In It’s Easier Without Children (Part 1), we talked about how not having a child could save you a million pounds.
And that’s certainly possible. The decision of whether to have children is super-important and children can cost LOTS of money.
But it doesn’t matter that modern life feels so expensive. Logic tells us that it must be possible to raise children without spending money.
That’s because we know that for thousands of years, humans made and raised children without any money at all. Money wasn’t even invented then and neither were designer baby clothes, disposable nappies or smartphones.
After Part 1, I got an email from reader Michael about pursuing financial independence work with children. Lots of children. As I may have mentioned before, financial independence is all about trade-offs. Michael is looking at working longer (but with the freedom of self-employment) and living simpler to make FI work for them.
To achieve financial independence, you have to tap into your most powerful “why”. One reason most financial advice is rubbish is that everyone focuses on the how (which fund, which platform etc etc) but people don’t think enough about the “why”. For Michael and his wife, spending time with their children provides their “why” for financial independence.
So I got Michael to tell us their story.
The Escape Artist
I am a father of four kids ages 7 and under. My wife (age 32) and I (age 35) have just had our fourth child and we may even have more children in the future.
Oh, and we also homeschool.
Both of us have always wanted kids. Even as kids ourselves, we each envisioned our adult lives with children being a major part. So, we knew children would come and we’d figure out the logistics (yes, even money) along the way.
I recently made the transition from a 9-5 job at a global company to being self-employed. Even though the jump was long in the making, nothing really prepares you for life without a paycheck quite like living life without a paycheck.
I am not sure if we found the FIRE movement or the movement found us. I am more financially minded than my wife. That means I both worry about and celebrate money more than she does. We don’t really fight about money. But we do argue over particular expenses.
For example, I worry about buying things, even useful things. She worries about buying fun: like going out to eat. She’ll give me a hard time about wanting to take the family out and spend $50 on dinner. I give her a hard time for wanting to spend $50 on new pictures of our kids on the wall. Yes, she is a better person than I am.
Why write this post?
irritated intrigued by the article “It’s Easier Without Children”.
I’ll be honest, my first reaction was “duh!”. Everything is easier without children: “FIRE”, work, entertainment, exercise, reading, sleeping, eating, breathing, even going to the bathroom. Sometimes my kids remind me of a monster from a horror movie : it knows where you are and it’s trying to get in and get you.
Adults can be illogical, petty and emotional. But, oh boy… kids are illogical, petty and emotional by design. It’s a feature not a bug. Even as I write this, my 7-year-old is wandering around the house insisting that he “just can’t go to sleep” and wants us to let him play. In fact, the only reason I’m writing this at 11pm on a weekend is because my children would not let me do it earlier.
Children don’t just cost money, they cost time. There’s some saying about the relationship between time and money, but I can’t quite remember it right now because my 2-year-old just started screaming after waking from a nightmare.
So anyway, yes, of course; I agree completely with the the article: it is easier to become wealthy, be financially independent, write guest blog posts and retire early with no children in tow. That isn’t to say child-less people live in a world that is all lollipops and rainbows. It’s easier without kids, but it is never EASY for anyone.
But for us, taking the journey to financial independence without kids would be…kind of missing the whole point of being financially independent. So, I asked the Escape Artist if I could write about our experience bringing up our family frugally and with the goal of financial independence.
But first a quick disclaimer. Please don’t read anything I’ve written as a suggestion that we are perfect parents. We are not. We do not have it all figured out. We fail miserably from time to time. But we have a vision and we think it’s a vision that works and it’s one we’re orienting our whole lives towards in order to make it a reality.
A Family First Mindset
Early on in our marriage, my wife and I decided that a typical dual-income household, with both us working 9-5 jobs and the kids at school all day, only for all of us to come home and stare at our favorite electronic devices until bedtime was simply not compatible with the family life we wanted.
We’re a little old-fashioned. We like the idea of the old family farm, where kids are schooled at home, and not only involved, but integral to both the mother and father’s work.
But we aren’t farmers, so we tried to set up an arrangement as close to ideal as we thought we could get. It’s why we homeschool and it’s why I moved to self-employment and out of the corporate, 9-5 life. We want our kids to see us struggle, see us succeed. We want them to see what work is, both at home and in business. By the time they are adults, we want them to be capable and wise adults. Not just test-taking college grads.
We want them to know how to make money, how to take care of themselves and we want them to have failures and successes of their own before they are on their own. All of this, so they can have a head start to FIRE themselves.
That’s our goal. And it’s the WHY behind our journey.
For us, “FI” is much more important than “RE”. To us, being financially independent means being able to change the focus of our time and work away from supporting ourselves to supporting other people and initiatives we care about and not worrying if we get “enough” money from it. I don’t know when we’ll ever retire. Ideally, we’ll work on our “family farm” until we die at the ripe old age of 100. We’ll take FI whenever it comes, but our goal is to get there within the next ten years.
On to the particulars.
I work quite a bit, about 55 hours a week on average. Sometimes, a lot more, sometimes quite a bit less. My schedule is fairly flexible. But there’s a lot of give and take. I can take care or teach the kids if the wife needs to run an errand or wants a break. But then I might miss family dinner to meet with a client. I can go to ballet recitals or baseball games but then I’m up late working. Overall, the flexibility is worth it for us.
My childless competitors will always have more time to think, more time to do and more time to waste than I do. They’ll always be quicker to an opportunity and have a capacity to do more and earn more in the short term. So, I have to be efficient and I have to be smart.
As I mentioned, we recently made the switch to self-employment. I am working in both real estate and personal finance. Last year my income was a little under $100k. Which, where I live, is not bad, but not rich either. We’re essentially middle-class in our area.
I anticipate making a little less this year because of several changes and investments into the business that I hope pay off in the years to come. In 2018, our savings rate was approx. 25%. We have no consumer debt. Only some business debt and our mortgage for now.
Because we homeschool, we don’t pay for child care. My wife is a school teacher by trade and could go back to that profession at any time. But as I mentioned, her staying home is a key aspect of our financial approach. She is able to lead children in meal-planning, housework and in some cases, even making furniture or other household goods which would cost us significant money.
We have several neighbours and close friends who also homeschool. Between us we share the burden of childcare. For example, recently a neighboring stay at home mom took a two-week trip abroad. Our family chipped in to watch their kids for part of the time.
Where we live in the Seattle area, housing is expensive. The way we see it, if we didn’t own a home an hour from downtown, we’d be living in downtown along with many of the childless couples in the area who actually pay MORE for housing than we do. This might be the one instance where having kids reduces our costs to some degree.
This spring we plan on adding a garden to our back yard that will of course give us food but also be another part of our kid’s education. We have a big but simple home. If you were to come by and visit (and you’re welcome to with notice) you’d see our TV is small, our fixtures nice but inexpensive and our floors in dire need of an update. Our kids share one large room in the house, and we’ll keep it that way for the foreseeable future. We try to do home repairs and updates ourselves as much as we can.
Activities & Technology
Our kids are still young, but they are allowed only one paid activity at a time. So, my oldest son is playing baseball and my daughter is in ballet (stereotypical or what?). I play the piano and my wife, the violin so we won’t have to pay others to teach them. At least not until they get past our skill level.
Almost all of our vacations are to visit family or nearby attractions. It’s hard to visit many touristy places because the world is designed for groups of 4 or less. A fifth person in your group adds complexity to hotels, rental cars, airplanes and just about everything else so we avoid it to a large extent not just for cost but also convenience.
For birthdays and Christmas, my wife and I set a budget for how much we are willing to spend ahead of time. You have to be intentional here and can’t get caught up in what other parents are doing or what is fashionable. I don’t care if Johnny’s parents rented out a whole building for his 8th birthday party and bought everyone Buzz Lightyear suits. Our birthday party is going to be in the backyard, a place that is already paid for. And we’ll give each kid a card box and some markers to make their own spacesuit.
Money spent on technology can add up quickly. None of our kids will have phones until they are driving. And even then, it won’t be a smartphone. When the time comes, I’m going to visit Nokia’s HQ and dig up those old tiny brick phones from the late 1990s. Same with tablets, computers or video games: they’ll be shared and second-hand. They don’t need to have their own tablet aged 8. I don’t even need my own and I’m 35!
We imagine this will get harder to control to some degree when they are all teenagers/preteens. But it’s up to us as parents to help them value the important things. That’s what being frugal is all about right? Choosing what’s important instead of choosing everything that’s put in front of you.
In short, we’re not trying to turn them into professional athletes or dancers or concert pianists. We’re not trying to keep their (shared) room stocked with the latest and greatest. They say that raising a child costs £230,000. But there are only two reasons a child need cost that much money: 1) the child has a severe medical condition or 2) the parents have no self-control.
Kids & the Environment
Some might wonder about the environmental impact of having kids. Honestly it is not something we worry about. For two reasons: First, the primary study that concluded that having children is the worst thing you can do for the environment is full of errors. If you’d like you can read about that here or here. In summary, these studies project carbon emissions way into the future for not only my kids but also my grandkids and great grandkids yet unborn and then attribute them back to us today.
But the truth is, any potential crisis is now. 100 years from now one of three scenarios will likely be true 1) Climate change killed us all. 2) Climate change models were somehow wrong, and the crisis never fully realized or 3) Climate change was mitigated by substantial technological and energy innovation.
Whether or not we have children will impact none of those things. Besides, in the US, the birth rate is already falling rapidly. If my wife and I don’t have kids too, who’s going to rule the world someday? (haha)
The second reason we don’t worry about this is that we feel our lifestyle is very environmentally conscious and we strive to emphasize this with our children. We don’t eat a lot of meat. We don’t get on a lot of planes (childless couples ahem!). We recycle and have very little trash.
We don’t overconsume goods like toys, clothes, stuff, etc. For years we only had one car but got a second one when schedules became too complex. Our two cars are 1) an older minivan which we use to ferry the whole family around. 2) A smaller electric plug in vehicle which we use for errands or work.
Sacrifice or trade-off?
In some parallel universe, my wife and I chose to not have kids. In that universe, we have it easier. Who knows, maybe we’d be retired already in our mid-30s. Maybe we’d have travelled the globe, eaten out at a lot more restaurants, living on some paradise of a beach somewhere in the Pacific.
But back in this universe, the childless couple or single person will almost certainly be able to retire earlier than we will. Or take bigger steps to financial independence faster than we will. Because no matter how frugal you are, kids cost money. They cost time, they cost energy and focus. Like the comedian Jim Gaffigan said when asked about what it was like to have children:
Imagine you’re drowning…and then someone hands you a baby.
But we’re confident we’ll get to FI too. And when we do, we’ll likely be stronger, better and more equipped than if we had not had kids because we had to work harder and smarter to get there. Because we had to drag others, sometimes quite literally, kicking and screaming along the way. We had to master it first and then teach them. And the most rewarding thing of all will be to pass it (the knowledge) on to them.
Michael blogs about money over at Change Brothers
Last week we had a sell out crowd of 200 people at the London screening of the Playing with FIRE movie at RADA Studios.
For all those that couldn’t get tickets, Cashflow Cop is arranging another UK screening of the Playing with FIRE movie in Birmingham on the evening of Friday 5 July.