How to Figure Out if You Can Afford Not to Go Back to Work after Maternity Leave

Know Your Finances

The number that most of us have in mind when we think about staying home after maternity leave is the gross income we'll have to give up; that is, the amount of our total salary before taxes and other withdrawals are taken out. And when you subtract that big number from your overall household income, the idea of living without it might seem impossible -- at first.

To get a better idea of just how much you truly need to get by, remember that you've been living on your take-home pay (the amount you actually receive in your paycheck each month), not your gross. Then take a detailed look at your living expenses, breaking them down into essential and nonessential spending to get a clear understanding of where your money goes:


  • Mortgage or rent
  • Property taxes
  • Insurance (homeowners, auto, life)
  • Health care (co-pays, premiums, medication)
  • Car payments
  • Other debt payments (student loans, personal loans, minimum credit card payments, etc.)
  • Groceries
  • Utilities
  • Savings
  • Other


  • Entertainment
  • Clothing
  • Dining out
  • Gifts
  • Vacation/travel
  • Housecleaning or lawn mowing services
  • Other

For each expense (and any others you may have), list your monthly spending -- to the penny, if you can! Don't forget to include any new expenses that you'll have after the baby is born, like diapers, baby clothes and food, and doctor visits.

Finally, be sure to consider how much you can save by not returning to work. For most new parents, the biggest expense is day care, which can run anywhere from $800 to $1,200 per month. But don't overlook smaller expenditures that add up fast:

  • Commuting (tolls, gas, public transportation)
  • Lunches
  • Incidental spending money
  • Work clothing
  • And, yes, dry cleaning!

Now that you know how you're spending your hard-earned cash, you'll have a better sense of exactly how much income you truly need each month. But if you've crunched the numbers above and it still doesn't look good, don't panic. Instead, read on, and make a plan.