Dear Mary: I am eager to be a stay-at-home mom to my 2-year-old. We are paying down the bills. Are there other things we need to be aware of in order to achieve this goal? What are some of the common mistakes working moms make when changing their lifestyles and wallets to be at home with the kids? — N.R.
Dear N.R.: Your no. 1 priority is to create an emergency fund, or as we call it at Debt-Proof Living, a contingency fund. This is a pool of money you have stashed away in the event of a financial crisis — unemployment, a medical situation or even a busted refrigerator. When living on a single income, it is even more important to not put yourselves in a position where you are forced to run to a credit card when something goes wrong. And things will go wrong, so you have to plan on it. I suggest you need at least $10,000 that you keep in a liquid savings account.
The biggest mistake women in your situation make when leaving the workplace is forgetting they need to change their lifestyle to match their new single-paycheck status. You can't leave the expenses status quo while you lose a good portion of the household income.
I suggest you start practicing now, doing many of the chores you are paying others to do — mowing the lawn, cleaning the pool, cleaning the house. Develop a passion for cooking at home. Learn the tricks of slashing your grocery bill. If your income will be cut in half, you'll need to have that be your goal for your expenses as well. Good luck! And welcome home.
Dear Mary: My son got Silly Putty stuck all over one of our nice couch throws. Do you know any way to get it out? — Kathy
Dear Kathy: The manufacturer says to scrape off excess Silly Putty with a dull-edge knife or metal spoon and then spray with WD-40 and let stand a few minutes. If any stain remains, saturate a cotton ball with rubbing alcohol, blot the stain, and rinse. Wipe any remaining residue or stain with a damp sponge or cloth moistened with liquid dishwashing detergent like Blue Dawn. Launder the throw according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Dear Mary: I'm evaluating whether to renew my membership to Costco. It seemed like a good idea last year, when we were trying to save money, but now I'm not sure. Is it worth the membership to buy some items, such as detergent, in bulk, or can you shop just as smartly at your local grocery store by watching sales and using coupons? — Beth
Dear Beth: I am a member and do enjoy shopping at Costco for the convenience. However, you do bring up a good point, which reminds me why I call it "The $200 Store." It's hard to get out of there without spending at least $200. If you are a savvy shopper, track loss leaders at your local grocery stores and use coupons to further reduce the sale price of grocery items, you can do better overall than if you shop at a warehouse club.
Surprisingly, not all items actually cost less at the warehouse club. Those that are consistently cheaper include milk, eggs, cheese, laundry detergent and frozen chicken. But you have to buy a lot of chicken and wash a lot of clothes to recoup the membership price each year. I suggest you do your own experiment and live without the membership for a few months. You can always rejoin if you find you're spending more on the "outside."
Would you like more information? Go to EverydayCheapskate.com for links and resources for recommended products and services in this column. Mary invites questions, comments and tips at EverydayCheapskate.com, "Ask Mary." This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a lifestyle blog, and the author of the book "Debt-Proof Living."
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