Is living on one income a status symbol?

by Xin Lu on 7 August 2008 62 comments

Recently CNN published an article titled "No kids, no jobs for growing number of wives ". This article profiled two women who are stay at home wives with no kids. A quote from the article states that "stay-at-home wives are the latest 'status symbols'" and that "a stay-at-home spouse is often an extreme and visible luxury".

The article spawned a lot of comments ranging from vitriolic statements saying that these stay at home wives are lazy and selfish "trophy wives" to some sentiments that indicate that it is awesome these people could live on one income. What I found interesting is that the entire article gave the impression that it is abnormal for a family to live on one income, and that these stay at home wives are such oddities that they needed to be displayed and analyzed.

For a very long time it was widely accepted for a spouse to stay home and one income was enough for living and saving. In Elizabeth Warren's Two Income Trap she explains that since many women poured into the work force single income families had to compete for the same resources as two income families. As a result, the cost of many necessities went up and two income families became the norm. Throughout the book, she argued that a stay at home spouse is an enormous economic safety net against unemployment and disability, and families that need two incomes to survive take on double the risk of facing bankruptcy.

Even when both spouses work, I think there is a safety net in living on one income. My husband and I live on less than one of our incomes, and that gives me a sense of security because in case one of us lose our jobs or becomes unable to work at least we know we can survive on one income. Additionally, saving the extra income for the future lets us reach early retirement more quickly.

So is living on one income a status symbol for families with at least two able bodied adults? I suppose it could be, but I think most families that live on one income in today's society do not live in luxury. In fact, for two people to live on one modest income takes quite a bit of discipline and frugal sense and I think it is rather unfortunate that this lifestyle is now seen as abnormal.

Does your family live on one income? Do you think having a stay at home spouse is an "extreme luxury"?

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Andrea Karim's picture

Hm, the way it's worded, they almost make the women sound like concubines. I have to admit, I'd be weirded out to not have SOME kind of day job, be it in the general workforce, self-employment, or motherhood. Then again, maybe these women are extraordinary volunteers. None of our business how they want to live their lives, though.

Guest's picture

My household live on one salary, however we both work because we prefer it. Also I think Im a little to young to retire. However, as you said if one loses their job, we are still financially intact. And that's is a good feeling.

It just shows that both of you can manage the money properly

Guest's picture

My husband pulls in a very respectable salary. My skills and area of study are not well compensated in the marketplace. So I stay at home and to things like garden, bake our bread, can our garden produce, keep laying hens, cook all meals from scratch, home maintenance, etc. The vast majority of the housework, yardwork, and cleaning fall on me. I also earn a little income here and there with casual paid labor, selling my breads, writing, etc. I give back to the community too through regular volunteer work at a food bank. I don't think I'm lazy. And I don't think my lifestyle is a status symbol. I'm far from glamorous.

Maybe there are well pampered stay at home wives, but some of us are using it to save money. By staying at home, I can prevent a lot of unnecessary expenditures. I have time to do a lot of traditional tasks that our grandmothers took for granted. We don't need another vehicle for me to get to my job. I also have the resource of time to invest in our social network, which gives us many ways of saving money, ranging from carpooling to borrowing many tools we otherwise might buy, gleaning, etc.

Guest's picture
Darlene

I think you're doing a fantastic thing! You're living the life I hope I'll get to live one day. My husband and I are currently both working and trying to pay off credit cards and loans from college. But after that I hope to stay at home and be a homemaker and wife. I think saying that women who stay at home without kids are jobless is a gross understatment. I know that when I take vacation time to get away from the office, and stay home vs going away on a trip, I work 2 or 3 times harder at home than when I'm getting paid.

Besides, if you and your husband are happy with the arrangment, who cares?

Guest's picture
Guest

The idea of two people working, yet living on one income, seems quite different than what the article is talking about. I think many (well, in the personal finance world, not in general) live on one income. If you can live on one income, and both spouses have good earning power, it makes very little sense for one to stay home. Think of all they could be putting away into savings if both worked. (Well, you know how much, because you are)

Throw in kids, and that is a different argument.

I think it is weird to have the wife stay home with no kids, but only because I never knew anyone that did.

Guest's picture
Jan

There are so many things that need doing to keep a household running smoothly. For years and years wives did just that. This is not a new concept. We have promised women they could have it all, but that is a lie. Everyone is happier if the home is a safe haven and usually women are the ones who make it so. I am thrilled to be a stay at home wife with all the kids grown and moved on. My husband loves to have me here as well. We are not rich but we are happy!

Guest's picture

Yes, we live on one income and are digging our way out of the debt we incurred when we were both working. We consider living on one income a necessity, not a luxury as our kids need one of us at home. Sure, I guess you could say it is a "status symbol" but not one of luxury but one of common sense (and we are making 1/2 (approx) of the so called "carbon footprint" that two people working outside the home cause). ;-)

Kim

Andrea Karim's picture

My mother was a stay-at-home mom, and she doesn't get compensated for her volunteer work now that we are out of the house - but I never thought of it as status, either. I think it's a little different when you spend your day getting massages than when you, you know, cook and clean and bake and garden and volunteer for the cancer society. Apples and oranges.

Guest's picture

Finally, some reason in the general discussion that followed the article. Thank you!

Though I have 2 kids, managing 1 income well can be as productive & satisfying as living on 2 salaries. In many cases, the working spouse can zoom up the career ladder with the added support and time provided by a spouse at home.

(There's no way my husband could have earned his Ph.D. while working full-time and both of us renovating houses on the weekend...if I had also been holding down a traditional career.)

While the SAHW does give up some future job security in case of divorce, the relaxed lifestyle and free time for companionship can actually strengthen the marriage. It's a calculated risk.

Guest's picture
Meg

I married my husband during my first semester of college and he's paid the bills ever since while I've gone to and finally graduated from college. I'm now working from home for a startup (i.e. I'm greatly underpaid unless it really takes off).

It is a luxury in that I consider having the choice to be a luxury -- and I am very grateful to have that choice. I could have gone out and get a traditional job. I'm sure we wouldn't be in such debt if I had, though my husband is now making enough that we're chipping away at the debt slowly but surely -- especially now that we've been going frugal (thanks a lot help from blogs I read like Wise Bread).

However, this has worked well for us in many other ways. I got to focus on college and graduate sooner than I would have if I had to work. And now I'm working on a project that we hope will eventually bring in a lot more money than if I had gone out and gotten a 'regular' job around here. And while I don't consider myself a "housewife" so much as a "working from home wife", I have definitely helped my husband around the house and with our joint business ventures. I might not be the best cook or like vacuuming, but I garden, take care of the chickens, find more ways to save us money, and occasionally write some pretty nice CSS.

Still, I do get a lot of odd reactions from people -- especially when they realize that we don't have kids (and not planning on any in the near future). Some people can be really rude and I definitely detect some jealousy. I've had people tell me "It must be so nice not to have to do anything" even after I've told them about many of the projects I work on online and off. So, yes, I'm used to people thinking I'm lazy. But I know I'm not and you can ask my husband. He probably wishes I wasn't such a workaholic.

Guest's picture
Curt

We are a single-income family, saving more money than most dual-income families. I think the time when the dual-income families has more money the a single-income family are gone. We live in a larger house and are saving more money then my brother while our income is 40% less then his dual-income.

They earn 40% more gross income, yet have less money then we do because the costs of working (taxes, cars, clothes, etc.) and the additional cost to hire out the house work (cutting the grass, cleaning the house, eating out rather then in, etc.) added together are move expensive then people realize. The coming recession and inflation will increase the expenses of a dual-income family and give even more advantage to a single-income family.

The idea that an average family has more money with a dual-income then a single-income is a myth. Of course there are always exceptions, but if you run the numbers with all the expenses - a single-income families actually has the edge.

Guest's picture
Ken

"The idea that an average family has more money with a dual-income then a single-income is a myth. Of course there are always exceptions, but if you run the numbers with all the expenses - a single-income families actually has the edge."

I disagree. My wife brings home about $2000 to $2500 per month from her job. Our only extra expenses are child care (about $425 per month for 2 days/week) and gas (about $50), so our net gain from my wifes job is quite a bit.

We split the house and yard work, so that doesn't cost any extra.

cheers,
Ken

Guest's picture
John Ek

I am a full-time freelancer and my fiance doesn't work. She takes care of our two girls (and me). It makes me much more productive to have her around during the day, as well it makes us much more price conscience with our spending. I couldn't imagine how we could afford daycare for two girls.

Guest's picture
Guest

I'm bothered that articles discussing single-income families always assume that it's the woman who stays at home. My husband stays home and we choose to live on my modest salary. When he tells people that he's a stay at home dad, they always assume I must have some high-paying, high-powered job because and are quite shocked to learn that I work as a librarian. This arrangement works beautifully for us but it's an option I hardly ever seen mentioned, even in places where the financial advantages of a woman are often touted.

Guest's picture
Nichole

I just wanted to say THANKS for mentioning this. My husband is a stay at home Father also and we live on less than $40k a year. Interesting subject!

Guest's picture
Guest

I am a partial stay at home Dad...hence the time to be reading this post! My wife owns a small business and makes about 4 times my yearly salary in only 6 months. Her job is seasonal. It's not perfect. We had been married about 8 years before we moved to this situation. Before then we both worked for the most part full time. Then we had our son and something had to give. Luckily we opened a business and started making money right away and replaced my income. Living on one income or mostly one income is great but many people just can't do it. We are in our late thirties. Believe me, if neither of us had to work we would not. A lot of people identify with work, but we mostly work because we have to do it.

Guest's picture
Guest

Oops, left out a few words in my original comment....that last line should read "financial advantages of a woman staying AT HOME are often touted."

Guest's picture
Alicia

I am a stay-at-home mom. While I acknowledge that my husband and I come from well-off suburban families from white bread neighborhoods, we definitely have to scrimp and save where we can to survive on one income. I would say it is a status symbol for some, but for us it is about priorities. We would rather do without things than send our daughter off to daycare. Children are only small for a few precious years, and we make sacrifices to experience and nurture this time.

Guest's picture
Andrea

My husband and I plan on living on as close to one income as possible (once we pay down some more debt), even though we both work, simply because of the insurance factor you mentioned- if one of us loses our job and we live on one income, we won't even have to dip into savings to cover it. I think I'd quite like being able to stay at home (I don't have any kids) or work very part time, but as we both have significant earning power and need to save money for future big purchases like a house, I can't justify losing out on the extra savings right now. Perhaps when we have kids, I'll stay home for a few years.

Guest's picture
plonkee

I would have no problems with this concept if it were equal numbers of men staying at home as women. But it's not.

I don't think it's unfortunate that it's uncommon these days. I appreciate that it's not assumed that women will give up work when they get married.

In the good old days, it really was a status symbol. My grandfather was very proud of the fact that he made enough money that his wife didn't have to work. The other side of my family were less well off and the wives often worked.

Guest's picture
Lucille

When I took some time off to recover from a major illness I got to see what this all was like. Where I live one parent staying home is certainly seen as a luxury and a status symbol. In general there seems to be two situations where the wife stays home. Either they have considerable income and the wife staying home is a status symbol or they are religious conservatives that forbid their wives from working. The wage vs. cost of living here almost requires both to work unless your well over the median income.

Not working was a very surreal experience. I frequently got insinuations that I was lazy, because I wasn't actively working at that time. This was really frustrating since I had come from a high pressure long hours professional career and now was talked down to and treated with contempt. It was also very isolating because I really had nothing in common with the people I encountered that weren't working during the day, they all had vastly different priorities and interests that I did.

It is seen as a luxury and at the same time seen with some contempt by many people.

Guest's picture

"In general there seems to be two situations where the wife stays home. Either they have considerable income and the wife staying home is a status symbol or they are religious conservatives that forbid their wives from working."

I am a SAHM, yet I fall into neither of these categories. My husband is a Staff Sergeant in the Air Force - not exactly a "considerable" income. We are also Christians, but the Bible never condemns or forbids women who work. In fact, Proverbs 31 talks about a woman who brings an income into her home by investing in real estate on her own! (Among other things.)

My husband and I have chosen that I will stay home because we believe it is the best choice for us and our kids - we have four under the age of 5. My husband's attitude is that he wants to always make enough money that I never HAVE to work, but is completely open if I WANT to work.

So, I do my part and manage our budget as frugally as possible. We live simply, and are content with what we have, and our only debt is a mortgage & a car payment.

I know what you mean about being looked down on at times though. Many, MANY people in my extended family clicked their tongues at me for not finishing college before I married.

However, I have no regrets. I know who I am, what I want, and I am fully confident in the decisions we have made as a married couple. I am grateful that I am outside of the only two examples you are unfortunate enough to have seen.

:-)

Guest's picture

My husband and I both work full time, and I earn more than he does, by about 20%. Last year, he lost his job and was out of work for 6 months. Were it not for my job, we would have lost our health insurance. Due to us having FULLY BANKED one income, we did not have to use credit cards to get by during that period of time. In fact, we were still able to save a little. We have a toddler and hope to have more children. When that happens, I do want to stay home with them. I garden, can, bake, cook from scratch, sew, crochet, I cut our family's hair- all skills that are being lost with current generations. Did I mention I'm 29 years old? I have a master's degree and work as a professional, however, my heart is at home with my family. I feel as if it is God that provides for us, and that is why I was meant to be working when my husband lost his job. I have faith that my prayers will be answered and that I will be able to be a full time mother, wife, and woman rather than the half-@@@ed job I feel like I am doing because I am currently spread so thin between work, time spent getting ready for work and travel time, trying to stay on top of laundry and grocery shopping, and the like. Not to mention trying to find time to play with my child or have a moment with my husband.

Guest's picture
F_D

In part replying to #4 and in part to this:

"My husband and I live on less than one of our incomes, and that gives me a sense of security because in case one of us lose our jobs or becomes unable to work at least we know we can survive on one income. Additionally, saving the extra income for the future lets us reach early retirement more quickly."

"Living on one income" (i.e., living within your means) is different from the conspicuous luxury of one partner choosing to stay at home. I believe that many people reacting to the CNN article are focusing on "Anne Marie" and probably responding viscerally to where she discusses feeling "overwhelmed" as a high school teacher and how much more fulfilled she is now that she has time for "reading, creative writing and exploring new hobbies, like sewing." To many people feeling financially trapped, it's easy to take this as a slap in the face -- especially since these are childless couples.

Our household is budgeted to run on less than one person's income. We set up our budget so that we could more easily absorb a financial blow. I'm glad that we did because this year we had the double-whammy: (1) new baby, (2) my partner lost her job. We're getting by on just my income with only minimal changes to our spending habits and I'm grateful for that.

The people they talked to in the CNN article all seem happy with their decisions. That's great for them. If they're not living outside of their means and they're able to save enough for retirement and have an emergency fund stashed away, etc. Good on them. But that doesn't make it any less of a conspicuous luxury to the rest of the folks out there that wonder how (even on a budget) they're going to make those single-income dollars stretch.

Myscha Theriault's picture

 . . . to read how this whole conversation has developed. I've been on both sides, so I'll try to jump in from both.

First of all, I think to anyone who is only contemplating the one spouse staying at home option (and who also really wants to try this), it can seem from the outside like a status symbol or luxury. I know it certainly did to me before I was able to do it. That's not to say that I didn't recognize it was valuable from a parenting perspective, but I still saw it as something that might be permanently unavailable to me. No matter how much people drew me a picture about how it could be done, I didn't see it. Partly because doing everything on your own when you're single is exhausting, which makes it hard to see past the financial and general chore crap that can overwhelm a couple, let alone a single individual.

Then, my husband asked me to marry him and leave a great paying job in Kuwait to come be with him in Italy. No worries, if I wanted to work fine, if I didn't fine. Also, it was difficult to find work unless it was for English instruction, and high speed internet wasn't exactly the norm when we lived there. So the online thing wasn't as open then. I did eventually find English instruction work, but it was more spending money than anything that would actually contribute, which was fine. Now, you might think I was dancing a jig and feeling particularly pampered. The truth is, I thought I would be, but it was honestly quite terrifying and unsettling. What I had always thought would be a cake walk was actually a large cliff of trust to jump off. Then, there was the issue someone above mentioned about people seeing you differently from the outside, and not having access to some of the like minded people I have access to now. That's nothing against anyone, I'm just saying it seriously factored into the equation of how I dealt with giving up my job. It also, I would dare guess, was not the easiest on my husband who I'm sure felt like he was offering this huge gift only to have me complain about my lack of options. He was a good sport and really tried to understand what I was feeling, but I'm positive I didn't make it easy on him.

Since there wasn't anything left to do but explore my options and come to grip with the situation, I guess there was a certain amount of luxury in being able to take a year or two and research investment ideas, thrift strategies and figure out what type of online projects I wanted to do once I got back to a more regular form of internet. And I'm not unaware that many people would love to have that kind of time. But I can't say it wasn't without effort. My husband certainly brought home enough, but it was an enlisted salary after all and it only goes so far. So I definitely had to up my game on the thrift front. (Thank God for Penny Market.)

Eventually, we both realized that our lives were much more balanced and financially healthy having me home. And getting back to the states (as much as we loved Italy - in all honesty we may eventually move back there) allowed me access to other folks who were sharing our priorities, which helped me feel supported in our choice, rather than feeling like we had to justify it all the time. I'm definitely with Kate in that preventing unnecessary expenditures and the thrift efforts is a huge contribution. Also, because my husband is so awesome about dealing the checkbook balancing and regular bill paying, I have way more time to track other financial stuff: Things I would want to explore if I were single or even working traditionally within the marriage, but would honestly not have the time to tackle or do well.

Now that he's retired from the military and going to school and writing full time, I have more access to him as well, so I can totally relate to the individual who was mentioning that the home front support really does make him more productive. My husband felt that when I was the only one of us "home but working", and now I get to feel the same support from him too. (Man, was I happy to hand off the ironing, and computer problem solving.)

I realize that we are fortunate to have these options, but the truth is we have remained disciplined in order to have them. We may have to take a couple of temporary McJobs in order to bank up a bit after the flood, but so far we haven't had to. If we hadn't been so insured and saved up and downsized already though, this really might have sunk us.

I guess this is a long way of saying both sides are correct to a certain extent. I know for a fact that several of my husband's coworkers prior to military retirement thought the fact he had a wife with no kids at home was luxurious, but he was the first one to stand up and tell them how hard I worked. Yes, I realize that some people don't have a choice at all, and believe me I've been there. For those of us who are doing it though, I would ask everyone to remember there are definitely two sides to the coin. Not that anyone's been disrespectful, I'm just tossing this in as my long-winded two cents.

Anyone else?

Guest's picture
Single girl

I enjoy seeing the comments and the different points of view. I'd like to add one more, that of a single woman.

I have to admit that the CNN article initially was a bit of a slap in the face. Essentially, I'm all I've got. It's exhausting to work the long hours I do and still do all of the cleaning, laundry, shopping, budgeting, meal planning, etc. that a stay-at-home-wife without kids does. I have to save for my own retirement and be extra careful to have an emergency back-up fund because there's no one else's income to fall back on. I don't have a choice to live on one income or two.

But I don't really envy these women, actually. It's tough living on your own, and if these stay-at-home wives suddenly find themselves single again, they'll have an even harder time getting into the work force and supporting themselves than single professional women like me who kept up in their fields and have years of experience. I want to be married (and if I have my way, we'll live on one income and save the second), but I know if I end up alone again I'll be able to cope.

Guest's picture
Mom of 6

We've been a one-income family for 15 of our 20 year marriage. It was so luxurious having two incomes at the start. We could eat out (other than fast food) or go on vacations just about any time without having to deliberately save for it. Now, on one five-figure income and five little ones at home, it is a challenge to say the least. I could work, and make a pretty good salary, but we've set our priorities.

Guest's picture
Angie

My husband and I both work full-time and I do freelance on the side. With both of our incomes, we are barely scraping by, and I mean barely. We have no kids, two cars that are 5 & 11 years old, and just purchased a house a few years ago. I have student loans and we have credit card debt. Every month we have to juggle things just to get our bills paid. I feel lucky if we can manage to make a dent in any of the debt, let alone save. I've actually had to pull money out of the savings for 3 months in a row now.
I would love to be a stay-at-home mom, making still working some freelance. But there is just no way we could make it work financially. We are very frugal. We hardly eat out, I clip coupons and shop the sales. We don't go see movies or buy new books, we rent and go to the library. Our big luxury is the AC b/c hubby works outside all day and can't stand the heat when he gets home.
I envy those that can do it. I hope to be able to some day, but I just don't know how we could. I would definitely consider it a luxury b/c you do have the safety net and a more supportive home life.

Guest's picture
John Krumm

I'd say it's very much a luxury compared to friends who have to work two full-time jobs to pay all the bills. It takes my wife being a doctor for us to do it. I definitely lose a few man-points, but it's worth it. It's not ideal. More ideal would be us both working half time, earning the same amount of money. As a teacher, I'd have to work full-time to let her work 3/4 time, and then we'd just break even. Not the best trade-off.

I'd say if one were to plan a perfectly balanced financial/home existence in our current society, you'd somehow manage to get through college without debts (rich parents?) become a high-paid professional, marry another high-paid professional, then both work half-time or less.

Guest's picture
Happy and frugal

I have almost always lived on one income, married or not, and don't think it strange. My ex-hubby was a stay at home boy-toy, and an excellent cook. It was nice to come home to a hot home cooked meal and a nicely weeded garden :) I'd do it again in a minute :) I didn't consider it a luxury tho - he was unemployed and looking for work, which eventually he found.

And I wouldn't mind being the stay at home person either :)

Guest's picture
Guest

I had a stay at home mom for my childhood.

Unfortunately, when she became sick a few years after her divorce, she did not have enough work credits to be eligible for Social Security disability.

It usually takes 20 credits over the last 10 years to remain eligible - and each credit (up to 4 a year) is earned by making $1,050 in earned income (in 2008).

Surely even a stay at home spouse can find enough part-time work to generate $2,100 in earned income over the course of a year?

http://www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10072.html

One BIG benefit of qualifying for SS disability is that the disabled individual becomes eligible for Medicare within 24 months (sooner for some diseases)

It would have helped enormously had my mom been able to get SS disability (over 10 years from diagnosis until her death)

Linsey Knerl's picture

I especially appreciate the last comment on Social Security.  I would also recommend that if one parent is a stay-at-home, they have some very good life insurance!

Guest's picture
Guest

"The idea that an average family has more money with a dual-income then a single-income is a myth. Of course there are always exceptions, but if you run the numbers with all the expenses - a single-income families actually has the edge."

I also disagree. Do you think the millions of dual income struggling families haven't run the numbers? It MAY become true once kids are involved, but I can't see how it is possibly true, almost EVER, before kids are involved.

That being said there are other reasons to stay at home. Just don't tell me it is the optimal financial choice (esp when no kids are involved).

Guest's picture
Guest

My husband and I both work - technically we could live on just my salary but we would have less that 1k leftover after bills to pay for non-bill things (like food, chicken feed, vet visits, etc). Plus I wouldn't want to be the single wage earner - I would feel an enormous amount of pressure if I was. My cousin is (her husband is freelance) and she feels a constant fear and pressure that she is and always will be the one who has to support their family.
Reading all the posts though has inspired me to try to put the majority of what my husband makes into savings and to try and live on just the extra that I make and a bit from his salary. Will be interesting to see if we can do it.

Guest's picture
Richard

My wife is currently in school getting her MBA and I work full time so we're currently living without the benefits of either a working mom or a stay at home mom.

My salary is good enough to support us, but childcare for two takes a large (~$400/month) chunk of that and our house doesn't stay as clean as we'd like it to without her home.

The two things I miss most about having her be a stay at home mom are 1) It's hard to find a baby sitter who is good and who is affordable. They all seem to want to just stick the kids in front of movies all day. 2) Coming home to fresh home cooked dinners. Since we're both done at about 5 or 6:00 each night we eat a lot of frozen pizza, and make and freeze a lot of meals.

Guest's picture
Lucille

The issue of two incomes possibly earning less depends on income and expenses related to the second person going to work. You take into account the difference in food costs due to possibly more convenience food or takeout than you would eat if one person was home dealing with cooking. You also take into account extra gas for getting to work and either additional mileage or need to upgrade a car due to work. Then additional wardrobe, meals out at work, childcare and anything else your paying to have done because the second person is working. You subtract all those additional expenses from the second wage earner's income.

20/20 did a story on this a long time ago. There was a couple with two small kids and both worked. They both had jobs that didn't pay really great. They looked at the wife's office job and after subtracting all the expenses related to her working and they were actually losing money by her working. They were also running themselves ragged trying to work, commute, be parents and run a house. I think the equation is less valid if one or both can make larger incomes from either job since the expenses eat a smaller portion of the wages.

Guest's picture
Guest

"The idea that an average family has more money with a dual-income then a single-income is a myth. Of course there are always exceptions, but if you run the numbers with all the expenses - a single-income families actually has the edge."

I think this is only true in some situations. If the 2nd spouse can earn more than 50% of the primary breadwinner, this just doesn't play out. Trust me, I have run the numbers and the fact that my wife could easily make 50% of my high 5 figure salary which means we would be much better off financially even after all of the extras are included (daycare, dining out, outsourced home tasks, work attire, etc). We CHOOSE to have my wife stay home to raise our children. It is indeed a luxury and we are thankful for it (probably not often enough, though) :) Now, if we didn't have kids, she would take no pride in staying at home when she could be helping secure our future. After all, she is just as smart, educated and motivated as me. Should she take a free pass because she is a woman? She has too much self respect for that.

Myscha Theriault's picture

Of course everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I would like to reiterate based on the continued discussion that staying home even without kids isn't necessarily a free pass. There are many contributions that can be made (shopping for decent real estate investments, light freelance income, keeping things financially balanced at home, etc.) Certainly the point of calculating this with higher incomes versus lower is incredibly valid. If both incomes are high enough, then even a personal assistant and support staff become affordable if you delegate the right tasks. And of course, health care benefits need to be considered.

OK, yes. If things get stressfull I can always take a day off and get a grip. However, I also am the first one to pull an all nighter or rush home across the globe to help out with ill family members when the need arises.

But I still say staying at home is what you make of it. We value the extra support and balance within our home that comes from having one of us (and yes, in the beginning it was always me) have total flexibility with our schedule. And since investing and researching those investments isn't something I planned ever to make a career of, it takes me a little longer than a trained professional to make sure I'm picking the correct option for us. One thing people might not think of is putting work into a house. If you build the right amount of equity and cash out at the allowed residential time limit, you can take that cash and upgrade your lifestyle / investments accordingly.  This was the case with our last house. (the one before the flood, not the one that got wiped out with it) There was no way I could have banked the same amount of my gross salary for five years straight if I had worked traditionally for that amount in the classroom. But staying at home and making sure we pinched every penny for savings / mortgage / and taking my time starting a business ensured we made those payments and the savings totals we strove for. Then we cashed out and I feel like I got my salary retroactively and in full. Not everyone's comfortable liquidating a home every few years and keeping their life in limbo until it's a great time to buy again. But compared to working for an evil boss, it's a choice that's at the top of my list. Again, everyone is making good points here, just tossing my hat into the ring with what's worked at our house.

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Moneymonk

The flip side to staying at home is when the spouse gets to mid age at 55 and cannot draw social security or worse, the working spouse decides to leave and now the stay at home spouse HAS to work and have no job skills

It not always a happy ending

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Jim T

As long as the stay-at-home wife is keeping her man satisfied with good food and regular sex - what's wrong with that?

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Meredith from Merchant Ships

I love Myscha's point about getting a salary in retrospect. We have lived in a series of fixer-uppers which I've been able to improve dramatically during my time at home.

Each home has netted us around $50,000 for 2 years. Not only was that tax-free gain, but the "salary in retrospect" did not increase our taxable income in the way that even a $25,000 office job would have bumped us into the next bracket.

Guest's picture

We also have a 3-month emergency fund that we are adding to, and are also shopping around for a good Money Market account with a decent interest rate to keep it growing. We will also maintain a good life insurance policy in case something were to happen to my husband - enough to give me time to gather my skills together and provide for our kids.

And I do have skills - though not a degree.

Guest's picture

We have had only one income for 19 years and are raising three kids. Everything we own is paid in full including our house now valued at 450,000. We take vacations every year and every two years we fly to Florida to Disney World. My husband has a blue collar job. I dont think its a status symbol to live on one income. I think it's just the best for our family.

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Guest

Believe me, I have run the numbers again, and again, and again. There is no way we could live on just my husband's or my salary. We live frugally - our clothes are only second hand,we eat mostly homemade meals with little meat and a lot of beans. Even after deducting the expenses associated with one or the other of us working - and I do admit that preschool and gas take a big chunk of the second income - the bottom line still shows that we are making more with the second income and that we absolutely need it just to cover the basics.

We have four children and it would be great to have more time with them and feel less stress, but it's just not realistic for us to think that we could survive on just one income. Most families I know really do need two incomes just to get by.

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Suz

My husband and I try to live on one income and save the entire other one incase of a rainy day, for retirement, or in case we want to change our lifestyle and one of us stay home when the kids come... I think that simply not working because you don't need to is definatley a lifestyle choice that shows off your income level.

-Suz

Myscha Theriault's picture

I'm so glad this is still continuing to be debated, because as you can probably tell, I have lots to say on the subject. (This being, I believe, my third extended comment.)

Clearly, it was an emotional decision to take the leap and while I'm very OK with the decision we made as a couple, it really surprised me how hurt I was by some of the other comments in the very beginning of the debate. I think it's sad (just commenting here, not bashing anyone's opinion) that this decision can't just be about how much the couple loves each other and what they want to set for priorities within their relationship. If one needs to find themselves and the other wants to provide it and is able to, have we really reached the point where our relationships are less about love in this society and more about the bottom line?

Believe me, we worry about the bottom line and in fact I write about it quite frequently here on Wise Bread. But if you have trust in your partner that they are doing their best and providing everything they can to the situation, is it necessary to make the first jump to pointing out how much less money they are contributing? As somone who had a difficult emotional time giving up a great international career to support the one my husband had in the military, I have to say it was better in the end to take my time and not go back to traditional employment. You never know when they are going to restation / redeploy your spouse, so taking your time developing a set of freelance clients or an online business is in my opinion a much safer bet.

Also, as some have pointed out, the person who provides the income while the other stays at home is not the only one taking a risk / providing a gift. Yes, it's great to have the financial support while you decide how you can best balance your family responsibilities and relationship. But you are also taking a risk by cutting back on your government medical contributions, social security quarterly contributions and giving up time in the job market that is always more difficult to justify for women.

I'm not making excuses. It's just the way it is (or at least from my experience) that potential employers roll their eyes if women have taken time off, and seem to assume that men who have taken time off have apparently done so for more valuable reasons. (I realize that's an entirely separate conversation and post, just had to get it off my chest since it related to this conversation in part.)

I also think it's really sad that the stay at home's spouse contributions still have to be justified in the eyes of so many people. For those of us that provide those contributions, I'll just add one word . . . ouch. I just had a lengthy conversation with our campsite neighbor about how much harder the work is to stay at home and run the house with or without kids. And if you are working outside the home, you are for some reason given a societal pass if you don't feel like cooking or cleaning. If you are at home putting out whatever family fire gets dropped into your lap that day, and run out of time for a full course meal, many people (not everyone) feel it's then OK to let loose with a judgemental comment.

But if you were at a form of traditional work all day, even if that job allowed a three martini lunch and several hours of unproductive meetings, it is understood that of course you don't feel like cooking or cleaning. I'm not trying to generalize here, just stating what I have noticed as someone who has made this leap.

Not everyone makes me feel bad about this decision, but by the same token not everyone is supportive either. Stay at home contributions sometimes feel like the weight issue to me in that it still seems in our society to be something people still feel they can pass judgement on.

Again, I want to point out to those who would like to but feel unable to at this point, I understand what it is like to be on that side of the coin. I did it for YEARS, and it is exhausting and stressful. Perhaps a future post on strategies for laying the groundwork for transition is necessary. In fact, I'll start making notes on the subject.

In the meantime, I hope the debate continues as I'm enjoying the chance to further process this subject. Thanks in advance for the continued balanced debate!

Guest's picture

I completely and totally reject this article. Anything based on a so-called trend expert like Haltzman (who happens to believe that it's a woman's job to give up everything to cater to their husbands) really isn't about a real "trend." It's sounds to me that stay at home wife is another term for a housekeeper and personal assistant that works for free. Pfft. No thanks.

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Guest

As long as you are not breaking the law you should be able to work, stay at home, go to work, kids etc. etc. without other women beating up on you.
Who the heck cares anyway - people who are conflicted about their own choices that who.

Guest's picture
Mia

There's a book by Colette Dowling called 'The Cinderella Complex: Women's hidden fear of independence' about some women's 'unconscious desire to be taken care of by others' which I always think of when I read articles like these.

Here is a summary of the book written by an Amazon reviewer (says it better than I could):

'This is a book that will reveal to many women some fundamental and probably painful truths about themselves. The central theme is that some women, often the brightest, "best" at school, and from the more affluent homes, suffer from a "Cinderella complex". This is, as the name implies, the desire to be rescued by a "prince": to be whisked away from the frightening realities of living as an authentic adult. This phenomenon is the reason why so many seemingly independent women "lapse" into stereotypical roles as homemakers given the opportunity. This is not necessarily caused by sexist repression but rather women's basic fear of challenge. The childhood causes of this effect are discussed, but the emphasis of explanation is upon the conflicts this causes in adult women.'

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AnnMarie

My husband has stayed home since we got married. (And occasionally before that while between jobs while I was in grad school. Even then, the jobs didn't bring in that much money.) For 4 years, he was a stay at home husband; now we have a 3.5 year old daughter.

I'd never thought of it as a luxury--it was just our choice. It made a lot of sense in our case since he never had a job that paid over $18,000 a year--and that only after years of seniority (and included overtime). He always worked manual labor, coming home exhausted and dirty. On the other hand, I have a PhD and work at a university (not faculty). I make plenty of money to support us. I think I'd have to make half my current salary for us to even consider him going back to work. Then again, we also thought I made plenty back in grad school when we lived on less than $1500/month.

It's a matter of what you spend your money on. We could make it on a lot less because we have no debt except our very low mortgage. We didn't buy an enormous expensive house (1500 sq ft and under $90,000). We pay off credit cards every month. We visit family for vacations. We save for retirement (so no need to worry about him not getting social security when he's older. Don't even expect it to exist anyway). We spent more money on diapers than everything else combined for our daughter--clothes, toys, gifts, etc all bought at garage sales or not bought at all. I walk to work. To us, the luxuries are HD tv, the pets, the gym membership for DH, a few hours of preschool for DD.

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Tes

I've seen both sides - my mom was a SAH wife and mom par excellence but to say she was never conflicted about it would be an out and out lie. She had worked for many years before marriage and she always missed the independence of earning her own money. Always.

I hate to see anyone devalue what she devoted her life to but I do think watching her life and knowing what she sacrificed contributed in some small way to my decision to work outside the home no matter what.

All that being said - while I am unchilded I DO work a very high-pressure (albeit well paying) job and usually put in more than 45 hours per week not counting e-mails and phone calls fielded yet we eat nutritious, home-cooked from scratch meals almost every night (when I say almost I mean 95% of the time) as I do not believe in consuming highly processed food and when we eat out we like good food - not fast food or low-end chains. My house is clean and well-run (I think), I exercise at ~5 hours per week and I arrange a “date” w/ my husband every week. Even if it’s only a gourmet meal for two that I prepare and a nice bottle of wine he picks out.

My point being not all (or I bet mest) working wives and/or mothers are cheating their families out of anything. Some of us gave up other things - I watch no TV and I sleep about 5.5 hours per night but I'm high-energy and like it that way.

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Guest

I grew up with a dad who stayed at home while mom finished her Associate's degree, worked, AND traveled for work. Not to mention, she was an incredible mother. Dad ran his own business, out of the house, so technically, yes. He DID work 50+ hours a week - often staying up until 1-2 in the morning, to get the latest job done so we'd have food on the table, presents under the Christmas tree, money in the church plate. It was a lovely childhood - sure, we didn't have the latest and greatest RIGHT AWAY, but my parents really tried to instill (and succeeded with me, at least....my younger brother is another story. Hehe..) the value of saving up for something special.

We had great meals, there were always fruits and veggies in the house, as well as 'fun foods', thanks to my mother's tireless efforts to shop the sales and with coupons. We weren't always on the edge of fashion, but our clothing was neat, clean, warm when it needed to be, and durable, thanks to stores like JCPenney's outlet and Kohl's department store. Family was (and still is) an important part of life. We went on vacation only a few times - otherwise, my parents scrimped and saved to buy a pull-behind trailer, cleaned it and renovated it, and we camped every.single.weekend at a campsite in Portage, WI with friends. Life was full of campfires, exploring the woods, learning how to cook, clean, sew, reading books by the pool, summer school, taking College for Kids courses at UW Milwaukee....life was good.

Now, as an adult, I am so thankful for the experience I had growing up. I'm a Stay at home mom to one little guy, a full time graduate student, caregiver to 5 doggies, and a wife. I have time to take my little guy to story time, to go on long walks, to do the research and planning that was necessary to buy our first home (a condo) for 66% of its appraised value (okay...the crappy real estate market helped. A little.), time to coupon and shop sales, time to do our taxes on my own (which I won't be doing this upcoming year - buying a home and the new baby are extra deductions I want to make sure I get)...the list goes on and on. My husband wasn't happy when I was laid off last year, but now, a year later, tells me he can't imagine me having gone back to work, putting the baby in day care, and me also being in school.

Sure, it is a sacrifice. But it is one that is worth it. And for those who say "Well...what about divorce!?" I say to them....why are you getting married to that person in the first place, if divorce is a possibility on the horizon? I know in my marriage vows, I said for better or for worse.....

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Paul

I'm an at-home-dad with two children. Recently, both kids started school, but I remain at home. There's just so much to do. My one hive of bees swarmed into a small business, so technically, I do work, but it's in the backyard and in a few other yards in the neighborhood. (I'm also supposed to be working on the great American novel, but anyone who has stayed home with small children to pursue a writing career knows that waiting for the children to go to college soon becomes part of that equation).

Living on one income allows us to live without a car. We do everything by bicycle, and I'm not sure we would have that luxury if we both had a regular job. It also allows me to garden, take care of the chickens, take care of the bees, plan and cook good meals, write poetry, walk with the kids, etc.

I have to say that I do feel, often, that the sensual enjoyment of our lives, the fact that we have no consumer debt and an emergency fund, and the time we can spend with our kids, raises our quality of life well above that enjoyed by most people making a little above $40,000 a year. I FEEL rich. Other people seem to be busting their butts to maintain an income many times our level, and they're still sinking in debt. I don't know if that means I'm a status symbol as an at-home-spouse, but I do think our family life is better off for it, and I think that would remain true whether or not we had children.

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becklaw

I too am currently child-less, 27, and a stay-at-home wife. I graduated from college in 2004, married in 2005, and worked full-time until 2006 when I was struck by a major illness that prevented me from working. I have since been diagnosed and treated and have recovered to 80%, but I choose not to work full-time. Yes, I am qualified, and yes, I have more education that 99% of the world's population, but I feel our relationship is much stronger when I am able to take care of the house, chores, pets, bills, errands, shopping, cooking, etc. My husband is hard-working and well-paid, but by no means are we financially well off. We have to plan and sacrifice conveniences to make this arrangement work, and I do substitute teach on a very part-time basis. Our relationship is much stronger when we aren't both dead tired and stressed. I feel thankful that I can do this and don't have to be at a 40 hour a week job. I don't look down on women that do work outside the home, in fact I highly respect their energy and dedication to do so. I just don't have it in me to do it.

Guest's picture
Z.G.

In response to post #29 about how it might be better financially for one income instead of two (because of the costs of working) but that's not true without kids...well...I'm not punching out a baby just so I can stay home.

Choosing not to procreate is a money saver as well. Why on earth would I want to have babies and have more financial woes? So yes, I would make a "net profit" from working a full time job, but why would I stress myself out like that? And those who belittle the stress factor, please try to understand, in almost all situations cooking and cleaning falls to the women. No matter if they work or not.

Yes I realize there are exceptions, but take a poll one day and you'll get my point. Also, most men (again do a poll) prefer NOT to have to cook and clean. Though I realize some love it and would love to stay home. Fine. Find a woman who will pay the bills while you stay home. It exists as an option.

Today's "liberated" women are doing entirely too much work these days when they work full time and cook, and clean and sometimes even take care of kids. The net profit divided by all those hours of stress will almost always amount to far below minimum wage.

To those super concerned for women who stay home and their financial insecurity due to that decision...financial security is largely a myth. Having a job doesn't mean you can't lose said job. And women who stay home and run a household aren't necessarily JUST doing that. Many start their own small home based businesses (which is a course I have chosen.)

So I'm not sitting around at the mercy of my husband's money for the rest of my life here. I'm actually building in some financial support for myself, but doing it in a way that makes us both happy.

Somehow the happiness factor is lost on people. And no, my husband is not rich. You would be amazed the amount of money you can save and what you can get by on when you stop having to have EVERYTHING. There is no need to have 2 or 3 cars, a big house, 400 channels on television, every piece of electronics equipment known to man, etc.

It all comes down to individual couples/families and what they feel will make them happy. If you think I'm running on your hamster wheel for social approval, you are smoking the crack. I'd rather stay home, run my little business, take care of the house and my husband. If that sets back the women's movement, screw the women's movement.

As one other point of contention, I get tired of hearing "this isn't the 1950's anymore." I didn't personally ask for gender roles to be reversed or expanded. While I'm grateful for many of the choices I have now that might have been harder then, I did not ask for someone to "save me" from servitude to a man.

I'm HAPPY being in the relationship set up I'm in. I'm happy being provided for by a dominant, alpha male. And honey, if that ruffles your feathers, then put on your power suit and go to work.

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agreed35

I agree with you, #54, wholeheartedly - everything that you said. I have a college degree, do not currently work, we don't have kids, I worked for 4 years in the past, and my husband and I saved up to buy a house, which we sold and made money on. I find traditional 9 to 5 'job' work unfulfilling and very draining and it makes me depressed. A lot of work environments are toxic. I feel like supporting my husband will enhance his career (which he honestly likes - a lot) and earning prospects and I am not interested in climbing the corporate ladder myself - a lot of jobs are degrading to women and we don't necessarily make as much as men do, in the workforce. I feel the stress from working full time is not worth it (I had health issues which prevented me from working, for a time) and am glad my husband provides for me. I would rather take care of all of the household duties. We do not spend more than we earn and are debt-free. It all has to do with choices you make - we chose to buy a house with a very small mortgage and sold it when the time was right, we were very frugal early on in our marriage, we did not have kids right away - so we have some amount of financial freedom now. There are things in life that are more important than money: quality of life, health, happiness, ability to have a good marriage relationship, and maintain a good home environment. I cringe at all the people who live beyond their means and don't understand why more people do not live the way me and my husband do. Yes, they may be judging me -- but I am judging them right back and think they are a bit stupid for falling for whatever society tells them to do -- have kids right away, buy a huge house, have 2 cars, get into consumer spending debt and work crazy jobs that drain you completely so you can't enjoy any of it. I have friends who have a huge house and they both work terrible jobs to pay for that and two cars. We currently rent and we do not have any cars - we walk and use public transportation. Not trying to be judgmental of others who live in huge houses and have two high paying, high stress jobs -- but that is not for me - I would rather live a simple lifestyle in a 700 sq foot apartment and live below what my husband's salary is, and support him in non-financial ways.

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Guest

We're in the same boat. We're both young, renting, no kids.
My husband is a plumber and he loves his job. He makes good money. I was working in a job that I could not stand and developed panic disorder because of it. Finally he told me to quit. That was about 3 weeks ago. Slowly, I've started to feel better. He likes me better this way than the weepy, depressed, bitter person who worked all day and came home and cried. I'm taking some classes to earn another AA degree and looking for a part-time job. It's not that hard like this. You just have to be less material and less worried about "things". Thank God I have always been a very thrifty person.
:)
And I don't consider myself a "Status symbol". I'm not walking around with a Chanel bag or driving a BMW

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Sloan

It depends.

I know some people who really live out the description of being a stay-at-home status symbol sort of wives.

Their husbands really make so much that they're pretty much well pampered and provided for. The seriously need not work, but they end up spending more than anything.

On those cases, yes, it's an "extreme luxury."

However, people in general should consider that NOT ALL wives who don't work are just prima donnas.

My mother for one, was a stay-at-home mom. My father did the income generating and my mother did the financial managing. She was very simple, practical frugal and disciplined about the budget and her purchases. She raised me with the practical ideology to live according to my means, and as much as possible do only with what I need and not what I want.

So I guess it really depends. If given the opportunity to be a stay-at-home mom one day, and if ever my husband will be so financially stable, I think I will not flaunt or think of my situation as some kind of luxury. I will still live simply and accordingly to what my family needs.

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Jen

I'm a stay at home mom to one little boy with hopefully more children in our future. My husband works full-time and I have a business that I run from home part-time. Our house and lifestyle are far from luxury, but considering the amount of money we would have to pay for child care, commuting, professional attire and other expenses, we are probably saving money by my not working. Plus, I'm able to take on paid gigs when I can fit them into my schedule. I'm also in charge of deciding (for the most part) what we buy and what we don't buy so I consider my frugality, couponing, rebating, deal hunting etc a part-time job as well. What I do in these areas makes my husband's paycheck go further and these are rather time-consuming tasks that I might not be able to do at the level I do if I was working outside the home. It works for us while the kiddos are young!

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butterscotch

I have worked, and I have stayed home. The staying at home was not prompted by myself, I was laid off. I had a high stress executive position that paid very well, much more than my husbands salary. While I have been home for the last 6 months I have learned some things. Originally I felt that staying home was a weak choice, unwise and why would you waste your life like that after all that women's liberation has done. Now, I feel much differently. While I was working full-time "having it all", I was extremely stressed, could not take care of my home consistently well, had very little to no energy left to support my husband physically or emotionally, and suffered physical chest pains and anxiety attacks. After the layoff, it took me months to get my house organized from all the papers and stuff that just never got done, important papers that were lost, projects that were never completed. Now that I am home, I can take care of my three year old son, I make meals every day, I shop the sales and use coupons and have been able to support my husband so much that he has showed a significant change in his career and is now poised to start a job that doubles his salary. I don't believe that is a coincidence, he never got the support with his career before from me because I was too busy and stressed with keeping my career going. Our marriage has improved immeasurably. He now has a greater pride in his work. I now have more respect for him because of how he stepped into the role of breadwinner and how hard he is working. Yes, it is a risk to stay home and put your career on hold and be subject to being supported financially by your husband, but I believe it is possibly also VERY risky to your marriage to NOT be there for your husband and perhaps this subtle nuance might need to be emphasized to young women that the LACK OF emotional, and physical presence, and support of your husband can also lead to financial disaster if your marriage fails-and that is also very risky. No one in my family has been a stay at home mom permanently, I never even thought of being one-ever. While I was growing up I constantly heard, develop your career, get an education, work hard, never depend on a man......well, sometimes I think you can take it to far where women begin to let on that they no longer feel a man is necessary or needed. I learned that I do enjoy staying home, I am looking for work because we need to catch up on bills, and save for retirement. But, we this has been a defining moment for my life, we will live on one income-HIS, and save and invest and pay off bills with my income and hopefully I can go back to part-time work only eventually because I have learned that I really enjoy staying home and taking care of my family. It makes me happy to make a home for my husband and son, and make special moments for them.

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Guest

I totally agree with you, in fact I want to congratulate you for realizing the joy of being a housewife. Its not that I have anything against working women, I myself was a career woman. Of course I love what I do then, teaching is my passion, but when I was forced to stay home due to risky pregnancy, at first it was hard, not enough money, too much responsibilities, too much household chores (I had to fire my maid to cut the expenses). But eventually when I was able to adjust, I enjoyed the chores, the responsibilities and most especially the precious moments with my kids. Then I thanked God that He made way for me to stop working outside, but then the needs are still there, so we decided to look for a Second Income There I realize that there are millions of opportunities in the internet to earn extra money. Now even my husband is staying with us, he resigned from his job and worked in the home. And I am proud to say that we are earning triple what we have when we have both our careers outside.

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Guest

I would love to be able not to work because of my health. I have multiple health problems, but all of my doctors want me to work until I can't. My husband would love for me to be at home, but he tells me that we just can't make it on his income right now; I still have credit card bills to pay off.

Before the job I have now, I was between jobs and home for two months. I felt better, my house and yard looked better; all of you know what I mean.

I quickly went through some of the responses before posting, and I agree with the person who said that a woman doesn't have to pop out a child to justify being at home. I think that it is a jealousy thing on the part of the women who have children; we childless(not by choice) women do have housework, a husband to cook and clean after, a yard to keep nice, in-laws who require attention because of health issues, etc. I would love to be home to take care of my husband better, while I still can, before he has to take care of me full-time because of my health.