“Making Money at Home,” Ensign, Mar. 1977, 51
They sew. They babysit. They proofread. They paint. They even sell cucumbers to the pickle company.
Who are they? Latter-day Saint women, of course, who need or want to earn extra money—but who don’t want to leave their homes to do it.
Church leaders have long counseled the members of the Church that children need their mothers at home. Yet there are many women who are the providers for their families or who, for some special reason (i.e., a handicapped husband), need to supplement the family income. The answer for such mothers may be to find a way to work at home. By doing so, they can both earn the necessary income and promote the kind of quality relationship they want their children to have.
In Brigham Young’s day, Latter-day Saint women often earned necessary money—with their shops and offices in the parlor, the kitchen, or even the garden. Some were seamstresses; some raised silkworms; some were the local midwives, leaving their homes only when the coming of new life demanded it. Though many of the trades they practiced are out of date today, so many more things are available to do that many sisters who would like to be at home with their children may be able to stay there. (Before you start you’ll probably want to read “Checklist for the Working Mother at Home” in this issue.)
If you love children all the time and like them most of the time, you may be interested in child care. Some child-care jobs need special training; many require nothing more than patience and love.
Babysitting is the most common child-care job. Many mothers regard this simply as an extension of what they enjoy anyway and are happy to do with more children. More than one mother engaged in this activity has mentioned that the real satisfactions come from being with the children and watching them learn, grow, and overcome problems, not from the money they earn. “You will never amass a fortune” at this job, says one sitter. (A sister in the Ipswich England Stake commented that in setting your fees it is important to consider the costs of food, heating, and wear and tear on furniture and toys.) You may want to charge by the day, the week, or the hour, depending on how long you will tend the child.
Some mothers said their children enjoyed having other children around and were happy to share. However, one sister found that when she started babysitting, her children resented the invasion of the others and were not happy about sharing their toys, house, and mother. She saw the need to set aside time every day after the other children had gone to be alone with each of her own.
Another mother tries hard to make sure her children don’t miss out on personal attention: she babysits during weekdays so that her evenings and weekends are free to spend with her family.
Instead of doing babysitting herself, Sister Sherry Smith from Atlanta, Georgia, ran a babysitting agency in her home. She interviewed and hired dependable sitters and coordinated the schedules by phone. The agency received a percentage of the hourly wage—and the only expense was the phone bill.
Another alternative in the area of child care is operating or working for a nursery school or day-care center. Unless you use your own house, this job will take you out of your home. But with such a job you work only while your older children are off to school—and you can take your preschoolers with you.
Training in child care is an obvious help in this job, but not always a necessity. Sister Afton Day of Annandale, Virginia, started a nursery school in her home with four children—including her own. She has some thought-provoking comments:
“I found the nursery school to be a most exciting experience, because we required the parents to participate in the program—either by spending some time in the classroom or by helping with materials or projects. We also offered an extensive parent-education program; this way we felt like we were educating a family rather than relieving mothers of responsibility.
“I loved every minute of it, but because I was so idealistic and education-minded I probably spent more money than I made. Whenever women call me for advice I attempt to discourage them from using a nursery school or kindergarten as a get-rich-quick investment. In order to have a really first-class education arrangement there needs to be an adult for every six to ten students, and good play equipment is expensive.”
Sister Wendy Allen in Sudbury, England, worked for someone else’s nursery school and found that more lucrative than self-employment. She also worked as a playground supervisor, but like the other child-care jobs this provided her more fun than money.
Many sisters who make money sewing have had no professional training; they are simply good seamstresses. Some have had small amounts of training. And others are professional dress designers.
Several women stated that a separate room for sewing is a real necessity for anyone who wants to sew for money. Seamstresses usually charge a set fee for various items, priced according to the difficulty of the work and the amount of material involved.
What do the sisters sew? Just about anything. Sister Margaret Ann Teitsch of Eldridge, Iowa, sews uniforms for local restaurants. Sister Christine Surkan of Alberta, Canada, sews sheepskin coats, vests, hats, mittens, and skating skirts; and this winter she’s going to try making a sheepskin patchwork quilt.
Sister Nora Gilpin of Tyrone, New It’s a Young Church in … Mexico, learned to make draperies and has set up a small business in her home. Sister Ruth Spencer of Las Cruces, New It’s a Young Church in … Mexico, makes custom sheets and lingerie, and does machine embroidery.
In Witham, England, Sister Vera Smith makes women’s and children’s clothes, simple dresses and wedding gowns, and does alterations for men’s and women’s clothes.
Many women began earning money by sewing and doing alterations for their nonsewing friends. Sister Lily Q. Whitaker of Fallon, Nevada, tells how she began sewing: “I have enjoyed sewing all my life and have had some college training in home economics. So I decided to do some sewing for others.
“I designed and made my own wedding gown and that gave me great pleasure and a sense of accomplishment. So I began to specialize in individual designing and creation of wedding gowns and coordinated gowns for the wedding party. The bride comes into our home for planning and fitting.”
Not all sewing jobs mean working with a regular machine. Sister Jean Hendrix of West Columbia, South Carolina, says, “I enjoy sewing and love to work with furniture—so I visited several upholstery shops to try to get some training in this field. I took an upholstery course through a local school and purchased a sewing machine. A neighbor had enough confidence to let me do her couch and chair. I was in business—and I could do it at home.”
Sister Gladys M. Packe of Ipswich, England, provided us with another variation. She and her husband bought a knitting machine. She says, “We both learned how to use it properly—we were then ready to make it a paying proposition. First of all, we purchased [yarn] straight from the mills. We then knitted a variety of garments.
“My husband took them to his place of employment. Fortunately there were many ladies working there and the orders started rolling in. From October to December of our first year we had knitted and I had sewn up more than one hundred garments. We were well launched.”
Besides sewing, many women enjoy making and selling handicrafts. Sisters all over the Church do quilting, crocheting, knitting, tatting, crewel; they work as silversmiths; they make quilt tops, candles, foam rubber animals, pillows, wall plaques and hangings of every sort, jewelry, puppets, dolls, “quiet books”—the list could go on and on.
Most of the women who sell their handmade items began with a hobby, and they still love doing it. Sister Jerilyn Melton from Indianapolis, Indiana, commented that her children help, and they take pride in the finished product. She changes to a new craft each year so that she can use her imagination and explore new areas.
If you’re the type of person who can’t get enough of cooking or baking, there is a wide range of possibilities. By far the most popular is cake baking and decorating. Sister Janice White from Laurel, Maryland, even teaches cake decorating classes in her home one evening a week.
Cake decorating requires quite a bit of skill, but it does not necessarily require professional training. Sister Peggy Sorensen from Fallon, Nevada, reports that she learned to decorate cakes from a friend and from a book her husband bought her.
Fees are calculated according to the size of the cake—by the serving or by the inch (or centimeter, where the metric system prevails).
Candy making is another possibility. Some types of candy are relatively easy to make; however, other types, such as dipped chocolates, are more difficult and require some special equipment.
Sister Josefina Garcia from Las Cruces, New It’s a Young Church in … Mexico, sells flour tortillas and burritos (tortillas filled with meat, chili, and beans). Her burritos have become locally famous.
Sister Mary Ostler began selling homemade pies and bread from a stand in front of their home on Long Island, New York. The whole family worked on the project together, and it turned out to be a good—but time-consuming—business. Sister Ostler mentioned that at first they did not charge enough for the food and quickly had to raise their prices in order to make any profit.
Sister Martha Johnson from Idaho Falls, Idaho, set up a hot lunch program in her home for eight to twelve students from the nearby elementary school. (The school did not have its own lunch program.) Sister Johnson planned fun but inexpensive and nutritious menus. One of her mainstays was homemade soup. She says, “There are so many varieties of soup that the children never ate the same kind twice in a month.”
During the meal she read the children stories or did arithmetic problems with them. When they had fried bread served with beans, a Ute Indian dish, they read a story about the tribe and its traditions. On Arbor Day they planted a small tree together on the front lawn and had a picnic with sack lunches.
If you don’t pale at the sight of a doorbell or wince every time you pick up a phone, you may want to consider selling something, either door-to-door, in your home, or by phone. There are Latter-day Saint women selling flour mills and electric mixers, lingerie and nightgowns, deep freezes, cosmetics, dehydrated foods, fabric paints, Christmas cards, kitchenware, vitamins, and cleaning products.
Most sisters who sell anything away from home schedule carefully so that they are away only while their children are in school. Sister Pamela Mullucks of Chelmsford, England, used a bicycle to do her selling and sometimes took her four-year-old son along. Sister Wendy Allen of Sudbury, England, who sells kitchenware on the party plan, arranges most of her parties during the day and takes her children along. She reports, “The daytime parties were a bit hectic, but the children always livened things up and got people talking.”
In Shreveport, Louisiana, Sister Pat Trayler sells cosmetics door-to-door. She has worked out a system:
“I am never out more than one day every two weeks. On that day I leave callback books and take orders. The rest of the two weeks I receive telephone orders.”
There are some important factors to consider if you are interested in a selling job. Many companies require you to either buy a franchise from them or make a major investment when you begin selling. For this reason it is important to consider the job carefully and be sure you will enjoy it and will be able to earn back your initial investment—and more. There is an even more important consideration, though: Will your particular arrangement take you out of the home more than you desire? Some selling jobs do require more commitment than you may wish to give.
If you have land and a green thumb or a love of animals, you may be able to make money farming—and cut down on your own food bills, too.
Sister Thelma Thompson from Tiger Lily, Canada, raises chickens, ducks, geese, and turkeys. Then she sells them dressed and ready for cooking. She also sells eggs, vegetables, and potatoes.
Sister Barbara Vail from Las Cruces, New It’s a Young Church in … Mexico, raises and sells poultry, rabbits, goats, sheep, and cows. Sister Edith Ward from Orange Grove, Australia, raises strawberries. She says she can’t keep up with the demand. The Wards also run sheep, and when wool prices are low, Sister Ward tans the sheepskins instead of selling the wool, and a nearby riding club buys them to be used under the saddles for dress occasions. She adds, “In our very hot summers they are used as car-seat covers and are eagerly sought after. They are also used for babies to rest on or for the aged or sick since they help prevent bedsores. Of course, as floor rugs they are splendid.”
Sister Virjean Call of Burnsville, Minnesota, lives near a pickle company. She found she could raise cucumbers and sell them for $700 to $1,000 per acre. So the family works together, and last summer they raised 1 1/2 acres of cucumbers.
If you have training in some kind of office work, you may well find a way to use your skills at home. As a typist you can earn money typing college papers and theses or transcribing for court reporters. Other sisters who need money do regular secretarial work for firms that do not need a full-time secretary. Some do the bookkeeping for small stores or businesses.
One sister figures income taxes. This is a seasonal job, but that’s one of the very things Sister Patty Jo Turner of Marion, Ohio, likes about the work.
These jobs often pay well—the amount is usually determined by how fast you work. As with sewing, a separate room is an important help.
If you have had college training in English or just know grammar, you may be able to get a job correcting themes or term papers. Sister Sydney Wheadon of San Jose, California, explained her work to us. “Depending on the teacher, I may just mark grammatical errors or I may mark all errors, comment on content, and grade each paper.”
In California, “the requirement for this type of reading at the college level is that the reader have a degree; but at the high school level, they require only a basic knowledge of English grammar. They give a grammar test to each applicant.” More information about this kind of job in your area can be obtained by contacting nearby schools, junior colleges, and universities.
Another possibility for English buffs is freelance writing. Sister Nancy Daon from Baker, Oregon, and Sister Karen Merrell of Silver Spring, Maryland, write children’s books. Sister Merrell says her work is “very lucrative.” However, she is the exception rather than the rule, and writing is certainly not a job that will guarantee a steady income. If you’re crazy about writing, and not concerned about profits, go ahead and try it. Otherwise, you’re probably better off doing something else.
Don’t overlook the possibility of teaching something. Sisters told us about teaching piano lessons, voice, guitar—any musical instrument could be on the list. Some sisters teach dancing—tap, ballet, or ballroom—giving both private and group lessons. Sister Kathy Taylor of Indianapolis, Indiana, has converted her garage into a dance studio; her teenage daughter takes care of the children while she teaches.
A California sister has a modeling and charm school for teenage girls. The sessions are held only once a week and last two hours, so she does not have to be out of her home for very long.
We learned that you can earn money tutoring students of any age—kindergartners through college seniors—in any subject you yourself excel in. Several sisters have told us that they prefer to teach because they earn more money in less time.
If you have a good eye for color, proportion, and balance, especially if you have a degree in art, there are interesting possibilities. Sister Virginia M. Slipka of Minnetonka, Minnesota, does painting on porcelain or china. Sister Lois Heule of Plymouth, Minnesota, does some oil painting and charcoal sketching, and she teaches an art class in her home.
Christine Hollenbeak from Norman, Oklahoma, who has a bachelor’s degree in visual design, does lettering, charts, and diagrams for chemists’ dissertations.
Sister Lynda Taylor from Pacific Palisades, California, has a master’s degree in animation. She does television commercials, animated TV specials, and animated sequences for feature movies.
Some of the most interesting jobs are those that don’t fit into any category. One sister in Louisiana drives a school bus. Sister Maryellen Johnson from Minneapolis, Minnesota, is the rental agent for a 312-unit apartment complex.
Several sisters have beauty shops in their own homes, or work for someone else for a few hours each week. One sister did wig styling, but found that people often wanted their wigs styled at inopportune times, usually at the last minute, so that the work interfered with family schedules.
Sister Edith Wemper of Balga, Western Australia, worked in a dog beauty salon in London before she married. She now trims and bathes dogs in her home in a small room with a bath, a workbench, shelves, clippers, a dryer, and a telephone extension.
Sister Marie Wright of Morley, Western Australia, and her husband bought a small medical laboratory which they operated from their home. During the day while Brother Wright was in school, Sister Wright ran the lab. She did routine pathology investigations that needed no supervision, prepared instruments and glassware, did the bookkeeping, and took calls from doctors’ offices.
Sister Opie of Mt. Lanley, Western Australia, is a physiotherapist, and her patients come to her home for treatment.
Boarding people in your home is another way to earn money. Sister Chell of Chelmsford, England, and Sister Barry of Caerphilly, Wales, told us about an organization in Europe that places foreign students with a family for one month. It is possible to become a registered hostess and board students each year. The hostess’s family is required to provide “breakfast, lunch, and tea [supper]” for the student. You can earn from £5 to £11 ($15–$33) per week.
Sister Grace Masson of Gooseberry Hill, Western Australia, boards two people year-round in her home. Right now she has missionaries boarding with her.
Sister Peggy Bates of Fallon, Nevada, tunes and repairs pianos. She learned tuning and repairing through a correspondence course, and practiced on their own old upright piano. She recalls, “It was kind of discouraging at first because the strings were so badly rusted that I broke a lot of them. But I got a lot of practice putting in new strings.
“In all the pianos I’ve tuned since—combined—I have broken fewer strings than in that first old upright.”
Sister Bates has to leave her house to tune the pianos, and although she has sometimes taken her children with her, she prefers not to since it’s hard for them to sit quietly for two hours. Most of the time she does her tuning while the children are in school. She charges twenty-five dollars for each piano she tunes.
Sister Pat Gartner from San Jose, California, does deburring for a machine shop. When metal is shaped by machine, there are often sharp edges and jagged corners—“burrs”—that need to be smoothed by filing, sanding, or rubbing with steel wool. Sister Gartner says that any woman who can use a sewing machine can do shop work, and that deburring requires little skill—her children are able to do it with no problem. Sister Gartner earns $4.00 an hour for deburring.
Just because you’re working at home doesn’t mean it will be easy. You still have to devote time to it, as with any job. But if you need to work, it may be possible to do it at home and thus be near your children, to love, train, and guide them during their infancy and adolescence. Many sisters further manage to avoid being away from their children by doing their work before the children get up in the morning, during nap time, while they are at school, and after they go to bed at night.
The biggest advantage to working at home is that you are there to share in your children’s excitement at new discoveries, to comfort them when they’re hurt, to be with them when they’re lonely and need to talk, to be around to answer those hard questions when they come home from school.
Thus, many mothers are both able to earn necessary and required money and to be with their children to love and teach them in the years that they are home.
And it’s impossible to put a money value on a choice mother-child relationship.