Sarah smiling at the camera

A freelancing mom on her role as the family’s main decision-maker

We caught up with finance expert, wife, and most importantly, mom, Sarah Li Cain to talk ‘big decisions’, especially those surrounding her family’s healthcare and financial wellbeing.

According to a recent study, 79% of mothers are the sole decision-makers when it comes to their family’s healthcare—that number compared to the 22% of fathers who report responsibility for making these decisions.

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, then, that finance expert, wife, and mom, Sarah Li Cain holds the title of her home’s CHO: Chief Healthcare Officer. But she also holds another title in her household—CFO: Chief Financial Officer.

“I’m full-time freelance and remote, so even pre-pandemic I was around all of the time!” Sarah laughed. “My husband works in an office, so I’d definitely say that given my day-to-day proximity, I’m our son’s primary caretaker.”

... I still find myself learning more and more about the ins and outs of this country’s economic landscape every day.

“This also means that I’m the de facto decision-maker for the majority of big decisions that impact our family. Most often, they’re around healthcare and finances,” Sarah tells me. “Most often, I’m choosing Logan’s doctors and dentist or determining how much we spend on groceries, home supplies, those types of things. And they certainly do add up.”

Planning for the long haul

When it comes to looking towards the future, Sarah and her husband Laird are more equal in taking on responsibilities.

“While I take on the day-to-day money tasks, Laird and I always talk about big financial decisions. One, because we see ourselves as a unit, and two, because even though my job as a writer centers around financial wellness, I still find myself learning more and more about the ins and outs of this country’s economic landscape every day.”

Sarah is Canadian. When she moved to the US 5 years ago, she leaned heavily on Laird to help her get a better understanding of her new home’s financial landscape. Suddenly she was introduced to a whole new world of acronyms: IRAs, FSAs, HSAs, and 401(k)s, to name a few.

“In Canada we have RRSPs, or Registered Retirement Savings Plans. They’re like the Canadian equivalent of 401(k)s, but with some pretty significant differences. Add in the fact that I’m a full-time freelancer and don’t have a human resources team teaching me these things” Sarah laughed. “It’s unrealistic to think you’ll know everything there is to know, whether you’re from here or not.”

“It takes time to become confident in the basics. It took me years to fully understand what it meant to budget with American’s additional retirement vehicles in play, for instance. There’s no linear path to knowledge.”

Evolving responsibilities

With time, of course, Sarah’s breadth of knowledge and expertise have evolved. So, too, has how she and Laird split the household’s big financial decisions. Today, they discuss goals together, pouring over bank statements, long term goals, and retirement funds. Then they divvy up financial tasks.

“We were just talking last night about whether to put some extra money towards our mortgage this month, or throw that against Laird’s IRA,” she said. “We ended up going with the latter, putting a bit of extra money towards our retirement.” 

Had they decided to put more towards their monthly mortgage payment, Sarah tells me, she would’ve added that task to her to-do list.

“I’m the most aware of what we’ve got going on day-to-day. So the mortgage, utilities, those types of things are all my responsibilities. We’ve also started shopping around for homeowners’ insurance—a decision we’ll make together, but one I’m championing.”

Adding an HSA to the mix

Sarah’s family used a dependent care flexible spending account (FSA) for years. This type of FSA allows you to fund your account with pre-tax dollars and use those funds on eligible expenses as well as eligible child and adult care expenses. 

“Now that Logan is in school, we don’t need as much help on the childcare front. In fact, we’ve made the switch to a health savings account (HSA)! We’re excited to start benefiting from those triple-tax savings,” Sarah laughed.

“We haven’t been to the doctor in a little while, so spending less from the account overall. It’s definitely both mine and Laird’s preference to invest our HSA funds. The tax savings makes it feel like free money on free money.”

She’s right. When you contribute to an HSA consistently, you’re significantly decreasing your overall tax burden. 

“HSAs…” Sarah said. “Now that’s one thing the US definitely has on Canada!”