“Does not work out on paper” and a little more on making that big decision

When I was a working mom who longed to be able to quit my job, I often looked on the web for stories of women who had already succeeded in making this transition.  Of course I found some inspirational stories, but often they involved women who didn’t need to work for the money and were just choosing to be home instead of working. It was a preference to work for these women, not a necessity. This was not my story.

I would hear all the time that once you factor in all of your daycare expenses, cost to commute to work, and cost of buying lunches and coffee, really, a working mother doesn’t bring home very much. Well, I had already cut out the buying lunches and coffee a long time ago. And at this point my cost of commuting had already been slashed when I took a new job close to home. The money that I brought home was still substantial enough to keep me working, or so I thought.

As I mentioned in the previous post, one Tuesday night I came to my husband with my computer in hand and presented him with my “Mommy Stay at Home Plan”. I had reworked a couple of things and had figured out a way for quitting to be a real possibility. It took a little creativity to shuffle things around.  We would use some of our savings to pay off more of our car loan to lower monthly payments and we would rely on our annual income tax return to pay for our property taxes, which also lowered monthly expenses. (No more fun income tax return spending!) The budget I had drafted stripped us down to the bare necessities. It was going to take major financial diligence and a lot of faith to actually implement this plan.

We were both a little scared to really take that leap of faith.   In a romantic sense, I loved the idea of putting our faith in God, trusting that this was His plan for us. I loved the idea of my husband being the traditional breadwinner and of me being the homemaker and sole caretaker and teacher of our children. However, in reality, the idea of literally cutting our gross income in half was terrifying.

What were we scared of?   A huge concern, of course, was that we would not make it month to month and then would have to dip into savings so often that we’d have no money left.

We were also concerned about saving money. We really would not be saving much of anything on this plan. We could possibly still contribute a little to college funds for our children. Beyond that, we wouldn’t be saving anything. And since I had always been a huge saver, this made me quite uncomfortable.   It also broke my heart that I might have to stop setting aside money for a future family trip to Disney World, something I’d been saving towards since we got married. It sounds totally silly, but this was something that held me back a little. And yet, I knew that saving for a vacation should not be a reason for me to ignore what I felt God was calling us to do.

Another fear I had was budgeting. I mean REALLY budgeting. I had NEVER followed much of a budget. As a single gal, I had made a good salary. And in those single days, although I was very prudent and saved a lot of money, I was also able to splurge here and there and take multiple trips within the U.S. and even in Europe. Some of these splurges soon became “normal” expenses to me.   Of course, getting married and becoming a mother had already helped me relearn the difference between a splurge and a normal expense.  But for the most part, because I worked, I could still go to Starbucks on occasion and buy a new book or CD without much thought or guilt. There could be no such purchases in the future if I stayed at home. Every little thing I purchased would have to be out of necessity. Could I really be so mindful??

The other remaining fear that I had was of being able to give to others. This may sound a little strange, but it was a serious concern. I had always prided myself on my ability to give good and thoughtful gifts to my family for birthdays and Christmas.   For example, when I was single I usually got my mom tickets to some sort of Broadway in Chicago show or bought her a cool piece of art. It was incredibly humbling when I thought that I might not be able to give these types of gifts anymore.

Dear Hubby and I had to remind ourselves that all of these fears were just that, fears. They were not real…yet. We did not know what the future was going to hold, good or bad. We did not know if it would be hard to say no to certain expenditures once I was staying at home. There was no way to know any of this unless we just took a chance and lived on one income.

As my husband and I sat there staring at the numbers on the computer screen, trying to make a final decision, I thought back to an online conversation that I had had with a former high school classmate three years earlier. During our online correspondence I told this devout Catholic woman, whom I really did not know very well, how much I admired her for staying home with four kids in this modern age. Her husband was a teacher at a Catholic school and I just couldn’t comprehend how they were making ends meet. I told her how much I wished I could stay at home and trust that, if it were God’s will, everything would just work out. She responded with advice about tithing (another topic I’ll have to touch on later) and about looking into a specific financial planning class. I’ve always been extremely responsible with my finances, so that wasn’t the problem. What she said next is what really stuck with me:

“…I would just tell you that staying home, most of the time, does not work out on paper. Meaning, it does not always seem like the sensible thing to do. I have seen that it is not until I actually stayed home and we felt the pinch, were we able to make things work out financially…”

DOES NOT WORK OUT ON PAPER???

How could I be okay with it NOT working out on paper? I wanted to be responsible and felt that I could only quit if I was totally positive that it was all going to work out. Obviously, this is just not how faith in God works. There are no guarantees. My husband and I decided that we would take one day at a time, with no guarantees, and have faith that we were being called to a different way of life. We decided that I would quit my job and once a year had passed we would reevaluate everything.

Here we are, a little over a year later, and I’m still at home. By the grace of God, what didn’t seem to work out on paper has actually worked. What I’ve learned is that once you truly TRUST in God’s will, blessings pour forth.  For us, blessings came in many different forms this year. My husband increased his income by 17%. (Praise God!)  My mother generously provided new clothing and gifts for all of us throughout the year. My cousin and sister-in-law gave us bags of gently used clothing. And perhaps most importantly, I believe my husband and I were graced with a stronger faith life.

How can you increase your faith to make a daring decision? Well, I think the key is that YOU must make the first move. “Seek and you shall find.” You have to open yourself up to God, open up to His grace, before He will show the way. Like the Cheap Trick song, God wants you to want Him! Okay, that’s not the song exactly, but you get the idea. If you open yourself up, you will not be disappointed. I believe a particular person helped me open myself up to God. She led me to Jesus.  If you want to find out who this lady is, read my next post. (Oooh a teaser!)

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Happily Struggling

A little over a year ago, my husband and I made a huge decision for our family. About a week after making the decision, I wrote this. Now, after some recent editing, I would like to share it in a new space that I call “Happily Struggling”.

When I got pregnant, I was a full-time working wife.  Even while pregnant, I knew I wasn’t going to want to go back to work after my maternity leave. But, at that time, staying home was just not an option.  Financially, we couldn’t make it work.

When our daughter was about ten months old, I dropped down to working only part-time. I felt much better and so did my Dear Hubby. I had a predictable job that I knew very well and I had an abundance of vacation and sick days to take.  I worked three days a week and had twelve paid vacation days and six paid sick days. With this schedule, I had two days off every week to play with our Little Lady, attempt to clean the house, and make dinners for the remaining work days.  Sounds pretty good, right? It would have been, if not for my hour and forty minute commute.  But for the most part, we were managing well.

Our son was born when our daughter was a little over two years old. Once he arrived, everything got a little more difficult again.  Unlike the Little Lady, our new Little Guy didn’t sleep very well.  Little Lady slept through the night at about 4 months, just around the time I went back to work. At ten months, Little Guy still didn’t sleep through the night.  Juggling two kids relatively close in age and working part-time with little to no sleep was a bit difficult.   And the commute was killing me.  With the crazy storms our area had in the summer of 2013, my commute home was sometimes three hours long.  INSANE!  And through all of this, I was still trying to pump because Little Guy was not taking formula very well.

Because I didn’t think staying at home was an option for us, I looked for a job close to home and finally found one.  I took a month off between my old and new jobs and it was wonderful.  I’m not sure how I actually got myself to go back to work after that month off.

I should have taken it as a perhaps a little sign from God when, on my first day at my new job, a male coworker walked into my office while I was pumping and asked me what I was doing.  It was so awkward.  I came home crying and really didn’t want to go back.  I did go back and I actually liked the job for the most part.  I was starting to learn about tax returns, something I had not yet done in my career.  (Yes, I am a CPA, but that doesn’t mean that I’m well versed in tax code!)  It became increasingly apparent that I would have to do more studying and catching up outside of work.  With a baby that thought 4am was a lovely time to wake up for the day and also liked a midnight snack, I just didn’t have the energy at home to put into studying.

One Sunday, I had a bit of an emotional breakdown.  I felt like I was becoming too frazzled and stressed and overwhelmed.  I felt like I wasn’t the wife and mother that I wanted to be to Dear Hubby and the kids.  I told Dear Hubby that I wanted to look at our finances again to see if there was ANY way that we could make it work for me to stay home.  I had run the numbers so many times and the numbers never seemed to work out.  I even made excel spreadsheets to try to map out what it would take for me to quit my job. (I am an accountant by trade after all.)

The net amount of money that I made after accounting for daycare costs had been decreasing due to a couple of factors.  First, I had taken a significant pay cut with my new job and I had fewer paid days off.  Second, a family crisis had made my mom less available for her “Granny Nanny” days and we began to pay for an additional day per week of childcare.  Although my take home pay was getting smaller and smaller, it was still enough to make us think we needed it.

I prayed for guidance and for some signs that staying at home was the right thing to do.  That week, I got them.  On a Sunday night Little Guy got up every two hours.  Each time I got up with the poor little guy, I was up for at least a half hour.   As you can guess, I was totally exhausted at work the next day.  My eyes hurt and I could hardly concentrate.  Adding insult to injury, I received a letter from my boss telling me that I needed to spend more time outside of work learning tax concepts. Ugh…When was I going to have time or energy for that??  I sat at my computer and just cried.

I’d always thought of myself as someone who could handle anything, take on more than anyone, you get the idea. But that morning, running on only a couple of hours of sleep, I had just reached my limit.  I read on a blog somewhere or perhaps heard on the radio that, in these times, women tend to wear their high stress as a badge of honor.  In other words, you’re Supermom if you have a million things on your plate.  So, let’s flip that and reverse it; is our culture sending the message that you’re not a good mom if you are at home with your kids leading a simple life? (I have no idea if I used that semicolon properly.)  I really didn’t like that sentiment and I decided that I wanted “to be the change that I wanted to see in the world”.

Dear Hubby and I looked at the numbers again, via my “Mommy Stay at Home Plan” excel spreadsheet, and late on a Tuesday night, we finally decided that, although it would be a total leap of faith, it would be the right thing for our family for me to quit my job.  We knew that this “plan” included cutting a lot of luxuries that many people probably do not describe as luxuries.  But, we were willing to make those sacrifices and others because, as I’d been saying to everyone,

We would rather be HAPPILY STRUGGLING than struggling to be happy.

And at the time we didn’t really know what kind of struggle it was going to be.  All we knew was that it was the right decision for us at that time.  After making the decision, I had the worst night with the kids that I had ever had and had to call in sick to work the next two days.  It was like God was giving me more of the signs I had prayed for.  He was knocking me over the head with them, actually!  My kids needed ME.  Then, he gave me another huge sign, just in case I wasn’t listening.   After telling our babysitter that we would no longer need her services, something I was so nervous to do, she told me that she had also been nervous because she was going to have to take some time off in the spring due to her third baby on the way.  Once I heard that happy news, any doubts I had were totally wiped away. It was all meant to be.

Continue reading my blog to discover how faith played a role in making this decision.  I will also be exploring the financial aspects of our decision, along with other random topics, in future posts.   I hope to give a little nudge of encouragement to anyone who is struggling with a decision like ours.