It’s easier without children

financial independence

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.

Child Carrier Pack (m)_0If 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.

Enjoy

The Escape Artist


Christine

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.

Image credit: https://www.switchbacktravel.com/best-baby-carrier-backpacks-hiking


Could not having a child make you a spare million?


Ken from The Humble Penny and I are arranging another meet-up for anyone interested in financial independence. Come along and have a drink and chat with other financial freedom seekers.

The venue is The Marylebone Pub, 93 Marylebone High St, London, W1U 4RE. You can find directions here. Drop in for drinks from 6 – 11pm on Friday 29 March to celebrate the impending start of British Summer Time.

Hope to see you there 🙂


Further reading:

fin-coaching-widget

  1. What to expect when you’re expecting
  2. Financial Coaching

 

26 comments

  1. I really agree with this piece – and that is from someone who has kids and wouldn’t think of going back in time to not have kids (although I may dream sometimes…)
    Children mean different things to different people but if you do plan to have kids – at least go in with your eyes open. Money isn’t everything and it’s when you have kids that you realise that possessions are meaningless (although it might be hard to convince a kid obsessed with teletubbies at Xmas time that).

  2. Having children must be for purely selfish reasons. I adore my daughter, especially after being told I couldn’t have children! That said, if you don’t want or need children in your life you probably shouldn’t have them.

    As for costs, it doesn’t have to be expensive. Yes, you need some basics but nothing like what society tells you is needed. As a single parent in the early years I had no choice but to be frugal. It’s been a blessing. My daughter is very frugal too. She saves and does not part with her money easily. She’s learnt about value from growing up in a frugal household. Every year she would ask Santa for a notepad and pen as her dream is to be a writer. Her needs are simple. In fact she doesn’t understand most kids and hates consumerism. She’s all about saving the planet.

    My daughter is so savvy (at only 12) that she’s asked me to take the £3000 she’s saved and lock it away in her government trust fund! She kept a bit back for fun but I doubt she will spend it. My daughter teaches me every day that the best things in life are free. And I tell you what, she’s a hell of a lot cheaper to maintain than her father was! Lol

    Great post and lots to think about. Thank you.

  3. TheLuckyOne · · Reply

    Nice One. I never wanted kids and don’t have any and not planning on getting any. Occasionally people ask me in (hushed tones) why I don’t have kids and at the same time imply that I must be selfish/foolish/inadequate or incapable. ( I might be all of those actually).
    I have read very few, if any, positive articles on my personal choice, so thank you for sharing.
    I am starting hear rumblings in the main stream media that maybe just maybe….. other people ought not to have so many kids as the planets getting a bit too busy now.
    I have got adult step kids and they’re great and self financing.

  4. Really good article. Me n my Mrs have been thinking about the idea of kids for a while. We have lots of nieces and nephews who we enjoy most of the time. Too much cultural pressure to have kids nowadays though. We’re pretty content as is. 2500 shit stained nappies would change that contentment. The idea of being a dad though is very appealing. Taking my son to the boxing gym, going hunting in the nz bush, watching him learn a trade but none of that is guaranteed just a figment of my imagination. The reality I’m sure is very different but it would give life more meaning to be responsible for a little human I think. Decisions decisions lol

  5. A good riposte to the “no kids yet?” question is to say you are doing your bit for climate change. In addition to the general level of world population on our climate and resources there is the fact that the nappies and most of what you buy for your kids ends up in a landfill somewhere.

  6. ladyaurora · · Reply

    I think unless you are very wealthy or on benefits, kids are just too costly.

  7. If one really wants kids, adopt someone. Love is not diluted for adopted kids vs biological kids. If so, then yours will be transactional love. Period.

  8. I know that out of everything said in this article, The 1975 is the very last bit on the importance scale, but I’m 54 and rather like them!

    As for the meat of the article, one of the beautiful things about the path you chose is that, should you change your mind at some point, your young children likely will not have to know the sting of poverty.

    By making the choice to have children at 20 years of age, I inadvertently subjected them to years of barely getting by, and the emotional turmoil exhibited by parents frantically figuring out how to pay the electric bill, much less school uniforms and field trips.

    Ultimately, they grew up as good, productive adults, but I’m sure they’re scarred for life because of my choices. Your path is much kinder.

    1. christine · · Reply

      OP here- really good point! I’ve often thought that if we change our minds later, we could foster or adopt.

  9. ROFL. The FI community cracks me up sometime. We try to over-analyse decisions sometimes. I think the cost of having a child can be analysed and broken down to bits but I think sometimes having a child just happens to us as naturally as the rain falls. I suppose the logical part of our minds wants to have some control over that choice and rationalise it as much as we can.

    We can chose what financial choices we make when we have kids and FI is still possible with kids, as some in the community has shown. Of course it helps if you are well prepared for it! I would love to hear the other side of the story, of how couples ended up with kids and made it work anyway. They might not struggling, they might not be financially independent but they make the simple choices that set them up well financially in the long run. That would be a narrative for stoics.

    FIREplanter

    1. Well here is my side of the story.

      Before having our own child we were always everyones favourite Aunty and Uncle. I was happy with that but my wife was really desperate to become a Mum. Unfortunately this was difficult due to a genetic condition. This condition has resulted in her not earning money for well over 20 years and in us adopting a child rather than having a biological one. Before I continue I want to make it clear she is a brilliant Mum (and wife) and has never claimed benefits for her condition. (But god bless the NHS as the drugs she takes daily cost a lot of money!)

      So how did we make it work financially?

      1) I earned a good salary – Not mega bucks but well above average. No getting around this. To get to FI independently you have to earn more than you spend and if you are on one income only (or paying through the nose for childcare) then it is going to be harder than if you are on two incomes

      2) Only having 1 child. Again simple maths. Children are an expense and the more you have the more they cost.

      3) Love is free. My god I have gone all icky! Initially we filled the playroom with the usual toys but very soon made an important discovery. Our daughter quickly centred on two favourite toys. The first was called Mum and the second was called Dad. These two toys were usually available and cost free resulting in us drastically cutting down on buying plastic crap from china.

      4) Learn to say NO and explain why not. This is harder now than when we were younger – we are now well off so can afford stuff so why not shower the love right? You just have to understand it is not LOVE. It is STUFF. Do they need it or do they want it? Nothing wrong with wanting it but you just have to explain you can’t have everything. This will also have the nice side effect of helping their own journey to FI.

      5) Set a good example. Spend (much) less than you earn on yourself too. For example, I could buy a fancy new car every three years but my 15 year old car works just fine and will be my child’s first car when she passes her driving test.

      6) Be lucky – and do not spend your luck. I was born into an affluent country, I had a good mostly free education, I am not materialistic, I have not been out of work until I decided to stop, the NHS pays for my wifes drugs, house prices have been kind to us over the past 30 years etc etc.

      7) Send your child out to work. The chimney sweep job aged 6-10 was particularly lucrative as children fit up chimneys so much easier than adults. More latterly, baby sitting seems to pay ridiculously well – you got how much for sitting watching the TV tonight?!

      To sum up I do not think we would have spent that much less if we had not had children. For example we would have gone on bigger more exotic holidays if it had just been the two of us. In fact one of my happiest memories was a family holiday with our 7 year old to Jersey. It was absolutely pissing down when we got to the apartment just across from the beach and we put the kettle on ready to settle in for the afternoon. My wonderful daughter had other ideas. She got her bag out and changed into her swimwear, put on a mac and said come on then lets go make sandcastles! Sure we got a bit wet but she didn’t care and after my initial shock nor did I- a great lesson for me in what is important in life.

    2. Hi FIREplanter…errrr, you know that you DO have control over having kids right? Do I need to write a post about the birds and the bees? And about birth control? 😉

      Joking aside, I’d welcome a guest post about how you bring up kids frugally / stoically…any volunteers can email me on Barney@theescapeartist.me

      1. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), I am youthfully single. Out of my personal curiosity, I would survey all parents in the world and ask them a question, ‘Did you choose to have kids or did it just happen to you?’ I wonder how many would say they actively chose to have kids. But then there’s the cognitive bias there isn’t there. They would overwhelming say ‘Yes’ wouldn’t they. Not that Mum and Dad got a bit drunk whilst we were young and ta da you popped out or Mum and Dad was bored on a Sunday afternoon … (I suspect this is what happens to most of us and how we are programmed to be)

        And then you have the group who can have kids (all apparatus for fertilisation and reproductive physiology working in tip top condition) and choose NOT to have kids using birth control. These are the people exercising their rights to say no to kids. And I suppose you can use this to control when you have kids (older, more financially secure, emotionally ready etc).

        And of course we can adopt as well for those who find it a struggle to make a kid themselves.

        Or as Ronaldo has shown us, get a donor and a surrogate to clone yourself.

        Perhaps I have gone on a tangent here on choices. But I think we have control to NOT have kids or at least try to control the timing of having kids. But i suspect most of the population actually have kids as part of a organic process. Too much things can go wrong in that process. So i say don’t worry too about having or not having them, just probably don’t have too many of them.

        -Fireplanter

  10. what name did I use last time · · Reply

    A refreshing article.
    I never had two kids 21 years ago but don’t have £400k in the bank, where did it all go wrong?

    1. Cath Dyson · · Reply

      The calculation of how much it costs to bring up a child was one of the catalysts of me getting better with money – I asked myself so where is my 1/4 – 1/2 million pounds – it sobered me up (not literally!) to educating myself and being more intentional with my saving and spending.

      Also great to see the term child free not child less – much more descriptive !

  11. FI Warrior · · Reply

    When insensitive people (most of the population) ask why you don’t have kids and ”fk off”’ is not an easy answer, just give a reply stupid people (most of the population) can cope with and are comfortable hearing so the forced conversation ends. If the inquisitors are genuinely well-meaning, an awkward ”We’ve been trying for years” works best, if they’re just rude/sociopathic, or you’re having fun, you could get creative and say: ”We’ve gone to experts and apparently we were doing it wrong”. I’d pay for some of the expressions you can get off that.

  12. If we want people to stop having children because they are afraid of loneliness, we need to put a lot more effort into our friendships. We need to give and expect a lot more from them. It would be optimal if we as a society had rituals similar to weddings, and gave friendships legal status. Because we all start saying friendships are enough, only to find we are always at the end of our friend’s lists of priorities, after family and work, and origami. In short, we need to value friendship differently than we do now to stop reproducing out of fear.

  13. Interesting thoughts on the cost of children. Do you think the FIRE community could find more frugal ways to have children?

    I totally agree with not having kids until you are ready many people are pushed into it and that puts strain on finances and then their relationship. Society likes to push we must have kids and everyone likes to ask when are you going to have children rather than do you want children.

    Do you think in the long run people are happier with or without children?

  14. Helen Goldsworthy · · Reply

    I Love reading this blog I retired at 45 financially free with no children. I have chosen to not have children. Lets face it there are already too many people on the planet using too many resources, creating too much polution. Humans really need to get a grip and stop ignoring the population problem facing our planet. I think anyone who has more than two children now and adding to this problem is irresponsible and living in a selfish bubble. There is no future on earth anymore for the human race. We are destroying the planet, killing the animals and wildlife. unleashing pain and suffering on a few species that are being consumed at ridiculous rates. and which are also using up too many resources. In addition in the grand scheme of things this planet only has 4.5 Billion years left and before that the earth will become unhabitable. With that said it will most probably be a lot sooner the way humans are currently living and behaving. What future are people really sending there genes on too I wonder?? Just thoughts.

  15. John of Hampton · · Reply

    This was always going to raise a lot of comment, so here FWIW are mine. There is an assumption in this article that the quoted average figures for raising children somehow apply to everyone. But on this site, surely we know better than to compare ourselves to the average? I had four children, and did not spend anything like a million pounds on raising them. They went to state schools, joined in the modest life style my wife and espoused, and learnt to be satisfied without continually spending money. Both my sons are now avid followers of this site and also Mr Money Mustache, so presumably I did something right. My daughters also show sound judgement with money (i.e. not spending it on worthless sh*t and saving as much as possible). Though I agree (a) that having children is a personal choice and no-one else is allowed to comment on whatever you decide, and (b) it is more expensive to have children to raise than to be childless, parenthood is not (as implied here) the route to financial ruin. My current financial position is excellent, no need to work again unless I want to, and all based on a lifetime of careful spending plus saving and investing. Children, even four of them, did not stop me getting here.

  16. Christine · · Reply

    Hi, OP here again, sorry it’s taken me so long to post, I was traveling and had lots of fun delays (and I was looking sympathetically at the parents trying to keep their kids chill after hours and hours of sitting at an airport gate waiting to board, but also relieved that I only had to look after myself [AKA have another glass of prosecco in the lounge])

    I have to say thank you to everyone for your thoughtful and considered responses. I don’t know if TEA readers are more open minded or if Barney just has you all trained to not be shocked by anything, but I wasn’t expecting such a positive response. Often, whether online or in real life, when I say that I don’t have kids and am not planning to, people get narky, or defensive, or both.

    Just to reassure John of Hampton, I was definitely not implying that parenthood is the route to financial ruin, just that you could spend a lot of money on it if you do it mindlessly. If you’ve done it in a thoughtful way, fantastic. I love the idea of a cohort of second generation FIRE kids who are naturals at this.

    My whole thing is that I want to do this my way, and this is my story. I am not trying to influence anyone, I’m not looking down on your decisions. I just don’t want you to influence me or look down on my decisions.

  17. Definitely enjoyed reading and was inspired to write up my own post about why I’m glad to have kids on the journey to FI

    https://www.ourfinest.ca/2019/03/what-fi-journey-with-kids-has-given-me.html

  18. It may be easier without children but it’s certainly not impossible with two children in my experience. In our case we are older parents and we were financially well positioned before having children. We have applied the same careful approach to spending on the children as we do on other spending and we are trying to pass that on. We have certainly not incurred a lot of the spending mentioned in this post and we don’t feel the children have suffered. The children have seen both of us go out to work in the past but we recently had to explain why mum and dad do not go out to work now.

  19. […] freedom is easier without kids. I am very much on the fence with the kids vs. no kids debate, so I always appreciate some food for […]

  20. Well, I had 4 boys in 5 years, (I was trying to make a girl), then left my husband and raised them on my own. That was 22 years ago.
    I had to raise them on the cheap, but I was lucky in that small kids are very inexpensive to run. By the time they were teens I was long back at work as a teacher, so by then, I was ROLLING in money!
    I’ve always said that my biggest financial mistake was not in having the children – but marrying the wrong person.

  21. Andrew Wong · · Reply

    Interesting blog. My only question for Christine is, what was the name of the book about financial considerations at every stage of life?

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