Stay-at-Home Dad

by Lucynda Koesters

For Kathy and Don Walz of Delaware, it's a one-income lifestyle with Dad staying home with baby. Kathy and Don, ages 34 and 40, met in 1995 and married in 1997. They are the proud parents of a four-month old baby girl. After pooling their resources and doing some soul searching, they've chosen to live on one income temporarily in order to have a parent at home with baby. "Mom makes moola while Dad does diapers," says a tongue-in-cheek Don.

How did the couple arrive at the decision to have Dad stay home? Says Don, "My wife and I are trying to eke it out on her income while I take care of the baby, so we don't have to worry about strangers watching her. I formerly worked shift at a 'famous maker' chemical plant. I grew tired of trying to stay awake at night, among other things, so I retired - temporarily - in February 1998 and we decided a little later on that (Kathy) would work at the job she likes and I would be Mr. Mom." Kathy is a representment analyst for MBNA, formerly Maryland Bank.

The Walzes eased into the transition to one income with a little help from Don, who says, "I learned early on at my well-paying job how not to fall into the trap of spending so much that I found myself living from paycheck to paycheck. I figured out how to pay off my pre-Kathy house in only six years and had enough money left over to not have any car payments. "So, with the proceeds from my house's sale and Kathy's we bought OUR house and only owed $75,000, which we promptly paid off in two years due to having two incomes at that time. I'm (residing in) a paid-for house and we have paid-for cars."

Going from two incomes to one did, however, cause some financial adjustments for the family. To compensate, the ever-resourceful Don got busy cutting expenses: "Mom the breadwinner makes less than $30,000 gross and things are really tight. We manage money by clipping coupons, eating out rarely on the Entertainment book, shopping at flea markets and garage sales, buying in bulk, trimming car insurance premiums, using only 87 octane in the cars because that's all they need, and, perhaps very importantly, we rarely call on anybody to fix anything in the house or on the cars because I either know how to fix it or know someone who can tell me how. It's amazing how much even the slightest lack of technical ability can cost a family some hard-earned money. DIY rules!"

In addition to caring for baby and being chief "pooper scooper", Diaperin' Dad, as Don calls himself, takes on a variety of other budget-stretching household tasks to make ends meet while Kathy works outside the home. Says Don, "In addition to my 'status' as Mr. Mom, my resume includes such titles as Mr. Family Wrench (car mechanic, for our family, mine, and hers), Mr. Plumber, Mr. Electrician, Mr. Master Raw Material Procurer, Mr. need I go on..."

He continues, "As to our lifestyle, right now we're strapped, but it's just as well because the baby is only four months old and needs our attention. We are the type of people who would rather try to get our neighbors involved in doing things with each other than jumping in our cars and going somewhere to spend time doing things with people we don't know, even though it's hard to get the neighbors involved. Community seems to be on the endangered species list nowadays."

Don's advice for stay-at-home dad wannabes?

  1. Prepare ahead of time if you're already used to two incomes--the sacrifices are many and can be stressful.

  2. Prepare for the geldifying adjustment to non-breadwinner status ('nuff said)

  3. Prepare to adapt to a semi-sedentary lifestyle- I was used to doing manly active things before the new assignment.

  4. Prepare to be your own boss--this sounds like a dream come true, but you'd be surprised how challenging it can be when it's you in charge of you.

  5. Prepare to make the transition from spending time with peers who babble in adultspeak to being with a baby who can only babble.

  6. Prepare to have more FAITH in what you're doing than you may have ever had to have. If you move to a cave, it will be much easier to avoid comparing yourself to daily reminders of what 'real' men and 'modern' families are doing for their children, such as substituting money for time spent with them.

  7. Prepare to TALK with Mrs. Breadwinner more than you ever had to before, if you're both going to survive your decision. Remember that there will be new stresses on your mate, too.

  8. Prepare for the potential for JOY like you may have never known, especially if you focus daily on your belief that what you are doing will result in presenting a more decent human being to this God-forsaken world, and in the process will turn you and Mom into more decent human beings.

  9. And now for the CAVEAT - you may feel more than a tinge of self-righteousness about what you are doing. But, under no circumstances, are you to rub it in the faces of the people who don't have the guts to attempt what you have accomplished. Gently explaining your valor and bravery will suffice; keep off the pulpit!

Don and Kathy's tentative plans for the future include a return to gainful employment for Don when the baby is a little older. Their financial concerns include maintaining their older-model cars and/or purchasing new vehicles, saving money for vacations and starting a college fund for the baby.

"Maybe you should do an article on people who can afford to live on one income and who also drive newer cars and have their kids' college money already saved up, and who have a house payment. They might be the real financial geniuses who could teach the rest of us," muses Don.

The bets are on that with Don's obvious skill in self-maintaining his family's home and vehicles and his flair for cutting expenses, he'll figure out a way to extend his family's one-income status into the distant future. For the rest of us, it's nice to know there are options for creating a successful one-income lifestyle.

Updated November 2013

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