I hired a cleaning lady, and my financial security improved
One of my biggest fears following my divorce was how it would impact my finances.
The statistics are pretty grim. By all accounts, my gender would work against me.
According to a 2001 study by Rutgers University’s National Marriage Project, I could look forward to my standard of living (and therefore my son’s standard of living) dropping by about 27% after my divorce, while my ex-husband’s might actually improve.
And while newer studies are a little more optimistic about women coming out the other side of a divorce with some financial security, my first instinct was to take a good, hard look at my budget — and start cutting wherever I could.
My cleaning lady was the first item on the chopping block. She seemed extraneous — and expensive.
But that decision was a mistake.
Everyone, married or divorced, should have a good handle on where their money is going every month.
But deciding to start cutting a so-called "extra" like my cleaning lady was excessive. In fact, getting rid of her was actually hindering my ability to keep my income at the right place.
Let me explain.
Panic makes you want to cut corners. It makes you want to start scouring the sofa cushions for pennies. It makes you rethink what "necessary" and "important" are.
Panic has no place in financial decisions.
I realized I had succumbed to panic — unnecessarily, I might add — after I read a piece by single mom and financial journalist Emma Johnson. She blogs at WealthySingleMommy.com and talked about why she now outsources her laundry.
Wasn’t laundry just a part of being an adult? But in my Astoria, Queens, New York neighborhood, I learned to pay someone about $25 per week to pick up my dirty things, wash, dry, fold and sort them and return them to my door the same day. Doing the same task myself would cost two hours and save me $15 in quarters. In two hours I make way more money writing stories for this and other fine publications. I like writing these stories. Plus, I have to write them so my family can eat. I don’t like laundry.
She has a point.
Full disclosure: I don’t like cleaning my house.
My cleaning lady can get the job done (and done well) in two to three hours for less than $100.
When it’s up to me, I take about four to five hours since I will whine and procrastinate as much as humanly possible. (Also, I’ll often skip the more distasteful tasks if I think I can get away with it.)
Given that my hourly work rate is no less than $75, axing the cleaning lady was actually costing me money in the long run. I was "saving" $100 by losing $300 or more in potential work time.
That doesn’t make much financial sense.
But the decision impacted more than my finances — it also influenced my emotional capital.
I’m a much happier person when I’m not in charge of cleaning my house. I’m much less likely to get cranky with my son when he makes a mess. I don’t obsess about the state of the house, because I know it will be taken care of.
Outsourcing the cleaning is good for my bottom line, financially and otherwise.
"There’s too much of a focus on saving versus earning with single moms," Johnson told me when I talked to her about my cleaning lady epiphany.
"You spend an afternoon cleaning your house — and you think you are saving. But what if you spent that time taking a class to earn more at your job? Or marketing your business? Or having coffee with a potential client? Or what if you spent that time doing something fun with your kid, which rejuvenates you and gives you energy for building more equity in your career later?"
It’s a valid point.
Obviously, I’m not advocating that everyone get a cleaning lady to improve their financial picture. We all have our different incomes, needs and priorities.
But what I am advocating is avoiding the single mom panic — and looking carefully at what you really gain when you make cuts to your budget.