In our culture, we have a lot of sayings about money. For instance, “more money, more problems.” The idea is that money just invites more woe into one’s life, which may be a comforting thing to believe on some level. However, I’m not sure it’s true. While more income invites some problems (you are unlikely to be audited if you don’t have a lot of taxable income!), a financial cushion makes things that might be stressful seem like not that big a deal. Indeed, while women are often sold on the idea that working while raising children is going to be incredibly stressful, I think that not taking steps to preserve income-earning ability, and not building up wealth, could be a lot more stressful.
I was thinking of this while reading Kim Palmer’s new book Smart Mom, Rich Mom. Raising children is always hard, she writes, but it is less stressful when done with adequate resources. You cannot always depend on the children’s father for this, and so this is her mantra: “Always be working and earning money in some capacity, even at a reduced level, to maintain your future earning power.” Not only does keeping your hand in make it easier to scale up when you want, and help the family cushion against another parent’s earning fluctuations, it also means you can keep saving for retirement, building up Social Security credits, etc.
It’s a different message than the usual coupon cutting variety. Building a solid, sustainable career is the best thing you can do for your personal finances. While everyone likes to warn about income creep, in reality, people who make more tend to save more.
She has lots of advice on how to stay in the income-producing game. “Choose a job and field you love, so you are eager to get back to work, even when stressed out by motherhood,” writes Palmer (who has two young kids). “It’s easier to go back to work when you’re exhausted when you actually enjoy it.” Likewise, “Go into a field that allows you to support your family…Women who get degrees that allow them to enter higher-paying fields have more financial power and flexibility to pay for reputable, licensed child care that they feel comfortable with.” They also have the ability to demand more flexibility and autonomy on the job — something that can make up for potentially heavier hours.
Of course, even if you want to be a working parent, that doesn’t guarantee you’ll always manage to be one. Most people are well-served to “Flesh out a backup plan for yourself so that you have some ideas of what you would do if your current job disappeared. Do you have a side business in the works or a second career dream, like teaching, that you might want to pursue?” In the modern era, we all need to maintain our personal brands so that work starts coming to us — a very easy way to start boosting income in that side-hustle, or find a better-paying job (or potential interest from other employers — to get a raise from the current one).
In any case, I have had a few experiences lately where I have been reminded of why money matters for general sanity. Checks from a number of things have been delayed. I track them down and follow up, but it is not an issue from a month-to-month cash flow perspective. I recently learned that the motorist who sideswiped my car in April was not actually insured under the insurance information she gave me. Fun! My uninsured motorist coverage is for pain and suffering, so the actual car repairs are subject to my deductible. It is intensely frustrating, but I will deal.
There are, to be sure, things money can’t buy. One current problem: two surgeries have not corrected my daughter’s eye condition. We are debating whether to go for a third. There is no good answer here, but we can (and have) taken her to multiple top surgeons on the east coast. It is OK for my husband or me to not work for a day and deal with such things.
Palmer does not really get into the whole privilege battle, which is wise. Luck plays an element in financial well-being. Choices do too. The luck part is worth looking into on a social and political level, but cannot necessarily guide one’s individual choices. This is not either/or. This is both/and. One could certainly argue for things such as paid parental leave or childcare subsidies in the public square, but that does not change the current reality that choosing a lower paying but seemingly “family friendly” career may wind up nudging some women out of the workforce because the income doesn’t cover the childcare bills.
In any case, I appreciate that Palmer is trying to change the conversation on motherhood and money. Kids need time and money, and while historically our culture has focused on the former, both matter, and for many women it is smart to think more about the latter than our cultural conditioning has prepared us for. As she writes, “I have never felt more ambitious as when I became a mom. Suddenly, I was no longer working so hard just for myself. It was about being able to provide for these new loves of my life.”