by Karen D. Koch
Years ago when we had our first baby (two months after college graduation) and another on the way about 15 months later, I stumbled on a book at our local library called Two Incomes and Still Broke: It’s Not How Much You Make, but How Much You Keep by Linda Kelley, 1996. We were recent college graduates, were living on one pretty desperately low income and were fairly new parents, so it caught my eye. I’m glad God allowed me to stumble on it, because it had a profound effect on me, which I remember nearly 20 years later. The basic premise was that often the second income for a couple isn’t producing nearly as much as they think. Sometimes more really isn’t more.
The author broke down all the extra expenses of daycare, commuting/parking/tolls, clothes for work, office party and gift expectations, convenience foods, lunches out, and other work-related expenses for that second income. She reminded the readers of all the social security and medicare taxes, etc. coming out before receiving the net pay as well, and sometimes the cost of double benefits (wife and husband). The author reviewed several true-family scenarios, with some surprising findings. Many times the second income (particularly in families with children) was actually truly netting just a fraction more than one income.
True Hourly Wage
With some case studies in the book, the author found that it was actually costing the lower-earning spouse (usually the wife, but not always) almost her entire paycheck just to work. One wife wept when she ran the numbers and found that after subtracting all the things she had to pay out of her take-home paycheck for daycare, commuting/car upkeep, work clothes, and other hidden expenses, that she was actually earning just a few dollars per hour. The couple’s burdensome work load was not allowing her husband to take on some potential overtime pay as they split off-time child care. When they realized her income was actually pushing them just into the next tax bracket, that mom quit her job, came home, and began babysitting another’s child to supplement their income. In the end, they were financially better off than before on one income instead of two.
I read this book before our homeschooling years, but I remember thinking that if we planned to have more than 1.76 children that the cost of daycare alone would probably eat my entire paycheck if I had been working outside the home. This information helped my resolve to stay home, then kept me at home when the kids reached school age. I would mentally run the numbers and think, “It’s just not worth it to us.”
Side Note on My Financial Contribution
On a side note here, as financial planner for our home, I’ve taken the time to contest charges I almost certainly would have missed or been too tired to deal with if working fulltime: last month alone I got a faulty $70 parking ticket reversed, a mistaken $15 late fee reversed on our water bill payment that our bank cleared before the due date, a $45 overcharge on our last dental appointment (they charged us for a service that wasn’t actually performed). and a $97 overcharge refunded by an orthodontist who did an emergency bracket fix for our son at college. A local bookstore accidentally charged me for a book twice in December. My quick phone call got that reversed. I consider all these things ways I contribute to our family financial picture without working outside the home.)
As we’re in the thick of preparing 2016 taxes, this two-income thought came up again today. A friend shared that with his wife’s extra income this past year, they figured that nearly 60% of it had been eaten up just by bumping them into a higher tax bracket and losing their child tax and other credits. They have older children in public school and are working valiantly to eliminate all their debt with the end in sight, but this was still a discouragement to them.
If I earned more, my income would most likely bump us up to another tax bracket, nullifying much of the gain. I don’t see the sense in earning more just so the government can take more of it. I have about 10 years of homeschool left, so I can weigh the benefits/cost of working later.
Weighing the Cost
So I want to encourage you families who are daring to swim upstream and opt to have someone stay home with your children, for whatever season. If you’re in the place of not knowing how it could possibly work with one income, prayerfully examine expenses and work through the possibilities. I know it’s not always as simple to say as the case studies above, and sacrifices must be made to stay home, but I contend that equally hard decisions need to be made to work outside the home.
If God has given you the desire to stay home and/or homeschool for whatever season of your life, He will make it possible. Unemployment, serious health issues, or other circumstances must be taken into account, of course, as well as the couple’s decision together. I know one family where the wife works fulltime while the father is the stay-at-home homeschool dad.
Our Past 20+ Years
In the 20+ years since we’ve had children, I have not held a job outside the home. I’ve babysat, done some freelance writing and editing, and I work part-time for CHEA. We’ve been blessed to have parents who have helped pay for homeschool expenses and other people who have blessed us in ways that amaze us. We’ve chosen to do without some things, but have never been in want. We don’t deserve all that the good Lord has blessed us with, but have graduated two of our four children from homeschool and have gotten one through college debt free. I still think this is nothing short of God’s miraculous provision. It is truly humbling to me.
I have never once had to take a work sick day to care for a child or agonize over whether to send a sick child to school because I couldn’t miss work. We have been frugal with the resources we have. God has always provided my husband with a job, us with a home, food, vehicles to drive, and health insurance when we most needed it. It amazes me to look back at God’s provision. In the lean times and in the more prosperous times, God has always been good to us. And I’m so grateful to have been home with my children.
Karen D. Koch and husband Monte have four children (8, 14, 18, 20). She was voted “Most Likely to Make a Million” when she graduated from high school, but figures she has probably earned less than almost everyone in her graduating class. In spite of this, she has been extremely blessed to be wife to Monte and mom to Mitchell, Mason, Madeline, and Miller. She says she lacks for no good thing and is content. Morning coffee and books also bring her great joy.
Read Karen’s article Most Likely to Make a Million.
Thinking of homeschooling? Attend CHEA’s FREE Mini-Conference for New Homeschoolers July 13 at the Pasadena Convention Center