stay at home mom afford to be

Inside: Do you want to stay home with your kids but don’t know how to afford it? Here are 52 ways we cut costs, so I can afford to be a stay at home mom.

Do you want to stay home with your kids, but just don’t see how it’s possible? When staying home means living on one {small} income, that dream can feel extremely out of reach.

Teddy Roosevelt once said,

Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty.

I believe that for most moms, staying home is possible.

There are so many ways to cut costs to make up that lost income. I know because I’ve been a stay at home mom living on one income for the past eight years (though thankfully, with a lot of hard work, this blog now generates a healthy part-time income from home).

It won’t be easy, especially at first, but just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.  

How to Afford to be a Stay At Home Mom (from a Mom with 8 Years Experience)


We currently make one income work on an income that is considered by our state to be “low income” for our family size, and I know many other families that make it work on far less than that.

When my husband and I decided to start a family over eight years ago, it was a total leap of faith. It went against “the plan”. That extremely logical, make sense on paper, plan was to both work for a few years and pay off all our student loans.

We both knew that when we did have kids, we were committed to me staying home with them. I didn’t want someone else raising my kids, and I was committed to figuring out how to make staying home work financially.

We did figure it out, even though we started with significant student loan debt and a very small income. Eight years later, I am still home full-time, and we have reduced our student loans by 70%.

Is it always easy? No.

Are there moments when I feel the tightness of our finances? Yes.

But there are many more days I spend being so thankful for the gift of staying home with my kids.

For those of you who are still in the scared “I don’t know how we are ever going to make this work” stage, I can help! I know it’s scary at first, but it gets easier as you get the hang of cutting costs.

I’m going to share with you all the things that have become second nature to us. When you’re done reading, you will have a TON of practical ideas that will help you cut costs and make this stay-at-home mom dream a reality!

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1. Make a budget, and stick to it.

Budgeting is the first step to affording to be a stay at home mom because it tells you exactly how much you need to cut every month to make it work. If you have no budget, then you have no idea how much money is coming in or how much you can spend in order to live within your means.

If you have no idea where to start or if you’ve tried in the past and failed, I highly recommend Jessi Fearon’s Real Life Money Course. I have been reading Jessi’s blog for years.

Her family paid of $55,000 in debt in two years, and budgeting helped them do it. I personally have found her course extremely helpful as we continue to work towards being debt-free.

You can check out her course HERE.

2. Eliminate your car payments.

We have owned just two cars in our ten years of marriage. One was a gift, and the other we bought used in cash (a Toyota Sienna 2005 that cost about $8,000 after our trade-in).

You do not need a brand new car – you just want one. Trade it in for a used, older car that you can pay for outright.

Related: We Happily Bought a 14-Year-Old Car In Cash – Here’s Why

3. Consider being a one car family.

Owning one car is inconvenient at times. There are days when I feel trapped at home and just want the freedom to be able to go wherever I want, whenever I want!

But that temporary convenience just isn’t the worth extra expenses of insurance, taxes, maintenance, and gas an additional car would bring.

4. Create an emergency fund.

Every family needs an emergency fund of at least $1,000 to cover the unexpected. We used our tax refund to create our initial emergency fund.

5. Pay off as much debt as you can.

Debt will affect your quality of life on one income. Every dollar you can pay off helps.

If you can go into living on one income completely debt free, I highly recommend it. If you can’t, you can still stay home (I do and we still have student loan debt): the budget will just be tighter.

6. Declutter.

It sounds counter-intuitive, but decluttering helps you figure out what you have and what you need. Decluttering decreases stress, which can trigger unplanned spending. Decluttering can possibly help you generate cash for your emergency fund when you sell unnecessary items on ebay or craiglist (though don’t count on it).

I used Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up to start decluttering, but I found it to be a bit extreme for families with young children.

Now, I recommend this book because it’s a better fit for young families, especially families on a low income.

Start decluttering with this free Declutter Your Home checklist of over 110 things anyone at any income level can get rid of today.

7. Get printer paper for pennies.

Staples offers “penny paper” roughly once a quarter. You can buy up to four reams and get a rebate that covers all but a penny per ream. You fill out a simple form after purchasing and receive your rebate via a Visa gift card in 3-6 weeks.

8. Get brand new clothes for free.

Saving money on clothes is one of the things I do best.

We get several brand new clothing items for free every single month by putting all of our groceries, gas, and eating out on my GAP credit card, which we pay off at the end of each month.

Learn More: How I Get Brand New Clothes for Free All. The. Time. (over $1,000 a year)

9. Accept hand-me-downs.

Getting bag after bag of hand-me-downs to go through can get tiring after a while. It does take time to sort through the clothes, and there is a time and place to say, “No more, thanks” (the whole decluttering thing).

Sometimes you’ll only keep a few items, and then managing to get them from your trunk to the donation center is a whole other problem. But the savings is well worth the effort.

10. Get the most out of your library card.

Libraries offer so many amazing benefits! Most libraries offer kindle books, physical books, magazines, free programs and classes, movies, and much more.

Our libraries in Boston offered free and discounted museum passes as well.

11.Learn to love your local thrift store, Craigslist, and Facebook yard sale groups.

Let’s be honest: the reason we buy things from Target and Amazon and Bed Bath & Beyond is often because we are impatient. We want what we want, right when we want it. If you are going to cut costs, you need to develop patience.

After shopping your house first, these places need to be your next stop. They will save you a TON of money. I just bought three lidded kid’s cups for $1 each at our local thrift store – a savings of nearly $10 compared to the $3.99 Target price tag.

12. Know what to buy at the Dollar Store (and what not to buy).

The Dollar Store is tricky. A lot of it is junk, but some things aren’t.

It can be great for random things like party supplies, organizing bins, and toothbrushes. Take a shopping trip and compare prices on things you normally buy.

You can often find random grocery items that may be worth buying there on a regular basis as well, like bread and milk.

13. Find a good couponing app.

The ONLY couponing app left on my phone is the SavingStar app.

Not Ibotta. Not Checkout 51. SavingStar.

Why SavingStar?

1) The payout threshold is only $5, which is easy to reach and keeps you motivated.

2) I can stack the exact same coupon using my load-to-card grocery coupons.

3) They have a healthy food offer every week.

For example, I recently bought 5 boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios at Kroger for $1.79 each. I uploaded my receipt for $1 back and found the identical coupon to put on my store card to receive $1 off my order.

It’s a small amount of savings, but takes so little time that it’s worth the effort to me (especially since I don’t coupon anymore).

You can give the SavingStar app a try: it’s free! Just connect your store loyalty cards or upload your store receipt.

Related: 9 Secrets to Saving Money on Groceries Without Coupons (or Aldi)

14. Resist impulse buys.

I picked up this genius way to resist impulse buys from Rosemarie Groner of the Busy Budgeter. She snaps a photo of whatever it is she wants and gives herself permission to buy it three days later, if she still wants it. Quite often, the impulse wears off by that time.

I also have a collection in my bullet journal titled “Things I Think I Want”. I write down what I want and wait. Often, I find a solution long before I make a purchase.

Use a system that works for you, which brings me to my next point.

15. Make a list when you shop (anywhere).

Grocery store? Make a list.

Target? Absolutely, 100%, you better have a list, girl! or you are going to walk out with half the clearance section and the dollar section, PLUS that gallon of milk you came for.

16. Find creative ways to eat out for less.

Skip drinks. Split a meal. Go out for just French fries. There are so many ways to get the “eat out” experience without the price tag. is a great resource for restaurant deals. There are various free food days every year (our favorites are Chick-fil-a customer appreciation day in July and IHOP free pancake day).

17. Rarely pay for babysitting.

There are so many creative ways to avoid spending money on babysitting.

  • Offer to swap with a friend.
  • Ask family for help.
  • Work childcare at your local YMCA: get a free membership, get paid for your hours and get free childcare.
  • Have a date night after the kids go to bed.

18. Use frozen produce instead of fresh.

Frozen fruit and vegetables generally cost less per pound than fresh, especially when that fruit is not in season. Enjoy the fruit in smoothies, and steam the vegetables or use them in casseroles.

19. Reduce food waste.

Kids make it tricky to eliminate food waste, but it can be done.

Half-eaten bananas get thrown in the freezer for banana peanut butter smoothies. Leftover rice bowls can be saved for friend rice. Random vegetables and cooked chicken can be thrown into soups and fried rice.

I try to plan at least one meal a week around what we have in the fridge. Often, this means eating the same meals more than once a month in order to use up random ingredients.

You can also use Pinterest to find recipes containing random leftover ingredients.

Related: The Easiest Way to Create a Minimalist Meal Plan – Save Time & Food

20. Limit snacks.

Snacks are extremely expensive compared to whole foods and dinners. Reduce the number you buy to save a ton in your grocery budget. Try substituting whole fruits and vegetables or easy savory snacks like cheese quesadillas.

21. Borrow expensive items you only need once.

We have borrowed ladders, drills, hoses, microwaves, and more. It can be humbling to ask friends or family if they have something you need lying around.

But most people have unused items just sitting in their basements collecting dust, or items they rarely use and you will only need once.

22. Find cheaper diapers.

I no longer recommend stocking up on diapers because you never know if your baby will be sensitive or allergic to the brand you buy. There are so many ways to make diapers affordable.

You can try the Up & Up Target Brand. They often have buy two cases, get a $10 gift card sales. If you have a Target Redcard plus their Cartwheel app (which almost always offers some percent off their store brand), these diapers are extremely affordable.

Another option is Amazon Prime’s subscribe and save, which is what I use. When you sign up for Prime, you qualify for Amazon Family, which offers 20% off diaper subscriptions. I get a case of Huggies diapers each month for less than $25 – shipped to my door, no less!

It’s also worth mentioning that the faster you can get your child out of diapers, the better. Early potty training doesn’t have to be intimidating or intense. You can start as early as 7 months and as little as once a day to see results.

Related Post: Early Potty Training (the Lazy Way)

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23. Stop buying pull-ups.

On a similar note, pull-ups are expensive. We got to the point with a couple of our children (the ones we didn’t potty train early) where we realized they needed us to pull the plug on pull-ups.

It meant extra laundry for a while, which was challenging, but the extra $20 a month was worth the laundry.

24. Cut back on pricey beverages.

My husband and I each have our caffeinated beverage of choice (coffee and diet soda). Other than that, we usually only have water and milk on hand.

We rarely buy juice and never buy alcoholic beverages. Thankfully, we never developed a taste for alcohol – it’s an expensive taste to purposefully aquire!

25. Sign up for Freecycle. is an online community of people committed to reducing waste. Members are constantly posting free furniture, clothes, and kid’s items, which go to the first responder. They like it when you offer items as well as accept them.

Buy/Nothing groups are also an awesome resource!

26. Stop shopping for entertainment.

Moms of young kids are especially vulnerable to this. You’re not alone – I’ve been there.

I used to live right behind Target, and when I had a baby and no car, I visited Target frequently. The soda fountain and popcorn called my name, and the clearance end caps, and the baby stuff, and the…. Well, you get the idea.

I only go shopping with an express purpose – and a list.

27. Find substitutions for expensive treats.

Completely depriving yourself usually doesn’t work out well. You either end up completely depressed and/or stressed, or you pull out the credit card whenever you hit a wall with your current financial circumstances.

I’ve found the best approach is to find something inexpensive that you still enjoy to replace a more expensive treat you used to have more frequently.

For example, I used to enjoy one Starbucks drink a week. Even cutting back to one a week added up! My coffee budget was anywhere from $15-$20 a month, depending on which drink I bought.

When we moved, I realized that every McDonald’s in our area offers $1 any size beverages, so I started substituting a large coke for my large coffee. I got the experience of a treat without the hefty price tag.

28. Switch brands.

I love TOMs shoes! Every time I walk past them in BJs, I still want a pair. But they wear out so easily! If I continued to buy TOMs, I would need a new pair every year at least if not every six months.

After some searching, I discovered these shoes, which are so much cheaper (mine were $12.99!), extremely comfortable and last at least twice as long. Mine are still going strong a year later with near daily use. They are far more durable in harsh weather as well. I think they look cute, and they go with everything in my capsule wardrobe.

Related: The Frugal Capsule Wardrobe

29. Find cheap, reliable toiletry items.

Shampoo is not something I care about as far as brands go. When I stopped extreme couponing, however, I fell into the bad habit of buying whatever was on sale at BJs when we needed more. It was less than retail price, but I knew I could be saving more.

A few weeks ago, I remembered reading this blog post by Rosemarie Groner about Suave Rosemary Mint Shampoo. She switched to this brand for huge savings without sacrificing quality.

I found it on sale this week at Target, was able to use my REDCard for 5% off and got a $5 gift card back for buying four. These savings add up when you stock up on a good sale – no coupons required.

30. Switch cleaners.

A few years ago, I switched to a natural all-purpose cleaner. I loved Method All-Purpose Cleaner, but the cost added up quickly. We went through the stuff like crazy, and even buying it in bulk came with a hefty price tag.

Then I discovered Mrs. Meyer’s Concentrate. It comes in several amazing scents and one bottle of concentrate (less than $5 through Amazon!) makes 64 32 ounce bottles of cleaner.

31. Try frugal living hacks you never thought you’d try.

I recently made the switch to no paper towels, something I’ve been avoiding for years. I never thought I could do it, but I’m realizing it’s nowhere near as hard as I thought.

Maybe for you, it’s cloth diapers or homemade laundry detergent. Try something you think is crazy but will save you money. You never know – you just might love it!

Read More: The Paperless Kitchen Experiment

32. Use things until they break or wear out.

We have one extra set of twin sheets and mattress covers total. Of all the other sheets on our kids’ beds, some are actual twin sheets, while others are made for a full-size mattress.

Guess what? We tuck them in, and they work.

Sometimes what we think is a need, is actually a want.

Would it be nice to have an extra set for each bed (instead of one between the four of them)? Yes, but we don’t need it.

It means extra laundry sometimes, but that forces me to actually do the laundry instead of watching it accumulate until I am overwhelmed!

33. Shop your house first.

Whenever I have a need for another basket for organization, I shop my house first. Often, with some rearranging and shifting, I can find what I need in my own home. My next stop is the dollar store or the thrift store.

34. Cut back or eliminate traveling.

Thankfully, neither my husband nor I love to travel. While our kids have caught the travel bug from our geography studies, we don’t have major travel plans right now. We even limit traveling to see family within driving distance because the cost of gas and eating out adds up. Eventually, we hope to increase our income (part of why I am blogging) so that we are able to show our kids the world and see family more frequently.

You can ask family to come to you and take advantage of technology (skype, google hangouts, facetime) to connect with family.

35. Consider renting instead of buying.

Renting has a bad reputation, but it can be a much more affordable option when you have a tight budget. We signed a two-year lease for our current rental in order to lock in a relatively low price for our area.

While we hope to own a home someday, I love being able to call our landlord to fix the dishwasher without coughing up tons of money myself to pay for it.

36. Choose an uncomfortably small home.

We currently live in a three-bedroom house. Would another bedroom be nice? Yes, but we are willing to sacrifice the convenience of four bedrooms to live within our means.

37. Only grocery shop once a week.

The more frequently you set foot in the store, the more likely you are to buy extra items. I do my best to limit my grocery shopping to once a week.

I do the bulk of my shopping at BJ’s (the BJ’s perks membership pays for itself with the rewards) with a few items at our local Kroger. I also started shopping at a local Bakery outlet every other week where I get our bread and bagels for 50-60% less than either of my main grocery stores.

38. Find the stores with the best prices on items you regularly buy.

We love BJs because it carries the majority of items we use regularly. I can buy them in bulk for much less, especially deli meats, produce, and dairy items. The items you buy the most might be found at Costco or Walmart.

The lowest prices are often in the places you least expect. For example, we love to get Marzetti’s ranch dip for our veggies. At our local grocery store, one tub is $3.99, a pretty outrageous price.

At BJ’s, however, a tub is only $1.99. That’s a 50% savings without clipping a single coupon!

39. Keep a price list.

For all of our staple food items (bread, milk, eggs), I know where I can get them for the lowest price. While I don’t go crazy with shopping at various stores, I have 2-3 that I frequent.

I constantly take note of the prices of our staples. If I find that one is consistently cheaper at a certain store, I will start buying that particular item where it’s cheaper. I can keep track of most of this in my head now because I’ve been doing it for so long. If you’re new to price tracking, I recommend making a list of your staple items with where to buy it for the lowest price.

40. Meal plan.

When I am on top of meal planning, we save a lot more money on food overall. Less goes to waste because I buy ingredients for what I am planning to make that week.

The meal planning service I use is completely worth the few dollars a month. It stores all my recipes online. I easily drag and drop them onto the calendar. It makes my grocery list for me (seriously – how much better can it get?!), and I can check it off on my smart phone as I go through the store.

Get a FREE 30-Day Trial for Plan to Eat when you sign up through this link (for new users only).

Related: Plan Your Meals in 10 Minutes or Less {A Plan to Eat Tutorial}

41. Make desserts at home.

Baked goods at grocery stores cost a ton! While I don’t love to bake, I love the savings. Make your own desserts to save a ton of money.

We also rarely go out to ice cream. Buying a carton of ice cream with cones at the store is far more cost effective and still a treat!

42. Shop online.

We save a lot of money with lower priced items through Amazon Prime and (and free shipping with Amazon Prime and with a Target REDCard). I personally find it easier to resist impulse buys when I shop online.

Also, if you start your online shopping through Ebates, you can earn easy cash back on things you would already be buyng– you can get $10 after your first purchase if you sign up through this link.

43. Establish a routine for dishes and laundry.

When dishes and laundry back up, life gets stressful. When life is stressful and there are no clean pots to cook dinner on, we tend to eat out and overspend on other things.

Related: 4 Steps to Fighting Laundry Overwhelm

44. Cancel cable.

I know, I know. Every other mom blogger says it (you probably already have!). Get Netflix or Amazon Prime or some other app that will give you a decent selection of shows.

45. Switch cell phone plans/providers.

There are many different plans that offer good coverage for less. We currently have a Sprint plan for two iphones that costs $80/month. We have unlimited talk and text, and 3G worth of data. The best part is that if we go over our data limit, it simply switches to 2G until our plan resets the next month – no extra fees.

If you are willing to consider Android phones, I recommend checking out Republic Wireless. You can read more about them in this post by Jessi Fearon.

46. Be content with the electronics you have.

You don’t need the latest and greatest gadget. We considered upgrading our phones recently, but realized that what we have is enough and we own the phones outright (none of this new leasing business). Our TV is small, but we don’t need a new TV right now.

Learn to be content with what you have. This one is crucial for living on one income.

47. Consider shopping at club stores.

We save a TON of money shopping at BJs. Dairy, deli meat, produce, and certain snacks are the biggest sources of savings for us.

I have tried Sam’s Club, and to be honest, they seem more geared toward businesses shopping for events than the average medium-sized family. I mean, who needs 5 lbs of sour cream? Or a gigantic can of baked beans?

I have not tried Costco yet, but BJs carries most of the items we need on a regular basis. They also offer coupons in a monthly booklet and biweekly in the store. You can also stack coupons (use a manufacturer’s coupon with a BJs store coupon) and link your BJs card to your Savingstar app, which no other club store allows.

48. Look for a bakery outlet store.

Bakery outlets offer deep discounts on bread products, but they can be difficult to find. You may need to ask your neighbors or search the internet to find one. The one near us is even named differently in Google Maps than on the sign!

Our family goes through 3-4 loaves of bread a week and two packs of bagels. By shopping at the bakery outlet, we save around $8 a week, which adds up to $35 a month. I try to shop there every other week, and freeze the extra loaves of bread.

49. Maximize your insurance benefits.

Put money in an FSA account if you have one to use. Keep up to date with all your physicals and benefits – you never know when you might be without insurance.

Consider purchasing additional insurance. It sounds crazy, but I know one couple who made money from pregnancy and delivery by purchasing additional insurance.

50. Find a gas reward/discount program.

I used to regularly get gas for free – yes, free. I did the bulk of my grocery shopping at a store that offered high numbers of gas points on specific items each week. I purchased those items (one’s we would use) and got free gas.

Unfortunately, I have not found a comparable program in our new city, but I do get discounted gas at BJs, which I get 2% BJS spend money back on all of my purchases.

51. Give homemade gifts.

This may be a hard transition if you love gift-giving, but it’s worth it! Homemade gifts don’t have to suck.

Check out this post for cheap, DIY gift ideas.

52. DIY Haircuts

My husband has been cutting his own hair for years. He also cuts our sons’ hair. We have this hair clipper set that has lasted almost eight years now.

As for myself, I choose a cut that lasts a long time between cuts. I cut my daughter’s hair once a year and get it cut professionally once a year.

53. Learn how to do without.

This one is hard! Get creative, use what you have, and learn how to do without.

A Last Word on Being a One Income Family

There is a lot of truth to the old saying, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Applying any number of these ideas will help you cut costs and help to make staying home possible for you.

Will you have thousands of dollars in your savings account? Maybe not.

Will you have every possible security against unknown emergencies? No.

There are no guarantees in life, and all parenting is faith, anyway.

If you can find a way to make the checkbook balance and you want to stay home, do it. Your kids are only little once and what they want more than anything else is you.

Read Next: The Honest Truth About Starting a Mom Blog for Extra Income

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  1. Awesome list! I’m doing most of this already, thank you for the added recommendations. Keep sharing 🙂

    1. Author

      Thanks Nancy! You’re very welcome.

  2. These are great tips for anyone, not only those who are hoping to be stay-at-home- moms. My kids are adults now, and I wish I would have made more of an effort to stay home with them when they were young. Those are precious years that fly by so quickly!

  3. What a comprehensive list. These are all really great tips. There’s a quite a few i plan on implementing immediately. I actually got rid of paper towels two months ago, we have about 100 rags/wash clothes we reuse and wash. (i have a toddler and a baby so we go through ALOT) It works out great.

    1. Author

      I’m glad they were helpful, Stormy! And thanks for sharing about paper towels. It’s going surprisingly well for us, too. I’m kind of shocked I don’t miss them more. Just had to pull the plug. 🙂

  4. This is an awesome list. We’re doing quite a few of these already, but we definitely are working on cutting out the car payment. I work from home full time but once we have a second baby it’s not going to be as easy to do that, so this list is going to be super handy!

    1. Author

      Thanks Jena! I hope it helps. I definitely agree that working from home with kids is tricky. Sticking to a schedule is pretty much non-existent with four kids at home. I have to be super flexible and work when they are playing happily and after they go to bed. Best to you with the new little one!

  5. This list is humbling and amazing. Its not easy to live this way but you have counted the cost and decided what you value most is time with your kids during the little years, and you are making the necessary sacrifices to make it possible.

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