Stay-at-Home Dads Get a Crash Course in Family Finances (and Guilt)

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Maurice Herbelin and his son, 15-month-old Luke, stand outside one of seven houses that he will be giving away for free April 3,
Alamy

More and more men are staying home with the kids.

A recent study by Pew Research details the trend: In 15 percent of all households of married adults with children under the age of 18, mothers are the sole or primary breadwinner. That's up from 4 percent back in 1960, and accounts for 5.1 million married mothers who have higher incomes than their husbands.

Stay-at-home dads face many of the economic challenges and concerns as stay-at-home moms -- how transitioning from two salaries to one will impact their family, if the time at home might hinder a return to the job force, and whether new roles will cause resentment. But stay-at-home dads often face cultural stigmas about what it means to be a man in America, and what price tag that role should carry.

Making the shift from primary breadwinner to a primary caregiver can be dramatic, especially if that change comes after a job loss. Lloyd Lyles of Boston lost his job in January 2010 and hasn't been able to find work since.

"If you're a guy, being a stay-at-home primary caregiver messes with your head," says Lyles, a father of two. "My wife thinks I'm crazy for draining my retirement and family resources while attempting to produce a motion picture and stage play. But if a guy doesn't have a dream, and is in active pursuit of it, he dies in more ways than one."

Banker-turned-financial-advisor Denise Winston of Money Start Here says that when either parent decides to stay home, it's important to run the numbers on both sides of the equation. Not only is this important for budgeting, but it helps emphasize how the stay-at-home parent is contributing financially to the household, even when they're no longer bringing in a traditional salary. "Ask, how much is child care? That could easily be $2,000 a month. Did you have a housekeeper, commute, laundry service? If one parent is now providing those services, that's a tremendous savings," she says.

Winston warns that a parent exiting the workforce might need a crash course in domestic finances. "When you think about how much money flows through that person's hands -- groceries, back to school, prescriptions -- if they're not into getting a good deal, this could potentially cost the household a ton of money. You have to look at it like a sport, or a business."


For those dads running a business from home, or working remotely in a traditional career, how time is spent is just as important as how money is spent. Mike Johnson started the website Playground Dad when he noticed more and more fathers on the playgrounds with their children. Johnson runs a media company from home and says that energy management is a daily task. "I have never, ever, successfully multitasked with my kids," he says. "No one gets anything out of it if you're trying to get something done and are a little resentful of your kids because you can't."

Matthew Rakola (pictured, right) is a successful self-employed photographer with a newborn, who works from home when he's not out on assignment. His wife is a government employee, and earns a higher salary.

"Get ready for a lot of guilt," he says. "Guilt about thinking about invoicing when you're feeding your baby. Guilt about desperately wanting the kid to nap so you can get another hour's worth of work in. Your wife is going to feel guilty, too, because she hasn't been around her baby all week. Oh, and take it easy on the gushing about all of the developmental milestones your kid is hitting. She's going to feel terrible about missing them."

Rakola's final advice for dads who worry that they make less than their wives: "Get over yourself," he says. "Your ego is going to get mushed up a bit, but you'll live."

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