When is a person financially ready to have kids?
My husband and I make decent money, but it all seems to go to student loans and the mortgage. How does anyone decide the time is “right” to have children? What steps should we take before starting our family to make sure we are financially secure enough to provide a safe and happy home for our children?
This is one of those questions that have no right answer, because it’s so different for everyone. But I believe it’s a useful question to ask, even if you don’t know the right answer. I know that a baby is a great deal of responsibility and costs a great deal of money. According to a USDA report, it now costs an average middle-income American family $222,360 to raise a child from birth to 18. That’s almost a quarter of million dollars! Furthermore, that number DOESN’T include college costs, which could range from a few thousand dollars a year at community colleges to $50,000 a year for a private university education.
I’ve read a lot of personal finance posts that say something along these lines: kids don’t have to cost all that much money! All they need is love and attention! They just want time with you! I don’t disagree with that, because it’s true, kids don’t really care if they wear Target or Tommy Hilfinger (just wait until they become teenagers!). But having kids also impose some very real costs - impact on your career (and thus income) trajectory, impact on your personal freedom, impact on your relationships. Achieving a certain level of financial security can mitigate some of these impacts – having enough money to pay for a night nurse so that the new mom can get enough sleep after the delivery, having enough money to hire babysitters so the mom & dad can go on a romantic date, having enough money so you don’t worry (too) much about health insurance or paying for school supplies.
So money isn’t everything when it comes to children, but not having money also causes a lot of problems for new parents and puts further strain on a marriage. CB is probably a little less enthusiastic about kids than I am… and I am about a 5 on a scale of 1 – 10, 1 being Childfree Forever! and 10 being Must Have Baby NOW! One of his reasons for CB’s reluctance that he is very worried about the impact a baby would have on our finances and our freedom. Which are legitimate concerns that I share. I take this to mean.. we are definitely not ready now.
We might be ready one day, however. I am finding babies cuter and cuter, much more so than I have in my early 20s. I see a pretty biracial toddler with straight black bangs and a bowl haircut, and I start wondering… well, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to have one of those. Perhaps the biological imperative cannot be denied. If so, here is what I’d like to have accomplished financially before CB and I bring a baby into this world.
- Save up an adequate retirement fund. I am not sure what “adequate” means just yet… but $250,000 sounds like a good number.
- Achieve an income and a level in our careers that would allow us to continue to save for retirement, give the kid a leg-up, provide childcare, and buy a modicum of balance.
- Live in the same city. This may seem like a no-brainer, but given that we will likely move to different states a month after the wedding, I’d like to ensure that we will not be in a long-distance relationship WITH a kid.
- Pay off our student loans because baring a mortgage, I really would like to be debt-free by the time we have a kid.
On the one hand, I can chalk these goals up to my Type A personality and my desire to really, truly, prepare financially before we are responsible for another human being. On the other hand, setting these very high financial goals may just be a way for us to delay becoming parents without shutting the door on parenthood. I don’t know what is the “right” level of financial security before you have a child. Obviously, people have become parents under less-than-ideal circumstances and still have raised great children. And obviously there are very wealthy parents who are horrible parents. But most of the time, parents are just trying to do the best they can with the resources they’ve got. The truth is, I am not confident in my ability to be a good mother, but I’d like to have as many ducks in a row as I can to mitigate that uncertainty. Having more resources have to be better than having fewer, right?