My friend Erika forwarded me a link to “The True Cost of Leaning In” on The Daily Beast the other day, and it was very timely for a number of reasons. I had been wandering my pregnant, semi-retired self around the mall earlier in the day to pick up some clothes for me and the girls so we could survive the unexpected mini-heatwave that hit us in lieu of spring. I walked by all the shops I ordinarily would have stopped in to buy spring suits, light sweaters, pastel-colored blouses and accompanying accessories. They no longer applied to me not only because of my burgeoning belly, but because I have opted out.
I left my job in November after just about a year. I was suffering from clinical depression, which was compounded by a hectic travel schedule, stressful home life (late to pick up the kids! Pizza for the third night this week! Who didn’t pay the cable bill?!), and unhappiness with the day to day of the job I had. It was not an easy decision to leave, but at the time it was what I needed to do for myself and my family, we had some savings, and a short break seemed like a reasonable decision.
After a couple of months I began looking for a new job in earnest, but then found out that I was quite unexpectedly pregnant, throwing a monkey wrench into that plan. And the more I thought about it, the happier I became. I don’t want to be a software salesperson for the rest of my life. I don’t. And so I’m embarking on something new (writing) and the funny thing is that despite the loss of my six figure income, we may not be financially devastated and our lives may actually be easier.
I’m going full open-kimono here. There were, and still are, tremendous opportunity costs involved in my working outside the home. I made very good money. My monthly take-home pay came to about $5000 after taxes, retirement savings, etc. But here’s how that ended up being distributed:
Daycare for 2 kids under 5: $2400 per month. By far our largest cost, only slightly behind our mortgage. The Daily Beast article noted the annual cost of $24,000 for one child in daycare in New York City, and DC is no slouch when it comes to the cost either, although for both of our children we were just under $30,000 per year. A third infant child in daycare would cost us another $13,000 per year, although that would be offset by our eldest going to kindergarten this fall. We’d still be over $2600 per month for childcare for three if you add in before and after-school care for her.
Eating out: $300. No time to cook and no time to pack a lunch for when I did go into the office. Dinner could be anything from Wawa sandwiches grabbed on the way home to a proper restaurant dinner costing $50 or more. To me, our most annoying additional cost.
Dry cleaning and Laundry: $200 per month. Full disclosure- I don’t iron. I just don’t. Even if I did, who has the time? I traveled pretty extensively. Come home, dump out suitcase, repack suitcase, leave. Plus I have two kids whose laundry needs to be done too. Standard suits, shirts and sweaters went to dry cleaning and I occasionally sent the remainder of my laundry out for wash and fold service because the choice was between that or buying new clothes to make it through the week.
House Cleaning: $150. See above. If I did happen to be home and have time to clean, I’d rather spend it with my kids than cleaning the house. This is the expense that while it may seem discretionary, was in reality the best money I feel I could have spent.
Gas: $75. I worked primarily from home and/or traveled but my company’s office was 30 miles away and I was expected to be in once a week or more. Also, it required driving the beltway, which is not so much a highway as a parking lot. Which leads us to….
Occasional babysitting if not in time to get kids: $50. It was rare, but it happened. I am lucky to have helpful friends and neighbors but man if that clock is one minute past 6pm when you walk into daycare all hell breaks loose. It was easy to deal with this when it was foreseeable- I was traveling, husband had work dinner meeting- but those times when we were both stuck in notorious DC traffic or a meeting ran long were a nightmare.
Makeup: $20: Didn’t wear it every day, but it’s a cost. And getting an extra set of Clinique skincare products in travel size so you don’t have to check your bag is both a matter of necessity and money.
Hair/Nails: $100: Seems to be an indulgence but I worked in sales and appearance is important. I am also ridiculously gray and have been since I was 17. Cut and color every 6-8 weeks and mani/pedis every couple of weeks.
Net: $1705 or 34% of take-home pay. Basically I was working to take home a paycheck equivalent to one-third of my net salary. And it wasn’t worth it.
Keep in mind that I’ve just catalogued the essential costs of what it takes for me to leave the house in the morning. My husband also works and is paid well, with his salary covering the mortgage, utilities, car payment and we have health insurance through his job. He additionally does consulting work for a former company. He is a great partner and tremendous contributor to all aspects of the housework and childcare, which is not something all women have.
Despite my unhappiness with where I was in my career, there are many ways in which I enjoyed my work and would love to feel that leaning in is worth it. Contributing to an organization, watching ideas come to life, mentoring and managing younger women were all things I thrived doing. But it all came with costs- financial and otherwise- that have become too much to bear.
I’ve already seen a significant change in myself since I left my job. I have lost 20 pounds. Yes, I am six months pregnant and somehow I weigh 20 pounds less than I did in November (don’t worry, baby and I are just fine). I used to be constantly sick from November through March every year. I’m talking sinus infections that required steroids and multiple rounds of antibiotics. This year, despite the suppressed immune system that comes with being knocked up, I was perfectly healthy other than one very quick cold I had last week. I weaned myself off 3 anti-depressants when I found out about the pregnancy and I have been doing pretty darn well. Those are priceless improvements for my quality of life.
The girls will be out of their current pre-school/daycare by the end of May. My oldest starts kindergarten in the fall, I may find a part-time preschool for my middle one, and the baby is due at the end of July. We’ll spend a summer chilling at the pool, visiting friends and family and enjoying afternoon ice cream. I never thought I’d be a stay at home mom and am honestly more than a little nervous about it. I am not the world’s most patient person and I am crankier than a cat on Sunday when I don’t get enough sleep. But I’m looking forward to walking my daughter to the bus stop in the morning and back home in the afternoon. Baby and I can get a good routine going without the panic of the imminent end of maternity leave. My middle one is absolutely exploding with language and creativity these days and I’d love to do some finger painting and music class with her (if she’ll let me. She has an independent streak, that one).
I fully support Sheryl Sandberg’s efforts to get more women into corporate and government leadership positions, and I’d really like to be one of those success stories. But for me and my family, at this moment in time, it just isn’t the right decision. And so I’m leaning out of the workplace and into my family life, where I’m already CEO and Chairman of the Board.