It all started with an interesting question that popped into my head. How have my kids changed the financial path of my life? I gave this one quite a bit of thought and it got me thinking in the broader sense. Am I unique in my answers? What do kids impact our financial lives?
I figured to answer this one I wanted to dig a little deeper then just my own experiences. As such I asked some fellow bloggers over at rockstar finance to contribute their thoughts as well. You’ll find them, intermixed with my own and some statistics throughout this post.
Mainstream Analysis of the Financial Impact of Kids
Now let’s start with the obvious. Kids are expensive. How so? Well a recent study from CNN Money estimated on average kids cost $233,610 through age 17. They went on to indicate this varied by region but that housing and food were the two biggest costs. Not to question their methodology, but in a world where people by McMansions for 2 people I am not sure if you can truly attribute increased housing costs to kids. Beyond that though the number doesn’t seem all that out of the ordinary
My Personal Experience with the Cost of Kids
In fact, one could point out that our numbers do not disprove their point. At one point, before my wife became a stay at home mom, we were spending nearly $11,000 on daycare alone per child. <link> Add to that $6,000 for child birth, a few thousand a year in food, the costs of extra plane tickets for travel… the numbers get up there fairly quickly. So I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that the raw costs of a child are astronomical. I can also clearly say that their birth had an impact on my budget from a raw number perspective, and thus my saving and investing trajectory.
The Personal Finance Community Weights in on the Costs of Kids
Several bloggers in the personal finance world had similar feedback. Some even indicated their path to early retirement has been slowed by this endless slog of childhood expenses.
I’d say a fairly large impact (but other things did as well). Daycare $$$$ x2, then also 529 plan x2, higher cost for vacations, having to use vacation days to cover their sick days, braces x2, having to pay for tutoring because schools won’t address needs, sports, etc. AND let’s not forget adoption expenses x2. So, yeah. While others rock it and can go FIRE with kids, that isn’t the case for us.
I’ve got 2 boys, 9 and almost 7 years old. My wife is educated with a masters degree, but has stayed home to educate them. The costs in terms of actual spending and opportunity costs are substantial, but worth it for us. YMMV.
Kids can cost a little or a lot. The $270,000 figure or whatever it is accounts for owning a larger home, so a big chunk of that is at least somewhat optional.
I’ve had one post on the topic. It’s a guest post and suggests that kids cost an arm and three legs. Again, YMMV.
When we started having kids we went from two incomes to one. Don’t regret the decision we made but it has definitely forced us to make sacrifices along the way. Our childless friends have their evenings free and can travel all they want. That’s just not possible for us right now due to time and financial constraints.
I can tell you this for sure…I want to retire early to spend time with him, but having my son prevents me from retiring early. I want to provide stability, pay for his college, etc…
If it was just my wife and I, we would sell the house and move into an RV traveling around the country.
Well, my wife is a stay at home mom so we don’t have her income. We have expenses related to feeding, clothing, and raising two kids. We put money toward their education. Our home is bigger to fit them. So the financial impact is huge. I won’t get to retire in my 50’s. We don’t save as much as we could otherwise.
But it’s all good. To see them grow, smile, laugh, learn, and be part of our world is worth every penny.
Kids change every part of your life, including drastic changes in your financial life. With kids, you can spend over 25$ just for dinner at McDonalds. Plane rides cost more and become too expensive. Car rides cost the same, but now you need a different kind of car. Kids grow up, and want their own car. The cost of 2 kids going to college is more than the purchase price of my house. The list goes on and on.
I’ve got kids in both college and daycare, so I second (or quintuple, or whatever we’re on now) the cost of daycare and education is a big speed bump. We’ve spent $80,000 in the past three years on one kid in college and one in daycare, more or less equally.
That doesn’t even factor in some of the other things. Someone mentioned cars for older kids, and that’s definitely a thing if you want it to be. Car insurance is higher when they start driving. Medical insurance is a big one if you go from single to family or couple to family costs. There are all the incidentals. There’s spending for holidays, birthdays, friend’s birthdays. Someone else mentioned the increased cost of travel. Getting three kids on a plane with two adults is an astronomical cost.
In many ways it’s impossible to extract the cost of children from your overall spending to see what the difference would be. Because your lifestyle changes with kids. No way can I say if I didn’t have kids that I would be doing exactly what I’m doing now, but without kids. So I would spend money differently. But I can safely say that I would have a whole lot more latitude to invest and a whole lot less worries about stable income if I didn’t have the related expenses and responsibility.
Kids Can have a Positive Impact on your Financial Path
But, costs are not everything. They are but one of many impacts. Your total financial path and picture are defined by more than the costs of paying for child rearing bills. A child can help provide a clarity of purpose, driving you to something bigger as some have pointed out. That clarity might actually improve your position in spite of the costs. In my personal experience my children focused my efforts on reaching financial independence. They did so because I came to the realization employment is a fickle mistress so I needed a backup plan for my kids. Ultimately I’m far better off as a result. Here’s what other bloggers said:
I think having kids really worked both in favor of and contrary to my ability to FIRE, simply because of their ages, I will have to delay retirement until they are out of the house, a full 3 years after my initial target date. Children retard our progress.
BUT I also never thought much about things like legacy and providing for generational wealth preservation until having kids. Having my mind move in those new directions certainly helped clarify goals and helped focus on achieving them. So overall, a mixed bag.
It also might create drive. I see this one in myself a lot. I do not want my kids to grow up fearing financial ruin. I want them to understand money, but not fear the lack of it. Ms99 to 1 percent provided an insightful comment along the same line, mentioning their impact on her entrepreneurial drive.
Daycare is costing us about $20K/year which is our biggest expense. And since her birth, we are contributing $2.5K-3K/year and more later on to her education fund. So, yes, kids can be very expensive.
But at the same time, having a kid can actually make someone take more risks and become more entrepreneurial. You feel the need to do better and leave a legacy for your kid(s). And mat leave kinda gives you time to brainstorm, come up with and start new projects.
I never thought it could be true, but having our son definitely helped us get on the right track financially. Before we had him, we were 2 DINKs, investing retirement accounts and homeowner x2, but other than that, we lived paycheck to paycheck.
My husband is in the military and we had to move to a remote location when I was about 7 months pregnant, so I lost my job. I also stayed at home for the 1st year with my son. Even with all the new expenses of having a baby, we learned to live off of one income and we actually did fine. A year later we moved, and were even able to buy a third house. We used to waste a lot of money on going out to restaurants and bars before we had our son. Living in a remote Army town helped us kill that habit because the best restaurant in town was probably an Outback Steakhouse.
Since then, my husband has gotten promoted and I’ve started working again. We obviously have new expenses now like daycare, but we don’t live paycheck to paycheck anymore in my opinion because of the very valuable year we learned to live on one salary.
The Reality is Probably Somewhere in the Middle
Sawyer PF and Slow Dad actually took the middle road. As Swayer indicates the financial impacts of children permeate every aspect of your life, both good and bad. From the heavy costs to the redirection of your goals and planning, it is what you make of it. That might still lead to a positive result:
On the one hand, figuring out how to live on one income was likely good for us in the long run. On the other, I think ultimately they put restrictions on nearly every financial decision you make.
Speaking only about the financial aspects of course.
Early on nursery/day care was a huge cost, almost equivalent to a single full time income. When we just had one we had them in the private school system (safer route to a good university, old school tie network, etc). Didn’t scale so well when we had a second child however.
Financially in addition to being an extra mouth to feed etc, the cost of looking after them (either as an opportunity cost by doing it directly, or outsourcing and paying somebody else to do it) is easily most parent’s third largest expense after taxes and housing.
On the plus side however it resulted in a re-evaluation of priorities and life goals, which in turn allowed me to semi-retire, and work on interesting projects rather than just pursuing the highest paying gigs as I had been previously. That had a major impact on the happy factor about life in general, which was an unexpected upside of being a parent. Without the kids I would probably still trying to conquer the universe by making megabucks working silly hours on projects that don’t really matter for clients who don’t really appreciate the effort.
He’s right in a way, though its not necessarily a good or a bad connotation. Ultimately after kids are born every major financial decision you make has to consider your kids. It certainly makes things more complex. It’s no longer let’s buy the smallest cheapest car you can buy, it’s what car can fit this car seat and us at the same time. Vacations, well how much is JRs ticket increasing the overall price and how do we minimize it? Alternately who can watch the kids while we go away for some us time?
There is also one major benefit that comes later in life. It is possible at sometime in your life you will need someone to take care of you due to failing health. If your relationship is good enough with your kids they might be one possible solution. This doesn’t necessarily even mean co-living. It could be as simple as managing your finances to keep you from getting into trouble if you end up with dementia. You never know.
One of my coworkers imagines this a bit further. He says his kids are his lottery ticket. With each one he has it increases the chances one of them will be rich and take care of him. Needless to say he’s joking on most levels, but still there is a slight ring of truth to the possibility of being glad your kids are there to take care of you if you fall on tough times late in life.
Mitigation of Child Costs
I would postulate, that with some work you can mitigate the negative impacts of children on your financial path while accentuating the positives. The key is good planning. Nat Phor U indicated some of these with ideas for free cribs, clothes and toys coupled with cheaper cloth diapers.
I have a one year old and we’re planning on two additional kids. The most immediate impact was that we started putting aside $200/mo into a 529 college savings plan as soon as we got pregnant. The next change was $36,000/year for day care. It took a year, but we found a reasonable alternate day care that only costs $25,000/year.
Most of the other expenses related to infants were not applicable. We found cribs, clothes, toys, etc… for free in the community, and we use cloth diapers, so minimal added expense there.
Longer term, it is impacted our considerations around early retirement. We could probably retire today, though with some risk. We could retire more comfortably in 4-5 years. But, we aren’t really sure how having a 5 year old, 3 year old, and 1 year old (assuming our plans for new kids pan out) would impact our quality of travel or desire to travel, let alone to be retired. Moreover, we’re thinking that while we could retire, we both like our jobs, and maybe the best thing to do is work until our kids are bound for college, which would happen to be ~62 for me. Doing so would allow us to create the start of real generational wealth. Instead of retiring early with $1M that will last my lifetime and leave very little behind, why not retire later with $10M and leave a legacy for my kids to build upon?
To these I would add that there are plenty of sources of cheap or free child entertainment. Food also is manageable when cooking casseroles instead of more expensive meals. Vacation travel does not need to stop, but air travel may need to be cut back. Traveling via car and other methods where you pay by the vehicle rather than the person can mitigate the costs somewhat. Finally, you do not necessarily need a bigger home just because you have kids. I wouldn’t want to live in an air stream trailer or tiny house with a kid, but that does not mean you need mansion, just a small extra room for the kids to sleep and play in. Combine these and I’m sure you can get under that $230K significantly, though as others have noted after having kids it will be nearly impossible to determine how much spending was directly attributable to them.
Ultimately, kids are a choice. A wonderful choice for many who are so disposed. The key is to go in with your eyes wide open and you just might come out better financially.
How have kids impacted your financial path?