When she first ventured into full-time homemaking, Lynn Siprelle was frustrated with the lack of practical, down-to-earth information on the things she really cared about (e.g., not fad diets). So she built her site The New Homemaker to be the source of information she was seeking.
It's a good thing she did - her tips on everything from parenting to organizing to money managing are all useful to families struggling to make ends meet during the Great Recession.
And from Lynn's perspective, the squeeze on the middle class is the biggest challenge facing families today.
"There are fewer family wage jobs out there, or even jobs where the wages can be stretched to fit as my husband's job was when I first stayed home," she says.
We asked Lynn to talk to us more about why she's passionate about homemaking and offer some of her go-to tips for saving money. Here, she shares how homemaking has helped, not hurt, not only her family's finances, but also its overall well-being.
Tell us about The New Homemaker...when and why did you start your site?
I began it in March 1999. I was looking for a site that covered all aspects of homemaking, but what I found were either "women's magazine"-type things, full of fad diets and so on, or religiously based sites - or religiously based women's mags filled with fad diets. I just wanted a no-nonsense place to find out what I needed to find out, and it wasn't out there. I've been a writer my entire life and a web developer for a good chunk of it, so I made what I was looking for. I was learning alongside my audience.
So what do you think are the characteristics of The New Homemaker?
New Homemaking is about making choices, not just going along. The path is: go to school, get a job, get married, have kids, go back to work. A lot of people don't stop and think anywhere along that path about whether that's what they really want to do, or whether they're just following expectations. A New Homemaker thinks through whether both partners working outside the home is really the best for their family, takes being at home seriously and expects others to take it seriously as well. We are home not because society tells us we should be, or because religion tells us we should be, but because this is what's best for our particular families. This is not for everyone, and it's much, much harder now than it was when I started the site just 15 years ago.
What are household arts, and why are you passionate about offering a resource to others for learning more about them?
The household arts as I divide it up on the site are: family (parenting, relationships, elder care); healthy living; cleaning and organizing; home cooking; managing money; creating a beautiful home; and staying connected to ourselves and our community.
I'm passionate about tracing the patterns among those things, especially staying connected. You can't do any of the rest unless you take care of yourself, and homemakers very often put ourselves last.
How did your family make the transition financially when you made the decision to stay at home?
When we made the decision to start a family, I quit my job and began working from home; I could make good money as a freelance web developer, and the start-up I was working for was causing me a great deal of stress.
When our first daughter arrived, my husband was making enough money that I could cut back on work, and in time I was able to stop working entirely. We were lucky; it was nearly seamless. But it wasn't completely painless. We still had to be very careful. I cooked everything from scratch, we had no daycare expenses, I managed our money closely, and we lived fairly simply - and fairly well.
But here's the next part, which you didn't ask, but I'll tell you anyway: In 2001-2, catastrophe(s) struck: 9/11; the collapse of my husband's employer and subsequent collapse of the tech industry, which led to him being unemployed for a year; and my first heart attack. I have a rare congenital heart condition we didn't even know about, but that we've been struggling with now for 12 years; my healthcare has nearly bankrupted us more than once, and since now I cannot work except at my writing, my management skills are even more necessary. I'm so grateful I have them.
What have been the biggest benefits from a financial perspective for having a parent at home versus two working parents?
We had no daycare expenses. I've known more than a few women who, once they've totaled up their take-home, realize they're working to pay the daycare place. Our girls are teens now, so we've outgrown that expense, but not having it made a huge difference earlier on.
I have to manage our food budget fairly closely; because I'm home, there's someone who still has the energy to plan and cook meals from scratch that take more than 30 minutes. That's good for our health, too - we rarely eat out, and the most processed thing we eat is probably gluten-free bread.
We've been able to live with just one car. We were lucky enough that our car rarely left the driveway for the past six years; my husband worked from home and then commuted by bike until his employer moved just a couple of months ago. I'm relying on the bus, my own two feet, and soon, my bike once again. Good for my health! Our daughters walk, ride the bus and bike wherever they have to go, and we are lucky we live in an urban area with good public transportation.
What are some of the favorite ways you've found to save money on everyday items your family uses?
- Don't waste time with coupons; you'll save more by just buying the store brand or making whatever it is yourself.
- Track prices, so you'll know whether something is really a deal or not.
- Buy in bulk, but be careful; sometimes warehouse stores charge as much or more than grocery stores for certain items (track prices!).
- If you can, grow and preserve some of your own food.
What advice do you have for recipes that offer a lot of bang for your buck?
Soup! Homemade soup is an absolute must. It's so cheap you feel like you're getting away with something, especially if you make the stock yourself. Save up bones and vegetable scraps in the freezer to make stock in advance. Then use leftovers and vegetables on their last legs to make the soup itself, and you have something quick, delicious and nutritious out of foods that might otherwise have gone to waste. If you are caught without homemade stock, aseptic pack broth is always good to have in the cupboard for emergencies, and it's inexpensive. I have dozens of soup recipes on my site.
What are your favorite tools or resources for managing your family's finances?
I absolutely love Mint, and I'm not just saying that because Mint's interviewing me! It's the best money tracker I've ever used, and it really helps you see where your financial "sinkholes" are. It takes a little time to go through your spending and categorize, but you'll thank yourself come tax time. Apart from that, online banking and bill paying! I am "mail-impaired," and doing everything online works so much better for me. It also cuts down on paper clutter. I've gone to e-bills for almost everything.
What advice do you have about raising financially responsible kids? When and how did you start talking to them about money?
Boy, I wish I had better advice on this one! One of my kids is naturally good with money; the other one, it burns a hole in her pocket, but she's getting better as she gets older (her mom went through the exact same thing, ahem). The best way to raise responsible kids is to be responsible yourself. Don't shelter them - let them see how you handle your money, but if times are hard, make sure you reassure them that they'll be taken care of. Teach them how to cook, how to mend and how to take care of things.