Manly is a stay-at-home-dad, which, although growing in popularity, is still a relatively rare life choice. Amusingly, though not unexpectedly, when we talk about it to someone who doesn’t know us, the first two questions they ask are always about (1) how we handle our money and (2) how we divide chores. I think that speaks volumes about how ingrained gender roles are in the perception of what “married” means in our society. In the spirit of NaBloPoMo, this is going to be the first of a few posts on how we have structured our life based in order to make this SAHD thing work out. To start: Finances. Budgets. Money. Everyone seems fascinated by how we do it. But it’s not all that complicated, or at least we try to make it not be complicated.
Finances: this is probably the part where most people would say that we are “lucky” and I would respond that we’ve made some deliberate choices. I have two engineering degrees. I worked my ass off in high school to get scholarships to pay for my undergraduate degree and worked retail and co-op jobs in college to pay for my living expenses. When I went back to school, I used a series of employer tuition-reimbursement programs to pay for my graduate school. So I don’t have any school loans. We drive old cars (6 and 25 years old) so we don’t have car payments. We don’t carry credit card balances; we use them, but then pay them off at the end of the month and collect the cash back. Our only debt is our mortgage. Which — because we live in a low-cost-of-living area, have lived in the same house for over 10 years, and refinanced when the interest rates bottomed out a few years back — is just over $500 a month for a 1700 sqft house on a 1/2 acre. We could not rent a similarly-sized apartment in our area for that much a month. Granted, the house is 40 years old and starting to show its age, but it gives us room in the budget to either (a) make repairs and upgrades or (b) look for a new house. Of course, right now we’re choosing (c) ignore it and keep on keepin’ on. We get health insurance through my employer, which is not the greatest price, but is pretty par for our area in terms of both cost and coverage. I also contribute 8% of my pay to my 401k, so I never see that and thus never miss it. When I get a raise, I usually up my contribution by a portion of it, and I’ll continue doing that until I max out (or at least that’s my current plan). I’m also trying to get 529s set up for the kids, so that will start being factored in as well. My company had a finance guy come in do a lunch lecture on saving for college, and that pretty much scared me into figuring out where we could get anything in our budget to put aside. There’s no way we will be able to pay for any of them completely, but that will at least offset some of the expense one day (or at least, I hope so.) Our big kids are in public preschool, and Fin isn’t old enough to go anywhere, so we don’t have childcare costs which is a HUGE deal. It was like getting a $450/month raise once they both went into public school. We will pay for private preschool again in a few years, so that will come back, but for now, it’s good to have that breathing room. Daycare costs are actually what drove us into the SAHD situation – we did the math, and after paying for 2 infants in full time daycare, M would have been bringing home about $400 a month. Divide that by roughly 160 hours/month, and he was essentially getting paid $2 an hour. He decided that that, plus the crazy logistics that we would have to do to get them dropped off and picked up each day, wasn’t worth it. It was easier to just bite the bullet and drop down to one income.
Budgets: In a nutshell, we have a budget that I keep in a shared google spreadsheet that we both have access to. It’s pretty simple – each row is dated for my pay days; a column for how much my check is; then a series of columns for each of our recurring monthly bills (mortgage, utilities, phone, bug guy, etc.); then a series of columns for my placeholder “bills” to put aside money for car insurance, vacation savings, house repairs; then a column that calculates what is left over from each check. I’ve used this format, swapping out columns as needed, for 15 years. The only major change being a move from excel to the google sheet so that we could easily share the data. The whole thing is essentially a series of virtual envelopes, if you are familiar with envelope budgeting. When I get paid, I check the budget, pay the bills that are due that week, and then update the spreadsheet with the actual amounts I paid. Et voila! No magic here.
Money: let me answer the question you’re really asking – no, M does not have a problem with me making more money than him. See above, re: gender roles. We have figured out over time how much money he needs to run the household, so each paycheck, after the bills are paid, I transfer that money over to his account (we use a local credit union, so I have access to all our accounts with one login. It’s awesome.) We keep separate checking and savings accounts – he spends his money as he sees fit, and I don’t pry. Similarly, he doesn’t harass me about not balancing my checkbook down to the penny like he does. If we need to make a big purchase (like we recently bought a new bed for the kids’ room), we will pull the money out of savings from the virtual “house expenses” envelope. I have a nominal allowance that I try to stick to, but I usually go over. I spent a few months at the beginning of the year tracking my spending and trying to figure out how I spent so much money. Answer: groceries, birthday presents, kids clothes, activities, etc. I don’t usually spend a lot of “my” money on myself – my biggest personal expense is lunches. I eat out at lunch 2-3 times a month, and that’s usually because I’m meeting a friend to catch up while we have kid-free time during the middle of the day.
And there you have it – the bare bones of how we handle money.
Questions from the floor? Anything you want to know?