Preparing for the stay-at-home mom (or dad) budget: Seven things

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positive pregnancy testMy brother started a family two years after I did, which was sensible: I'm the oldest sibling. Then my sister-in-law and I got pregnant within a week of each other last fall, but it wasn't until early spring we learned that we were both going to have three children come summer; she was pregnant with twins! My brother and I are both the primary breadwinners in our family, too -- let's just say my sister-in-law and I don't often go out for pedicures. Yesterday we gathered with all the babies and the talk turned to money.

With years of balancing children one one income, and six adorable, expensive kids between us, what advice would we give to someone planning for several years of at-home parenting? When a local mama-to-be asked the question "how should I budget for life as a stay-at-home mom?", I discovered nuggets from our community and from our own experiences. Here are seven things I'd remember if I could go back to the first-time-pregnant me and do-over:

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Budgeting for Baby: 7 Ways to Prepare Yourself for Life as an At-Home Parent
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Preparing for the stay-at-home mom (or dad) budget: Seven things
Says one mama, "For the six or so months prior to baby's birth, we lived on my husband's salary alone and put (almost) everything that I made into a cash fund. This gets you used to living on one income and gives you time to figure out what cuts you need to make, while still giving you a buffer."
Wait until you're used to the baby before buying cribs, changing tables, expensive jogging strollers, and other big ticket items -- you never know, you may realize suddenly that you're a co-sleeper and your crib will end up, like ours, a laundry storage facility. Or you may discover that there's nothing you hate more than jogging with the baby (or conversely, that you love it and never want to 'perambulate' in that fancy carriage).
It's useful to evaluate your life and think, not "where can I save money?" but "where can I not spend at all?" I tried to hang on to the pre-baby travel schedule -- weekends at a bed & breakfast, occasional jaunts to San Francisco or Chicago or New York -- but really? I'm way happier now that I see a weekend coming and think about spending time at the farmer's market, or just sitting around the house baking cookies and knitting, instead of how I need to pack and plan and travel.
Have friends who love to meet after work for shopping, pedicures and pricey appetizers and cocktails at a local hotspot? I hate to tell you who to hang out with, but they may not be the ones for you, girlfriend. Meeting up on the mountain most weekends for black diamonds and beers? Either you'll have to convert your friends to your new thrifty lifestyle or you'll have to find some new ones. I met some amazing women at a "Naked Mamas Party" -- we brought our don't-fit-anymore clothes, a couple of bottles of wine and some munchies, and proceeded to "go shopping" through each other's cast-offs.
Does your family currently use two cars -- and are you making payments on either, or both, of them? If so, you should seriously ask yourself whether you could reduce or eliminate your car expenses. Could your working partner start commuting on public transit, or biking to work? Could you stay at home without a car? In Portland, Oregon, where I live, both my husband and I make do without any car, at all, and three young boys -- we bus, bike, walk and very occasionally catch a ride from a friend or family member, or use a car-share service. We figure we save $4000 or $5000 a year, and our car is all paid off. We save money, too, by not having the option of doing things as a family that would end up costing money -- like going to Costco on a Sunday afternoon and buying boxes of stuff we really could do without.
It may seem like the most obvious of all possible obviousness, but eating in -- and cooking from scratch instead of buying packaged food -- is the best way to save money. Not just that, but you can start controlling the health and quality of your food. Learn to bake bread (there are lots of easy recipes out there), make chili, eat local and seasonal, shop at the farmer's market. Learn to garden (if you are up for it) and freeze some bountiful produce for the winter. Maybe you'll discover new loves you never imagined. And studies show that it's just as fast to cook from scratch as to prepare meals using convenience foods (and I'd bet you don't save any time over going to a restaurant, what with travel and waiting for a table and all).
You may not have to COMPLETELY eliminate big box stores from your routine, but if you're going once a week you're in some big trouble. When you go to Target or the mall, bring a list and stick to it religiously. Don't buy anything on sale. Follow these rules for controlling spending, including the all-important "if it were $10 more, would I still buy it?" question. If the answer's no, save it. Impulse purchases are your enemy; remember the two-week waiting rule for anything over $5. (Go home, wait two weeks, and make a note of every time you wished you had it...)
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