Life is full of decisions — from trivial ones like whether to order a “venti” or “grande” for your AM machiatto, to more important decisions like whether to buy or lease your next car (OK, so maybe the former is not so trivial, but you get my point). We’re all responsible for our decisions, but few decisions are tougher than the ones we face once we become parents. Nothing says pressure quite like having to make decisions for a tiny being that’s completely, 100%, reliant upon us, and the consequences of those decisions will ultimately be at our child’s expense. They will live with it, longer than we’ll have to. (How’s that for hair-graying, sleepless nights)?
Such decisions start well before a child is born. You make healthy food choices to nurture your unborn child, you decide what kind of feeding/sleeping regimen you’re going to implement, what kind of products you’ll use to care for your child. Should you buy organic or non-organic duds? While such decisions are important, they pale in comparison to what I think is one of the single most important decisions all parents have to make for their child(ren) — child care. There are parents who prefer daycare, and those that prefer a nanny. Some can afford a live-in caregiver, while some opt for one parent to stay home. And some parents, unfortunately, have no choice in the matter. All of these decisions come with their share of (different) consequences. For those that decide to have one parent to stay home, the (usual) consequence is becoming a single-income family. Now, if one parent alone brings home a whopping six-figure salary, then you probably have no interest in this article to begin with. But if you live in a big city like LA or NY, even upper-middle class single incomes need a bit of structure in order to work smoothly. Here are some things I’ve learned.
Make a budget. (I detest budgets). But much like my relationship with shots (the medicinal kind that require a syringe and pain tolerance), I realize that, as painful as they are, they do help and are necessary.
Stick to that budget. It’ll be tempting (SO tempting) to buy that pair of shoes you “need” (and oh, look, they happen to be on sale too)! In the words of my husband, “there will always be a new deal tomorrow.” Sometimes he’s right, and sometimes he’s right and it sucks A LOT. Ultimately, it’ll suck more when you go over-budget and realize that you can’t make a bill payment.
Resist temptation. If you know you shouldn’t be buying a new pair of shoes, stop going to the shoe store! No point in amplifying your pain by ogling something that you can’t have.
Make plans. Cutting back doesn’t mean that you have to bid adieu to your social life. Make plans early so you foresee what’s coming and can budget for it. Sure, you might not be able to make it to every social event, but a couple here and there (budget withstanding) is good for everyone’s sanity.
Pack lunches for the working parent. A tried-and-true money-saving tip from all the financial gurus. Might be a little more work, but just cook a little bit extra the night before, and you have lunch for the next day.
Keep a spending spreadsheet and receipts. Being able to see and track your spending will help keep things on track. Excel or Quicken are good tools to use.
Be a savvy shopper. Use coupons and take advantage of grocery deals. Work the retail system to your advantage. Stores like Target and Bed Bath & Beyond will let you stack coupons (on top of deals) for maximum savings. Sometimes, buying household staples (toilet paper, paper towels, soap, napkins) at warehouse stores (like Costco) is worth the up-front cost.
If you used to be a multiple-income family and accustomed to disposable income pre-baby, know that it IS possible to live on a single income, (and comfortably, I might add). If you ever find yourself in a self-pity moment — perhaps wallowing over that pair of shoes you had to leave behind — look at your baby and be reminded of the fact that every moment spent with her is far more valuable than any tangible item you can buy. Trust that every moment she spends with you is far more precious to her than any toy in the universe. And, know that there are so many parents who would trade places with you in a heartbeat.