Minimizing the Cost of Living as a Working Mom

This is a guest post by Angie Picardo, staff writer for NerdWallet.


For your average working mom, balancing work life with family life is a question of both financial costs and opportunity costs. Here are a few tips for moms to minimize their budget line items and maximize family fun time.

Childcare costs

In many cities, the average cost of childcare can surpass rent. The extraordinarily high cost of childcare is often the one line item that prevents moms from returning to the working world. While there’s no real silver bullet solution for eliminating childcare costs, there are some financial tips and tricks that you can take to minimize your yearly costs.

  • Take advantage of tax breaks. Working moms (and dads) qualify for the IRS’s “Child and Dependent Care Credit.” While it is capped at $3,000 per child and $6,000 for multiple children, it still reduces your taxable income, giving you a little bit of leeway in terms of childcare costs.

  • Open a Flexible Spending Account. You probably have heard of FSAs in the context of health insurance. FSAs let you accumulate pre-tax money coming straight out of your paycheck each month. Letting your childcare savings grow in an FSA is a good way to save some money in a pre-tax fashion.

  • Share. Au pairs are not just for the European rich and famous. Many au pair agencies have rates that can be reasonable when split amongst multiple families. Finding a family to split childcare costs also lets you have a built-in playgroup option for when your children get older.

Housing costs

Regardless of whether you rent or own, housing costs can really eat up a hefty part of your budget.

  • Interest rates are at an all time low, so it’s the perfect time to refinance. Get in touch with your lender and see what refinancing would do to your mortgage payment each month.

  • Before undertaking a massive home renovation project, think about whether it’s worth the cost and effort. Many homeowners invest both time and money into ambitious projects that do not always increase the value of their home.

Healthcare costs

Look at the big picture. While you cannot predict how your health will be in the future, you can make smart and healthy decisions in the present to improve the likelihood of a healthy future.

  • Health insurance plans are still fairly complex, but new policies, legislatures, and applications are demystifying the costs behind healthcare. Tap into a free clinic or sliding scale based clinic network to receive care while uninsured.

  • Research state or local government plans to see if you qualify. With a little bit of research you can uncover subsidized programs that can help lower your healthcare costs.

Food costs

Balancing grocery and food costs is difficult, as you can easily end up buying out of convenience more than frugality. Most money saving grocery tips out there are time-heavy, and time is just as hot a commodity as money these days. Here are some time and money saving tips.

  • Pre-plan meals for your work. Take-out lunches from the place down the street at work are what will really take your food budget into the red. Try and pack your own lunch as often as you can.

  • Make cooking a family activity on the weekend and plan your meals in advance. You get both bonding time and food prep done for the week.

  • Do your shopping in one go and maintain a well-stocked pantry. Having a variety of go-to meal options will minimize the time you’ll feel like calling for Chinese take-out.

  • Eat raw foods and buy seasonally. Even though stocking up on frozen cuisines seems appealing at first glance, your checkbook and waistline will thank you for opting for fresh produce and fruits instead.

Transportation costs

  • Go green. Buy a fuel saving vehicle! At first blush, these cars seem more expensive. However, sticker prices do not figure in federal, state, or local discounts for purchasing an energy saving vehicle.

  • Try and carpool when possible. This will save you some gas money in the long run and will make those dreary Monday morning commutes a little less horrible.

Entertainment costs

  • Who needs Disneyland when have you have the national park system. A cheaper alternative to expensive amusement parks and movie nights are fun outings to the great outdoors. Camping or even day trips provide family fun and entertainment at a low cost.

  • If you don’t think you can give up the bi-monthly trip to the zoo or amusement park, consider investing in a season or annual pass. You can oftentimes make up the cost of the pass in just a few visits.

Clothing costs

The cost of collecting and maintaining two sets of wardrobes can get pricey. Here are a few tips for looking sharp at work while still staying within your budget.

  • Minimize on the dry cleaning by mixing high and low pieces. Not every item you wear has to be a fully formal piece, even when you are wearing a suit. Mix your expensive pieces in with more washer friendly basics to maintain a polished look.

  • Splurge on accessories. Funky necklaces and earrings are always all the rage. These cool accessories will elevate your boring white oxford blouse any day.

  • Look at consignment shops. The more sophisticated and cleaner cousin of the thrift store variety, consignment shops have reasonably prices deals on lightly worn items.

Further Reading: Style for Less.

The unmentioned cost is of course one that working moms struggle with everyday: the opportunity cost of deciding to be a working mom. Above all, try and keep what time you have out of the workplace for your family and for your kids. Use the tips above to optimize that time and maybe go on a fun outing here and there with the savings you’ve earned.

Angie Picardo is a staff writer for NerdWallet. Her mission is to help consumers stay financially savvy, and save some money with the highest cd rates.

Related Posts:
Teaching Financial Habits to Your Children
Should Moms Share Financial Struggles with Children
Working Moms Guide to Guilt-Free Spending
Money Lessons From Mom
Money Management Tips for Moms

Busy Mom’s Guide to Finance
Financial and Lifestyle Tips for the Working Mom
Working Mom’s Third Job as Household CFO?



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