Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Almighty Dollar

I am very intrigued by the life of a particular friend of mine. A mother of two, she’s always been prolific in her blogging and seemingly very honest about her experience as a housewife and stay-at-home mom, the mostly good stories tempered by the occasional crazy or bad one. She’s pregnant again with their “trying for a boy” baby (in my experience parents only have three children when their first two are of the same sex; then they have the “trying for a [blank] baby”.)

Perhaps I’m oddball in my obsessive budgeting of savings, considering it an integral part of our family budget, but I’ve noticed a disregard—or at the very least, apathy—in the families I know with children. I know my friend and her husband may not be struggling with her staying at home, but they’ve been concerned about money for sure, recently purchasing a house and now a new mini-van for their growing brood. I often wonder how they intend to send their three children to college, how they plan for an emergency, if they’re prepared if her husband takes ill again and cannot work for an extended period of time.

Of course I can’t claim to know what’s best for their family, and to be honest I’m not even sure what her husband does for a living or how much he makes. I’m mostly looking at them as an average young family making the decision to add another baby, and I honestly can’t imagine raising a family of three on a single salary.

But having a family is about sacrifice! You sacrifice for your children! But what if it’s stability you’re sacrificing? At what point are you endangering your future or that of your children? When you have three kids and no money for a college fund? When Daddy has a recurring illness that can occasionally become severe and potentially job-threatening, nevermind the potential for jobs to be lost at any moment due to economic or other reasons beyond anyone’s control? When all the groceries and the mortgage are tossed onto credit cards — just this month, ‘til we’re back on our feet.

Selfishness. We childfree folk all know the word well. It’s the word to describe our desire to see our retirement account fat and healthy, our savings comfortable enough to float us for a month or more should one of the partners in the relationship be out of work for one reason or another. The desire to carry no balances on high-interest credit cards, to pay in cash when possible and to have enough lying around to pick up a new pair of glasses in an emergency, or a new suit for that big interview.

Childfree couples certainly aren’t all wealthy. My husband and I do okay, but we live what I consider a modest lifestyle. Even so, we D.I.N.K.s (Dual-Income No Kids) take a lot of flack for “hoarding” cash or being big spenders. But aren’t we doing what we’re SUPPOSED to be doing? Preparing for our futures? I’m not talking about extravagant vacations, expensive luxury items or impractical but beautiful cars and homes. I’m talking about what I’ve come to consider basic needs.

When did saving become optional? We’re living in a world where savings is the first thing that suffers and credit is looked upon as cash-on-hand.

Although my husband and I make a comfortable living, I do not believe we can afford a child; this is unrelated to our lack of desire to have children. When I consider the expense of a child, from the endless needs of an infant that go above and beyond basic childcare and diapers, to the birthday parties and holiday gifts, to the school supplies, clothing, medical care, braces. And that doesn’t count the food or allowances when the kids get older.

And what of schooling? In the areas where we can afford to live comfortably, the schools are sub-par. Do you pay for private schooling or spend the money moving to a more upscale neighborhood? Or perhaps you hire a private tutor? If you do all that, where does the college savings come from?

Am I being alarmist? Dramatic? I don’t think so. And that’s why I get concerned when I hear my friend is adding another child to her family. Is it sacrifice, or is it irresponsible? That’s a decision between she and her husband and based upon the lifestyle they want to live. I honestly cannot understand how or why they do it. It’s not a reflection upon them— she certainly doesn’t understand my lack of desire for children either. We’ve just made very different choices in our lives.


amber said...

It is beyond me how a family can afford three kids on one income. At my job, I have noticed that a lot of my coworkers with kids just go without. The wife stays at home, they have one car, they never buy any new clothes or shoes - any income they get goes to the kids. And you mention college expenses, what about weddings and grandchildren?

Acolyte said...

I think having more and more kids just so you can have kids of a certain gender is reprehensible. If they have only one income how can they keep on having more and more kids, love will not feed and clothe this children!
Why does logic always go out of the window when children are involved?

Ashley said...

I certainly understand living without money for an emergency...I'm a graduate student and for all intents and purposes, I am unemployed. I pick up the occasional substitute teaching job, and I'm a graduate assistant for my academic department (netting me the princely sum of $85 a week), but I don't bring in very much. My husband works full-time, but he makes an hourly wage and we barely have enough to get by. If not for my student loans, we'd be really screwed. I can't fathom how people can just make the decision to have kids (or not even make a decision on the subject; for it just to "happen"!) with all the money it costs! And I am so glad that we're childfree and don't have to worry about where that money is going to come from! We're not really stable now and this is not a permanent way of life for us; I'll graduate with my M.A. in a year and we're moving out of state again (we moved from out of state so I could go to school here). We're trying to find a new place to live, and I'm so thankful that we don't have to worry about schools, babysitters, kid crap, etc. on top of finding jobs and a place to live.

Anonymous said...

Awesome post. I've wondered the same things many times.

I have a family member who has 2 kids and the father is in and out of low paying jobs. The mom is fervently stay and at home and refuses to get a job (even though the kids are pre-teens, and don't need her there all day probaby, plus, she has a college degree). They go without so much, including worrying about having enough money for food. They get loans they'll never be able to pay back from family members, and just keep plugging away. There's no way they can save for an emergency, college or retirement. They can't even pay their monthly bills. At least they're smart enough not to have more kids. The mother keeps encouraging me to have kids, saying the financial end will just work itself out, if they can do it, certainly we can. But I just don't want to have that kind of stress hanging over me.

thismomentisyourlife said...

I have one older sister, and my parents had talked about having another child after me. My grandfather's death squashed this idea, because my mom was depressed. At the time we were living in Ohio, which was quite affordable. My mom was staying home with me. I seriously can't imagine if they had had another child after me. We ended up moving to New York a few years later, which was much more expensive. Things were more than tight - my dad worked 2 jobs, and my mom worked part time. So, I look at it thinking it is a good thing they didn't have another kid, but I think my parents both regret not having a 3rd child. I said to my dad "well, how would you have afforded one?" And my dad said "Well, you would have just had less, and dealt with it." I don't know. I thought that was a horrible answer.

So, I don't really get how people can do things like that. My husband and I are getting our debt paid off and money in order. Right now, we don't know if we want kids ever, but we have both said, if our finances aren't good or our retirement funds aren't very big yet, then we will forego, because having money in the bank is important to both of us.

I think the big thing is that most people just don't think about it. They just decide to have a child, then think later.