Stay-at-home-moms and stay-at-home-dads are usually the queens and kings of frugality. They know how to stretch a dollar, how to make dinners the kids will love that cost less than $1 per serving, and how to rotate the bills as the money comes in so that everything gets paid. They've learned these things because, often, they had to.
There are, though, some greater frugal truths that a lot of SAHMs and SAHDs don't know or, more likely, have forgotten. These are some ideas about frugal living that these folks should keep in the forefront of their minds, so that they can remember the value of what they do.
1. Money Isn't Everything
Sure, you know that being there for and with your kids matters. That's why you made the choice to stay at home. But it's really easy to lose sight of why you chose to stay at home when you feel like all you do is change diapers, break up arguments, and generally try to keep small people from certain death. It's also easy to wonder about your choices when you feel like you're always trying to cut corners financially or scrimp until the next paycheck comes.
Here's the thing, though: You being there, at home in the daily mess and viewing the daily joys—it matters. You are giving your kids your time and your presence, and that means more than anything money can buy. You are building relationships that will last until one of you dies—close, strong, meaningful bonds. Most likely, you chose to stay home because you, yourself, value these things more than money. So live what you believe and remember that money isn't everything.
You matter. What you value and what you do matters. And it matters more than any paycheck you might be bringing in if you weren't at home.
Note that this isn't to say that being a SAHM or a SAHD is better or worse than being a working parent. But most parents who choose to stay home do it for a reason, and it can be helpful to remember that reason and what you value when financial questions arise.
2. Frugal Choices Are OK
Many of the stay-at-home-parents I know feel some guilt about the frugal choices they end up making in order to stay home. Maybe they can't feed their kids all organic produce, or they can't afford the art lessons/club sports/individual tutoring that their child really wants. Whatever it is, it can be easy to wonder if you should go back to work in order to make these financial things happen.
In the greater scheme of things, though, your frugal choices are OK, especially when they are in line with what you value. If you think that developing close bonds within your family is more important than what sports your kid plays, then focus on those bonds and don't worry about the sports.
When you focus on what you value rather than on what others tell you to value, you're teaching your kids a lesson, too. You're teaching them to think for themselves, and to look within for answers, rather than looking at what all their friends are doing.
3. No One Can Give Their Kids Everything
No one. Not even that super-rich couple whose kid is on the baseball team. No one.
Most of us want our kids to be happy, to know the value of hard work, to have good friends, and to achieve some degree of success, however they choose to define it. And guess what? Money can't buy any of that.
The things that matter most in life are things that money really cannot touch. When you choose to stay at home with your children despite the financial stress and difficulties that they can cause, it's easy to feel like you are making them give up a lot of things they might otherwise want. The truth is, though, that if you are showing them what a good life looks like, then you're giving them something money simply can't buy.
4. You Matter, Too
When you're staying at home, not bringing in any income, it's easy to feel like you can't spend any money on yourself. Especially when money is tight, it's natural to feel like you should always buy your kids things before you buy them for yourself.
On the other hand, your work has value. Actual monetary value, if the latest research is correct. But beyond that, you are still working hard every day (maybe harder than you've ever worked before!). And you don't need to splurge to the point of creating more debt to acknowledge that. Buy yourself a coffee when you're out and about on a morning when you didn't get to make your own, and don't beat yourself up over it. Go out with your family and celebrate your birthday.
You will feel better about what you do when you celebrate yourself occasionally.
5. You're Teaching Your Kids About Money—And Life
When you choose to stay at home, that teaches your kids something. When they see you working through a difficult budget, or saying "no" to something you really wanted because the money isn't there, your kids are learning by your example. You can pass on your financial values simply by living them out.
You may feel like you aren't doing much, but they're always watching you and learning from what you do.
Remember this when times are tough, when everyone is arguing and you feel so poor and you're questioning your decisions. I said at the beginning that what you do matters, that living in alignment with your values is important, and that's true whether you are having a good day or an awful one.
So decide what you want to teach your kids and live that out. Live out your financial values and your other ones, too. Live it in everything you do, and you will teach your kids to live the same way.