Most people are looking for an easy life, so they take the path of least resistance.
And that’s OK. Not everyone wants to be rich. Not everyone wants to be ripped. Not everyone wants to be a self help guru leaping around a stage…and thank God for that.
On this blog we live and let live. Yes, I may bang on about how you can get more money and more options in your life. But I never say that everyone has to do the same things I did. You do you.
It’s all about life choices. And one life choice that is super-powerful for making it easier to get to financial independence is not having children. Getting to financial independence is like climbing a mountain. Its hard enough without carrying a couple of toddlers on your back.
There’s no law that says you have to have children. You are under no legal or moral obligation to do so (whatever your fiancee might say). And contrary to the impression given on many a Facebook feed, having children does not make you a saint.
If you’re currently planning on having children that’s fine, but know this: at times it’s going to be harder and more stressful than you can imagine…and that’s without having a child born with a disability, getting seriously ill or injured in an accident.
Choosing not to have children is perhaps the ultimate triumph of your free will over the biological programming of your monkey brain.
But with 3 children of his own, The Escape Artist may not be the ideal person to write about this. So I asked a reader, Christine, to write about her choice not to have children.
The Escape Artist
I didn’t decide to be child-free for financial reasons. But I was aware of the potential benefits.
When I was growing up, there was a personal finance book on the shelves at home, detailing financial considerations for different stages of life. New graduate, newlyweds preparing for a family, mid-career, nearing retirement.
There was a mention of professional couples with no plans for kids, and the advice was basically “You’re fine. You’ll have enough money.” I thought this was interesting, but mostly forgot about it until most of my friends started having kids and I realised how astonishingly expensive they can be.
First, let me get this out of the way. I like kids. I’m actually really good with them. I love my nieces and nephew and enjoy spending time with them.
But I also like being able to give them back to their parents when they are smelly / naughty / loud, or I’m tired or bored. I didn’t realise how many parents are bored a lot of the time and I’m glad I can just slip off to read a good book.
According to one recent study, the average amount spent to raise a child to 21 in the UK is £230,000. If all that money were instead invested into a low-cost index fund, you’d end up with…errr…well let’s just say it’d be a lot of money, OK?
[TEA : you’d end up with >£1 million pounds after 40 years – see table below]
Yes, the figure above is the nationwide average and hides a lot of variation. It’s obviously possible to raise your child for MUCH less. Your kid would be fine sleeping in a cardboard box, but the reality is that most parents feel the pressure to keep up with the neighbours.
There are the obvious savings. Food for another human, clothes, medicine, childcare. (When I mentioned I was writing about this, a friend said “oh yeah, because I LOVE having ¾ of my paycheck going to daycare!”).
Nappies and prams and cribs and toys and car seats and school uniforms and that bouncy chair thing. All those sports and music lessons and activities, not to mention birthday parties which apparently require gifts for the guests as well these days, which is a sign that something is seriously
fucked up wrong with society.
Mobile phones from seven or eight years old? New video game console, plus subscription to Fortnite plus extra data streaming because kid doesn’t understand the difference between wifi and 4G, and is constantly watching “Baby Shark.”
Exam tutors, the school prom, their first car? Upgrade computers for “homework,” pony lessons, art supplies, concert tickets to see The 1975** Let’s not even get started on school fees, or university fees, or being the The Bank of Mum and Dad when your new media studies graduate can’t find a job that pays the rent for the first few years out of uni.
And there you get to some of the less obvious savings.
We live in a one-bedroom flat in Central London. It’s fine for two of us, and we would have had to add £100k – £200k to our mortgage to get a second bedroom, even on a pretty scuzzy estate like ours.
We simply couldn’t afford to live this centrally with kids. We don’t need a back garden for kids to run around, so that’s a savings in terms of real estate, and also in terms of maintenance– I don’t need a lawnmower, fancy BBQ, playhouse, jungle gym, or an outdoor kitchen suite. I have a small balcony with a couple old chairs and some plant pots, and that’s grand for me. I don’t have to spend my weekends mowing the grass or weeding the garden, or paying someone to do it.
Because we live so centrally, our transport costs are minimal. We pretty much walk or ride bikes everywhere, with the occasional bus or Uber if necessary. Our biggest transport expense is an annual Transport for London cycle hire membership at £95/year for basically free rides in most of Zones 1 and 2.
We don’t need a car to drive our kids to sports practice, unlike friends that ended up buying cars after discovering what a pain it is to try to Uber with a car seat. Suburban friends complain about the annual cost of train tickets, not to mention long commutes with perpetual delays. I think of that as a mental cost, as well as the real opportunity cost when I could be doing something else more useful or valuable.
We can live where we want and not worry about the quality of schools, which puts local house prices up. In England, people pay £40k more on an average for a property in a catchment area for a school with an “outstanding” Ofsted rating. In the US, studies show that parents shopping for homes pay a premium of 49% above the national median, just to live inside top-rated school districts.
We can take holidays outside of peak times and save a bundle, not to mention avoiding the stress of travelling at school holidays, the busiest times of the year. Because we’re only looking for two seats, we can often fund tickets with air miles or points. We don’t have to stick with painfully expensive child-centric destinations like Disney World, Legoland, or Harry Potter zone, and can get creative with destinations.
Here’s another example where it’s more subtle. A little while before we got married, my husband got some good job offers in the USA. Each was temporary (a year or two) but good money in lower cost of living places. The idea was that I’d give up my job but hopefully pick up work there. I can imagine some personal finance people saying it would be ridiculous to lose half of your income streams. But we didn’t have any serious obligations, and decided to give it a go.
We moved from London to the Midwest for a year, to the East Coast for two years, back to Midwest for a year and then back to London. Each time, my husband jumped up several rungs in his hierarchical industry. By going to the US, he got a senior position in the UK after four years, rather than 7-10 for other people his age.
Could we have done this with kids? Yes, people do this all the time. But they are a consideration, and we probably wouldn’t have moved quite as much in as short a time, especially if kids were in school. We kick-started his career, seriously bumped his income by having real, competitive offers and were able to accelerate our savings journey by living in a place with a lower cost of living. People more adventurous than us could take this even further, with international geo-arbitrage.
I do love the arguments that people always give when I say we aren’t having kids. Things like “oh, but you’ve got great genes, surely you should do the world a favour and balance out all the idiots out there!” (I’m not that vain, and would rather solve global problems in other ways, thanks).
Also “but who will look after you when you’re older?!” I won’t lie, I worry about loneliness as I get older. But having kids isn’t a guarantee of anything. Your kids might live across an ocean. They may be in jail. They may not like you. I have seen all of those situations in friends, and they are not prepared to support their parents in old age, financially or emotionally. I’d rather build a community of friends based on genuine affection, rather than obligation.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t have kids. But only have them if you KNOW that you really, really want to. By being part of the FI community, you’re already used to being a bit unusual and comfortable not doing things just because everyone else does.
Stop and think about your decision – take your time, don’t be rushed. I know several (male) friends who said they didn’t want children…only to fold later under pressure from their partner.
And make it according to your values, rather than because you’re expected to. Kids can bring a lot of joy into your life, but you shouldn’t create a life simply due to cultural expectations.
* For the record, I love Baby Shark, and introduced a number of kids to it, much to their parents’ delight. But I watch it on wifi.
** We went to see The 1975 and were probably the youngest people there without kids, but I don’t care. Did it on hotel points and got free dinner and drinks as part of the deal, and didn’t have to worry about our kids whining that we were embarrassing them with our terrible dancing.
Could not having a child make you a spare million?
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