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Mother's day: Work or stay home?
5 Tips: Making the right childcare decision for your family.
May 6, 2005: 2:05 PM EDT
By Gerri Willis, CNN/Money contributing columnist

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Being a Mom is a full-time job. For working mothers, the job is a mix of meetings and daycare, client lunches and PB&J lunches, hand-shaking and kiss-blowing.

For some five million stay-at-home Moms though, the job also requires a constant changing of hats -- but comes without a paycheck.

No matter which path they choose, most Moms would agree: it's a tough choice between the diaper bag and the briefcase. If you're on the fence, today's five tips will help you make the right choice on whether to work or stay home?

1. Tune out the Joneses.

You might find this a tough decision because of societal pressures. Many women have run in the rat race for long enough that stopping to be a full-time Mom might sound like a setback.

Couples might also feel it's important to keep two salaries to manage their lifestyle. These days, a beautiful suburban home, a two-week vacation to Ft. Lauderdale, and two luxury SUVs are all status symbols of "successful" young families. But with the added cost of a little one, it may be harder to keep up with that race, even if you do continue working.

On the other hand, you might live in a community where being a stay-at-home Mom is a status symbol. All the Moms in the neighborhood are on the PTA, drive carpool and bake for the school bake sales.

Fact is you can still be a great Mom by working. Your paycheck might provide opportunities for your children to go to better schools, take violin lessons, and attend summer camp.

Don't let the societal pressures sway you. Your decision should be made taking into account just your family's personal and financial needs.

2. Weigh the costs & savings.

It's also important to take into account the financial ramifications of your decision. In many instances, going back to work adds very little to your household income.

"You really have to crunch the numbers -- how much is it going to cost you to go to work?" asks Dee Lee, financial planner and author of "Women and Money."

For women who earn $30,000 to $35,000 a year, Lee says it's probably not worth going back to work. After the costs, those Moms probably only add $5,000 in household income.

Work costs money? When you have kids, it does. Childcare is the biggest expense. But don't forget transportation to and from work, business clothing, expensive business lunches, hired help for the house and the yard, pricey takeout dinners, and even pay car services to take the kids to soccer practice.

At the same time, you have to remember that staying at home can have long-term financial repercussions. For one thing, you can no longer contribute to your 401(k) and get a nice company match. You'll also only have one option with your family's health insurance and you may lose career advancement opportunities. To crunch your family's numbers, check out the online calculator on

3. Be true to yourself.

The new generation of mothers is having children later in their lives because they have been very focused with their careers. It's not going to be easy to just drop out of the rat race, even if your finances say it makes the most sense.

As an engineer with a Ph.D., baby talk might drive you crazy. Staying home might make you resent your working spouse.

"If there's a constant feeling of martyrdom, it's not going to work," says Lee.

4. Talk to your advisors.

Get together with your accountant and financial planner to really discuss how you can manage your financial future, no matter your decision. If you opt to stay home, you'll need to make a plan for your own retirement savings and for the kids' college savings.

5. Follow your gut.

Throughout this decision, you are likely going to hear voices in your head, "I have my Masters degree -- do I use it or lose it? But the first three years of my child's life are so important...Will I find good childcare? Should my husband stay home? Will we have to stick to a much tighter budget?"

Many of these questions can be answered simply by following your gut. No matter what you decide, you can make it work for your family. You can always quit your job or go back to work if your first decision doesn't feel right.

And remember, you can always go halfway. Make a deal with your sister or neighbor that you'll both work part-time and watch each other's kids while the other is on the job. Take your expertise, become a consultant and work from home. Or become a Mompreneur, using your Mom skills to build your own business.

Should working moms lose the guilt? Click here.

Click here to read "She makes more than he does."

Gerri Willis is a personal finance editor for CNN Business News and the host for Open House. E-mail comments to  Top of page


Gerri Willis
Personal finance
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