This is a post from Jeff Bogle, one of our first contributing blogger here at StopBuyingCrap. Back in 2008, Jeff left his steady corporate job at Vanguard to be a stay-at-home dad. Jeff writes regularly at Out With The Kids, a daddy blog, and you may also find his work on iVillage, Time Out New York Kids, and Curious Parents Magazine.

A One-Salary Household

Hemorrhaging debt isn’t typically how a family moves to a one-salary household.

The corporate goodbye plan was hatched poolside during the summer of 2007, and began with my wife and I deciding to give our house a not-quite-extreme-but-still-impressive makeover, taking on massive debt in the process.  We knew that the move to one reliable salary would mean hitting the pause button on any major home projects, so we prioritized the most needed upgrades, those deserving immediate attention and anything else that could become a problem in the near future, and came up with the following big three:

  • Convert the sunroom & one car garage into livable space for our expanding family.
  • Replace the vinyl siding.
  • Replace the 20+ year-old old roof.

Important Reasons

The decision for me to stay home was based on the nagging reality that our two children were spending too much time in daycare, and way too little with the people who brought them into this world. We looked at our daily schedule – drop off at 7am, pick up at 5pm, home at 5:30, preparing family dinner, eat and clean-up until 7pm, bath & nighttime routine (brush teeth, read books, etc.), then put them to bed by 8pm.

At the end of those nights, my wife and I would look at each other in amazement that we’d spent only about 2 ½ hours with our kids.

That’s a whopping 12 ½ hours in the presence of my offspring during the week!  There are deadbeat dads more engaged with their kids than that.  It got to the point where it simply wasn’t acceptable to have our children raised by, essentially, strangers for 50 hrs a week, just so we could take an extra vacation and buy more crap we didn’t need.

Additionally, I was only one year away from having my oldest daughter, then 4 ½, become a full day kindergartener.  It’d be 13 years (at least) before the school system would spit her back out to me, so we decided that I’d trade in my 40+ hours a week at work for those many hours with her, before kindergarten steals her away.

It may seem crazy to prepare for the dropping of an income by spending thousands of dollars.  It could be said that we took the contrarian’s approach to this move, spending money as wisely as we could, to ensure our total comfort in our modest home  – the place where I’d be spending most of my time going forward.

Transitioning to Financial Changes

With all of the contractor’s invoices paid by the end of 2007, we entered the New Year with a clear picture of our debt situation.   Our budget for 2008 was configured accordingly, with the intention of paying off everything, including one lingering car loan.  We sacrificed a lot that year, doing without much of what makes us happy, including vacations, concert tickets, CDs, and theater subscriptions.  It wasn’t until we were no longer saddled with revolving credit card bills, a line of credit balance or car payments and had a house we were finally completely happy with — that I was able to bid farewell to the cozy confines of my cubicle and the relative safe steady paycheck that came with it.  This was August 22nd, 2008.

To be a middle class family in America generally means a pair of working parents.  It’s been this way for the better part of three decades and it’s this way for a reason, well several actually.  One of which is that we want far more stuff than at any point since maybe the Romans craved new lands.  Breaking free of this uniquely modern American mindset hasn’t been a walk in the park.

My wife and I arrived upon the doorstep of the at-home dad world with careful consideration of our financial situation, both present and future. We knew that to make this happen we were going to have to permanently do without certain luxuries two healthy paychecks afforded us.  Additionally, our financial future would be severely altered, since no job = no 401(k) contributions or employer match.  Now, I’ve never been much of a planner, but even I hunkered down to crunch numbers and make certain that we wouldn’t have to dip into my retirement savings 6-months into this experiment. In this way, becoming an at-home dad challenged my own make-up.  If we were going to be successful in living within our means and making sound financial choices on one steady income, I would have to think ahead, plan and give up some of the spontaneity I enjoyed when my direct deposits were filling up the bank account.

I recognize that many families make tough choices everyday, many of them a lot harder than those my wife and I made.  I also witness many American families extending themselves to the brink of financial disaster in an effort NOT to make choices.  Giving up a vacation, eating out less, and buying less stuff in 2008 wasn’t easy, and there are still times we’re flat miserable with what we cannot do. However, making sacrifices teaches our children that you simply cannot have everything you desire in life, at least not all at once, and prevents us from being flat broke.

photo credits: stmoritz1960, Holtsman, and Leonid Mamchenkov