Happy Money Rules for Stay at Home Parents

This article originally posted on Mint.com

Next time you complain about your 40-hour workweek, consider this: The average stay-at-home mom works more than double that rate - 94 hours per week, to be exact. Her duties include – but are not limited to – cleaning house, cooking, teaching, behavior management and laundry. For this, in theory, she should earn close to $113,000 per year, according to researchers at Salary.com. The same can probably be said for the growing number of stay-at-home dads.

In reality, though, full-time stay-at-home parents don’t receive a paycheck. One common consequence to that is feeling financially powerless or emotionally torn when it comes to spending money on personal needs and wants.

Some admit to feeling as though they’re “taking away” from the family budget when contemplating a personal purchase like clothing or going to lunch with a friend.

“I feel like I have to justify what I need,” one stay-at-home mom of two tells me.

“I feel extremely guilty buying things for myself,” shares another.

So what are some healthy ways couples can adequately set aside funds for the stay-at-home parent to avoid tension and emotional battles? Consider these steps.

Acknowledge Each of Your Feelings

If, as a stay-at-home parent, you feel guilty for spending on yourself, could it be that you’re not feeling valued for the work that you do? If so, are you communicating your feelings to your partner? You should be. “The issue may have more to do with your relationship dynamic,” says Edward Coambs, a financial planner based in Charlotte, N.C.

Stay-at-home parents ought to confess why they don’t feel empowered to spend more freely on personal things or, if and when they feel the need to ask for “permission” to shop. In exchange, Coambs advises income-earning spouses to talk about what it feels like to see their stay-at-home partner spend money on personal things. “From a place of empathy, spouses can usually find common ground in the way the family money is to be spent,” he says.

Budget by the Same Rules

Creating a budget just for the stay-at-home-parent can lead to resentment and feeling subordinate. Eliminate the need for anyone to ‘ask permission’ to access the household money by creating equal spend/save funds for each person in the relationship. This acknowledges that while only one person is making money, both spouses work hard and have equally important responsibilities.   “When both feel they have the daily freedom to treat themselves…household well-being prospers,” says Manisha Thakor, author of Get Financially Naked: How to Talk Money With Your Honey.

How much to allocate? There’s no one-size-fits-all amount. The important thing is that you play fair. Each of you should factor in your anticipated personal needs such as haircuts, clothes, incidentals, etc. (maybe over-estimate a tad to avoid shortages), and, together, decide on an equal percentage of the working partner’s income (say, five or 10%) that will go into your personal funds. Some months you might spend every penny. Other months you might want to save up for a big purchase. The beauty is it’s yours to control. No questions asked.    

Never Say ‘Allowance’

Call it a ‘personal expense account,’ or ‘my personal budget’…but whatever you do, don’t call the money set aside for a stay-at-home parent an allowance. Coambs, who is also a former stay-at-home dad, says the term ‘allowance’ is child-like and shouldn’t be used in a relationship. “It evokes a sense of ‘I have authority over you,’ and takes me back to the days of living with my parents.”  

Thakor agrees. She, personally, likes to call them “joy funds.”  

Stay-at-Home Parents: Earn by Saving

If the stay-at-home parent finds ways to save the family money via coupons or negotiating, shouldn’t he or she be entitled to at least some of that savings? I think so. Growing up I watched my mom – an on-again, off-again stay-at-home parent - negotiate the cost of everything, from bedroom furniture to deli meat. One time, after losing her job and becoming a stay-at-home parent again, the first thing she did was call up every monthly biller we had – from cable to gym to insurance - and insist on lower rates. In the end, she managed to talk our expenses down by $400 a month, which she and my father agreed would be allocated to her existing savings account each month. After all, she’d earned it!

Farnoosh Torabi