FARGO - For Kari Dahlen, money was the only issue when it came to deciding between working and staying home with her 2-year-old son.
"I love to stay busy and do fun community events with my son," said Dahlen, who works full time and lives in Fargo. "There are often exciting events that we cannot attend because I am working."
Finances are one of the biggest reasons women choose to work after having children, but they're not the only factor.
Melissa Skeen of Moorhead is a single mom with a 6-year-old son, so she has no option but to work. Even if she did have a choice, she would likely work anyway, she said.
"I really love my job and the team I work with, and I am extremely happy at work," Skeen said. "I knew when I was on maternity leave that I wanted to come back and was kind of anxious to do so after seven weeks of bed rest and six weeks of maternity leave."
Colleen Lanners of Fargo said finances played a significant role in her going back to work. If they were not an issue, she said she would probably work part time.
"Now that my kids are both in school, it would be nice to be able to pick them up from school and have them participate in more activities," said Lanners, who has a 7-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son. "I have to limit what they can participate in based on my on-call schedule."
But it's not just the working moms who would change things if finances were not a factor.
Briannan Gahner of Fargo stays home with her 4-year-old daughter and infant son, but if she could afford to pay Grandma to nanny, she would work a few hours just to get out of the house, she said.
"Putting my kids in day care isn't worth it to me," she said.
Whether women work or stay home with their children, budget changes are inevitable.
If women stay home, there's the loss of an income to account for.
If women work, there are child care costs to consider.
"I was certainly shocked when it came to health insurance, day care, the day-to-day living expenses," said Erica Cermak of Bismarck, who works full time and has a 3-year-old son and an infant son. "I sometimes wonder where all of our money went pre-children. We used to go out every Friday or Saturday, take mini-vacations, etc. Those days are definitely over."
A common theme for balancing a budget with children is spend less and save up for bigger expenses. Social spending like going out and eating out is often the first expense to go.
"We ate out less, bought more generic," Lanners said. "I have never been a shopper, and I love a good rummage sale or second-hand store."
Her family also held off on home improvement projects until they could afford them and did not take family vacations when their kids were younger. "I remember getting so excited when I no longer had to buy formula or diapers," she said.
Kimbra Amerman of Kindred was a stay-at-home mom for eight years. Now that her daughters, ages 5 and 8, are both in school, she works in home-based businesses she owns.
"We cut back on our daily expenses and knew that with my degree in social work I would start out very low on the pay scale," Amerman said. "When we did the math, it just didn't make sense for me to go to work. But really we had made the decision way before we decided to start a family."
Amerman said her family weighs their buying decisions and works with a budget each month.
"Our money just isn't as fluid as two-income households, but the sacrifices have been well worth it," she said.
Carrie Stange of Fargo, who works full time, has a 2-year-old son, and is pregnant, said her family had to make two drastic budget changes, but they balanced themselves out.
"Obviously we had to add day care expenses to our budget, but at the same time, we stopped spending money socially," Stange said. "However, the social spending cut-back would have happened even if we got free child care, because when you are working all day long, your social time quickly becomes your favorite time to spend at home with your family."
Skeen said she's been fortunate in that her child care costs have been low compared to most people's because she's been able to rely on parents, her ex-husband, and close friends who have provided care on a much less expensive basis than traditional child care.
"Colton has never been to a day care center, because of the cost," Skeen said. "I am so lucky to be blessed with a solid support system with regard to caring for Colton while I am working."
Costs & consequences
Even though staying home with her daughters was something both Amerman and her husband wanted her to do, Amerman felt guilty about not bringing in an income.
"I was very independent before my husband and I got married, so it was a big change to have someone else supporting me," she said. "I gave just as much with my full-time job as a mom, but it was an adjustment I had to make in my head."
Karen Syverson of Hawley, Minn., said that when she didn't have an income of her own, she had a harder time buying things for herself.
"I never felt like the money was mine to spend," said Syverson, who has four children, ranging in age from 12 to 18 and works full time and has spent time as a stay-at-home mom.
Maintaining financial autonomy is something author Leslie Bennetts warns women about in her book, "The Feminine Mistake."
Bennetts writes about the risks of becoming economically dependent on a spouse in choosing to stay home with children and said women who give up careers are likely to face major hardships as a result of divorce, widowhood, or a spouse's unemployment or illness.
"Our culture programs women to believe that they can depend on a man to support them - the classic feminine mistake - and fails to explain how often that alluring promise is betrayed, whether by a change of heart or a heartless fate," she wrote in her blog.
Economists estimate that staying at home could cost several hundred thousand to a million dollars over a lifetime, taking lost employment benefits into account, according to babycenter.com, a parenting website.
Of course, there are also costs associated with working.
Rayven Perkins, who maintains the website www.stay-a-stay-at-home-mom.com, wrote about the cost of working and said some moms are better off finding ways to cut expenses and use practical money-saving tips instead of returning to the workforce.
In addition to child care costs (which range from $112 to $164 a week in Cass and Clay counties), transportation expenses, and ending up in a higher tax bracket, there are also "hidden costs" of working, like eating out, coffee runs, and dry cleaning and clothing expenses, according to both Perkins and babycenter.com.