue. We believe that the family and home should center our lives and that nurturing them is a duty that takes precedence over any career. And yet, the way our economy is set up makes that very difficult to live that out.
Not all technological progress ends up having positive results, but one thing I love about the age of the internet is that it has opened up so many opportunities for parents to pursue unconventional ways to support their families. While I can’t change the whole economy single-handedly, helping people figure out how to work from home is a huge passion of mine. Because it has completely changed our lives.
Supplementing our income with my work as a blogger and freelance writer made it possible for my husband to cut back to reasonable hours and be able to spend time with our kids. It made it possible for us to make a crazy career change and move to a non-profit sustainable agriculture training farm so my husband could do a year-long internship.
Working from home has allowed me to have the parenting relationship with my kids that I always wanted. I can homeschool, keep the laundry going, AND help pay our bills with work that I love to do.
I control my hours. I can ignore work if my kids are sick and need more of Mom (because my boss is me). I can fit my hours in when my kids are asleep if I need to. Working from home has completely changed our family life for the better.
And because blogging has brought me into a network of other women who are also working from home, I see how it is benefitting families in a variety of circumstances. There are so many different work-at-home opportunities out there that would have been unimaginable 25 years ago. While I wish that two incomes just weren’t necessary for families to make it, I think that for a lot of parents working from home is the best answer we’ve got right now.
If you have questions for me about my experience working from home, I’d love to answer them in another post, so please leave them in the comments!
Haley, I’m so glad you are writing about this. I’m really curious what your days look like, and forgive me if you’ve written about it before, but I would love to get an idea of your daily/weekly schedule. I have shifted mine around a few times trying to find the best fit (and currently not getting much work done in the wake of a series of crises at our house). Also, how to do you cope with crises without just dropping everything? 🙂
That’s a great idea for a post, Desiree. Kind of a day/week in the life schedule. I’ll work on that!
As to your second question, I usually don’t have too many things that HAVE to be done on a certain deadline. So usually if there’s a crisis (sick child, the dog eats a bag of chocolate chips, etc) I really do drop everything. If there’s a deadline, usually Daniel picks up the slack for me so I can complete whatever it is. If that’s not possible, then a generous serving of Netflix is in order to keep the peace 😉
Can I second this? I would to hear how you balance your mom responsibilities with your work! I work from home 20 hrs/week, and I struggle finding time to get my hours in. I try getting creative (waking up super early, working during every.single.minute of the daily Daniel Tiger episodes) but little kids tend to mess up well-planned schedules. I’d love to have some fresh ideas of how to find time to do it all.
Thanks for bringing up this topic Haley!
Love your post. TBH, y’all are living my dream life.
I think for someone who is already staying home but feeling the financial pressure to supplement their income, this is such a great way to approach it.
I’m working FT in a traditional, away from home setting, and it is soul-crushing, but it’s kind of the way of the world and just part of my cross. I wholeheartedly agree with you, our economy is so wrong.
I’ve been there, Amanda. I am pretty much in awe of FT away from home working moms because just 18 months of it about killed me. <3
Bryn R says
Definitely agree that it’s not always possible to live on one income! I’m a piano teacher who drives to students homes, and able to make my own hours, but now that we moved further ou of town and I’m 6 months pregnant I’ve had to cut back on the longer drives and stick closer to home.
I was wondering, how did you first start making money writing? I love writing on my blog, but I’ve had a harder time figuring out how bloggers get paid to write what they love-or even just find the freelance writing jobs outside of blogging!
My first paid writing gigs were as a staff writer for bigger blogs. But eventually I started to put more time into my own site. I still do a freelance post for other sites here and there, though!
Heather Shade says
I have done freelance writing from home, and while I love doing it, I don’t know how to go about finding work without much prior experience on my own – all I’ve ever done is be “subcontracted,” which isn’t a big deal, I guess, but I would like to know how to find my own work and that sort of thing.
How did you get started, on your own, without help? What were your resources? Because I’ve got a few, but having to bid on writing gigs is so intimidating when you only have minimal experience.
I really eased into it over the course of a few years. And I think it depends entirely on what your niche is, what you write about, so it’s hard to advise! There are tons of resources out there on freelance writing in particular (there’s even a course on it in the bundle), but most of my connections for freelance opportunities came through people who read something I’d written on my own blog and wanted to hire me to write a piece for them.
I hope Haley doesn’t mind me throwing in my two cents. I’m a full-time freelance writer and didn’t have any professional writing experience when I started. I began on elance and spent about a year doing random small projects (including a lot of subcontracting) before I finally landed a dream client who turned into my biggest source of income for years. From there, it snowballed since so many editors talk to one another, and I haven’t had to look for work in years. Almost all my clients come through referrals now.
Bidding can be intimidating, and the bidding sites are saturated with a lot of low-paying, lousy projects but I think there are still some gems out there. The key to having a good proposal is to focus on what benefit your client will get (I.e. clean copy written by a native English speaker) rather than your credentials.
Hope this helps!
Thanks for writing about this! My husband and I are [finally] expecting our first child, in our late twenties, and still struggle with this. My husband is incredibly intelligent & gifted, but we’ve decided to pursue a career for him focused around sacred art & education. I’m surrounded by stay-at-home moms who simply don’t understand our situation (I’ll continue to work FT after baby arrives, but thankfully my work is somewhat flexible) as their husbands are all engineers. I just love how people say anyone can live off of one income, but assume that the husband is making six figures.
Just to clarify – I have nothing against families who are able to make it work with one income. I just appreciate hearing the conversation about the rest of us who are trying to navigate these waters. Every situation is so unique!
We do it on one income on MUCH LESS than six figures. Its about expectations. If you expect to live like you make six figures, yeah it can’t be done. We do with out a lot of things that other people feel are necessities – like vacations, makeup, new clothes, gadgets, gym memberships, new cars, cable, date nights, kids sports, at times health insurance. It’s about deciding what is really important to you. It’s about getting past not being like other families. I can’t even count the times I have had another mom tell me how much she wished she could stay home like I do, but they just can’t – while she drinks her fancy drink, wears clothes and accessories I can’t afford second hand even, and tells me about the vacation they just got back from…yeah, it’s hard, but I’d rather be broke than chase what they are chasing. We don’t live in the economy of our parents or grandparents. Once the kids are grown, I’ll likely go back to work ( making minimum wage – as my degree is already out dated even thought its not paid for). We probably won’t ever own our own home (despite it being cheaper than renting – we’ll never be able to save enough or pay off enough student loan debt to qualify for a loan). Our kids won’t likely go to college – because we can’t save for it and I won’t allow them to go into crippling debt before they’ve even started living (like we have). I’ll probably never see the world – let alone the ocean again. But if I want to raise saints I have to make sacrifices.
“if I want to raise saints I have to make sacrifices.” I agree with that statement, but I think the insinuation that only SAHM’s can raise saints is dead wrong. It’s also notable that St. Zelie Martin ran a business–and raised saints. It sounds like you have made many sacrifices to live on one income and perhaps that has been the best choice for your family. It may not be the best for other families.
That’s not what I was saying…I was saying that MANY times one income would do, if you are willing to live differently. And that it doesn’t take six figures or even anywhere close.
Jann Elaine says
First point: St Zelie Martin worked yeah but she worked from
Raising saints implies actually RAISING them. As in: being the person who is primarily WITH them. Paying someone else (or even when it’s free!) to parent your children all day is not being their parent. It’s outsourcing your job. I agree the economy is bad but at the same time, I honestly believe sacrificing means it can be done. As a previous commenter said, often time it means going without. Without Netlix. Without mascara. Without more than four pairs of shoes. Without summer camp. Without three new toys at Christmas. Without delivery pizza. Without a smartphone. Wothout air conditioning. Without. Our standards for what is “necessary” is excessively high. I have extended family in a third world county. Many of them struggle to eat consistently. Sometimes I feel sorry for myself because I can’t afford to get my hair cut, or to go on pilgrimages, or to buy non-thrift store clothes for my child. But then I remember westerners idea of “without” is not.
“If you have the necessities of survival, you aren’t poor. Poverty is survival without necessities.” I try to remember that.
So according to you, because my grandmother, a single mom, worked she didn’t raise her three children? I beg to differ. If you’ve never needed to work in order to get basic bills paid, congratulations. Plenty of people go without Netflix, take out, smartphones, etc and cannot afford food, shelter, and basic healthcare for their families on one income. Your comment is extremely judgmental.
Jann Elaine says
Single parents are in difficult circumstance as they are the ONLY parent…i understood your original point that with two parent families, not JUST ONE can work. Single parent families struggle to survive, whether or not that’s just financially; I understood that we are talking about whether or not a (devout catholic) family can have just one breadwinner.
If one can’t afford food and shelter…yeah they’re struggling to literally survive (btw, health insurance? Not a necessity). Yeah they probably need to work two jobs to get out of such desperate circumstances, but this shouldn’t be a long term let’s-keep-having-babies fix. It’s an emergency situation. Probably with alot of things that led up to it…Not saying it doesn’t ever happen.
My point (and i think the other commenter’s) was MOST Americans don’t know what it means to actually go without. I don’t know what you find judgemental about that.
What I find judgmental is the idea that parents who work are “outsourcing” their parenting.
Maybe if no one in your family has medical problems, then health insurance isn’t such a big deal. If anyone in your family has a medical condition that necessitates care, not having health insurance can financially ruin you. With my son’s asthma, the cost of one of his hospital stays without insurance could ruin us. Again, you seen to be making all kind of generalizations about how other people should run their lives without actually understanding the realities other people are living or understanding that other families can be doing what’s best for their family even if it’s not exactly the same thing YOU happen to be doing. So yes, I find your whole attitude extremely judgmental.
Broke & Jann Elaine —
First of all, I want to say that I admire your dedication to your vocation, even in the face of economic hardship. You are making many sacrifices in order to live in the way that God has called you. You are doing important work and your obedience to God will bear spiritual fruit.
I also would respectfully ask you to consider a couple of things:
– What does it really mean to “outsource” parenting? If I send a teenage child to the public high school, does that mean I’m not parenting anymore? What if I send a five-year-old to all-day Kindergarten at the local Catholic school? I know a family who co-homeschools…both families get together a couple times a week and the moms divide up the kids by age/subject and teach their specialties. Is that outsourcing parenting? If I leave my kids with grandma for a couple hours so I can run errands, is that outsourcing parenting? What about if I leave them with her for a couple hours so I can work? Or get a pedicure? (Is it just the fact of time away from the kids that defines “outsourcing parenting” or is it the reason for taking time away?) Should we not have our children participate in CCD classes, since that is outsourcing our parenting responsibilities? Are all the Church’s efforts in the realm of pre-K-12 Catholic education actually immoral, because parents should be 100% focused on the work of parenting, 100% of the time?
And maybe most importantly — do husbands who work outside the home still count as parents? Or have they outsourced all their parenting responsibility to their wives?
Secondly, I want to point out that while it is virtuous to have detachment from material goods, the fact that your vocational path has really helped you develop this virtue doesn’t mean that there aren’t other temptations to sin that may arise. (And really, if you are keeping tabs on everyone else’s expenditures, isn’t that still placing your focus on possessions/money?) And if you’re making any of these sacrifices out of a place of fear (that your kids won’t turn out well unless you do X, Y, Z), scrupulosity, or pride, than you’re putting more burdens on yourself than God is asking you to accept. I can’t imagine a nun judging another woman for not being called to the religious life, or a cloistered nun judging a woman called to an active teaching order. I think we as mothers can have confidence in our specific vocational path without feeling the need to make everyone else conform to our same standards.
You know, it’s great that you can make it on one income by cutting on things like gym memberships, clothes, eating out, college savings, etc… But so much of affordability has to do with where you live. I have lived off $18k a year and saved half of it … but there’s no way that would be possible in the place we currently live. We live in a 2-bedroom apartment, with not even enough space for our family of four to sit around the dinner table. We, like you, will probably never be able to afford a house either. We are lucky that my husband makes a good income (I work full-time from home but my income alone would NEVER be able to support us), because I can say for sure there is literally no way to live where we do without making well above the median income for the nation, unless you want to start talking about section 8 housing or tenement-style housing with multiple families living in a single home. And it’s not as easy as “pick up and move” because a) certain types of jobs are very geographically limited b) moving requires initial money and c) sometimes families have special needs and being close to relatives is not just important emotionally but for the family’s bottom line and survival as well. It’s fabulous that you’ve found a way to make it work on one income but I think it’s not fair to assume that anyone can do it. And like Haley, I am not of the opinion that this is the de facto best choice for every family anyways.
Bryn R. says
YES! So few people understand that where you live can make a world of difference. Our housing cost in the last town was less than half of what it is now, but we moved to a place where if we bought a home of the same cost as last time, we’d probably have been mugged in broad daylight/shot/have cars stolen in the areas where houses are that cheap. And rent around our newer city is ridiculously high for low standards. #BigCityDownsides
You’re right — what we think of as necessities are often things that we tell ourselves we need to keep up with the Joneses. Most families probably could be one car, low-tech families and make it on one income, or at least have one parent in the home while the kids aren’t at school. The modern world has its priorities all wrong when we think looking good is more important than spending time with our families.
HOWEVER, health insurance is where I draw the line. Health crises are a major factor in most bankruptcies. You can’t really control when someone in your family will have a life-altering illness or injury. I am also too proud to rely on Uncle Sam to pay for my kid’s checkups when I am able-bodied and capable of work. Parenthood is about sacrifice, and I will gladly sacrifice some of my time with my daughter to ensure that I can afford to buy her medicine.
I just came back to this post for the first time since commenting, and wow – didn’t realize the replies to my original comment. I very much appreciate the sacrifice that is made for many mothers to stay at home (that’s what we’re working towards and hope to be a reality soon!), but I assure you it is just not that simple for everyone. We certainly don’t have the luxuries people are mentioning, and while I don’t think that health insurance is a right, our government has interfered enough in healthcare to make prices absolutely ridiculous. So thank God that we have Samaritan Ministries, otherwise we’d be destroyed from an emergency surgery my husband needed last year. Again, I want to totally validate the sacrifice that so many families make to be a one-income family, but it’s just more complex than that (and as people said – very much depends on where you live as well).
I’m totally in awe of how you achieve your dreams! I don’t know if I could pull off working from home but I managed the next best thing, I went into childcare so my kids come with me! It has nothing to do with my degrees and pays minimum wage but getting to pop over for a quick snuggle and being allowed to breastfeed right at work was a blessing. And fortunately my boss is flexible with my hours so I get as many short days to go do fun things with my kids as possible.
One of my biggest challenges when working outside the home was with breastfeeding. I was only able to nurse my oldest for 4 months. Then when I was at home with the girls everything went so much better and my youngest I nursed for 3 years! It really helps to have your babies with you if you can swing it. So glad you found something that works for your family!
I freelanced 15-20 hours a week for six years and through three babies, and while I do think it was a really blessing for us at the time, it is important to point out that it isn’t always as ideal as it sounds! I can’t tell you how many people commented that it was the best of the both worlds, to stay home full time with the kids while still keeping my hand in the game with my career. And, for the first baby, it was the best of both worlds. There is all the time in the world to fit in work with just one child. And even with two children, it was ok. But by the time baby number three came along, it was an unmanageable situation, and I am an organized person! In reality, what it means is that you take care of children all day and then frantically squeeze work into all the extra hours, and you have absolutely no time for yourself, no exercise, no prayer, no reading, no time for friends etc. And it is hard to be with the kids when all you are thinking of is when you can get that next minute to work on a project for work. Of course, we all go through times when this is just the way it is — brand new baby, sickness in the house, you know. But it is not healthy to live like this month in, month out. So I would just like to point out, be honest with yourself about your situation before taking on something like this! If you have one napping baby, great! Go for it! If your youngest is 4, go for it! If your husband works odd hours and can sometimes give you a dedicated chunk of time a couple times a week, go for it! But if none of these are your situation, just be realistic. You need to carve time away from the kids to get work done — do not sacrifice all your free time.
Marie S. says
This sounds remarkably familiar… I have worked from home part time, on call (which for me means that I never have the same schedule twice) for about 5.5 years now. It’s either feast or famine on the hours, depending on what is going on, project-wise. I wouldn’t be doing it if I hadn’t worked for my firm more than 10 years prior to kids. May was crazy busy for me, with 15-20 hours weekly. I cannot imagine sustaining that for 6 years. I’m impressed you were able to do it. I’m happy to be back to my “usually less than 10 hours a week.” It helps with that “free time” thing you mention… (My kids are 5, 3, and under a year, so I guess it’s “free time” even if it’s at 9pm.)
Oh man I hear you.
I’m really lucky I can work from home but I frequently hate that feeling of always being pulled in multiple directions.
Yes, I resonate with this too. So much of what works is simply seasonal – dependent on a lot of factors, like kids, location, available help, community, etc. I’m also glad to read this, Haley, and to understand how well it works for your family. I think the key here it to give a lot of grace, all around – families are different, and women are different! Some of us thrive working outside of the home, some of us thrive working inside the home. None of it is easy, and none of it is perfect. I personally struggle with the part time work I have at home because it would be easier for me to be able to get away to do the work – not have to juggle the kids while working. But that’s just me, at this season! 🙂
I’m so grateful that you wrote about this! Especially the first part, about how hard it is to make it on one income in this economy. My husband and I both work full-time away from the home and we have two young children. I love the idea of working from home, but I am a nurse and I can’t imagine another job that would fulfill me as much. I feel like I am operating in my calling when I am with patients. It is hard to manage everything being away so much and still feel like I’m connecting with my kids, but I just have to believe that God is working in and through us this way.
I think it is important to recognize that some families need both parents working outside the home to make ends meet…and some families need one parent working inside and one outside…and some need just one parent working….and then, also in the mix, are families where both parents WANT to work because they love and feel called to the work they do, and it works for their families. I love Haley’s point about St. Zelie Martin – she ran a business and she raised saints, and I haven’t heard anyone say, well, she HAD to do run the business. I’m defensive about the idea that it’s okay for mom to work if she HAS to, but the mom who works because she wants to/loves it/wants to pay for a nicer house or a a family vacation once a year because that’s awesome bonding time is somehow less Catholic or less able to raise saints.
You and God are the experts on your calling, Kathleen! I really believe you can Nurse and Mom and in each instance be doing exactly what you were meant to be doing.
Amen to that Kate!
This is such a hard balance we women grapple with, especially us Catholics where family and children are central to our beliefs; we are trying to live Jesus’s teachings in our selfless love of others and raise disciples for the Church. Sometimes it is just not possible to live on one income. And sometimes it’s necessary for both parents to work outside of the home. For families in that position, I find it empowering to hand that struggle over to God. Trying to control our careers isn’t always possible and isn’t the answer for everyone. Sometimes the best answer is to hand the control to Jesus and ask that He guide us and our family through the struggle. I don’t think mothers or fathers who are home with their children should be judged more favorably for living out Christ’s teachings and raising a stronger family. Circumstances are circumstances and many can’t be avoided thanks to that post recession economy you mention. I think that your surrender to Christ’s guidance when you are unable to make things the way you feel they should be is an overlooked component of living your faith through your family.
Your voice is so important on this Haley, and has been a breath of fresh air on many things I’ve read of yours recently. To be a faithful Catholic who wants to prioritise the beauty and work of raising the family well, but still living in the reality of our world and all the difficult things it brings in making family life work– THAT’S what I want to hear about!
The ideal of single male breadwinner is fading fast in the modern age for families. No matter what ‘tips’ we hear for getting there, it may just not be feasible or applicable for our family, location, occupation. There is room for VARIETY in Catholic families! We need voices in the Catholic sphere that don’t assume that the ‘ideal’ with non-financially contributing stay at home mom is the only way to raise a faithful family (though of course it is great!)
Additionally, the male breadwinner who goes out to work and comes home at dinner is really a 20th C invention for the majority of families below upper class. Before that, the homestead was contributed to by both mother and father working together- dad farming or with a trade, mom helping in the bakery or forge for example in the background, or on the side sewing or selling eggs. A frugal life, but greater sense of shared purpose in the family as 2 parents had a financial burden on their head, and a daily schedule working in tandem for the goal.
As always, our Christian life is not without trial and hard work. Finding a way to support our family as a mother or father can be stressful, but Jesus is present and can give us leave about what to do in it all.
So insightful! Thanks for sharing this, Sarah.
“There’s major problems with an economy that requires both parents to work in order to survive. As devout Catholics, we believe that children are gifts from God and that openness to life is a virtue. We believe that the family and home should center our lives and that nurturing them is a duty that takes precedence over any career. And yet, the way our economy is set up makes that very difficult to live that out.”
I absolutely agree. This is particularly frustrating to me sometimes because my husband works for the church full time, but also carries a full schedule of private music students, just so we can function. As much as I wish I could contribute to our income, I feel completely overwhelmed and ill equipped to keep up as it is. Squeezing in a shower is more than I can manage some days. I’d love to see how your days break down, and what options might be available (that don’t involve leggings, supplements, or cosmetics…) ?
Em Em says
Well written article, cheers! To some of those who are responding: I wonder… is it truly our economy to blame for the church-employee + free-lance music teacher struggling to make ends meet? I sympathize with the sentiments in this blog, truly I do, but to say that there are no opportunities for a husband/wife to earn enough money to be a single-income bread winner isn’t true. What is absolutely true is that the common millennial is the first to have “inherited” an economy that isn’t better than his or her direct predecessor. We also face increasing college tuition costs and a dollar that is inflating into thin-air. Further, it is without question that 40k a year doesn’t go as far as it used to. Ontop of this, we’ve all added expenses to our lives that they didn’t have 40 years ago (i.e. Cell phones, internet, cable, starbucks).
We are approaching a time where the arts/music/theology degree are not going to be a viable option for the majority, save for exceedingly rarer examples of people who are successful. If your future career projects a potential salary of $25,000 annually, and you have a family to take care of, there is an onus to work your way up the line of command or look for another job where this is possible. Alternatively, we might have to pick up a second job, or perhaps go back to school and get a degree where entry level positions start at the $40,000 level (hint hint, this isn’t with the latest and greatest MLM company i.e.: herbalife, cosmetics, supplements, mary-kay). Success is where preparation meets opportunity, and it is still possible for the the blue-collar worker to overcome his or her circumstances and jump up (or frankly jump down) an income class.
When 40k, 60k, etc. don’t cut it, as is the situation (I imagine) for families of 6+, I think that the message to all those reading is that we need “act our wage” as Dave Ramsey would say, and family planning becomes a part of that. Talk with any commoner who endured The Great Depression, quickly we would realize that the ability to post to this blog points to the fact that we have a different sort of poverty on our hands, one where maybe we have to put up with the iPhone 4, or a 5 year old laptop, and deny ourselves vacations.
” is it truly our economy to blame for the church-employee + free-lance music teacher struggling to make ends meet?”
Em Em, is it ethical for a church to be paying a full-time employee less than a living wage? While families may need to get creative or switch gears to make certain situations viable, there is something very wrong with paying someone a wage that couldn’t possibly pay for food, shelter, and healthcare. It’s even MORE disturbing when this happens in the Church.
Love this post! I think my biggest question/struggle is how to survive the season where you have to work FT outside the home because DH is pursuing an education that would hopefully lead to you being able to cut back to working PT or finding the right work-from-home job down the road, while still being open to life and raising littles. How do you plan for the future in that situation, how do you know what to even focus on because it’s overwhelming, how do you set yourself up for working from home success, etc.
We did this exactly for four years – sent me to work while hubby pursued next level Ed that has led to a well-paying job and relocation to be near family. It is unique for everyone – I had just achieved a Masters in Theology so I was able to land probably the best paying DRE job for a parish near his pharm school – we used state and school benefits – but so much was Providential too – the church had a little teeny bungalow that they offered me for $4k off my annual salary (what?!) and allowed me to walk back and forth after bedtimes and for chunks of work time. We did tons of trusting and tried to do as much proactive seeking as we could too. My son was 2 when we started, we were dying for a second so we conceived her almost right away and had her before summer break #1, and struggled to delay #3’s conception until the final year of school (4 yr program), giving birth after grad. We pinched a lot of pennies but it all worked out. It was actually in many ways a great season for us – the Lord walked with us through every step but t was hard too and I definitely felt pulled in took my directions at times. I am so happy to see hubby in his well chosen/discerned profession a year and a half in – it suits him so well and he can make a reasonable income for us. (Chose hospital pharmacy – not nearly as lucrative as retail but still has great earning power – also public service so possibly eligible for some loan forgiveness ten years in.) ask the Lord (and killer Saints via novenas etc!) to show you each step of the way – we did prayers for applications, tests, housing, etc etc etc. good luck!!!
Chelsea Clarkson says
This entire post sums up my life. I love your honesty: We are in a pretty frustrating place right now, our business is chugging along but the overhead/cost of farm infrastructure is so high. We scrape by and have zero savings. I’ve waited on the bundles because my kids are so little and close in age- I didn’t want to purchase something that I wouldn’t be able to use for a while. But maybe now is a better time!
Is the bundle accessible on an iPhone? Our computer is having issues at the moment (also it’s easy to check things out on my phone when I put the baby down).
This is how we do it on one salary of less than $45K a year (before taxes):
BIG CAVEAT – Our state (MN) pays for our children’s health insurance at our income level. Without this, we would most definitely need something like Samaritan ministries to make it work.
Groundwork – before we had children (before we even got married and were engaged), my husband and I had 5 jobs between us to pay off all our student loan and car debt. This is essential. It would be impossible for us to not have multiple jobs right now if we still had our student debt. We did not travel, go out, buy nice cars, NADA until this was paid off. But we did it. It involved sacrifice, but was 100% worth the two years it took.
Today, we have 2 children, live in a small house in an urban area (with a mortgage payable with one income), and buy everything used. We have one car and my husband sucks it up and uses public transportation. For our medical bills, we applied to every local hospital for their in-house bill assistance (we do not receive bills now – I encourage everyone to look into this). This limits where we can go to the doctor, but it is definitely worth it.
Our family trips consist of camping but we do enjoy it. We don’t have big vacations at this stage in life. We say no to travel weddings. The kids don’t get new clothes or toys, but they are happy! We shop at Aldi (also a lifesaver, don’t know how people do it at other grocery stores). I also open my house a few afternoons a week to people in the neighborhood who need short term day care – there is a waitlist for me. SO SO many moms and dads just need little bits of childcare here and there and will pay cash! This gives us about $300 worth in cash a month which pays for our groceries.
We are still able to save 15% for retirement and put some into savings every month. Trade-off, I haven’t bought new underwear in 3 years! 😀
Is this for everyone? No. I 100% agree that saying EVERYONE CAN AND SHOULD DO THIS is harmful and doesn’t help people. Yet, I know people who could and won’t give up the luxuries (darn you, elusive new underwear). More importantly, a lot of groundwork has to be laid prior, which doesn’t happen for everyone either. The mom that complains living in a $600,000 house where nobody shares a bedroom doesn’t make sense to me. But we are living proof in this sucky economy that it can be done.
Thanks for sharing your story, Amanda! The thing is, your family’s income keeps you well above the poverty line. While it’s clear that you practice intentionality and frugality to make it possible to live on one income, there are many families who are not making nearly what your husband is. In fact, he’s making close to double what my husband was making when our second child was born (and we didn’t have our children’s health care covered by the state, so we had to pay for that, too). I think it’s a positive message to show families that living on one income can be done in many cases. But, as you said, it will not work for everyone.
Of course. Just sharing my experience and some tips on how we do it.
Em Em says
As Dave Ramsey would say, way to act your wage! This is a wonderful post. I appreciate you highlighting how 45k a year before taxes works for your family. This is an opportunity not out of reach for any zip code, color, race, creed, religion, etc. who has a high-school diploma and is willing to go to college.
Em Em, but what about when your ‘wage’ is $25,000 a year, as Haley’s was and how ours is currently. My husband has a Master’s degree but because he converted to the Catholic Church obviously cannot work as a pastor. So he took a big pay cut to find secular work. After 1.5 years of job hunting we felt lucky for him to find even this entry-level job in development and networking but it pays terrible and required relocating. I think it’s not realistic to assume a college degree always leads to a living wage. We lived happily on anywhere from $38-45K with no help for years when my husband was a pastor, but now we’re just not at that point so we’ve had to cut most everything and are still coming up short so I work part-time from home, like Haley suggested. It doesn’t bring in much and over the summer we’re short, but it helps make things manageable during the year.
I think it’s dangerous to assume people are poor because of a lack of budgeting or a lack of work ethic. My husband works 60 hours a week and is not allowed to take additional employment (delivering pizzas or anything) or he will void his contract. I have 5 kids (one adopted teen with special needs) + pregnant, homeschool, and worked 30 hours a week between teaching, tutoring, and prep work/grading this year for just a few thousand extra for the year. It’s exhausting and frankly not sustainable long-term I know. And I know a wide range of hard-working, educated families in our area who are anywhere from making less than us to making six figures. If you visit the forums for converted pastors you’ll see most have not found a living wage post-conversion to the Catholic Church.
This is something like where we are, but in education rather than ministry. We’re converts too, my husband has a PhD in theology, but it’s not in Catholic theology, so as a convert he has all the wrong qualifications to teach theology, he would have to start from scratch with a new degree. (It took us nine years to get that one, I don’t think so!) He spent many years teaching college philosophy part time for peanuts, trying to work his way up, but education jobs are kind of ruined by the recession and it never happened, despite being consistently the most popular teacher in the department. Now, he recently lost his job teaching high school history and we are totally scrambling. So with a PhD, 11 years of relevant experience and great references, we still aren’t making it. One wonders who can anymore. But the humanities in education aren’t valued anymore, and not everyone can just up and do something “more marketable” that is totally outside their education and skill set. Employers in other fields just look at him like he has three heads – they don’t want a PhD who obviously would up and leave the minute he found a college job. 🙁
I homeschool eight kids, many of them still young, so I can’t exactly go get a job, the childcare would kill us. Hubby and I are both working on blogs that we hope may give us a more sustainable income, but that is in the early stages.
It’s a tough place to be, Amanda, but I know God greatly values the sacrifices you guys have made as converts. I’ll pray for a good route forward for you!
Heidi Saxton says
Have you been in touch with the Coming Home Network? They have resources available for Protestant ministers… Just thought I’d mention it in case you weren’t familiar with this resource. God bless you for your faithfulness in following him, no matter what!
This is very similar to how we lived before my husband’s career change last summer (and, really, still, since the “extra” is for house-savings… and all those random things that don’t cost a lot but add up quickly, like new underwear). We also didn’t have the internet until he needed it to study for the CPA, and our girls have very generous gift-givers in their lives, so we don’t have to buy a lot of baby/kid-related things (even used they add up!). I’ve pulled in extra money freelance writing, money that has never been part of the budget since it’s made inconsistently, depending on family circumstances, but is necessary for things like traffic tickets, unexpected doctor’s visits (we are part of Samaritan ministries now, but even when we had health insurance the co-pay was outrageous), etc.
It’s rough. No one around us was (is) living quite like that, even though our social group is relatively frugal, and sometimes I hear other moms talk about how many women think it’s necessary to work when it isn’t. I always say yes, many women think it’s necessary to work when it isn’t, but for some people it IS necessary to work. If my husband had made just a little less money, if we hadn’t managed to pay off loans in the short time we had two incomes (and a little before we were married), if we had a major car issue, if we didn’t each own a decent car before we married, if I wasn’t able to make anything extra, maybe even if we didn’t have such generous relatives with gift-giving (even if we bought all the baby things new, and only the absolutely necessary ones, that really adds up)… I knew I could cut a little bit more if I had to, but I also knew I couldn’t cut THAT much more.
Also, I’m sure there are circumstances where career-changes aren’t possible (or desirable), but the decision for my husband to take accounting classes and change careers seems to have been a great one (it was that or have us both be scrambling to bring in a little extra here and there, in addition to very frugal living). We are less than a year into the new job (which doesn’t even pay that much more initially, the earning potential is just increased for when kids are in school and activities and there are more of them who eat more etc), and financially it is a relief. More than that, my husband is different. He takes more pride in the work he does, even though it’s not inherently more meaningful than library work, in part because it’s more demanding. Everyone at his work takes it much more seriously. Good work is noticed and rewarded. It’s still hard- he has to travel a little bit and works longer hours, he has less time off (he took TWO MONTHS at the library after our second daughter was born), but just seeing the difference in him in regards to his work makes it worth it.
One thing I’ve noticed with of our generation is that people are very particular about the work they are willing to do. they don’t want to sacrifice and they don’t want to work hard at a job they feel does not fulfill them, instead it’s all about following ones dream. There was a time when duty and family came before personal dreams and men would sacrifice everything working hard in manufacturing or some other labor. People also stayed with one company long enough to promote with time making more money.
Ashley Anderson says
Excellent point! Thank you for making it. Whole-heartedly agree.
Well, it’s more complicated than that. I would happily do all sorts of jobs but my resume has engineering and writing on it. If I tried to get a job as a personal assistant, why should someone hire me? Transitioning between careers takes intentionality and planning; it doesn’t make sense to put all that premeditation into landing in a job you hate.
Em Em says
Why would you become a personal assistant when you have a degree in engineering? Perhaps… become an engineer? or seek a path into management?
It would seem you already put in the work and have the foundation for a great and successful future!
Yes. We have tried transitioning careers but it’s been a flop. If your resume is stuffed with degrees and experience highly relevant to a specific field, it gets tossed in the trash for other ones, no matter how hard you edit it.
Melissa, I love the idea of staying with one company and tried to do that but things have changed since our grand parents were working. Employers don’t always look to promote people and refuse to give raises even after doing all the right things. Employers don’t value long term employees for the most part and the easiest way to get paid more or promoted is to get a new job. If you stay in one spot you usually lose out and make less. Work place values have changed.
I love you sharing how you’ve managed to make your career work while still homeschooling!!! God is so good. This topic of work life balance can be so sensitive for so many people. I know many working moms feel like they are the only ones in a sea of SAHMs. But, funnily enough I live in an area where most families have both parents working outside the home and when I go to a park or a zoo during the day I am the only Mom among the nannies. I do a bit of work from home but at parties and other social settings I feel a little sheepish saying that I am a SAHM, because that is a bit of an anomaly in our area. The times I have worked outside the home with kids, I paid nothing in daycare thanks to generous help from grandparents. But based on the going rate for childcare in our area, I can’t afford to work outside the home, if that makes sense. But, I really think we are seeing a shift in the economy, where more and more companies are offering flexibility and telecommuting options… Because more and more women like you are stepping up and saying we want something different than the options for mothers!
I should add that the cost of child care would be too expensive given my current degree. In order for it to be worth it, I would need to go to gradschool to increase my earning potential.. But grad school cost money.. haha.. But my husband and I are dreaming up ways to make that a possibility.. but we are definitely in discernment mode. And that’s the point of all of this right? God has a unique plan for each family and it’s going to look so different for everyone. He will bless all of us in all our given paths when we trust in Him and keep him at the center. It’s so freeing to be a child of God!
Very eloquently stated!
I just took on more hours at work that I fulfill all from home which I love. I was wondering if you could share with me your schedule to making sure the rest of life keeps running while you fulfill work hours to move your business forward? I find if I don’t commit time to both realms of my life, neither is good- work or home. Im feeling stressed and anxious about my increased hours because I don’t want to miss out on my kids, I want to fulfill this thing I’m passionate about, I want to keep my home running smoothly and peacefully , I want time with my husband.. What’s your schedule for success and peace?
I agree with your statement re something being wrong with our economy if two parents need to work outside the home to make ends meet.
I think that 40 ours of labour should bring in enough to cover the basics: nutritious food, safe housing, and medical care.
I’ve been blessed to be home with our children and I never take it for granted. Financially though things are becoming much tougher and I’ve been trying to brainstorm way to supplement our income. Like yourself I’m looking towards blogging, I’ve been blogging for 11 years so have a great readership to start from but so unsure of what (and how but that’s another story) to market. That’s what’s holding me back. How did you know what to market? How did you actually make money from blogging?
Ashley Anderson says
Haley, I love your knack for bringing rich dialogue to the table. Also, you always respond with such grace to your readers–even those who are, understandably, emotionally charged. I think in that way you are a great model for what kindness to each other can and should look like. Thank you.
This is such a hard topic, especially in Catholic circles. Right now my husband works two jobs to support us and at this stage we both very much feel that God is asking us to live off of one (or rather my husband’s two) income so I can be home full time.
What I struggle with is women who I’ve been friends with for ages who are entering into motherhood and unwilling to consider being at home full time because they can’t fathom giving up aspects of their lifestyle. I totally understand that every family is different, and that each couple should make their own decisions with God, but it’s so hard for me not to judge! And it’s also left me feeling isolated for being “just a mom.”
I guess my point is that it’s helpful, albeit challenging, for me to read posts like this one so that I can be more graceful toward the women in my life who have made different choices than me. I need to stop judging and consider that just because God is calling our family to these sacrifices, He’s not necessarily calling every other mom I know to the same!
Monica K says
Feeling isolated for being “just a mom”. Yes! BEING A MOM IS NOT NOT NOT AN ECONOMIC DRAIN ON THE FAMILY
I will never forget Haley’s podcast interviewing Molly from “Molly Makes Do”. She said we should never take our own experience of doing something and project that on other families, thinking that if they do the same thing, living on one income should work for them, too. (Well, we clip coupons and because of that, we can make it work on one income! Are you too good to clip coupons? If you did, you wouldn’t have to work!)
I am in a situation where it is both a blessing and a cross that my husband’s one income supports our family of six. To earn the kind of income he does, he works in an extremely demanding industry where his hours are so intense that he comes home well after bedtime every night. I do everything alone with my kids and dad is not a part of the equation. We are not rich—we drive older cars, do not take fancy vacations, etc. Where we live, the cost of feeding a family of six and housing us in a very middle class area would blow most people’s minds.
So what we have been thinking lately is that this: Should we move somewhere with a lower cost of living? And what can mom do to supplement the family income? If the entire burden is on dad, he has to work in a demanding field which has higher pay. What would happen if I worked part-time? Would that free him up a bit to work a job where he could work less hours and be a part of family life?
Thank you, Haley, for being so transparent about what this has looked like in your family. God bless you!
I’d love to hear about whether you manage to do a reasonably amount of work without childcare. I stayed home with a very mildly ill 3 yo the other day (daycare says 100.2 is a fever and he can’t come back for 24 hours!) and got next to nothing done “working from home.” It was a full day of read one paragraph – “Mama can you set up my trains?” Write one sentence – “I have to go potty!” Respond to an e-mail – “Can you fix my game?” And that was with letting him watch way more TV and play way more computer games than I usually like to! I can’t imagine getting enough work done to really impact our family budget if I were home with kids all day while trying to do it!
Thanks Haley. I love to read other perspectives of how to make it work. Have you read this book?
I really enjoyed it as she discusses how many women are returning home but in reality a lot of them have successful husbands behind them that allow this to happen. The fact is that most families can’t support themselves completely from their etsy shop. I don’t agree with all the author’s conclusions, but I still thought it was an interesting read.
I thought I was the only one who read that, haha! It was one of the first books I reviewed. I also thought it was interesting but her conclusions were off. Even regarding the Etsy shop, she said a lot of women can make $5,000-10,000 more, but she didn’t get that THAT much more is a lifesaver for many families.
My husband now works from home for a job that pays way less (40K instead of 70K), but we also moved in with my dad to save up for our own home in an area with super cheap housing, and I too work from home as a part-time writer for an online non-profit as well as an NFP instructor (though that occasionally takes me outside the home, haha). I plan to become a postpartum doula one day as well, and knowing that hubby can be with the kids whenever I go out for clients is something we are both excited for. I hope working from home becomes a more available option for others, having a family-centered work space is so important.
Kaitlin Alfermann says
I remember the days of your sweet mother’s helper listening to Anne in the car with you and Lucy and my one afternoon a week job that paid almost nothing after I paid the babysitter. 🙂 Six years later and we’re both working more and making more. Praise God!
I haven’t read through all the comments, but maybe you could write about ways spouses can be supportive of the work at home spouse. My husband is an entrepreneur at heart and I know that makes him happiest, but what worries me is how long it will take for him to start making money. We are living with my mil currently, but do not want to be here for long (long story). We also have a year and half baby plus another baby on the way. Also, maybe some ideas or best at home “business ideas” that will work/most successful. Thanks!
Alix S. says
Haven’t had a chance to read through all the comments, but have you considered doing a series like your NFP one from a few years ago about different work models for families, from the perspective of women? My husband and I just welcomed our first, and are considering all sorts of things – him staying home full time while I work, both of us working part time, him working full time while I work part time from home. We’re leaning towards both of us working part time so we can both be home (and both contribute to homeschooling some day), but it has been so hard to track down people’s stories! It will also be a hard decision for us to reverse given the nature of our jobs, so we’re soaking up anything we can find. Particularly for larger families, since we’re hoping to have a few kids. Can people run a household and have a job where they’re beholden to someone else’s deadlines/schedule and not feel like they need to work when they should be spending time with the kids? Things like that.
Sarah T. says
Oo, I second Alix S.’s idea of a series! Maybe something along the lines of “creating a family-centered life in a work-centered world.”
One gentle reminder, though, that (I think) couples should remember that it is not the woman’s paycheck that goes to childcare, but BOTH spouse’s paychecks. Comparing childcare to only the woman’s paycheck puts her in a position to justify work/life decisions and makes family life and work seem like a “woman’s issue” when, as others have mentioned, there are many larger economic factors at play. These are societal challenges.
Beyond not bringing in a paycheck, a spouse not in the paid workforce often misses out on health insurance, retirement savings, promotions, networking, raises, up to date experience to allow career changes, and lower lifetime earnings. There seems to be quite a “child penalty” in our society which I find heartbreaking!
Husband and I both want children and want share in their upbringing, but we are not sure how to make it work. We live in a region that consistently ranks in the top 10 most expensive areas in the US. Wages are certainly higher, but so is everything else! Daycare costs are nearly as high as rents. Is this the experience for others?
Ashley C says
I feel the same!! We live in a very expensive area and we can’t “just move” like others tell us.
This made me think of a small handout I have from USCCB about Catholic Social Teaching. Under the section about the dignity of work and the rights of workers: “The economy must serve people, not the other way around.”
And yet, like you said, there’s major problems with our current economy. It encourages thinking only about money and making a living, rather than how work is a continuing participation in God’s creation.
My husband provides a great living for us. Still, I work outside the home 50 hours a week. Why? Because I love it. I love it, and I owe exactly zero people an explanation. My mother stayed at home with me, and that’s AWESOME if that makes you happy. It’s also okay if working makes you happy too. I work because I love to work– and that’s okay.
Jamie Piper says
I’m just curious about other options besides blogging. I just feel I wouldn’t be able to write creative enough content and a quantity that would eventually lead to being able to supplement our income or even replace my current work income. Being away from our 20 month old daughter each day kills me and I hate that our economy is forcing me to that situation at this current time. We’re trying to be more frugal to pay off some debt that I will not leave the work force if we still have. I’m interested if anyone does the online personal assistant thing? I’m an administrative assistant by career for almost 15 years now. Is is something I can start out part time while still having a job and then transition to working completely from home with it? What are other options to work from home besides ETSY shops or blogging?
Haley, could you do a post on how you started a blog ? It has al ways been something I am interested in doing, but google overwhelms me. Thank you for this post. I needed it now.
Since only one other person briefly commented on this, and you “never” hear people talk about it in this topic, I just wanted to reiterate what Amanda said above…
“Groundwork – before we had children (before we even got married and were engaged), my husband and I had 5 jobs between us to pay off all our student loan and car debt. This is essential. ”
I agree that planning prevents poor performance… My husband, perhaps from reading and discussing Dave Ramsey, insisted that I pay off all my outstanding debts before we got married. I don’t remember if it was before we were engaged, although I’m sure it came up. Maybe it was before we were engaged. After we were engaged, he got more serious with me. We went into marriage debt free with both cars paid off. We quickly went into debt with our mortgage. But before kids, before marriage is the time to be planning. I do believe that it is primarily the man’s responsibility. He should know about how to manage finances. He should know about what he could be expecting to be earning and understand the cost of living and that it will go up with children.
Also, I like the comment above, Sarah said, “Additionally, the male breadwinner who goes out to work and comes home at dinner is really a 20th C invention for the majority of families below upper class. Before that, the homestead was contributed to by both mother and father working together- dad farming or with a trade, mom helping in the bakery or forge for example in the background, or on the side sewing or selling eggs. A frugal life, but greater sense of shared purpose in the family as 2 parents had a financial burden on their head, and a daily schedule working in tandem for the goal.”
I agree that in many cultures and times, women were contributing. It certainly wasn’t the majority in most cases, except St. Zelie, of course. But it’s not odd for women to be contributing. I think in most cases, examples in literature for instance, Little House etc. women would have done something that could be done in conjunction with their role as homemaker and the one who bore and reared the children for the most part. She would have been able to do more if they were living with multi-generational families such as a Grandma or an aunt who could also help. Let’s just admit that things were different and, yes, each family is unique. You do what you gotta do. If staying with your children is a priority for you, you’re going to try to find a way or suffer until you do. If working is a priority for you (not a judgmental statement) then you are going to find a way to make that work. Should you? Well, each situation is unique, but I think that a majority of us should probably concentrate on the next generation that we’re being entrusted with. We can’t all be St. Joan of Arc… alas!