wife with head in her hands from financial stress while husband on the phone in the background

Should I Be A Stay-At-Home Mom or Go Back to Work to Help Pay Off Debt?

Got debt? Like, a lot of debt?

Seems like I should stop being a stay-at-home mom and get a full-time job to help pay off our debt. 

But, wait. Is that really the best choice?

Let’s break it down.

Full Disclosure: We’re still figuring this out. 

But we’re bringing you along on the decision-making process.

Maybe it can help you figure out the stay-at-home mom or go back to work dilemma if you’re at the same crossroad in your debt-free journey. 

Here’s our basic situation:

  • Over $100K in student loan debt
  • $45K per year traditional job
  • Mom stays home with 2 children (bringing in a small income from side hustles)

Now, we narrowed it down to 3 top concerns in deciding whether I should go back to work or keep being a side-hustlin’ stay-at-home mom.

Is It Worth Mom Working Outside the Home for a Low-Wage Job?

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

Even though we have six figures of student loan debt, neither my husband or I are doctors, lawyers, or some other notably high-paying profession. 

(The “Who’s the doctor?” question is one of Dave Ramsey’s favorites when a caller says they have over $100,000 – or more – in debt. It cracks me up!)

My husband is a high school math teacher and I had a background in news media.

I probably couldn’t earn more than a $45,000 per year salary, based on my degree and experience. To be fair, I might be able to land a $50K job. 

My Take-Home Pay would be about $1,300 after taxes, transportation costs, and childcare. 

The cost of childcare is the real kicker there. 

(Really, it’s a kicker for a lot of families.)

We have a 5-year-old who would be eligible for kindergarten. So she would likely just need after-school care. But my 2-year-old son would need full-time childcare for at least 2 more years.

Is it worth it for a mom to work full-time when she wouldn’t make a lot of money from that job?

Photo by Jp Valery on Unsplash

It seems counter-productive.

But here’s the flip side:

I could start at a low salary, but gain skills and experience that can get me promoted or eligible for a better-paying job.

Plus, I’d be contributing to retirement savings.

(We’re in our mid-30s, so we really need to get on the ball!) link to a Dave Ramsey retirement article

And let’s not forget the biggest thing:

It’s something.

I’m definitely not scoffing at an extra $1,300 a month. But I’m considering what I’d be giving up as both a mother and the home manager to make that happen. I’m trying to weigh the costs and benefits to see if it really is worth it to go back to work as a full-time W-2 employee.

Here’s the deal: Our debt-free journey has already been sputtering.

Quick Backstory: We’ve been “trying” to get out of debt since 2014 — almost eight years ago! Aside from just not wanting it bad enough, we fell into the rat race of underemployment. We chased more education to get better-paying jobs, as if education was the only way to earn more money.

Then, along came a baby.

And another…

We’re just now emerging from the fray of the tough first few years of caring for a baby (read: crying fits, #teamnosleep, breastfeeding, potty training, the whole nine yards.)

Two full-time incomes would certainly help our household, yes. But it still would be drops in the bucket after all the added expenses of working and considering just how abnormally large our debt is. 

Should We Put Kids in Public School or Homeschool?

This decision is still in the works, too. 

But just because we’re considering homeschooling our children doesn’t mean our nose is in the air.

It also doesn’t mean we’re judgey-judgey toward those who choose public school for their children. 

It’s definitely a personal decision.

And we’re just sharing why we’re considering homeschooling.

Let me first say:

My husband and I are millennials who went to public school and we “came out OK.”

Plus, we’ve actually walked the halls and sat in classrooms, working as teacher’s aides in an elementary school.

The verdict: 

Kids know more about mature topics than they did 20-plus years ago when we were in school. 

Innocence is lost at a younger age.

And let’s not forget, it’s 2021, so there’s:

  • Bullying, self-esteem issues, anxiety/depression
  • Social media pressures, influences, and internet addictions
  • Drug introduction/drug abuse  
  • Highly controversial curriculum

I know, I know.

My sweet little 5-year-old probably isn’t going through any of that right now.

And children can’t live in a bubble, where they’re literally ignorant.

They’re eventually going to know “the facts of life.”

It’s just that I want to decide what my child knows and when they learn about it — at least in their early years.

I want to help protect their identity while they are still maturing, instead of having the added peer pressure. 

I want to guide their values. I don’t want the culture determining their morality (or lack thereof).

I think if I can instill a love for learning and a solid foundation, then they will be better equipped, more confident, and less likely to stray to a negative lifestyle. 

Our consideration is homeschooling until high school (link to homeschool article), then enrolling them in public school.

But it’s all really a whole ‘nother topic.

Still, the public school vs. homeschool decision is super-important to our debt-free journey.

Here’s why:

It directly affects our income-earning opportunities. 

If we decide to homeschool our children, that would limit the type of jobs I would be able to do. 

I wouldn’t be able to work a traditional 9 to 5 job AND homeschool on top of that.

But it’s those “traditional,” jobs that are usually the highest-paying.

I could work a job with non-traditional hours (i.e. nights and weekends). That way, I could still homeschool the children and my husband can stay home with the children while I’m at work.

The only issue is the pay.

Those entry-level jobs (jobs requiring little to no specialized training, education, and/or experience) typically don’t pay as much as jobs with traditional hours.

Then, once again. Is it worth it to work if I’m not making that much money?

A possible Solution:

We could set a timeline. 

Ramsey Personality Christy Wright talked about this on her radio show. The context was whether to go back to a full-time job or nurture a growing small business. But I think Christy’s advice could be applied here.

My husband and I could:

Temporarily put the children in public school and full-time daycare

We could both work traditional full-time jobs temporarily.

And we live in a generally good area, so I’m assuming the public schools aren’t “bad.” It’s not like throwing our kids to the wolves and hoping for the best.

All that said, I feel so honored to have the opportunity to literally shape my children into the adults they will become.

Being a mother is a huge responsibility — bigger than I first realized.

I’d love to teach them and create a strong foundation for them without the outside influences and pressures.

Not saying working moms can’t do the same.

I had a working mom and she taught me rock-solid principles that still guide me today.

But, in my heart of hearts, I want to homeschool my children, at least until high school.

Will Overscheduling Lead To Making No Progress Toward Paying Off Debt?

Photo by Luis Villasmil on Unsplash

Two working parents mean we all would be on strict schedules. 

And that’s something my children haven’t really had to deal with.

The most has been trying to get out the door to church or a doctor’s appointment. 

(Side note: I also worked part-time at a two-day-a-week preschool and got to take the kids with me. It was an interesting four months.)

It seems like they always need to potty right before we step a foot out the door … even though I just took them.

Or there’s a meltdown.

Granted, it’s not all on the children.

My husband and I would have to step up and be more organized and better prepared to reduce the stress.

Something we can learn.

But if we both have jobs to get to on-time and prepare for, that instantly means there’s less time for other things, like home management.

Top of mind for me are:

  • Laundry
  • Meal prep/grocery shopping
  • Housework 

There would also be less time for walks and trips to the park and just hanging out with each other.

I’m pretty sure our schedules would be jam-packed. 

But again, we could adjust.

Big Benefits to Childcare, Public School, and Parents Working Outside the Home:

  • My children would be around other children– which could be a negative influence or it could really be enriching for them.
  • At the same time, I could have a “life outside of the home,” while I’m working and being more than “just a mom.”

Can a Stay-at-Home Mom Also Be a Working Mom?

Not a lot of things in life are black and white, right?

Same goes with this decision. It’s not an either/or.

We live in an amazing time with so many more money-making opportunities than our parents and grandparents could have dreamed of.

Specifically, the internet.

That said, I’m looking into ecommerce and online content (like this blog and our YouTube channel) as an income stream that can earn as much as I can earn from a traditional job. 

Starting an online business solves all the issues:

  • Avoiding childcare costs
  • Keeping Homeschooling as an option
  • Contributing income to pay off debt

Call it a hybrid option where a mom can also stay home with her children AND earn an income.

Besides online business, there are options in what’s called the gig economy.

I did food delivery with Shipt, Instacart, and DoorDash for a while. There are definitely cons to this type of work. But the money earned could be helpful depending on your family’s needs.

Final Thoughts

“Only when the pain of same — the pain of where you are — exceeds the pain of change, will you change.”

Dave Ramsey, Dec. 2020

Before I go, I want to be real clear about something.

I am not intentionally avoiding work (i.e. lazy, entitled, etc.)

I don’t want to be “kept,” and eat bon bons.

Maintaining a household is a lot of work between making scratch-made meals three times a day for four people, cleaning bathrooms, sweep/mop/vacuum, and the list goes on.

Deciding to be a stay-at-home mom or a mom who works outside the home is a sensitive topic.

What makes it difficult is every family situation is different.

The point of this article was to offer different perspectives that you may not have considered before.

It can be discouraging, too, when you have family and friends advocating for one side over the other.

There are literally thousands of examples of moms who have taken different routes to still find success.

You can do it, too.

Take some time to lay out all the options, like we did.

Consider your values. 

Identify your priorities.

Then, connect the dots.

You may need to take some extra time to talk with other moms and figure out one of those creative, hybrid options. They’re out there.

But get a good plan together and…

Keep at it!