Six money myths about stay-at-home moms

Stay at home moms (and dads) can be both financially savvy and incredibly hard working, although misconceptions linger.

Clem Murray/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP/File
Four women and their children walk on the Ocean City, N.J., boardwalk (May 15, 2014).

For most of the last five years, I've been a stay-at-home mom. Now, I've also done other things (like write for Wise Bread!) because I just can't help myself, but most of that time has been spent with my kids. I've wiped tears, changed diapers — the whole bit. And I chose that. It's what worked best for our family at the time, for a number of reasons.

I've talked to a lot of people about my choice to stay home while the kids were little and, along the way, I've run into a lot of misconceptions like, "So, you wear pajamas all day, right?" Um, no. We actually leave the house most days.

And a good number of those misconceptions are financial, or have financial implications. I have found these conversations both interesting and frustrating. Interesting, because I have come to know and understand how other people see me, and frustrating because they are usually so, so wrong.

Here are a few common myths about stay-at-home moms. Hopefully, this list will help you think about staying at home — or about friends who already stay at home — differently.

1. SAHMs Don't Make Money

I've had a good number of people assume that staying at home with my kids is all or nothing. I'm either out there working and bringing in income, or I'm at home, making zero dollars. The truth is, there's a huge amount of middle ground between those two scenarios. If we have an unexpected expense, I pick up writing and editing jobs to help cover it. If we decide we want to go on a trip that exceeds our current budget, I do the same thing.

Most of the stay-at-home moms I know have some sort of side job that they do when or if they need to make some money. Sure, they don't bring in as much as they used to, but they are not entirely dependent on their significant other's income, either. And they do everything. So staying at home doesn't necessarily mean bringing in zero income.

2. SAHMs Wish They Made Money

I've had so many people ask me if it's hard for my husband and I to have him bringing in the majority of the income. "Don't you wish you could at least make your own spending money?" they'll ask.

The truth is, before I started staying home with our kids, we had some hard conversations. Through those, we made decisions. All of our money, right now, is ours. It's not his or mine, but ours. What he brings in and what I bring in both go into a communal pot, and we can both spend from there as we see fit. We also budget together, so we jointly decide on financial goals and pursue them together.

That's not to say that I never wish that I was making more money. But me staying home is a decision we made together, and my lack of income is not causing problems in my marriage.

3. SAHMs Are Penny Pinchers

Some people think that my family lives in borderline poverty because I stay at home. They assume that I clip coupons, shop sales, know thrift stores well, etc. While I'd probably be a better manager of our funds if I did all of that, I don't. I don't have to be frugal all the time, because we've budgeted in such a way that we have some financial freedom even though I'm not working.

Not all stay-at-home moms are penny pinchers. I know myself, and I know that I'd go crazy if I had to make sure I saved on everything, so we have structured our lives in such a way that I don't. Sure, I love sales as much as the next person, but I don't limit myself to them.

4. SAHMs Spend Too Much

On the other hand, some people think that, because I stay at home, I spend a lot of money. I think these people have a picture in their head of a "yummy mummy," or a wealthy housewife on a reality show, and that's not just me, nor is it any of the stay-at-home moms I currently know. Being at home really hasn't changed how I think about spending, though I do buy different things now than I used to.

I've even had people say things like, "Oh, you must, like, spend so much at Starbucks." Nope. I didn't buy a lot of expensive coffee before I stayed at home and I don't now. I suppose that someone who overspends before they stay home would be likely to continue those habits, but there's nothing inherent in staying home that makes a person develop expensive habits.

5. SAHMs Feel Like Slaves

"But you're working for nothing," one friend said to me. "Doesn't that get to you?" I smiled. Not only am I saving the cost of daycare for three small children — which is not cheap, at least in our neck of the woods — but I'm doing jobs worth over $110,000 a year. Sure, I don't see that money, but I don't have to spend it, either!

I think that some stay-at-home moms do end up feeling like slaves or servants, but most of us don't. Personally, I went into this gig with my eyes open. Sure, there's lots of manual labor, many not-so-glorious moments, and more tears and whining that I can honestly say I needed to hear, ever. But there is also the laughter, learning new things, and the moments of heartbreaking kindness that I wouldn't have seen otherwise.

I'm not a slave. I simply chose to do some difficult things in exchange for some good ones. And which of us hasn't made that choice, sometime in our lives?

6. SAHMs Have It All

This is one of the misconceptions about being a stay-at-home mom that I run into the most, usually from other moms who have chosen to work full-time. "Oh, you have it all," they will say. "You're financially secure and you get to stay at home. I wish I could do that."

Truthfully, we make sacrifices for me to stay at home. We don't drive new cars. We live in a house that is smaller, older, and less updated than those of most of our friends. We take low-key and inexpensive vacations, if we travel at all. My husband works more overtime than he'd like, so we can pay our bills.

On the flipside, our financial security is wrapped up in one job, one company. If something ever happens to that, we will be in a world of hurt. All of our eggs, as they say, are in one basket.

Is all of this worth it? Right now, yeah. Absolutely. But I don't have it all. I have simply chosen one set of sacrifices and joys over another.

This article is from Sarah Winfrey of Wise Bread, an award-winning personal finance and credit card comparison website. This article first appeared in Wise Bread.

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