Can You Afford to Work 9-to-5?

After the birth of her second child, Amy Moore (not her real name) found herself in what she thought was a unique situation. I couldn't afford to go back to work, she says. After child care, transportation costs, the cost of meals out and my work wardrobe, there wouldn't have been enough money left to live on.

As strange as she thought her situation was, it's not uncommon. Some people-women in particular-are discovering that it simply isn't cost effective to go to work outside the home, especially if their job doesn't pay at least twelve euro an hour. Even then, it's not always the best financial strategy for couples who have one spouse who earns significantly more than the other.

If you and your spouse both have good paying jobs, but find yourselves struggling to make ends meet, you may want to sit down with a calculator and figure out what your job is really costing you. You may discover, as many women have, that you're paying just to work, and you may find out that you would be better off staying at home or taking a part-time position somewhere else.

The simplest way to calculate your work related expenses is to write down everything you spend just so you can go to work. If you have to pay for child care, definitely consider how much that is costing you; in some cases, the cost of child care alone takes half of a woman's bring-home pay! Factor in medical expenses for children in day-care, as well, since children in day-care are more likely to get sick; consider that half their medical expenses have been related to being in day-care. The cost of your work wardrobe and dry cleaning, transportation to and from work, car repairs related to wear and tear on your car, and lunches out also need to be considered. If you work in retail, and shop where you work, take into account all the things you buy that you normally wouldn't purchase if you weren't at work. Factor in your taxes, as well; how much are you losing to the tax man because your household income is higher than if you were staying at home?

Once you have your numbers written down, do a sample budget based on what you'd be spending if you didn't have to go to work. You can eliminate your work related expenses on the sample budget; you can also take about 25% off your grocery bill, because if you're at home, you won't have to buy pre-packaged, over-processed convenience foods. If you currently pay a cleaning service to keep up your house, you can eliminate that expense as well.

Does your sample budget show that your family can survive on one income? If not, how much are you short each month? Could you make up the difference by working at home, or taking a part-time job while your spouse watches the kids? A lot of people are unpleasantly surprised to discover that their real pay is less than a quarter of their stated pay rate, so the real question is this: Do you really think it's worth it to work for two euro an hour, or whatever your real pay rate is?

If you discover that you're paying to work, you may want to think about your alternatives. You can find legitimate work-at-home jobs online, or sometimes even through your current employer. You may be able to telecommute. If your real pay is less than five euro an hour, you can make up the difference by living a little more frugally and starting your own home-based business, perhaps by selling crafts or even babysitting for your former co-workers.

Amy Moore's solution was simpler than most. I just quit working, she says. I used my last paycheck to open a flea market booth, and started selling bedding and drapery sets I make at home. I make more money doing this than I did at the office, and I keep more of my income. Works for me.

Do the math. It might work for you, too.

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