By Kali Hawlk, CommonSenseMillennial.com
Every time someone asks, “so when are you having kids?” I have two reactions. First, I cringe. Second, I feel grateful that I’m a woman living in 2014 where having children feels more like an actual choice than it ever has before.
I’m one of those millennial women who has zero interest in adding children to my family. My husband and I are happy, fulfilled, and satisfied with life in a household that consists of the two of us and some four-legged family members. We don’t feel like anything is missing. Our family is perfect to us.
The Choice to Not Have Children
To those with children, or to those who one day want them, my general response to kids (“no thank you”) often comes across as hostile or aggressive toward their way of life. That’s not my intention in declining to participate, and I feel like this is important to try to explain.
Having children is simply not an experience that appeals to me in any capacity. There has never been a time in my life when I’ve thought, “maybe I’ll give that a try someday.” A mother is not a state of being I’ve ever identified with. That doesn’t mean I spend time questioning the choices of those who do identify with motherhood and are happy to acquire the title of parent.
Far from feeling negatively about children, I just don’t feel anything at all. I don’t spend time thinking about the issue one way or the other (until someone presses me about it and then makes assumptions about me, my relationship, and my quality of life based on my answers). And I don’t hate kids. I like or dislike children on the same basis I like or dislike adults: their individual personalities.
The only thing I hate is that to have or not have kids is even a debate. You either want them or you don’t, and the only opinion you should get worked up about is your own. Having children is an intensely personal decision, and it is not a choice that should be judged by others either way.
Now that we’ve clarified that I’m not some sort of kid-hating jerk who thinks everyone with kids is somehow wrong, let’s move on to the more controversial points of the post.
The Financial Issues with Having Children
Because I feel completely unemotional about the idea of having children, the only issue that captures my attention is the practical matters involved. However you may feel about kids and having them for yourself, no one can deny the financial facts: kids don’t come cheap.
The US Department of Agriculture recently released research that indicated raising a child to the age of 18 would cost the average American middle class family $245,000. That’s a quarter of a million dollars just to get a child to the legal start of adulthood; the figure doesn’t even touch higher education costs. And that’s the average, meaning many families are paying far more.
When I ran my own information to calculate the average cost of my family having kids, I nearly fell out of my chair. This calculator from Baby Center says I’ll spend a whopping $319,422 to raise a kid to the age of 18 and pay for that kid’s public college education.
This number is particularly painful to me as it is far, far more than the total gross income I’ve made since I graduated college at 21 and entered the full-time workforce. (I’m approaching my 25th birthday now, and if you feel that’s young for having kids, keep in mind I live in the South and know many people younger than I am with multiple children.)
Combine this financial responsibility with all of the other financial goals Gen Y is working towards, and something becomes immediately, painfully obvious: if you want to avoid debt and save more, skip the kids.
The Cost of Children Makes It Difficult for Average Families to Achieve Financial Success
The average American household’s median income is about $51,000 per year, pre-tax. Even assuming that was post tax, the average yearly cost of raising a child, about $13,000, takes up a quarter of annual income.
That doesn’t leave much room for achieving a number of financial goals that you must hit in order to achieve financial security and independence. It’s difficult to gather up enough money for a down payment on a home, build an emergency fund with three to six months’ worth of expenses at a minimum, contribute a little something to your retirement down the road — all after accounting for the cost of kids.
Note that I said difficult, and not impossible. Many families do manage it — but many more simply can’t because of the financial burden associated with children. It may be enough of a struggle to make it from paycheck to paycheck, let alone add cash to different savings buckets and investments for the future.
[Be sure your savings account is earning more than 0.01% in interest. Compare rates here.]
Without the financial drain of children, my husband and I were able to purchase a home, build up an emergency fund, create a separate savings fund for international travel (what we personally prioritize and find necessary for a fulfilling life), and invest nearly half of our income so we can achieve our financial goal of retiring early to pursue our passions full-time. Adding kids to the mix would have made our version of financial success impossible.
We were able to do all of the above on a comfortable yet firmly lower-middle-class income; we’re above the average of $51,000 but below six figures. We would have not only struggled to get on track for our financial goals, but would’ve flat-out struggled financially.
Just adding one kid-related expense would start straining the cash we have available in our current budget for discretionary spending (which does not include cash available for bills and savings). Daycare for one child in our area is more than the mortgage payment on our home. Adding more costs would mean slashing the amount we could put into savings, and the total cost of kids per month and year would drive us awfully close to not being able to save or invest anything at all.
Should just one thing go wrong, our previously debt-free lives would be completely disrupted. Without money going to savings to handle financial emergencies, we’d be pushed into debt and hard pressed to find a way to dig ourselves out.
Financial Losses Are More Than Just Expenses
Adding children to the mix in my personal situation would also hinder my ability to earn an income and financially contribute to my family. Although I know women who do an amazing job of working stressful jobs from home while caring for multiple children — and am endlessly impressed by their ability to do so — I wouldn’t be able to do the same.
My business is extremely important to me, and I value the freedom and energy I currently have to devote to growing and expanding it. I couldn’t even get passed a pregnancy without losing income: as someone who’s self-employed, I don’t receive employer benefits to cover a stretch of leave. If I don’t work, I don’t get paid.
Many other women are in the same camp as I am, and either unable or unwilling to give up their ability to earn money. Complicating the situation is the fact that the United States is one of the worst countries in the world for providing paid family leave. In fact, we rank right at the bottom of the list with countries like Liberia, Suriname, and Papua New Guinea.
Many companies aren’t obligated to provide paid maternity leave (much less paternity leave), which leaves many working women no choice but to go without an income in the weeks they must spend recovering and caring for a newborn.
Moms are still at an earning disadvantage even after those initial weeks and months. As Erin Lowry explains in a piece for AOL’s Daily Finance, “on the financial side, non-moms have the advantage” because they’re more likely to earn more than women with children. There shouldn’t be a debate around whether that’s fair; it’s obviously not. But it’s another financial strike against choosing to have children, especially when women already struggle to secure equal pay for equal work.
So in counting the financial downsides to children, we must consider not only the expenses but also the opportunity costs to women who value their ability to work and earn income.
Avoid Debt by Not Having Children
I have plenty of personal reasons for not being interested in having children. My husband and I are on the same page, and our goals and our plans just don’t account for kids.
I’m glad this is not a financial issue I need to account for. Without children, we’re financially successful and ahead of most of our peers. We’re on track to achieve all our biggest financial goals — and many of them, like financial independence, in less than 10 years.
Add kids to the mix, and things start going financially bad awfully quick. We’d go from saving and investing the majority of our income to living paycheck to paycheck hoping we never experience an unexpected financial need at best and struggling with growing piles of debt at worst.
The ugly financial picture isn’t the only reason we don’t want kids and won’t have them. But it’s a reality that other millennials need to think about and plan carefully for if they do want children. There’s never a “right” time for kids and I’ve been told by grouchy parents that advising others make sure the financial stars are in alignment before reproducing is not realistic.
But, if kids are a part of the long-term plan for you, I still believe it’s worth your time and effort to give the financial issues some thought. If you can’t take care of yourself financially, you aren’t prepared to adequately provide what a child deserves. Ensure you can meet your own basic needs first, then have an emergency fund and at least a little bit invested in retirement accounts for your future before taking on the financial responsibilities associated with having kids.
Don’t forget to sign up for our Price Checker newsletter, which will deliver fine print alerts and great deals to your inbox twice a month.