Count the Cost of Working


I am about to go on maternity leave with my first child, and have been checking into day care costs for when I return after 3 months. Wow! What an eye-opener. Quality child care is pricey. I don’t know if it will be worth it for me to even return to work. How can I decide?

Dear “Penny Wise,”

Child care expensesFirst, congratulations on the upcoming birth of your firstborn!

New moms – and every employed person – should be aware of the actual costs of working relative to their income, if only to be mindful of their budgets. A recent CareerBuilder study found the average U.S. worker spends $3,300 annually on work-related expenses.

Childcare: Penny Wise, daycare will be a new expense you haven’t had to consider in the past. As you’re discovering, quality childcare comes at a price. Of the 29% of the survey participants who had daycare expenses, more than one-third (36%) spend $500+ monthly. According to ChildCare Aware, daycare now costs more than 4 years of in-state college tuition in 31 states! (Working pet owners also spend money on dog walkers or “furbaby” sitters, but much, much less).

Transportation: There’s the cost of getting to and from work. The majority of workers (84%) drive to work and almost half of those spend $10-$25 on gas, and 37% spend more than $25 weekly. The CareerBuilder survey didn’t take into account an unlimited metro card or other public transportation fares, or a car payment, maintenance expenses, insurance, and parking costs. AAA estimates the average total yearly cost of a minivan – you’re getting the official mom-mobile, aren’t you? – is $6,482, or 81.2 cents per mile.

Work Attire: Unless your company provides a uniform, most workers foot the Lunch Tabbill for their own clothing to wear to work (and it is not tax deductible, unless you have to pay for your own uniform). Most employees in the CareerBuilder survey spend at least $250 a year on job-appropriate clothes and shoes.

Meals & Incidental Expenses: You need to eat whether you are working or not. But restaurant meals and $5 designer coffee drinks add up a lot more quickly than preparing and eating meals at home.

The Cost of Not Working: Parents who want to stay home with their new babies – or other readers wishing to start their own business or just take a sabbatical – should consider the cons of leaving the security of their full-time positions.

Insurance: Even if part of your insurance premium is deducted from your paycheck, your employer makes a major contribution. Check your self-funded rates at to see if you can avoid the ACA penalty. According to, the annual fee for not having insurance in 2016 is $695 per adult and $347.50 per child (up to $2,085 for a family), or it’s 2.5% of your household income above the tax return filing threshold for your filing status – whichever is greater. You’ll pay 1/12 of the total fee for each full month in which a family member went without coverage or an exemption. (Use this ACA penalty calculator to figure the damage after your COBRA coverage expires.)   

Retirement Savings. Will you be losing out on your employer’s matching contribution to a 401k or other retirement plan? Short-term savings on coffee may not fund your retirement – or your new baby’s college education.

Readers: Have you ever calculated the cost of going to work, or staying at home? Share your results below.

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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