Occasionally an article pops up about how much housewives/at-home-mothers are "worth." As in financially, as in--if they weren't around doing stuff in their families for free, how much would you have to fork out to pay someone to do the jobs they do. These articles can be a weird combination of insulting and empowering to a housewife/at-home-mother. Speaking as one, I can say that it's nice to feel that the things I do actually contribute financially to the family. And, yet, to put a price tag on the things we so lovingly do (listening to our children slowly sound out words, following a tween as she runs to her room and hurls herself upon the bed, catching your toddler's throw up in your hands--preferably before it hits the couch)--well, you just can't price that stuff, and to try to is insulting.
Yet I do feel that we cheapskates (whether we work full-time, part-time, or stay at home) are making significant financial contributions. I remember the day when my husband and I were trying to work out the details for a life insurance policy. We were discussing the moneys each of us would need if the other died (yeah, fun stuff). I realized that he (the "breadwinner") would need nearly as much money as I (the bread couponer/baker/saver) would. I realized that my contributions were financially significant--that I was not his dependent at all (as certain hair-raising feminists might have you believe), but a significant co-contributor to our financial life together. It felt good; my tiny inner feminist who has chosen to stay home for reasons bigger than herself kinda cheered.
So fellow cheapskates, this is what you get "paid."
Not all cheapskates need childcare, but it's often the first thing people talk about when trying to financially validate motherhood (because again, choosing to stay at home with your kids is all about finances, right?) But anyway, if I died, we would need childcare. Supposing Kip changed to day shift (which would cost him several thousand dollars a year in the first place since right now he earns night-time differential pay), that would be about $400/month. For our three school-aged children to go to after school day care, we'd add another $300/month. So that's $700/month that I "earn" for the family.
Each month we spend about $400 on food for our family of six (that's food only--no toiletries, etc.). I looked up the average amount a family of four spend. The Department of Agriculture estimates it between $600 (thrifty food plan) and $1160 (liberal food plan--meaning food that's a lot nicer) per month. They also give numbers for low-cost and moderate-cost averages if you're interested. SNAP gives (as a maximum allotment) a family of four $632 (and a family of six like us would get a whopping $900/month). Using those numbers as a guide, I save us at least another $200 plus on food a month and we eat pretty healthy and tastily.
How we do it (and please remember that these aren't must-do's; they're what I do):
-I make food at home.
-I do a super cheap (think rice and beans or eggs for dinner) meal once a week, sometimes more.
-We try really really hard not to waste food. About once every month or two I go through my freezers and make a list of the random things in there and try to cook from that.
-I take free food when it's offered, even if I have to freeze or can it.
-My kids are picky. This makes our budget cheaper because often they just want sandwiches or really plain food (not helpful, but just trying to be honest).
-I shop uber cheap stores like Aldi and Ruler Foods. When I don't, I take a quick jaunt through coupons.com and get a few coupons--it doesn't save me tons, but that $5 I save at Walmart always makes me happy.
This is a tough one for our family and we are not super thrifty with our gas. Kip has a 30 minute commute, which adds up. And my kids are getting to the ages where they have some activities sometimes (we're not crazy busy, but driving to soccer and friends' houses adds cost). We spend a good $500/month on gas. Sometimes more. I know--ouch. I don't help with this much, though I always try to combine errands (and I know how much a random trip to Walmart costs--$1.50, so I avoid them). We also use our Discover card, which is right now offering 5% cashback bonus on gas, which is about $25 extra bucks a month while the promotion goes on, so I'm giving myself $25/month for this one. (Kip would never manage more than one credit card in order to maximize rewards, but I have the type of brain that enjoys that so I do).
How we do it:
-Since we're unwilling to move or avoid our friends who are farther than 10 minutes away, my best advice is to consciously combine errands and to use a credit card with good rewards for gas--something that pays between 2% and 5% for gas. It'll give you a little extra Christmas money. (In fact, if you use Discover, you can earn your 5% for gas in months July-September, which you can use on Amazon. And then for October-December, you can get 5% back for all internet purchases for said Christmas presents. Yay!)
-Another thing you might consider is sending your kids to school on the bus. If you take them to school and your school is, say, three miles away (and it's not on your way to somewhere), you're spending about $1 for your round trip. Do that twice a day and you've spent an extra $40 on gas. No pressure all you loving loving moms; it's just something to think about because you could buy yourself a dress with that.
The mighty internet says that women typically spend between $150 and $400/month on clothes. I'm not sure if these numbers are for working women or at-home women or a combination. Don't worry--I did a very scientific facebook poll of my friends and most of them spend less than this. So, it seems a bit high to me, especially since until about 3 years ago I only bought clothes if mine were deteriorating off my body. Recently, however, I've begun to spend more. I'd say I average about $25 or less for me/Kip and less for all my kids (clothes/shoes/socks/undies--the works). So $50/month as a rather high estimate. (I don't even consider this amount a badge of cheapskate honor in any way--you could probably do much better if you didn't care much about clothese.) According to the mighty internet, that means that I save over $100/month on clothes. That doesn't really seem fair since cute clothes are hardly a necessity (especially for a non-working woman), but I am going to give myself $50/month because I clothe my kids on a shoestring (and if you see them and they look like urchins, it's because they choose the pink basketball shorts and old pink shirt, not because they don't have other clothes).
How to do it:
-I shop consignment shops--they are AWESOME for jeans (for grown-ups especially) and for younger children's clothes. I also consign clothes there, which earns us (on average) about $10/month.
-I try not to buy more than we actually need, especially for my kids who currently could not care less about clothes (yes, it is tempting to buy all those cute things for you or your children and, yes, I sometimes succumb, but usually I try to keep it simple).
-I accept and love hand-me-downs. My kids are too young to care.
-I shop clearance racks pretty much every single time I buy new and use coupons on top of that if I can. Kohl's is very good for this. To be honest, the only time I can ever remember paying full price for an article of clothing was once a couple years ago when I bought a red dress ($50) that I loved with my soul, but even that was from Marshall's.
-Generally, when buying clothes for myself, I use a $1 rule. Will I wear it enough that it will be $1 or less per wear? So if I pay $10 for a shirt, I feel I should wear it at least 10 times. If I don't like it enough to do that, I don't buy it. Of course there's wiggle room--generally jeans are used much much more, though a dress might be worn a bit less than that. Still, if I'm thinking of buying a dress for $40 and I know I'll only wear say, two, times, I wouldn't buy it. Again--no pressure here; it's just a sort of guide that helps me decide if a piece of clothing is worth it to me.
-I don't pay anybody to clean my house. Maybe if you come to my house you could guess that. But believe it or not, I do a pretty thorough cleaning every Monday (laundry, toilets, bathtub, cupboards, floors, sometimes dusting--ugh, windows). It takes me about 2 hours. Again, I did a check on the mighty internet and people seem to expect to pay their cleaning ladies between $10 and $15, which seems painfully low, but it is what it is. So I'm giving myself $80/month for that.
-Kip does our lawn (if he didn't I would), which saves us at the very very least $200/month (truthfully, it's probably more like $500 since we have a big lawn that is tricky to mow, but I'm estimating for an average house here).
-We don't have a gym membership. I workout at home 5-6 days a week and Kip runs several times a week. For this we need shoes and some appropriate clothes. Also occasionally I miss the comradery of gyms (I love gyms) and go with friends. Still instead of spending $50/month, I spend about $10. I'm not giving myself any "money saved" for this since obviously going to the gym is not a life necessity, nor is it bad in any way (did I mention I love gyms). But I'm mentioning it because it does help us save money.
So what have I earned for us:
$1080/month. Tax free! (Kip's earned us another $200-500/month on that yard--thanks, love). Which is a very respectable part-time job. It's more than I could earn if I up and decided to work 20 hours/week at a department store for $12/hour. And did I mention it's tax-free!
Please note that this isn't to say that you can't work and also save this money--sure you can--then you'll be that much more ahead (although you probably can't work all the time and save money--there just isn't enough time to make it all happen). This is simply to point out some of the significant financial value of cheapskating your way through life.