The Myth Of The Expensive Child


There is a very common story about having kids and financial independence. It goes something like this, “Children are massively expensive and will ruin your chances at financial independence, so don’t have them.”  According to the US Department of Agriculture, that story has some truth to it. The USDA suggest that the average child costs $245,340 to raise to age 18.

While I don’t doubt the USDA, there’s definitely a side-story about financial flexibility that frequently gets ignored! The USDA reports that child rearing costs scale with income. Meaning, if you make more, your kids cost more. Strange isn’t it?

In our experience, you don’t have to choose between children or financial independence.  With our kids, they didn’t ruin our chances at financial independence. Instead, they made us pause and reflect upon our plans for financial independence. We adjusted our plans slightly; a little more saving was needed. Ultimately we made specific choices to both have kids and choose a financially independent life.  It can be done, but it takes doing things a little differently.

Kids are just another option in life, very similar to other big financial choices – like buying a house. Nobody says you can’t have financial independence because you bought a house, do they?

 

The Daycare Nightmare
Passed out at daycare
Daycare is expensive, and apparently boring.

OK, let’s first take care of the elephant in the room that is ‘daycare’. This is a big one. Daycare is expensive. If you can avoid it via alternative childcare arrangements, do that!

With one child, daycare is a financial hit on the order of $1400/month (or more) where I live. If you get a private nanny (the spendy-pants option), it’s going to cost even more. Yikes!  Daycare can definitely delay the necessary savings needed for financial independence.

When you have two or more kids, that equation changes.  It doesn’t really make a lot of sense for both parents to work. $2800 a month in after-tax income for two kids, and then have commuting expenses? Both parents would need to have very high paying jobs to make that worth it.

In many cases, it’s just easier for one parent to stay home. Currently, I play the role of stay-at-home-Dad for our youngest son. It’s very tiring, but it sure beats paying those daycare fees.

 

The Mountain of Free

A lot of people think once you have a kid, you have to go buy all this stuff. That’s completely false. There is a mountain of free kid-stuff for anyone willing to go get it. A gigantic mountain. Free clothes. Free toys. Free everything. Some of its even brand-new with the price-tags still on it. There’s so much free stuff out there for the taking – I don’t think we’ve ever purchased a ‘new’ set of clothing for our boys.

Anyone who’s interested in getting in on this giant mountain of kid stuff should look into their local Buy Nothing Project, or FreeCycle. That’s where we started, but there’s tons of other places we now get kid-stuff. Once people know you are willing to take used stuff, they will constantly be looking to give away their old kid-stuff. When that mountain of free begins to slide your way, it’s difficult to stop. I think my kids actually have too many toys now!

car collection
Our mountain of free cars.  This is only one example of all the free toys.

 

Activities With Kids
unhappy child
Clearly, this is the face of an unhappy, deprived child.

Activities are another place where you can spend big or spend practically nothing at all. Financially free parents do things a little different: There’s tons of free (or nearly free) entertainment available, from local parks to libraries, to gardening, to building projects. Once you are financially free you have the time to spend with your kids to do these things.

In our grandparent’s era, they didn’t have ‘paid activities’. Kids played in the street, and look at them!  They turned out to be reasonably well adjusted adults. You can enroll your children in expensive after-school ‘paid activities’, but I contend those activities are just for spendy-pants parents who need to occupy their children whilst they work.

One activity I haven’t been able to figure out how to do for free in the Pacific Northwest is swimming lessons. I believe swimming lessons to be an important life-skill. The planet is 75% water, so there’s a good chance our boys will encounter a large body of water one day. We don’t have a pool, and it’s just too darn cold here to use a lake. Instead, we choose to pay the reasonable $5 fee at our local pool.

 

Food With Kids

One thing we noticed after having kids is we started eating healthier. We started eating more vegetables, and less packaged food. Why? We wanted our kids to eat healthy, so subsequently we had to eat healthier too.

Despite the fact that we have two extra mouths to feed, our food budget has actually gone down. We spend less now because we don’t buy (as much) packaged food or junk food. Instead, we focus on fresh fruits and vegetables, which are actually pretty cheap. Most fruit and veg can be bought for less than $3/lb.

We stopped eating-out nearly as often too. Meals-out with infants and toddlers are a lot of work. In addition to bringing a bunch of extra stuff for the child’s meal, there’s no guarantee they won’t have a meltdown in the restaurant and fling a fork across the room.  There’s also the challenge of finding healthy meal choices that your child will actually accept. All those fancy places we used to go before kids? Yeah, I remember them…vaguely.

 

Travel Is Different
Are we there yet?
Are we there yet?

Back when we were young and free, we used to travel a lot. We would fly internationally about once a year, and take a few domestic trips in addition to that. Then, we had kids.

Our international travels came to a screeching halt. Trips are very different now. Instead of flying to those exotic locations, the whole family hops in the car and drives to Grandma’s house. It’s a heck of a lot cheaper, and it gives Mrs. Tako and I what we need out of a vacation – a rest! The Grandparents are more than happy to help out with the kids. For now, our family travel is super cheap.

 

 

No Energy For Anything Else

Here’s another way kids help you save money for financial independence: They exhaust the crap out of you. To the point where you won’t have energy for anything else. Seriously! We don’t have the energy to go-out and do crazy things with our money, so it stays safe and sound in the investment account (where it should be).

After the week is done, our Friday nights amount to Mrs. Tako falling asleep on the couch and Mr. Tako working on his blog.  Exciting aren’t we?  Yet one more way kids save you money.

 

Parents Are Expensive, Not Kids

A lot of the so called ‘expenses’ of having children are completely under your control as a parent. You choose to make them expensive. Some parents will choose to spend money on activities, some on clothes, some on travel. Some will choose to spend more, some less.  It’s entirely up to you, and the things you value.

Let me provide you an example from one of our seriously spendy-pants “parent friends”.

(Note: Once you have kids, you start to get a lot of these so called “parent friends”.  These are not people you would normally hang-out with before kids.  Now that you do have kids, you find yourself hanging around them frequently because your kids play together.)

Our spendy-pants “parent friends” have two twin boys – roughly the same age as Tako Jr.  They choose the expensive option.  These kids get *everything* new. I don’t think they’ve ever worn anything used in their life. Brand spanking new…all of it. Of course, instead of requiring their twins to share toys, they get two of everything. Of course, they have a private nanny to attend to the twins as well.  Top-drawer the whole way.

When we carefully inquire as to why they do things this way, our parent friend says “I don’t want my kids to have to suffer in life, I want their childhood to be perfect”.  Apparently, “used” is considered suffering.  When did a little hardship become a bad thing?

The parents control the money and how it’s spent, not the children.  It’s actually the parents that are expensive, not the children.  As parents, we get to choose how much we spend and whether our boys get things new, free, used, or go without.

Here in the Tako household, we have two boys. We chose to primarily go with hand-me-downs, and used toys. We may not be able to do it forever, but right now they don’t even know the difference.  Do we feel bad as parents for doing this?  Absolutely not.  As parents, we hold ourselves to the same standard – most of my clothes come from a thrift store too.  I want to teach them about being financially free, and they need to learn from a good example.

I believe that actually having the time to spend with my boys is more important than the age of the cotton they wear. We chose financial independence so we could have more time with our boys, not more time working as a wage-slave.

 

A Personal Choice

As we’ve talked about in the past…perfect is expensive. Giving kids everything they want doesn’t make them happy, it just causes hedonic adaptation to start at a very early age. Children can get conditioned, just like adults, to believe they should have everything.  I shudder at the thought of what kind of adults they will become.

We made a personal choice to have both financial freedom and children. It definitely required some tradeoffs, but in retrospect those tradeoffs were not actually bad at all. It’s true, our lives are not perfect.  We wouldn’t stand-out if you saw us in person.  Do we ever regret making those tradeoffs to have both kids and financial independence?  Nope.  I wouldn’t change it for the world.

 

14 thoughts on “The Myth Of The Expensive Child

  • February 13, 2016 at 4:53 AM
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    “Parents Are Expensive, Not Kids”, so true! Kids usually don’t even care if something is used or not. They probably will once they get older, but by that time they are used to “used” anyways and you as a parent can get away with more recycling 😉
    We currently do feel the pain of daycare, little we can do about it. But once Miss CF goes to school, those costs will drop and will only be partially compensated by increased other cost. So it only should get better!
    An article with lots of wisdom, thank you!

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  • February 13, 2016 at 8:52 AM
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    Great post, indeed parents can actually be the expensive ones!

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  • February 14, 2016 at 2:17 AM
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    Mr Tako,

    This story is spot on with regards to the options that you have asa parent. We have 2 kids and apply some of the above points.
    Our international travel,stopped with the first one born. We switched to holidays in Belgium, and asked the grand patents along. A win,win,win,win! It is cheaper and not less funny, we get some relaxing time, the grand parents love the kids time and the kids like that they have now more peope to play with. Just this winter we went back to ski. Not cheap, vut part of the things that are important for us.

    We also do not mind second hand things, we pay attention to the quality of these itmes. Very often toys, cloths etc look never used. So, why pay more?

    And that Friday evening feeling?!? Spot on.

    Amber tree

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  • February 14, 2016 at 8:06 AM
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    I went the no-kid route. A lot cheaper…. Do not forget, kids have a lot of ‘stuff’ on them, never do a petri dish experiment with a swab from a kids face.

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    • February 15, 2016 at 10:23 PM
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      That’s definitely one way to go. As far as the kid-grime goes, that’s easily solved by a regular bath. No problems there. 😉

      Reply
  • February 15, 2016 at 10:15 AM
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    Love this, you raised so many great points that we think why raising kids don’t have to be expensive. It’s expensive only if you believe it in the first place.

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  • February 15, 2016 at 8:42 PM
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    My friend was the last of 5 kids and got hand-me-downs. He vowed his kids would never have to do the same…..his first daughter got everything new….and then he saw the light. His next three kids got hand-me-downs…or rather got to share stuff instead of buying new. It really is a parent spending problem.

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  • February 23, 2016 at 3:25 PM
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    We do most of what you recommend, although my wife thinks that the kids should go to daycare in addition to her staying at home… kind of one of our big fights 🙂

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    • February 23, 2016 at 3:51 PM
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      Is she willing to work in order to pay for it? I kind of get the socialization aspect for older kids, but from my experience the children don’t get a lot of 1-1 time with the teacher. Chaos rules in a daycare setting due to overwhelmed teachers. It can be really rough – scratches, biting, hitting. Not really the kind of socialization I think is useful.

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  • August 16, 2016 at 11:38 AM
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    totally true! and I cannot wait to teach our kids about financial management (I lobby hard to introduce this in schools too).

    What are you doing about college expenses for your kids, if you don’t mind me asking? Also something I wrote about today – what is your take on wills and life insurance when they are little?

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  • August 20, 2016 at 6:47 PM
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    I agree. I am currently a graduate student, and I can’t wait to have kids. But my parents think I should wait until I get my PhD and have a career before having kids. For some reason, they think it’s expensive to have kids and I never really believed this. Honestly, my boyfriend and I want to become self-employed and travel the world WITH kids! Great article!

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  • December 2, 2016 at 8:18 AM
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    Love this post! I’m so sick of people telling me “oh once you have kids you won’t have any money”. REALLY? C’mon. After talking to Jeremy, Justin, and reading your post, I can really see that kids aren’t expensive. Parents make them expensive. Especially when you have friends who think “I don’t want my kids to have to suffer in life, I want their childhood to be perfect”.
    WHAT? I get that they want the best for their kids, but are they really expecting life and the world to be perfect? Not sure what planet they live on. And a little adversity is never bad for your kids. Overcoming adversity is what builds character and makes them stronger. But of course, they won’t listen. Oh well, their kids are missing out on some awesome life lessons.

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    • December 2, 2016 at 9:22 AM
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      Couldn’t agree more FIRECracker. You can’t really appreciate the sunshine until you’ve seen it rain (for 6 months of the year!)

      It’s definitely hard (for me) to understand where those kinds of people are coming from…but I suspect there’s a lot of “mommy judging” going on. It’s like “keeping up with the joneses” only for kids…

      Reply

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