Do You Have A Realistic Budget?

Budgeting is a real issue for many people. I personally take budgeting very seriously, but I’ve noticed some people use budgets as a way to justify their spending.

In the last couple of weeks a viral blog post titled “Fathers, you can’t afford a Stay-At-Home Mom” has attracted a lot of attention on social media. Author Steven Nelms argues that if he were to pay his wife for the jobs she does as a stay-at-home mom, then he would be paying her a salary of $73,960. It makes a great headline, but is this a realistic budget?

Stay-at-home moms don’t cost $74K

“With childcare costs it would’ve been a wash with her income at best. So we decided that she would stay home as long as it made sense”

I 100% agree with Nelms statement. If your childcare costs are similar compared to one partners salary, then staying at home just makes sense. What I do have a problem is the numeric value he assigns the jobs his wife performs for the year.

 After Child ValueBefore Child Cost
Full-time nanny$33,660N/A
Cleaning service$5,200$0
Personal shopper$13,520$0
Chef$12,480$0
Financial assistant$3,900$0
Laundry service$1,300$0
Professional Interactions$900$0
Total$73,960$0

It’s also absolutely absurd to assign a value to something that you weren’t paying for before. Nelms could easily add “Gardener, stylist, and tutor” to the list and make it an even $100k. Just because his wife is now a stay-at-home mom, doesn’t change the fact that he wouldn’t normally pay for those “jobs”.

Normal people don’t pay their wives to attend professional functions with them, nor would they pay anyone $3,900 annually to be a financial assistant. For perspective, if you owned a mutual fund that charged a 2.5% MER, you would “only” pay $3,900 a year if your portfolio was worth $156,000, yet Nelms wants to assign that same value to someone who pays his bills for him? Stay-at-home moms deserve much more respect than they get, but lets not manipulate numbers to justify decisions.

Some of these numbers he presents are totally unbelievable, this is nowhere near a realistic budget. What average person pays that much for a personal shopper? or for someone to do their laundry? Plus, full-time nannies do most of the additional “jobs” he has listed including the cooking, cleaning, and laundry so Nelms is basically charging himself twice.

Related: The cost of raising a child in Canada

Set a realistic budget no matter what you're saving for

Budget properly

By no means am I diminishing the value of stay-at-home moms but Nelms greatly overestimates the value of certain things to justify his decision. This is a common mistake that many people make with any type of budget.

Take for example new homeowners. Millennials are only used to the current low interest rates so when building their budgets, many will just use 3% mortgage rates to calculate their carrying costs. Sure some may have buffered in a little bit of flexibility but according to a recent study by the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada, that simply isn’t the case. Many people will also underestimate how much property taxes or how much you’ll spend on maintenance. When it comes to home ownership, not budgeting properly can ruin you

The same theory applies to people who are looking to finance a new car. Financing used to be 5 years at max but now it’s not uncommon to see 8 year terms being offered. If you can only afford a car with a low monthly payment on a 8 year term, that just means you can’t afford a car. That $30K car might end up costing you closer to $50K after interest.

Related: It’s time for a money reality check

Final word
Whether intentionally or unintentionally some of us will manipulate the numbers just to convince ourselves something is affordable, or the decision that we’re making is the right one. Instead of coming up with Frankenumbers, it’s a better idea to take a look at the numbers and make adjustments in our budgets. You know like cutting some expenses.

Potential homeowners could consider purchasing a smaller home to keep costs down. If you need a vehicle, buying a used one is certainly much more affordable than buying new. Regardless of what you’re saving for or what money decisions you’re making, you need to have a realistic budget.

By | 2016-10-21T15:33:40+00:00 April 16th, 2015|Personal Finance|

21 Comments

  1. Chonce April 16, 2015 at 9:34 am - Reply

    It is a little bizarre that someone would provide a numeric value to the jobs his wife does at home. If I was a SAHM I would just budget the income we have coming in and how much we’d save by one of us being at home. When I got a 60 month car loan last year, I knew I would pay it off way sooner than 5 years. I plan to do the same thing when I purchase a home by choosing something that I know I can afford rather than choosing something I can barely afford.

    • Barry Choi April 16, 2015 at 9:36 am - Reply

      Chonce,

      If you read his post, his argument that normal people be able to afford the costs of the jobs a stay-at-home mom does. As I wrote, his numbers are unrealistic, and he wouldn’t pay for those jobs normally so why now assign a number value to it? If we could all get paid for the daily “jobs” we do, we’d all be rich. That bog post went stupid viral.

  2. Sean O'Connor April 16, 2015 at 10:38 am - Reply

    I read the post and had a similar reaction. I think the ~$42K (his number is $36K for a nanny) for cleaning and nanny is a little high, but acceptable. The rest are things that couples share all the time.

    My wife is currently at home with our kid (soon to be plural), but we took a different route to come to that number. We put a budget together for what the costs of the services would be (which was significantly less than $74,000 annually). Then we tried to put a price on what we felt the importance of having one of us home with the kids would be. Much to your point above of manipulating numbers to justify a decision, I’m sure the value on one of us being home was always going to be about 20% higher than one of our annual incomes, regardless of what we were making.

    That being said, it meant buying a property in the suburbs instead of the city, and putting a much larger percentage of earnings away each month in the emergency fund, which is my next point. I have battled debt problems a few times in the past. Largely because I was a young dumb idiot who was never taught how to manage my money (side rant below). I learned that even as you start the bare minimums of managing finances (spend less than you earn), people rarely save for the unexpected costs. Last year unexpected costs for my wife and I tallied up to over $7500. This is partly due to our shortfalls in predicting occurrences and working them into our budget, and partly due to the age old rule of “shit happens.” A realistic budget needs to have a significant emergency/contingency fund in order to truly keep yourself out of unexpected debt.

    Side rant -> Sean O’Connor circa grade 12 could give you just about every detail of Confederation from Sir John A Macdonald’s dream of a nation from “sea to sea,” down to Donald Smith hammering down the last spike in Craiggellachie. I spent a good 200 hours of classes at various grades studying shapes, and how each side would effectively impact the angles of all other corners. I chucked about 10,000 dodge-balls, and even made a whole wack of shitty bird houses. How the hell did I go through the education system without someone telling me how to save money.

    Sorry for brain dumping on your blog…

    • Barry Choi April 16, 2015 at 12:20 pm - Reply

      Sean,

      Smart that you and your wife made adjustments before the children came along and decided to change your lifestyle to accommodate. Way too many people aren’t willing to make those changes and then they wonder why they have a budget shortfall every month. Assigning a 20% premium to having one of the parents stay home is certainly acceptable, it just doesn’t make sense to say something cost you an X amount when you never paid for it to begin with.

  3. Tawcan April 16, 2015 at 6:25 pm - Reply

    Mrs. T pointed out that article to me and I thought it was quite interesting. I would argue that number is not realistic either. If I had to calculate, I’d simply count the child care part only. I would only add the other costs if they were hiring professional cleaners, cooks, and shoppers prior.

    • Barry Choi April 16, 2015 at 9:37 pm - Reply

      Tawcan,

      Exactly, the child care part is a fair assessment. The numbers he uses just aren’t realistic at all. Really, who pays someone $15USD an hour to pay bills? How many bills does this guy have that he needs to do it for 5 hours a week?

  4. Tonya@Budget and the Beach April 16, 2015 at 11:23 pm - Reply

    It doesn’t seem remotely realistic to me either. I don’t know what the “real” dollar amount would be and I guess it would depend on household, but wouldn’t the other person be involved in a lot of those duties as well?

    • Barry Choi April 16, 2015 at 11:25 pm - Reply

      Tonya,

      Way too often I see people coming up with an unrealistic budget to justify their decisions. e.g. new homeowners who say it’s cheaper to own vs. renting yet they aren’t factoring in property taxes, interest, and maintenance fees. It doesn’t matter what you’re budgeting for, use realistic numbers.

  5. Our Big Fat Wallet April 17, 2015 at 2:50 pm - Reply

    I don’t see that number as being realistic for most but then again, I’ve seen budgets with weirder things

    • Barry Choi April 17, 2015 at 3:05 pm - Reply

      Our Big Fat Wallet,

      Okay that’s just a tease, now I want to know what weird things people budget for. Sounds like a blog post for you.

  6. Sean Cooper, Financial Journalist April 18, 2015 at 10:55 pm - Reply

    Great article. I tend to err on the side of caution and overestimate costs. At least it doesn’t leave me surprised when expenses creep up.

    • Barry Choi April 18, 2015 at 11:39 pm - Reply

      Sean,

      That’s a much smarter idea than manipulating numbers so your budget adds up.

  7. Anum @Current on Currency April 20, 2015 at 3:35 pm - Reply

    I never raised a kid, so I wasn’t sure how far off his estimations were. But I definitely was more than a little skeptical – those numbers were too high! Having a realistic budget is so simple when you’re willing to admit that you can’t afford most of the things you “need.” Also, “frankenumber” is going to be my favorite word of the week.

    • Barry Choi April 20, 2015 at 3:43 pm - Reply

      Abum,

      Regardless if you’re a parent or not, it doesn’t make sense for him to double charge for things that the nanny would do.

  8. Holly@ClubThrifty April 22, 2015 at 8:06 am - Reply

    Yeah, I don’t get it either. You’re a stay-at-home-mom, we get it. You don’t need to explain yourself or inflate your value to prove some point. Personally, if I stayed home, I would be more than happy to complete all of these tasks without wanting everything to think they are worth so much. You can order groceries from a delivery service- you don’t need a personal shopper.

    • Barry Choi April 22, 2015 at 9:21 am - Reply

      Holly,

      It’s amazing how many people thought this was an accurate post. I guess it’s all those stay-at-home moms trying to put a number to their “worth”. I don’t expect any compensation for any of the jobs I do at home, nor would I even assign a dollar amount to it.

  9. wealthwayonlineblog May 6, 2015 at 12:24 pm - Reply

    I saw this floating around and I totally agree – ha ha ha ha ha. Most of those costs would exist anyway. I think he probably just wanted brownie points with his wife 😉

    • Barry Choi May 12, 2015 at 10:34 am - Reply

      Wealthy Way Online,

      Yes it was absolutely ridiculous. I get what he was trying to do, but many did his post set off a frenzy. There’s no way anyone pays for those services normally.

  10. Achieving a 100% saving rate June 12, 2015 at 11:39 pm - Reply

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  11. Jessica Moorhouse August 20, 2015 at 3:40 pm - Reply

    Great post Barry! Totally agree that those numbers are way off, but it was definitely a catchy headline.

    • Barry Choi August 20, 2015 at 4:06 pm - Reply

      Jessica,

      It was total link bait. Some of the comments on his article were crazy!

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