How Much is Mom Worth?

The Financial Value of a Mom

This is the first year I’m writing about mothers, having truly lost my own. I lost her the first time to the scourge of dementia. Last year, I lost her for good. Hug your mom and read on to consider what she brings to your family. 

As we think about honoring our mothers and mother figures this coming week, let’s take a moment to consider the variety of roles moms take on and how we could not make it without them. Sometimes, parents can figure out how to balance the family operations equitably. Frequently, though, mothers bear more (most if not all?) of the responsibility of child-rearing, home-keeping, etc. These role standards can be especially true in military families that (continuously) relocate based on the military member’s job progression. Are we valuing moms correctly, at least through a personal finance lens?

The Obvious that We Take for Granted

A shocking number of women still die in or as a result of childbirth in the United States every year– 23.8 per 100,000 in 2020.  The willingness to give one’s life just for the chance to bring forward another is a choice for women alone

Moms sacrifice sleep, routines, employment opportunities, and countless other rituals to protect us during pregnancy. Then, they devote 24 hours a day to keeping us alive so we can reach the starting line of self-sufficiency. Just by being normal kiddos, we wreak havoc on their bodies and steal the time and energy they might have to start reclaiming their pre-pregnancy lives.  

I won’t pretend to have the right to speak about how the world’s moms feel about their roles, experiences, and sacrifices.  I’ll just say thank you to them.  

The Less Obvious that We Also Take for Granted

Humans are some laughably vulnerable mammals.  We need round-the-clock care to feed, clothe, teach, discipline, mentor, coach, mend, and so on… for at least the first 5 years of our lives.  For many families, the bulk of this labor falls to Mom. 

The military community is painfully aware of the uphill battles moms face.  Stable employment, climbing professional ladders, geographic predictability, patchwork licensing and credential requirements, and decaying professional opportunity—the list of professional injustices against military moms is endless.  While enduring their own struggles for fulfillment, our moms must stay in multi-target track to ensure that we learn social skills, navigate school, find our passions (while they may still be delaying theirs), and start to find a place in the world.

The Financial Value of Mom

I write about personal finance, so while I’m as grateful as I think I can be for what my mom did to put me where I am, I think it’s worth considering the financial value of our moms.

Adoption can cost twenty to seventy thousand dollars.  Fertility treatments are also four to five-figure numbers. If a family is fortunate enough to conceive without intervention, then a mom’s gift helps a family start with potentially more stable finances. 

While childbirth used to be the last thing you’d want to do in a hospital, today, it’s the norm.  Even a normal birth can be expensive (think $10K to $25K+ depending on the state), not to mention all of the kit required to outfit a standard issue MK-1 human baby.  Tricare and civilian health insurance often suppresses most pregnancy and childbirth costs, but not for everyone.  So, in addition to putting her life on the line, mom must carry the weight of knowing that a child could bring family financial strain or ruin alongside the joy of holding her new baby. 

Depending on the locale, a nanny will likely cost at least $36,000 per year.  A nanny is also a household employee and drives a requirement to pay things like FICA and unemployment taxes.  Childcare can run thousands per month.  Pre- and after-school care will be hundreds, if not thousands, per month.  Other resources like tutors may add to the bill if a stay-at-home parent isn’t available.

Even when children start full-day kindergarten, before- and after-care still add to family bills.  Many dual-working families find that sheer exhaustion from the workday leaves them feeling as though they don’t have enough gas in the tank to parent at their desired level later in the day. 

Stay-at-home Moms are also usually the chef, cleaning service, laundry service, and chauffeur.  In 2019, estimated the equivalent salary for a stay-at-home Mom’s many roles to be over $178K.  If she’s technically getting paid $0, it calibrates perspective on pilot bonus issues… 

Mom’s position in the formation brings other clear financial benefits. A married couple can double their IRA savings and potentially TSP/401(k) savings too. Married Filing Joint tax status opens up a world of expanded eligibility for deductions and credits.  Single field grade officers quickly find themselves in the highest tax brackets and are forced to use Backdoor Roth IRAs while missing out on things like the Clean Vehicle Tax Credit. The IRS clearly knows what a mom brings to the fight!

Even without working outside the home, moms amplify a family’s financial future.

Protecting the Mom

Life insurance may well be the second least-sexy topic in the financial planning world (Wills and estate planning usually take top honors).  Family SGLI (FSGLI) covers a military spouse for $100K at pretty modest rates from $4.50 per month up to $45 per month at age 60+.  Realistically, families serving 20-ish year careers won’t spend much above $7 to $10 per month.  But is $100K enough?

If Mom’s salary could be as high as $178K per year for all of her labor, and a nanny clocks in over $36K per year, the math on my bar napkin says “nope.”  Military families must be clear-eyed about income and “phantom income” replacement.  

If the primary earner dies, there should be enough life insurance to make the family economically whole again.  If the stay-at-home spouse dies, the same is true.  

Primary earner insurance math can look like getting enough insurance to cover:

  • College costs for the kids
  • Paying off the mortgage
  • Income for a period of years to allow the surviving spouse to grieve and adapt

Stay-at-home parent math might look like getting enough insurance to cover:

  • Nanny or pre- and post-school childcare
  • Extra travel costs for family members to come and help
  • Extra costs for things like transportation services, counseling, cleaning, and other household labor
  • Reduced income for the surviving parent to adapt to single parenting and a modified career trajectory
  • Reduced ability to save due to work changes

The right amount of life insurance for Mom will differ for every family.  But as with all life insurance, it’s probably better to have a little too much, starting a little too soon and kept for a little too long than any of the opposites.  Additionally, families often become “self-insured” against the loss of a stay-at-home parent as the kiddos leave the nest.  Inexpensive Term Life Insurance is almost always the right answer to protect Mom. 

Cleared to Rejoin

Starting, raising, and enjoying a family is a unique calculus for every family, but for most of us, the center of gravity is Mom.  If you get a chance this Mother’s Day, hug mom a little tighter.  It might not make up for the missed six-figure paychecks she poured into the family, but it’s a great way to celebrate her true value. 

Fight’s On!

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