March 3, 2020
Every October, I sit down with my husband, our laptops warming our legs, excel spreadsheets in various shades of the rainbow reminding us of a year's worth of financial successes and failures, and we have a conversation about life insurance.
In this conversation, we evaluate the state of our children's teeth, my husband's deteriorating vision, and whether or not we use our gym membership anymore (or ever). And it is during this discussion, prompted every year by my husband's company's open enrollment deadline, that we determine my worth.
I am a stay-at-home mom, a SAHM, to use the popular abbreviation, and this is both my primary job and my primary financial contribution. I write freelance as well, but with three small children at home, my "work from home" career is inevitably swallowed up by more immediate concerns like making dinner, washing soccer uniforms, and sussing out the foul odor floating from my 8 year old's bedroom.
In other words, the actual dollars I receive every month, at this stage of my life, might cover the utility bills and a dinner or two out on the town. The rest of my work remains unpaid.
So, as our annual conversation about insurance and finances dictates, every October we reassess the monetary realities of my early death, and every year, we decide to pay for my life insurance policy.
Why I have life insurance
This might seem unnecessary considering that if I were to die tomorrow, no recurring paycheck would disappear, and there would be no immediate financial costs associated with my death beyond funeral costs. But when my husband and I imagine a life without my contributions to our family, we see a lot of dollar signs we aren't sure how he would afford alone.
As a SAHM, the first and priciest contributions I bring to my family are those associated with childcare. Our children are 8, 6, and 4. In the past, before our children were in school, the all-day care I provided was worth hundreds of dollars a week — a fee my husband would have to pay to a nanny if I died prematurely.
If my husband made sure to work only a tight 40 hours a week (which is not his usual schedule), with his commute time, he would need a nanny for 45 hours a week. In the Kansas City metro, where we live, he could hire a qualified, trustworthy nanny for $20 an hour. This comes to $900 a week, or, $3,600 a month.
While my husband's job has a slightly higher market value than a quality child-minder, it's only slightly higher, and after the house payment and car payment, there would be little left if I weren't around. Nothing for groceries or cellphones or our children's futures.
That said, we have two children in elementary school now, and one child entering kindergarten this fall. So this year, for the first time, we looked at the childcare I provide from the standpoint of three school-aged children. The cost is lower, but not gone entirely.
While my husband's work schedule would allow him to drop the kids off on his way to work, he would not be home in time to pick them up, and with our oldest only 8 years old, we certainly aren't comfortable having our children returning from school to an empty house.
After-school care at our local elementary school costs $90 a week per child. For three children, this would cost $1,080 a month. This doesn't count the level of flexibility he would need to accommodate sick days, professional development, and school holidays without me, and for three months of the year, he would still have to pay those nanny prices listed above while our kids are on summer break.
I shudder to think of him attempting to organize the various enrichment activities the children and I participate in each summer under this level of financial and emotional stress. My kids would be lucky to get pool passes, and they would have to kiss any hope of archery lessons and soccer camp goodbye.
The harsh realities of childcare costs may not apply to all families, but my husband and I live four hours away from the nearest grandparent, and we have no family members who would be able to radically adjust their lives to help my husband, even under such tragic circumstances.
He would always have the option to change jobs and move nearer to them, but even that option would be fraught with emotional and financial costs, not to mention would be wholly contingent on the willingness of family members to offer their time and services for free.
The value of my 'house-management services'
But these are only the childcare costs associated with my contributions to our family. I also provide house-management services.
My husband would absolutely be able to clean and buy groceries for our home if I died, but under the burden of being both mother and father to our children, recently widowed, and financially stressed, would he want to? Probably not. Having house-cleaning services for 2.5 hours once a week in our area costs $100. This would be a new monthly cost of $400.
There would be dozens of smaller costs that would crop up, too: increased use of DoorDash, Instacart, and mileage on the car as my husband would need to visit family support systems more often than we do.
Then there are the costs created by my death. As a mother, I make a sizeable emotional contribution to our family as well. If I were to die, my husband and our children would need to get into therapy immediately. After the first three therapy sessions included in my husband's company's Employee Assistance Program, and after insurance paid its part, therapy sessions would run about $84 each. Even if they went as a family once a week, this would be a new monthly cost of $336 a month.
And, of course, you can't forget funeral costs and any medical costs incurred by my death. Frankly, after those costs, even my life insurance policy (a modest $150,000) wouldn't cover much, and my husband will have no other choice beyond remarrying quickly.
Unfortunately, I can't leave him any of my best friends in my will as they are all already married, but I hear eHarmony has a 70% success rate.