I wrote an article a few years ago entitled, “Don’t Have Kids If You Can’t Afford Them”. I knew telling people to hold off on having kids until they were more financially stable was a touchy subject, but I wasn’t prepared for the volume of comments that the article received – both good and bad. The thing is, I never give advice that I wouldn’t take, so I’ve delayed parenthood, on purpose until this point in my life.
For the past five years I have been on a steady journey of getting out of debt. I began my blog, Yes, I Am Cheap owning nothing but my six-figure debt, migraines and a roll of TUMS. At that point I was at rock bottom emotionally and financially but at 29, I was in the prime of my child-bearing years. Conventional wisdom would have told me to go ahead and have a child and, as more than one commenter on that article has said, “God would provide”. But I live in the world where God help those who help themselves and having a child would have been the absolute worst thing that I could have done.
I grew up in poor in America and knew that I would do whatever it took to never experience the poverty that I had known as a child. The people who have said that you have children when you can and then figure out the details later probably never experienced life as I did as a child. I remember waiting in line at church for food distribution. I remember the imprint of my toes on the outside of my too-small sneakers. I remember going on entire winter without a coat while living in New York City. Those who have experienced poverty as I have are loath to push those same conditions on their progeny, at least, if they can avoid it.
Here I am now, a DINK in my mid-thirties and I am still choosing to not have a child for at least another year. While my other half’s biological clock is screaming like a banshee, we’ve made the decision to calmly hit the snooze button because we know that we are not financially prepared just yet. I know that you have seen the United States Department of Agriculture Department’s estimate of approximately $241,080 to raise a child (a heck of a lot more in the Northeast if you have a combined income of $105,360 or more). Since we live in New York City and everything just costs more, I suspect that we will be spending a lot of money to raise the one child that we intend to have and I want to be well prepared financially and emotionally. Am I disillusioned enough to say that we have planned for everything? Absolutely not. It’s a baby, not a clock.
Making a conscious decision to work on myself and my finances before changing my name to “mom” was the smartest decision that I have ever made in my entire life. I know that kids are a blessing, but each little blessing is incredibly expensive, much more so than new parents image them to be. Beyond the diapers and formulas are all of the things that it takes to raise just one child, including more space and lots time from work. I know that no parent envisions standing on a line to get food for their child but it’s the reality.
The National Center for Children in Poverty, run by Columbia University estimates that 22% of all children in the United States live below the poverty line, currently an income of $23,550 per year for a family of four. Whether we like it or not, you subsidize the cost of these children with your tax dollars. I refuse to sit on the sidelines and have a child go hungry, so if higher taxes will feed a hungry child, so be it, but, I also have a responsibility to not contribute to this issue.
I have been told many times that if people waited until they were financially secure to have children then the human race would be extinct. I’ve also heard that I am making the case for reproductive rights being limited for the poor. Not at all. What I am simply saying is that if you find yourself struggling financially it might make sense to wait just a little bit. If you are struggling with one child, maybe waiting a year or two to add a second to your family isn’t such a bad thing. When my mom found herself single with two children she stopped having kids until she was secure. My young sister came along many years later after a new husband and significant improvement in our collective financial stability.
I’ll most likely be giving up my DINK status in another two year or two. If we are lucky enough to be blessed with one tiny crying baby, we’ll be grateful. We will welcome this much awaited child with open arms. Yes, our finances can change tomorrow. Yes, we could end up with fertility issues. Still, I would make the same decision all over again. I’m happy that I took my own advice.
– Sandy Smith is the founder of both The Color of Money online magazine and the Yes, I Am Cheap blog where she shares personal finance stories, strategies for getting out of debt, building alternative income streams and generally annoys the internet with her thoughts about money.
Photo from Flickr