How far does 70K go as a single mom?
April 17, 2013 9:40 AM   Subscribe

I realize that 70K is a lot for most people, but how much is it if I were a single mom with one child living in/near a large city? I have always had the belief that I should be able to support myself and my child, should anything (divorce) happen. I face a choice now between starting a career I am passionate about (helping others) but will probably pay a steady 70K for the rest of my life. The other alternative is to stay in my boring, high paying job (100K by my 30's) that lets me enjoy the nights and weekends but does not make me feel satisfied or that I am contributing to society. I already volunteer on the side, and still desire a meaningful job. I obviously want to go with my heart and pursue my passion, but I am in my mid 20's and cannot even imagine what my income requirements / priorities will be in my mid 30's when I will hopefully have a kid and a mortgage.
posted by puertosurf to Human Relations (54 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
You could investigate child care costs and housing costs in the areas you are thinking about living in. 70k sounds pretty do-able to me, and I think that a career you are passionate about (and hopefully lets you spend time with your child) is worth pursuing.

I wouldn't count on child support, but wouldn't dismiss it either. Unless you are planning to adopt as a single mom or go the AI route, there will be a father who is responsible for this child as well. Hopefully you choose one that if you and he were to divorce, he would still be a responsible parent in both time and money.
posted by elmay at 9:43 AM on April 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

I grew up in Brooklyn with a single mother making considerably less than that (~$30-40K adjusted for inflation through elementary school and Jr. High, then steadily higher until she was making ~$70K when she died a few years back) but my grandparents watched me most of the time, so there weren't any daycare or babysitting costs. We rented until I was a senior in high school, though.
posted by griphus at 9:43 AM on April 17, 2013

You can make a living as a single mom with one child on $70K/year in any city in the United States. This is above the median household income in almost every city in the United States and pretty close to the median household income in New York City and San Francisco.

I feel compelled to offer the following:

$30,000 buys a lot of satisfaction in the way of material goods and contributing (monetarily) to causes you support. Your job doesn't need to satisfy you or contribute to society. You need to be satisfied, but you can do that in many ways. Your job is a means to an end and not an end in itself.

You will always be more secure in your finances with a higher paying job, which your daughter will appreciate should there be a financial crunch in your life. There are a surprisingly high number of ways to bankrupt yourself in a very short amount of time; the way to hedge against that is not to voluntarily turn down income.
posted by saeculorum at 9:51 AM on April 17, 2013 [19 favorites]

This is a function of lifestyle and expectations. I think it is doable and reasonable, but it depends on what you expect to want for your child(ren) and yourself. Will you get a new car every 2 years, be able to buy the latest gadgets, be able to have your children in nice new shoes every year? Not likely on that salary, but you will be able to live a reasonable middle class existence and will have a job that does not suck your soul out of you everyday.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:52 AM on April 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

It's really going to depend on your location. In NYC or SF or DC or several other cities it could be tight, depending on the standard of living you expect. In many other cities you'd be fine. Choose your city wisely. Choose a career that you enjoy.
posted by mareli at 9:53 AM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

While working for a non-profit can feel like you're doing something meaningful, it can be extremely frustrating on completely different levels than a corporate job.

My Dad worked in the non-profit sector for 30 years before working for the Federal Government.

Non profit means that none of the furniture will match. It means that you have as many bosses as there are people on the board, and each of them will have his or her opinion about what you should be doing. (I don't care what job you hold there, random people feel free to wander in and voice their opinions.)

If this is a government-type job, and you're "helping people" that too comes with it's own host of dissatisfactions. For example, I quit my high-paying corporate job to be a High School teacher in the 'hood. The kids were disrespectful, the administration was flimsy and my inability to accomplish what I wanted in the classroom lead me down a very dark, personal path. I can laugh now, but back then...whooo, that was rough.

So if you take this job "helping people" how are you going to feel if even with your help, 85% of them will continue on, unhelped. How are you going to feel when your coworkers and your manager resent you because you want to change a process that's been the same for 20 years, and no one is on board with it?

I don't want to shit on your expectations, but there's a huge difference between what you believe your experience will be, i.e. Helping People, Meaningful, and what it actually is, Low Paying, Frustrating, Has Cockroaches.

After doing what you did, here is how I feel about it.

It is my responsibility to service my family and its needs first. So I need to make the maximum amount of money my experience and skills can bring in. Once I've covered everything, THEN I can start to think about ways of contributing to my community.

Voluntarily taking 30% less money seems reckless to me if you want to be a single Mom.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:53 AM on April 17, 2013 [42 favorites]

You're talking about carrying a mortgage of $200k. And money is going to be TIGHT because you're going to have to keep saving for retirement, putting away 20%-25% of your income. (plus saving for a car. plus you'll be saving for a downpayment on a house to get that mortgage, and so on)

Basically, if you feel comfortable raising a child in a $200k home while most of your disposable income goes to your child, then you should be ok. If you think, "Wow! $200k doesn't get me anything in my area, or I'd have to move out to a distant/terrible neighborhood that I wouldn't want to live in," then you need more than $70k.

Something dawned on my recently that really put budgetary issues in perspective. Basically, you're looking at your salary in these terms:

25% - taxes
20% - retirement
25% - housing

So you have 25%-30% of your income left for everything else. Given that amount of money you will have left over to pay the rest of your expenses, how do you feel about that?
posted by deanc at 9:54 AM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think you really need to cost out how much everything is going to cost, notably things like dental, education and your own retirement. Ability to live in a nicer neighbourhood.

Then make the decision.

It's my assumption that $70k really isn't enough.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:54 AM on April 17, 2013

I'm a little confused. You're asking this in case you become a single mom? Are you about to have a child?

In any case, I can tell you this: I'm a single mom of three kids and I purposely chose to pursue my passion (special education teacher) because it makes me a better person.

I'm invigorated and refreshed by what I do. I feel like my work matters (most days, anyway).

And even though my salary tops off at WAY LESS than 70k, I am an even-keeled, happy mom who finds the energy to also be a pretty kickass mom because of my very low stress level.

Also, my kids see daily modeling that people can have careers that are fulfilling and worthwhile and really kind of fun and also balance a challenging home life.

I say follow your passion.
posted by kinetic at 9:57 AM on April 17, 2013 [18 favorites]

Things like maternity leave policies, flex time, and other benefits may be worth more than $30,000 to the theoretical single mother. How are other women/mothers treated in these two workplaces?
posted by that's how you get ants at 9:58 AM on April 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Once they are in school, you'd be living modestly, but I think you'd be fine. However, with childcare I think it would be difficult, but doable. With child support and adjusting for inflation that's probably what my mother had. Money was always an issue and there wasn't much of a buffer, but we weren't "poor" for lack of a better word. It was very difficult for her to buy a small house, but she eventually managed it with some down payment help from my grandparents. However, I was old enough that she didn't need full time childcare. Also my dad and grandparents paid for a lot of the extras in my life like music lessons and new school clothes. I think my mother wouldn't have been able to afford most of those things.

So yeah I think your real challenge is child care from 0-5. I think on that salary you will never be comfortable and will always have to budget carefully, but you could do it.
posted by whoaali at 9:58 AM on April 17, 2013

How much time will you be able to spend with your child? What will the quality of that time be?
posted by amtho at 9:59 AM on April 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

I am a single mom of a 9-year-old. When I had him, I had just ended a long-term relationship and was only making $38k a year. I was extremely fortunate that I had my parents, who were relatively young and retired, to watch him during the day; I went back to work 4 weeks postpartum. Having him further motivated me to leave my crappy job and I moved to my current position; after a few promotions I now earn 3 times my original salary (which, in the NYC area, still does not go as far as some might think).

By far, the most expensive aspect of being a single mother (or, hell, a partnered working mother) is the exorbitant cost of day care for the first few years...but from what I hear from other moms, these costs vary hugely by region and what type of care you choose (day care, nanny, babysitter, etc). Consider your support network--if you have family who would be willing to watch your baby even a couple of days a week, that's huge. Diapers/formulas are also ridiculously expensive but again, you only need to factor in those costs for a couple of years. Overall, I think the expense of having children (or at least one child) is overstated, depending on your expectations. There are many ways to creatively cut costs, and if you live in a good area, public schools are fine. I wouldn't let your salary be the driving force in your decision.
posted by kribensa at 10:01 AM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Some people do find great rewards in doing something they are passionate about. However, I was struck by the words of one mentor who said that if may be wise to keep doing things one is passionate about as a "hobby" because when it becomes a job, often the obligations that come with it being a job dampen the satisfaction one gets from doing it. One can get "stuck" in a job and get to hate it. Financial security can enable one to plan for retiring earlier and afford to do things that one is passionate about as a hobby.
posted by aroberge at 10:02 AM on April 17, 2013 [7 favorites]

I make significantly less than that and have raised two children on my own and given them nice Christmases and taken them out to dinner and driven a late-model used car and have zero debt besides my mortgage. It's been doable and I've enjoyed most of it.


College is not paid for or really affordable. I used much of my PTO over the years for their appointments/illnesses/school things and therefore we didn't have the money/time for nice vacations. The anxiety that goes along with being the *only* income, the *only* health insurance option, the *only* opinion, the *only* parent is based in reality. I have watched every dime for nearly two decades. I get the occasional pedicure but no other frills, we shop at Goodwill, etc. And I am a professional in a small city with excellent health insurance.

It is very smart and forward-thinking of you to consider the possibility that you may be a child's only parent. Too many people don't allow for that possibility and they're blindsided by divorce/death/illness/other parent's job loss/etc. Anything can happen. Assuming you are plowing a significant chunk into savings already, and you have excellent money management skills, and you're not purposefully giving a kid a single-family upbringing, then you & your partner should go for it.
posted by headnsouth at 10:03 AM on April 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

I don't want to shit on your expectations, but there's a huge difference between what you believe your experience will be, i.e. Helping People, Meaningful, and what it actually is, Low Paying, Frustrating, Has Cockroaches.

This. Dude, I want to say this to everyone who thinks nonprofit work will be emotionally rewarding.

Nonprofit work will burn you, burn your time with your kid, and make you crazy as a single mom. You will never be able to commit as much as the single dudes who are there. And that's before we talk pay cut.
posted by corb at 10:07 AM on April 17, 2013 [12 favorites]

Oh, one thing I learned from my mother: debt kills you. She did not even attempt to purchase a home until she was comfortable and I was about to go off to college (on scholarship.) She drove cars into the ground and paid for the next cars (always used) in cash. She did not ever consider her credit line to be disposable income -- unless it was a life-or-death emergency, she did not ever spend more than she earned.

That being said, I grew up in a relatively austere household, but it wasn't very different from most of my friends (also immigrants) so I never felt like I was missing out on all the luxuries the world had to offer.
posted by griphus at 10:08 AM on April 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

My sister is a single mom (her husband died) and does okay making less than $70k. Her house is small and in an uncool suburb and her car is a reliable but aging lower-end model. One small factor in her "independence" is that she lives in the same metro area as her parents, siblings, and some old friends, so there's a pool of people who provide some emotional and practical support. If she has a trip for work, my nephew can stay with us. Our stepmom can help her install a new light. I can go car shopping with her when she's nervous about getting ripped off. So, in addition to thinking about what kind of job to take, make sure you've considered your location and support networks. You will be more resiliant if you have strong ties to people nearby other than your husband.
posted by Area Man at 10:10 AM on April 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

Since you're not *planning* to be a single mom, but rather attempting to make choices that you will not regret *should you marry, reproduce, and then divorce or be widowed in the next 15 years*, I would suggest taking the 70K job that you love, and lowering your standard of living artificially so as to save the maximum amount possible and do some responsible, low-risk investing of those savings.

I'm guessing you're in an extremely expensive market, since there are lots of places where 70K would be a great total income for TWO adults. But even so, a little careful overhead management should allow you to build a nice cushion.

Not talking out of my ass, either. I earn less than half of what you do, in a mid-price city, but this is my approach to finances and it buys me a lot of freedom (but not a lot of anything else). Rent is low. I don't keep a car. I use almost no credit, I don't have cable, etc.

Now, I don't especially love living like a 22 year old in my 30s, but right now I could weather a full year of unemployment without making significant sacrifices, and that lets me sleep at night. You would probably be able to have a much higher standard of living, while saving nearly as much.
posted by like_a_friend at 10:10 AM on April 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: To clarify, I don't plan on being a single mom! I just do not want to make this decision with the expectation of having my husbands income supplement mine.

This is a healthcare related profession (Nursing, PT, OT, SLP)
posted by puertosurf at 10:10 AM on April 17, 2013

I think the odds are pretty good that you'd burn out of a healthcare profession by the time you had a kid anyway. I say keep the 100K job and save the extra 30K per year to give you some flexibility once the family comes along.
posted by that's how you get ants at 10:19 AM on April 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

I am a single mom living in a college town and I make about $50,000 (I'm a public employee, so they publish my salary in the paper). I pay about as much for daycare as I do for my mortgage. I do a lot of thrift store shopping for clothes and household stuff but spend more money than is really necessary on food (I like food; I don't care so much about new clothes).

My experience, fifteen months in, is that while this would undoubtedly be much harder with even less money, it would be IMPOSSIBLE without the support network of family and friends that I have here. So I'd think about that as much as, if not more than, your income should you end up as a single mom.
posted by newrambler at 10:20 AM on April 17, 2013

Both are doable or not-doable depending on the support network you have nearby, and the hours demanded by your job. I say this as a not-single mother of two, both of us have great jobs that pays well but demand HOURS. And we have no support network nearby. So if you had parents or siblings living nearby to your city who could help with childcare, and your job did not require 70+hr weeks then you could easily do it on $70k. If you were living with no parents or siblings nearby, and/or your job required more than 40 hours a week, it would be tough even on $100k.

Before elementary school you need to pay for childcare which really is $$$ (look into it and see what it costs in your area). Once elementary school starts, you still need childcare after school finishes, which isn't as expensive, but at least where I am there are very few options and there's a lot of logistics to work out.
posted by Joh at 10:28 AM on April 17, 2013

What if you reach your late 30s and you don't have a child? (There are many reasons this might happen; no need to enumerate them.) Would you regret having traded a satisfying career for the potential of needing to raise a child as a single parent?

Since you're currently dissatisfied by your job, my advice (random stranger on the Interwebs!) would be to take the job that seems more satisfying, and find out whether it really is as satisfying as you think it will be once it becomes routine. If it is, live frugally enough to set aside a decent chunk of each paycheck in long-term savings. If/when you marry, think seriously about a prenup, if the purpose of your savings is to potentially support yourself and your child(ren) after a divorce. IANAL, but my impression is that in some (most?) states, your savings would become community property after the marriage.
posted by brianogilvie at 10:30 AM on April 17, 2013

I'm a single woman living in Brooklyn, and $70K is about what I make. I am not a parent.

There is no way in all the nine hells I would be able to afford raising a child on that salary.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:32 AM on April 17, 2013 [5 favorites]

Having money in the bank makes a huge difference. If you can keep the 100k job for a while and save half of it, you will be able to be FAR more flexible with your future decisions.

Other things like paying off the house way early (no house payment!) can make a huge difference.

Also, saving for retirement is important. Load up the 401k as early as possible and let it ride. It can literally be a million dollar difference in 50 years.
posted by gjc at 10:33 AM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Since no one has mentioned this - is it possible that your passion (helping people) could be fulfilled by being a mother, making the $30K pay cut career change a mute point? Or, could it be so fulfilling that you find that you wish to be a full-time mother, making a job at all a mute point? Since you don't know what you'll be or want to do when the time comes, the most risk-averse choice is to keep the job that pays you $30K more per year, and bank/save it aggressively in preparation for a career change down the line... and if you don't do a career change, you'll have a lot saved up for something else, like retirement.
posted by juniperesque at 10:37 AM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

It depends on what you'd be doing in your lower-paying job. I'm very moved by Kinetic's comment, above, about working as a special education teacher. That kind of job, though, involves working directly with the people who benefit from your time and skills. I can imagine that as being immensely satisfying.

The kind of job I assume you mean, though, would be in the corporate office as administrative staff of a nonprofit. That kind of job, perhaps with a few exceptions, is exactly like an office job for a company that makes widgets. I think the satisfaction would be dramatically less.

I would stick with the higher-paying job, for now, and volunteer to get the sense of contributing to the greater good you're looking for. You could also consider finding a gig as a consultant for a nonprofit, while you maintain your regular career.

Just remember that income you sacrifice today really adds up over time and that, as you get older and have children, you'll need more cash rather than less. Not because you're greedy, but because you'll want to invest in plenty of things that offer no immediate tangible benefit: college savings, retirement, real estate for the family, the needs your own parents may encounter as they get really old, emergency fund in case you lose your job, etc.

Good luck and good for you for thinking about this!
posted by Philemon at 10:41 AM on April 17, 2013

Ok, well. I work in the nonprofit sector (but in Maine), and my husband and I make (combined) less than your $70K. We carry a mortgage, pay for childcare, make two car payments (yeah, I know) and are being slowly crushed under the weight of our home heating bills.

At $70K, a lot of things would actually be easier than they are now - particularly the ongoing struggle to find really high quality after-school and summer care for our child while we both work. If I were a single parent, I'd only have to pay for one car, and likely would choose to rent or would have purchased a much smaller home.

But you would be surprised how having a child changes your outlook. I just left a job I loved to take on a job I love somewhat less but that pays a hell of a lot more. And stability becomes super important -- not just in the "will I still be employed" sense, but also in the "I have a stable schedule" sense as well as the "I won't lose my job if I have to leave suddenly for a sick child" sense.

If you're able, though, I strongly echo the suggestion made above that you should save half of what you make now, while you can, and get a really enormous nest egg together for when you need more of a nest. Truthfully, having that sort of cushion would be far more useful (for instance, taking 6 months of FMLA leave when the baby is born) than a slightly higher income would be.
posted by anastasiav at 10:56 AM on April 17, 2013

$70K will go way farther with a child that is in school than it will if you have to pay for full-time childcare. Those early years are extremely expensive.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 11:00 AM on April 17, 2013

As a data point, I was living in a large/expensive city making about $55,000 in today's dollars when I exited single parenthood about 10 years ago, and it was "doable" in the sense that of course, I did it. But for starters, I had a highly flexible job and school-aged kids and therefore paid very little in childcare. And even so, money was a lot tighter than you might think, and I made sacrifices every day. Half my take-home went for rent on a 3BR apt. in a not-very-trendy area. If I were still living that life, my kids would have had little choice but to go to a mediocre high school.

Some sacrifices were fairly trivial (shopping in thrift stores, dumpster diving furniture). But others were kind of painful, in retrospect, like having to shove my daughter into kindergarten at the age of 4.5--ready or not--because I couldn't afford $800/month for daycare, or not being able to send my kids to even "regular" daycamp during the summer ($100/wk/child) and instead having to send them to the subsidized "playground program" that was far less structured and supervised, but only cost $50 total for 6 weeks. I could afford park district recreation programs, but I couldn't afford private music lessons. There was no college savings, and insufficient retirement savings, during that period of my life.

Yes, I was making around the median household income for the nation. But there's a segment of our society that doesn't realize that the majority of households in the U.S. contain no minor children, and that 45% of children live in low-income families.

The National Center for Child Poverty has an interesting little calculator that allows you to calculate basic living expenses for different household compositions in different places in the country (not all states/cities are available). For example, a single-parent household with 1 preschooler and 1 school-aged child in Chicago would need nearly $50,000 in gross income JUST to meet basic expenses (taxes, housing, food, childcare, health insurance, $900 for transportation which is obviously going to be the bus/train and not even a used car, and finally about $5000 for all other needs such as clothing). Another $20,000 gross will buy you a little breathing room (: a used car, a slightly less crappy apartment, a $500 "family vacation" to the Wisconsin Dells. But it's still not much, especially if you want to save anything for college, retirement, or purchasing a home.
posted by drlith at 11:03 AM on April 17, 2013 [9 favorites]

I have given up salary to follow my intuition. I am not solely income-driven; it was fine. A stable schedule and a salary that's well into middle class is fine for raising a child. I got laid off shortly after my divorce; single parenting while working multiple jobs was hard, but we were fine. If your spouse is a high earner, you'd still have good child support. Think about how you feel about the prestige/ class level money gives you. I've seen the loss of that be really hard on some women.

What made single parenting hardest was all the same stuff that made divorce inevitable. Do your best to have a strong marriage, because it's nicer for kids to grow up with a happy, healthy relationship between their parents. Seeing your parent(s) have a meaningful career, and a life of purpose is a great example to set.
posted by theora55 at 11:05 AM on April 17, 2013

To me, there's a large gulf between asking "I am a single mother in an expensive market; is it better for me to keep my $100K+ job or move into a $70K job I like better?"


"I am in my mid-twenties with no immediate plans to have children; if someday I should have a kid and own a house and get divorced, will it be better for me to have kept my great job or moved into a less-lucrative career I am passionate about?"

I am not sure which comes closer to your situation, but the answers to these questions are not necessarily the same. Either way, saving a lot and not doing things that make you deeply unhappy couldn't hurt.
posted by thetortoise at 11:08 AM on April 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Honestly, I think the general cost of living in the area is a LOT more of a factor than your raw income. $70k/yr will go much further in Dallas than $100k/yr in Boston. Plus, one factor is what your lifestyle expectations are. If you couldn't imagine raising a child in a 1 or 2 bedroom apartment, then you'll need more money.

If you make $70k-$100k/yr, then you probably think that living in a single family house in a safe neighborhood with good schools where most high school graduates go to college is "normal" and the sort of future you see for your children. That's VERY feasible in some parts of the country but hardly feasible at all in others.

In this day and age, with this economy, I'm reluctant to tell a young person, "don't worry about the money. the money will always be there." But, honestly, the money may well "always be there." You could take the lower-paying job now that you want to pursue, and later on when you start to feel that you have certain material goals and obligations to your family, then you can opt for the higher-paying track (if that's an option in your field).
posted by deanc at 11:13 AM on April 17, 2013

You know, thetortoise makes a good point here:

To me, there's a large gulf between asking "I am a single mother in an expensive market; is it better for me to keep my $100K+ job or move into a $70K job I like better?"


"I am in my mid-twenties with no immediate plans to have children; if someday I should have a kid and own a house and get divorced, will it be better for me to have kept my great job or moved into a less-lucrative career I am passionate about?"

If the latter is more your situation, I would actually not factor this in to your decision making too much at all, because "what if I have a child and then buy a house but then get divorced" is an awfully specific future outcome you're trying to guard against, which would require a highly specific set of circumstances to happen. I mean, I assume you're also not asking questions like:

"If someday I should win the Powerball, would it make more sense to have quit a $70K job or a $100K one?"

"If someday I have a falling piano land on me and it ruptures my spleen, would the disability from a $100K job or a $70K job be better?"

"If I go on vacation to the Amazon and have some bad yerba mate, and I enter an amnesiac fugue state and end up living there for 4 months because I'm convinced I'm Queen Jaguar Ear Tip, would the $70K job or the $100k job be the better one to be fired from?"

You know? I appreciate your being conscientious about planning ahead, but there is a point at which planning ahead keeps you from living your life now. Yes, you may get married and you may then have kids and then you may get divorced, but you also may not be able to have kids, or you also may not get divorced, or you may also marry someone who's the heir to the Jenga Patent and is independently wealthy. Turning down a job that you could live on now, on the off chance that you maybe might someday get divorced and be a single parent, is shortchanging you of the happy career that you would have if you stayed married.

So again, bravo for trying to be proactive, but this is maybe taking overthinking things a bit. Go for the job you want. Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:25 AM on April 17, 2013 [20 favorites]

I don't have time to preview other responses at the moment, so forgive me if this is repetitive. I'm a single Mom, I make about $65k/yr.

How much are you actually taking home per month? My salary looks great on paper, but I can only pay my bills with the money I'm taking home.

Things to consider: insurance, daycare costs, rent, groceries, paying back debt (car loan, student debt, credit cards), babysitters, covering daycare when daycare is cancelled (often you will need to pay your daily provider AND someone to cover that day), eating out when you are too tired to cook, clothes for growing child, coffee when you didn't sleep the night before and don't have the time to brew at home, utilities, auto insurance.

I know, some of these things might seem minimal or "really, you don't need to grab a coffee in the morning" but chances are you work some non-essentials into your routine already and they are that much harder to give up when you're a single Mom running around.

So, it is very likely that an extra $30k a year might alleviate some stress that comes with being a single Mom. For example, you could hire a babysitter to give yourself some time to go out, exercise, sit in a quiet room, or whatever.

If I am reading your question correctly, the more satisfying job, lower paying job would be a non-traditional working schedule (i.e. not M-F, 9-5), which may be harder on you and your kid and your pocketbook, unless you have people who are going to support you.

Also, consider that the rewards of having a child are so great, that boring day job might not be so bad.

Please feel free to send me a message if you like! I believe either option can work, but there are some realities to being a single parent that two-parent families don't typically face.
posted by retrofitted at 11:31 AM on April 17, 2013

Would you rather, in the long run, teach your daughter that money is more important that life satisfaction? $70K is plenty to raise one child on, would she have all the extra "shineys" she has now, probably not but she would have a mother that loved her work and life and was doing something important. It depends on what priorities you have about the life you give your child when it comes down to it, a lot of the other responses have given you good arguments to go the money route and if that's your priority that's a good and fine decision, but most of the people I know (single or otherwise) get by on way less money and are happy and healthy and well adjusted. Would the extra money be nice, yes, is it vital to have a good life for your child, no.

Also if you are good enough to be offered a 100K job now, what's to say if circumstances change you can't find another one, no job is permanent and you obviously have skills that people are willing to pay for.
posted by wwax at 11:43 AM on April 17, 2013

I think the other thing to keep in mind is that the baby's bio dad will HAVE to supplement your income via child support. So, keep in mind that in this imaginary scenario in the far future, your kid will (probably) be ok.
posted by spunweb at 11:51 AM on April 17, 2013

This is a healthcare related profession (Nursing, PT, OT, SLP)

Far be it from me to dissuade you. No one could tell me anything about being a teacher. Husbunny stopped nursing after 10 years because it had become so stressful and difficult. (He's now an actuary, and he talks to NO ONE at all during the day.)

At this juncture, if you think you want to dabble, now is the time, BEFORE you have a kid and are loathe to make those decisions.

No one says that after a few years in this profession, that if it's a bust, that you can't go back to a high wage, corporate job. If you love it, bonus!

But boy, making this decision, with a fictional baby and an even more fictional divorce (and perhaps even a fictional husband) that's just....weird.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:00 PM on April 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

I don't know if you can quantify all of the factors and make a decision based on wanting the best outcome in a worst-case scenario 10 years from now. The best thing you can do for your future self (and future family) is to develop your career and make some frugal choices now. Be fully engaged in your career and your interests, don't blow your money on crap, fully-fund your retirement accounts, and take care of your physical and mental health.

(That said, 100k without working extended hours is amazing and nothing to sneeze at. If I were raising an infant on my own and my choice was that or a 70k "meaningful" job where I was expected to works nights/weekends, I'd stick with the 100k job. Daycare is EXPENSIVE, and extended care just piles on to that ...)
posted by stowaway at 12:07 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I always knew I wanted children, so in my early twenties I deliberately chose a job that had the benefits that working parents needed (lots of sick time, family friendly management, short hours during school year only, no stress or work taken home) but it paid crap. I worked in that job for years, not able to save but optimistic about how great everything would work out once my children appeared. Once I actually had a child I had to quit that job within a few months in order to get a much worse, much more stressful job with long hours because it paid more, followed a few months later by a second evening and weekend job at another 20-30 hours a week just to keep a roof over my child's head and pay the daycare costs so I could afford to work my full-time job. 13 years later I am still working two jobs (down from the four a few years ago!), in part because I sacrificed those early potentially high-income years.
posted by saucysault at 12:11 PM on April 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

Would you rather, in the long run, teach your daughter that money is more important that life satisfaction? $70K is plenty to raise one child on, would she have all the extra "shineys" she has now, probably not but she would have a mother that loved her work and life and was doing something important

By the time the child becomes old enough to understand their parents' jobs, the parents are at the mid-life-crisis stage of their careers where they've really learned and mastered everything they were going to learn in their job and figuring out what to do with "the next stage" in their life.

In my experience, the reason parents tend not to be big advocates of "follow your dreams" to their kids is not because the parents are particularly grumpy or especially materialistic, but because they've gotten to a stage in their lives where they have already been through the "follow your dreams" stage of their own lives and could be more or less reasonably satisfied with most jobs that were suited to their temperament and sometimes look back and say, "Gosh, I could be making $X instead of $Y for the same amount of work if I had made a different decision." I'm really not clear what this other job is that the OP is asking about, so I don't know whether it could be something that would be so severely compromising to her personality and being while also being something she has to choose RIGHT NOW rather than pursue later, which makes this question difficult to answer.

But boy, making this decision, with a fictional baby and an even more fictional divorce (and perhaps even a fictional husband) that's just....weird.

Honestly, "how do I pick a job that is going to support myself in possibly difficult circumstances?" is not weird at all. Some people pick their college major by choosing the one with the highest average salary upon graduation, too.
posted by deanc at 12:13 PM on April 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Personally I don't see the harm in keeping your 100K job now and seeing how it goes should a child come along. Then you can determine at that point if you could take a 30K cut. That makes the most sense to me, besides making a realllllly good budget.

I agree with other people, actual expenses take a larger chunk than you think. You can estimate your budget and add a ton of padding to your expenses and figure it out. You are asking us to tell you, when we don't know what expenses you need.

Car loans? Car insurance? Do you prefer organic food? Would you hire a nanny, babysitter, or daycare? They all cost different amounts.

To me, if you are at the 100K job, end up as a single mother, and realize you CAN take the 70K, then do it at that time. It could be hard to go back up to a 100K job in the job market from a 70K job. You also don't know where the job market will be down the line, however I'm sure there will always be some sort of non-profit that will hire you, and pay you a similar amount.

Also, my dad basically raised me on his own, on a much lower salary. (Parents divorced when I was 15) We got by just fine. There were times that were really tight. I got a job at 16 to help pay for my clothes and extras. However when it came time for college we had to be slammed with loans.

Maybe you are the type of parent who would want their student to pay for their own college, and that's fine. However if you would like to contribute to their schooling, or not have to take out loans yourself, having a good savings can really help! (Not to mention retirement.) I have 33K in student loans and my dad has 24K out for me. It's something to think about.

Also, I appreciate wanting to be independent, however I am kind of confused that you are "planning to be a single parent" yet "not planning to be a single parent" at the same time. Are you currently married and do you not like your husband? In reality wouldn't you also get child support? Again, I am all for being independent, just a thought.
posted by Crystalinne at 12:17 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

A reasonable middle class existence sounds heavenly, doesnt it?

Please, do what you love. Money truly does not buy happiness for you nor your kids (haven't we all learned that already?) You can live your lives as a single mom and child without needing the fanciest gadgets and shoes. In fact, living outside that materialistic bubble might be valuable for your child!!

BTW, you're not voluntarily turning down extra income--you're voluntarily choosing a responsible vocation authentic to you. That's being a good role model and mom =D
posted by rhythm_queen at 12:36 PM on April 17, 2013

Oh and volunteering at a non-profit is MUCH different than working for one. Not sure how involved you are in volunteering, but non-profits are notorious for strange office politics and playing favorites. Stick with the volunteering while you have time.

(I did a marketing plan for a non-profit, the extreme office politics were apparent in our few group meetings with them...So much so that it was uncomfortable to work with them. Other non-profit assigned marketing groups had the same vibe.)
posted by Crystalinne at 12:37 PM on April 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

This is obviously a very subjective question, so I'll just tell you what I would do.

I would stick with the money.

Here's why: Yes, you could survive just fine on $70K with one kid (I only have one so I won't speak for having more than one). BUT, you could survive so much better on $100K.

I live in L. A. We're in the LAUSD. So my numbers are geared to that. Fulltime daycare/preschool is about $1K/month (I have friends with preschool age kids all over the county, and that's the average price, for the average daycare, not the super-woo Montessori or the one that has a lower kid-to-caregiver ratio. Which is of course what we would prefer for our kid if the budget allowed it). So that's $12K/year. Average rent for a 2-bedroom is $2K/month. So that's $24K/year. Boom, 50% of your $70K salary gone. And we haven't accounted for taxes off the top. That doesn't account for regular expenses, electricity and food, etc. That doesn't account for car repairs and some emergency savings. That doesn't account for retirement savings. It doesn't account for a decent (not even nice, just decent) vacation once in a while.

And then it doesn't account for the things that will break your heart if you can't provide them - summer camp. Soccer or ballet classes. A trip to Disneyland. Stylish clothes. Any idea what it costs to throw a "simple" birthday party in the park? Guess what? As much as I hate to frickin' say it, those things count if you want your kid to get reciprocal invitations.

And that's assuming you have just one kid.

My other reason is this: I used to work a job where I took care of people all day. Once you have a kid, that is the only person you want to take care of. Taking care of other people seems pointless when you've put your kid in daycare to let someone else take care of. The passion fades and it becomes a job.

Stick with the money.
posted by vignettist at 12:43 PM on April 17, 2013 [10 favorites]

In my view, this is a slightly crazy question, and I am a single mom. It is really really tough to be single with children, and one should only do it if there is absolutely no alternative. Not only because of economics, because of everything.

For me, there was no alternative, and we have done OK on less than 70K for 15 years. I've said no thanks to several very good positions because it would hurt my little family. (Actually, the lesson here is that if you want to go back to an executive position, you can, even if you've been out for five or ten years) But it has been really tough sometimes (specially when it was a lot less than 70K). We've been on a fancy holiday once. We have never had stylish clothes or home decoration. We actually had a pony once, maybe the most stressful period of my life, ever, but we did it, and had good times with it.
When my friends speak of divorce, I always try to stop them. The consequences are terrifying.

That said, it can be done, and I have two wonderful daughters who are very strong and happy. Although some things would have been easier if I'd had a larger budget, both girls go on and on about how I am a role model for themselves and their friends, even their teachers, because I am happy, present and responsible. So many of their friends' parents are focused on careers and money, and almost never have anything relevant to contribute in the lives of children. I think they are proud of me because I chose happiness in my career as well as in my personal life, and they can feel the result.

I have been lucky because I have a huge extended family, and I have not been alone ever. I've been able to borrow money when I was very poor, and family members have helped with the children. Still, it has been really tough, every single day for many, many years.

It is very strange and sad, but both my daughters have friends who have lost parents to illness or accidents. This is something no one can plan for (apart from having an insurance). Some of these kids spend a lot of time here, and I listen to them. They respect their single parent's choices and struggle, and they do all they can to support them. And none of them are worried about money. They want their parent to be as happy as possible, given the circumstances.

I also believe that my children (and I can see it with the eldest already) are focused on creating a good family where everyone shares responsibility. If you don't trust your current partner, go find another. Excuse me for being crude, but as a parent, one is responsible.
posted by mumimor at 1:12 PM on April 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

I suggest you review the quarterlies to see more recent numbers for median personal income and median household income.

Making some assumptions, 70k/yr puts you at about the 60th percentile while 100k/yr puts you at roughly the 90th percentile. That is a very large gap.

The difference between 120k/yr and 150k/yr? Not so much.

Personally I applaud your efforts to look forward and analyze major decisions before you make them.

If you are meant to help others and build up society (any more than the regular productive person), I have the perspective that it will happen regardless which path you take.
posted by 99percentfake at 2:34 PM on April 17, 2013

I have a hard time imaging how I'd get along as a single parent on just my income in San Francisco and I make $90K! Once our child is out of preschool, it'll be significantly easier but right now we're paying $1100 per month in preschool and that's only 4 days a week and is a less expensive school than many. As it is now, my husband's income pays our mortgage and mine pays for most everything else. We do not live extravagantly. Sure, I could do it on my own, but I'd have to sell our very modest house and it would be very tight.

Consider too, that after you have kids, flexibility as well as stability in your job will matter a lot more. I've willingly stepped back from a lot of my career for now because I'd much rather spend time with my kid than work on the weekends. My job isn't super exciting but I've found that my family life provides all the enrichment that I need for now.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 3:43 PM on April 17, 2013

Oh, the poor OP, you've been getting a lot of back-and-forth advice....

I had another thing to consider, after reading some good points from people; yes, it is smart to be aware that "anything could happen and you could get divorced and be a single parent."

However, I also note that that's advice that's generally given to women who are counting on not ever having to work at all, rather than women who are trying to decide between one of two careers. By making this part of your decision process when it comes to taking one or another job, when you aren't even married yet, you're kind of...expecting whatever marriage you get to fail.

But suppose it doesn't fail. Or, suppose you don't get married at all. Then that advice to take a job based on what you could be a single parent on is kind of...moot. And it strikes me that a lesser-paying job that you're more passionate about could make you a more satisfied and balanced person overall, which would make you a stronger partner in a relationship, which...makes your relationship less likely to fail, and so you wouldn't have to worry about being a single parent in the first place.

So, consider what your salary would be if you end up as a single parent if you like. But -- also think about what happens if you do have a happy marriage, and raise a couple of kids, and then years from now your husband and children and maybe a grandchild have all come together to give you a blow-out retirement party. And then ask yourself what job you would rather be retiring from.

Because that future is also a possibility for you.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:03 PM on April 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

Seconding Ruthless Bunny'a second piece of advice hard. Not to go off track, but she does raise a really interesting question: if I were you, I'd be doing serious soul-searching about why you're asking this question.

It seems like you're making career and life decisions based on a very negative future, and to me, that does jump out as worrisome.
posted by kinetic at 4:20 PM on April 17, 2013

Would it be possible to take the job you're passionate about and then "upgrade" to a higher pay level by getting a Master's degree or some such further down the line? Nurse anesthetists can make over $100k.
posted by circumspice at 9:11 PM on April 17, 2013

I don't have any insight into a reasonable salary for a single mom, but I did want weigh in on the value of "meaningful" work because I think there's some unfounded criticism of nursing/nonprofit/teaching work in this thread. Don't underestimate how important it is to have a job that makes you feel fulfilled and makes you feel like you're making a contribution to society, particularly if that what you're drawn to -- you'll spend a lot of hours at your job over the next decades, if you can do so at a job that you enjoy rather than one you find boring without significantly sacrificing your other goals, that's a responsible choice to make for you and your family.

Nonprofit or health care work can burn you out, but so can work that feels boring and meaningless to you. I work at a nonprofit, and I definitely have days where I feel burnt out or frustrated, but the fulfillment I get out of my work - knowing that I'm working toward a mission that I completely believe in - is more than enough to get me through those days, and energize me for my life outside work.
posted by purplevelvet at 9:58 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all for your time and responses. I am obviously not going to make my decision based on what 1 random person on the internet said ;) but you all have given me a lot of different insights to think about. I am most intrigued by the idea juniperesque posed - that being a mother would be so fulfilling it would no longer be as "meaningful" to help others all day.

And yes, as others have pointed out, I obviously have poor decision making skills and a wild imagination when it comes to doomsday scenarios. I should write an end of the earth Apocalypse book - if I decide to :p
posted by puertosurf at 11:38 AM on April 18, 2013

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