When Working is Too Costly
By Jonni McCoy

Q. I'm a single mom with an ex-husband pressuring me to go to work so he can lower his child support payments, and I want to prove to him once and for all that it costs more for me to work than to continue to be a stay-at-home mom, totally available to my children and the ministry of raising them.
Can you help me? Thank you very sincerely,

A. I am very sorry that you are being pressured about this. There are many facets to this struggle, including the children's welfare. However, he appears to less concerned with that and more concerned with his wallet. So, let's focus on that aspect.

We need to calculate your cost of working, or, in other words, what working will cost you and him. To do this, you need to begin by adding up the individual costs that you would acquire if you started working.

To begin with, look at any childcare costs you would have and add in the monthly cost. This added expense might become 100% the responsibility of your ex-husband's, depending on the divorce agreement you have. So your returning to work might actually cost him more!

Factor in extra doctor's appointments due to increases in illnesses your children will incur by being in daycare. These medical costs may also become the responsibility of your ex-husband's, depending on the divorce agreement you have.

Then add in any transportation costs you would have each month...parking, bus fee, bridge tolls, the mileage costs to and from work each day (use 40 cents per mile for the wear on your car).

Your monthly clothing costs will increase since new clothes for work will be necessary, as well as dry cleaning costs.

What about having your hair done? You might need a decent haircut every 6 weeks to look nice for the office.
Your car insurance will increase if you classify your car as a commuter car instead of a leisure car. Ask your agent what the new monthly rate would be.

And now for a big one...your groceries. When we both worked, we relied on convenience foods for meals, such as instant mixes, frozen dinners, and take out. Don't forget to add in the number of times during a month's time that you may eat out, or order pizza in because you will be late coming home or because you'll be too tired to cook. These are the reasons that our food bill was 4 times higher when we both worked. So figure on a large increase in these expenses as well.

Then there are those lunches out with co-workers. If someone eats out for $4 each work day, that adds up to $80 per month just for lunch! Figure what you might spend in a month.

Are there office gifts that you are required to participate in? Count those in the total as well.

Next, look at the difference between the taxes you are currently paying and what you would pay if you worked. Many of us bump our joint income up into the next higher tax bracket when both spouses work. More than likely, it would put you (and your husband if you file jointly) into the next highest tax bracket. That would mean that you each would take home less than you are now. Take this off of your IRS forms that you are filing this year. Take the difference between these two tax due amounts and divide by 12 to get a monthly amount. Do the same for your state and local taxes.

Take all of these numbers and add them together. This is your monthly cost of working. Now take a guess at what your gross earnings might be per month. Subtract your monthly cost of working from your gross earning. That is your true take home pay per month. Some people may even have a negative number! That means they are paying to work! Divide this number by the number of hours you work in a month. That is your true hourly wage.
Show this to your ex-husband and see if he still feels that working is worth it.

Reader's comments:
I am a single mom also whose priority is to spend as much time with my daughter. I work 30 hrs. a week, I put my daughter on the bus in the morning and I'm there when she gets off the bus in the afternoon. I totally support your decision, and I know it's hard when not many people do. Especially ex-husbands. His child-support may actually go up if he has to pay for child care. Child care can cost anywhere from $400 to $600 per child per month where I live. If you can, convince him that when the kids are all of school-age you will get a part-time job while they are in school. For example, if I were to work 40 hrs. a week, the amount I would pay in after school care would be $200 a month. I would only make an extra $400 a month. That $200 a month is worth it to me to be home with my daughter. (Although I would work part-time no matter what to be with her). So, if your ex is all about money as mine is, tell him you are willing to work at-home or doing odd jobs (like cleaning houses like I did) for an extra $200 a month and you will pay the difference. You can tell him the exact difference in cost by taking the child-support worksheet in your divorce document and working the numbers as if you were working full-time, that's what I did. Good Luck! ~Anna

In NY where I live, the income of the mother has no effect on the father's child support obligation. It is based on his income only (a percentage depending on how many children). Whether the mother works or not shouldn't have any effect on the amount he pays her. Anne may want to find out if this is the case in her state, as well. ~Kris

The contents of this article are copyrighted by Jonni McCoy 2006, www.miserlymoms.com

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