Stay at Home Mom vs. Returning to Work: A Cost Analysis

You’ve likely seen the “mom salary” story:  what is a stay at home mom worth in dollars if paid by an employer for her daily duties?  The most recent figure was just under $117k.  While this is certainly flattering to a stay at home mom, it is irrelevant when evaluating the cost of going back to work since it is calculated by aggregating full time salaries for professionals such as a daycare manager, chef, driver, housekeeper, etc.

Some moms do not have the option of staying at home; they may be the primary breadwinner of the family or the only parent with health insurance.  Others simply do not desire to stay at home for various reasons.  Many moms, however, would love to stay home but are unsure whether it is financially feasible.  The primary cost to consider is childcare; and it varies significantly depending on your choice of childcare and where you live.

Daycare Centers

According to the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies (NACCRRA), the annual cost for an infant in a daycare center ranges from $5k to $18k, depending on the state (you can find the average for your state on the NACCRRA website.) 

  • Pros:  Easily verifiable credentials, high level of socialization and independence-learning opportunities.
  • Cons:  Lower level of individual attention, high exposure to germs, inconvenience of driving them and packing their stuff every day.

Home-Based Daycare

A licensed daycare run out of someone’s home is another good option; just be sure to verify their credentials.  Typically there are a few other children in this type of setup, but not always.  The annual cost is $4k to $12k depending on the state. 

  • Pro:  Usually the most cost effective option. 
  • Cons:  For some, childcare is another’s home may be outside your comfort zone, inconvenience of driving them and packing their stuff every day.  Socialization and individual attention is mid-range.

In-Home Nannies

The cost of an in-home nanny varies not just on the cost of living in your area, but also the age and experience level of your nanny.  Other points to consider are whether you will provide health insurance or pay their taxes (some choose to pay “under the table”); and what other services they provide (housekeeping, cooking, etc).  Generally, the annual cost of an in-home nanny is somewhere between $18k and $36k. 

  • Pros:  Highest level of individual attention; convenience (no driving them or packing their stuff everyday).  
  • Cons:  Most expensive, little socialization with other children.

Other Costs

There are additional costs associated with going back to work that are less impactful, but worth mentioning, such as fuel costs, eating meals outside the home, and wardrobe maintenance (new clothes and shoes, dry cleaning, etc.)

The Decision

Find out the average cost of your childcare choice specific to your local area, then sit down with your partner and go over your budget.  Evaluate whether or not his salary can support the household bills and expenses alone (don’t forget retirement and college savings).  If the answer is “almost, but not quite”, are there any sacrifices you can make in order to get there (drive a less expensive car, eat out less, do your own nails, etc.)?  You may reach the conclusion that you simply can’t make it work as a single-income house, and you have no choice but to return to work.  However, if you think you can swing it, go for it.  The value of a stay at home mom is beyond measure, as it’s the non-numerical kind.



  • Finance Inspired

    My Sister recently went through this decision and in the end, after everything had been taken into account (loss of benefits, baby sitters etc) it actually worked out she would be worse off for working than if she were to just stay at home. Surely that doesnt make economic sense?

  • Jamie Dickinson

    This will be helpful for the imminent future, thanks!

  • Gillian Money After Graduation

    I would do daycare I had a job where I made a LOT of money, or we really could not afford our lives otherwise. But if you don’t make much working, you might as well stay home with the kids and save yourself the trouble of making money just to have to pay out to someone else and sacrificing your time with them. Just my thoughts though! I definitely think each option has it’s time that it works best!

    • Ginger-GirlsJustWannaHaveFunds

      Good point Gillian. for me it would depend on how old they are and my financial situation. Some moms do have to sacrifice time with their kids but in some cases, it’s their only option if they are a single income household. The trade off with time is the work experience that yields a fresh resume opening up doors to other opportunities.

      • CK

        It isn’t just the short-term that matters here either. Anyone making this decision should consider a) the value of the work experience for post-child rearing employment vs. a gap on the resume and b) the affect on Social Security benefits (assuming they’re still around).

  • Deborah Key Brunt

    A good summary of childcare options for those women transitioning back into the workplace. A few other possibilities include an au pair, which costs considerable less than a live-in nanny, although they do live-in. Also consider job sharing with your partner, i.e both working part-time and sharing the childcare. Myself and my husband do this and earn considerably more than if only one of us worked full-time and we both get to raise our kids. An alternative worth considering. By the way check out my blog at

  • Donna Johnson

    Found this site via For Harriet’s article on 30 Black Women Bloggers … passing this on. Great information. Thanks, Amanda and Ginger.

  • Lisa Hatcher Byles

    As a stay at mother for 12 years, my kids were 12, 9, and 6 when I went back to school, and then I worked part time, and now full time.   As a couple, my husband and I made many sacrifices so this would be possible during those early years.  Fast forward 9 years, I am separated and need to be financial independent, and it is a struggle (I am self-employed).  While I have no regrets about being a stay at home mom, if I had to do over, I would have tried to work part – time, even if just 10 – 15 hours a week.  And even if I only broke even financially, just to keep my skills up, my networks fresh, and to remind me that I am still my own person (not just a mom).  Now, as a CFP who works with families going through divorce, I see the financial challenges faced by women who were stay at home moms for a long time.  

  • Nicholebrown

    As a mother of an 8 month old boy I chose to place him in home care. It is a comfortable environment with only a handful of children, structure, discipline and most of all friends! These programs are supported in the state of Texas and are licensed (if you have concerns do your research). My son loves going every day and the program offers something I could not provide if I had the ability to stay home with him and that is socialization. More then my “want” to be at home with my son, I want him to be well rounded and experience a “school” environment before being dumped into school at the age of 5. I love my career and I would not exchange being a working mother for staying home. The benefts for my son outweighed me being at home with him. As he gets older, I may reconsider only because when he is school age I think he will see more benefit to me working from home part time. Overall it cmes down to the balance of you and your child. No matter what your family decides – own it and know that both are your choice to make and don’t dictate if you’re a “Good vs. Bad” parent.


    Of course it is better to stay home and take care of a child until he is old enough to understand why his mom needs to leave, of course though there are situations wherein this is not possible but if ever there is a way the mom can stay home I think she should start her own business. I sell import export goods from home and granted it was confusing at first but with an import export coach I began selling and profiting in no time. 

  • onefrugalgirl

    I have been thinking and writing about this topic a lot lately. If you are considering staying at home you may also need to think about all the benefits you lose out on such as health insurance, life insurance benefits, retirement savings/401(k) matches, and even small perks like discounted gym memberships or cell phone bills. It’s not just about the salary. I have been debating this topic for months on my blog and in my head. There are so many factors to consider both financially and otherwise.

    • Ginger-GirlsJustWannaHaveFunds

      All valid points made here. For me, I think the best of both worlds would suffice. That is, staying at home with the kids for 1-2 years while I run a business from home as well. In my mind, this way I’d get to spend more time with the kids and support myself so that I’d be OK in any event.

      I don’t have kids yet but this is something I think about all the time…. the logistics of it all are enough to drive me crazy LOL! So I’ll take the best of both worlds Alex!

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for your input!  Yes, there are a ton of things to consider, way to many for just one article..could write a book about it!  Any change that would occur as a result of forgoing employment should be part of the budget discussion.  Personally, staying home would not be an option for me if I was the only one with good health insurance.  And retirement savings is an excellent point to bring up…if a couple is considering this, they should meet with their financial advisor and discuss ways to meet their retirement/savings goals as a one-income household.

  • KyleAAA

    Being a guy, my opinion probably doesn’t matter all that much, but I think you also have to factor in the future earnings potential you sacrifice when you take an extended leave of absence from work. Most studies show that people (women and men alike) who take significant time off work to raise a child start at significantly lower salaries when they eventually re-enter the work force relative to what they would have been earning had they kept working. They probably also find the job search process itself a lot more difficult and frustrating. Now this might not be a problem if everything goes as planned, but if God forbid something like a divorce or death of your spouse occurs you could find yourself in a significant hole, career-wise.

    • Anonymous

      Of course your opinion matters, you’re half of the partnership! :)  Those are very good points to consider in the decision process.  No doubt there are sacrifices that are made in order to be a stay at home; the effect that a long hiatus has on your career is certainly one of them.  In my opinion, the rewards far outweigh the risks but it is absolutely a personal decision that no one should take lightly!  Thanks for your input!