What Is One Single Decision to Reaching Long-term Financial Goals? The Childfree Life

Nadia Taha wrote an excellent essay recently in the “Your Money” section of the The New York Times.  She is in her late 20s, and she and her husband are like many couples – they want to buy a house, have savings, and comfortable retirement years. They’ve decided they don’t want children. Why? They see it as the “single decision” that can best help them…

…achieve their long-term financial goals. To Nadia, “opting out of parenthood isn’t such a fanatical financial move. In fact, it’s “rather prudent.”

She and her husband are not a rarity in their generation.  I talk with more and more childfree 20 Somethings these days, and like Hope Reese says in her (not so positive) review the new book, Twentysomething: Why Do Young Adults Seem Stuck?, “a large number of my late 20-something friends feel confident that they don’t want children at all.”

Nadia did what too many would-be parents do not do – take real clear look at what this experience is going to cost. She couldn’t  “fathom how anyone could enter into <parenthood> without a number of some sort in mind,” so she came up with an estimate herself based on some solid factors, including housing, child care, insurance, public university and tuitions.  Her conclusion: She and her husband would probably spend over $1.7 million in today’s dollars.

She makes an insightful point on the “benefit” side of her cost-benefit analysis – The dollar cost is easier to come up with than trying to evaluate the benefits of having children, as they are ones “you simply cannot know or understand unless you experience them firsthand.”20 something by underdogprophet

One thing for sure for that kind of money, you have to really want it. Nadia is like so many childfree couples I have interviewed when they get to the bottom of their decision not to have children – a lack of emotional desire, or in this case, financial concerns and high priority on financial security outweigh the desire to become a parent.

As Nadia articulates if for herself, “some people have a profound emotional desire to have children. But I don’t. Young as we are, it would take a pretty big financial, practical and emotional shift for that to change.”

In addition to Nadia’s generation, financial considerations also enter into why we see growing numbers of GenXers not having children. Yet there is the pronatalist assumption that having children is the road to true adult maturity. It just isn’t the case. What the truth? Whether you have children or not, really giving serious consideration to the financial aspects of having children reflects adult maturity. And having children when you can’t afford them or aren’t prepared and willing to do what it takes to afford them reflects immaturity.

But when it comes to what we’re “supposed” to do in life, the power of pronatalism pervades. Nadia went to women to experts in personal finance and parenting as part of learning the “the knowable and unknowable advantages and disadvantages of having children,” and what was she told – by experts? She was “assured that a cost-benefit analysis was neither necessary nor helpful, and that one day I would feel the urge to procreate, and so I would.”

Thank goodness for others she talked to – neighbors, friends and co-workers — who, when she mentioned she was writing an article about the parenthood decision, “more than a few of them cut me off to say just three words: Good for you.”

Now that’s a response that makes me want to think when it comes to societal acceptance of the childfree choice, maybe we’re getting somewhere – with 20 Somethings potentially carrying an ever growing torch.

5 thoughts on “What Is One Single Decision to Reaching Long-term Financial Goals? The Childfree Life

  1. I did not choose to be childree with the idea of retiring early (I am 49 and have been retired for 4 years). I knew at age 20 that I would be childfree but did not realize until I was 35 that I could parlay that great choice into the ultimate financial achievement – to be financially independent way before anything close to retirement “age.”

    That being said, I totally approve of anyone who chooses to be childfree with the main reason being money. Similarly, I am always puzzled (or worse) when people who lack the financial means have (more) children.

  2. I think of all the possible bingoes one can get after revealing the decision to remain child-free, the “selfish” accusation baffles me the most, coupled with the “you’re not a real adult until you have kids” hogwash. As you quite succinctly point out, how is it selfish to choose not to have kids if, for example, you can’t afford to? And how is it immature to make an informed decision based on a level-headed, logical review of the pros and cons of having kids vs remaining child-free? I’m reminded of a scene in one of my favourite books where a couple is struggling with fertility issues and the resultant financial strain and the husband actually tallies the cost of raising a child should they actually become pregnant after having spent all that money on IVF etc. The wife tears the paper apart and says that it will work out even if it doesn’t on paper. Um… Wanna tell us how??? THAT is selfishness and immaturity at its best! (I’d like to add a caveat here, though, that I have nothing but sympathy for someone who truly wants children and is unable to have them)

  3. I always said that if you haven’t sat down and made a budget to figure out how you were going to afford a child, you aren’t ready to have one. Having a child when you can’t really afford one is EXTREMELY immature, yet families ‘just trying to get by’ are often viewed as being ‘real adults’, All-American, hardworking, good people. I get that sometimes life can screw you over, but the vast majority of these families (and often single mothers) are in this situation because they just didn’t think it all through.

  4. Funny (and by that I mean “absurd”) how when twentysomethings don’t want to have children they are defined as being “stuck.” As if having children is the only way to move “forward” or to mature. As if making a thoughtful, responsible, realistic life choice is somehow a sign of immaturity.

    Looking at the recent economic problems caused by irresponsible financial practices and debt insanity, I think we should praise everyone who has an ounce of financial sense and actually uses it….

  5. Some of the most fiscally irresponsible people I have ever met were ones who did their procreation as a sort of knee jerk – e.g. because that is just the next milestone. There is this mentality that one figures out how to make it work, that the process of making it work is some sort of growth and maturation experience. So why is it that when I was comparing notes with one Uber Mom recently about Long Term Care, and mind you, I can tell you she will need it given her current health trajectory, she had absolutely no concept of what it might take to accommodate the challenges of aging. And guess what? Some worker bee some day is going to partially shoulder the resultant burden. Yeah, that is so grown up and all that!

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