MoneyUnder30.com
MoneyUnder30.com

At What Age Should You Have Kids?

When should you plan to have kids? Obviously, it’s up to you, but I’m going to make the case that you should get on it sooner rather than later.

Waiting to have kids may seem like the financially-savvy move, but there are benefits to starting your family early, too.The average age American mothers have their first child was 25 in 2006, up from 21.4 in 1970 according to the CDC. Among college-educated women, the average age of first-childbirth is 30, according to a report by The Atlantic.

The Atlantic article illustrates that postponing marriage is a good thing for college-educated women’s bottom line (less so for men). They’re more likely to establish careers and earn their own money and less likely to have a child out of wedlock. Studies show that unmarried couples who have a child are far more likely to split up than parents who wed.

But on the other end, the risks of childbirth begin to increase after age 35, as does the risk of running into fertility issues. There are also social factors to consider, like whether your parents will be around to be grandparents to your baby. My own mother had me at 39 and my younger brother at 45. I only got to know my maternal grandmother well; I never knew my grandfathers and my dad’s mom developed Alzheimer’s Disease and passed away when I was a boy.

So what’s the right move? When should you plan to have kids? Obviously, it’s up to you, but I’m going to make the case that you should get on it sooner rather than later. That may seem odd coming from a financial advice website. (Shouldn’t I be financially secure before bringing another mouth into the world?) To a point, yes, but don’t over-think it.

Uh, kids? No, thanks

If you are like I was in my twenties, the thought of becoming a parent is more terrifying than your 20 years of student loan payments, the chance you’ll still be an “assistant to the assistant” on your 30th birthday and the prospect you’re un-datable and thus will die sad and alone amid a dozen cats and stacks of hoarded magazines. Combined.

As a new parent of two, let me assure you: That fear is appropriate.

Yes, there are days every parent wants to drop the kids off at some unsuspecting relative’s place and disappear. Fortunately for children everywhere, most parents do the right thing: We suck it up, down another glass of cabernet, and keep on working the only job in the world that’s 24/7 and unpaid.

But somehow – through my infant son’s sleepless nights and my 3-year old daughter’s marathon tantrums (“I DON’T want to…[insert any activity here]!”) – I can’t imagine not having kids. I mean, I can, and I picture it as a never-ending romantic, boozy beach vacation with my wife. But coming back to reality, I realize that in just a few short years, becoming a parent has made me into a stronger, more selfless and all-around better person.

Because scarier than foregoing sleep, a social life, and whatever else you want to accomplish in the hours between sleep and work, is the financial responsibility that comes with birthing another human being into the world.

I’m not just talking about the well-documented costs of having children. (Hint: They’re expensive.) When you bring a dependent into your life, you up the ante in the poker game of personal finance. Your financial decisions will now affect somebody else as much as – or possibly more – than they affect you.

No pressure.

You’re never ready

This, I think, is one of three common reasons people delay having children to 35 or even 40. The others being to prolong pre-parental bliss or to minimize the fallout of motherhood on a woman’s career – unfortunately, still a valid concern.

So here comes my paradoxical advice: If you’re in your late 20s or early 30s, don’t put off having kids because “you’re not quite ready.” Because trust me, you’re never ready!

Now I’m not saying unemployed 20-year olds should go have babies. And certainly if you’re going through tough times (either in a relationship or with money) and you decide to have a baby to try and fix them, you’re not going to have a good time.

But if you have a decent job, a roof over your head, and a supporting partner, I don’t see what should stop you from having kids.

Yes, providing for children adds another big line item to your budget. You’ll be shelling out for diapers and car seats and future tuition payments. The good news – if you can call it that – is that you’ll be spending far less on dining out, entertainment, and travel!

But we humans are good at “making it work” when it needs to work. The added responsibility of being a parent makes the process of managing money a bit more clear: Because your priorities are clear, so too become the sacrifices.

Giving up “you time”

To be certain, having kids earlier means giving up your alone time. Though Lauren and I are jealous of childless couples’ week-long vacations in Europe or Napa, here’s the thing: We’re going to do that stuff in our 50s when we (hopefully) have a lot more money!

Life involves tradeoffs, so if you absolutely can’t say goodbye to the party lifestyle or your free time just yet, you know yourself best. For us, sacrificing these things now to be younger parents was the right choice.

Factoring in your career

To the women of Money Under 30, I’m sorry: The decisions and discrimination you’ll face when you decide to become a mom are intractable.

If you decide to become a full-time mom, you’ll deal with friends who unfortunately look down on you. If you decide to go back to work, you’ll wrestle with guilt over leaving your child and you’ll deal with the unfair double standard that a man who leaves work early to pick up the kids is a “super-involved dad” while a mom who takes a couple hours off to take her baby to the doctor “isn’t committed to the company.”

Ambitious women often put off having kids until they’ve reached the executive position they’ve been working toward. That’s one way to do it; you may no longer have to prove you’re management material every day, but you’re an older parent with riskier pregnancies and a lot more responsibility at work.

The other option is to have your kids early enough that you can get back into the workforce and compete. Yes, you’ll have to butt heads with younger colleagues, but if you’re good, you could still rise to the top.

Every couple must make their own decision about when to have children. Unfortunately, trying to balance that decision with certain career fields can be heartbreakingly difficult.

We opted to dive head-first as soon as we got married so we could have a little more youthful energy with which to parent, but what about you? Have you decided to have kids at a particular age for specific reasons? Why or why not?

About David Weliver

David Weliver is the founding editor of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues we face during our first two decades as adults. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.

Comments

  1. Baseball Beth says:

    My wife are pregnant with our first child and I got a lot of fantastic information from the genetic specialist who did the routine council with us before our first ultrasound. The specialist spoke about the risks and complications of women of “advanced maternal age.” If you’re wondering when it’s too late/risky to conceive, definitely speak directly with the genetic specialist. The correct, accurate, not anecdotal information was crucial in helping us determine how old we want to be when we conceive our 2nd.

  2. Great article!! I’m 27 y/o, single, no kids, and decent job. This was a great article for me to ponder.

  3. Good article with honest thoughts. I can’t saw i don’t think about life without kids every once in a while as well. But of course you don’t appreciate time alone half as much as you would if you had it all the time. I would agree that earlier is better than later. We waited till i was finished with my masters degree (while working full time), but now have 3 kids at 29 and would not change anything with our timing! They have definitely caused growth for both me and my wife.

    I would argue the cost bit somewhat though as our kids have cost us almost nothing!! Note this doesn’t count opportunity cost for my wife/day care, or college. But on a recurring cost basis they are actually fairly cheap :-)

    I have tracked it all as well. $500 for start up equipment and tracking right around and average of $200/month each for food/clothing/diapers/gifts etc. . .

    So so far I have spent around
    Kid 1 (5) = $300 (birth costs) + $500 + $200*12*5 = $12800
    Kid 2 (3) = $2000 (birth costs) + $200*12*3 = $9200
    Kid 3 (1) = $10 (birth costs) + $200*12*1 = $2410
    Total Spent = $24410

    But this doesn’t count taxes!!! Each kid saves me $1000 in taxes (child tax credit) a year, plus $3600 personal exemption ($3600*.25 marginal rate = $900) . So each kid has saved me

    Kid 1 (5) – $5000 + $3600 = $8600
    Kid 2 (3) – $3000 + $2700 = $5700
    Kid 3 (1) – $1000 + $900 = $1900
    Total Saved = $16200

    Total bottom line = $8210 for 9 kid years or $912 a year per kid. Yes some of these will go up with more activities later on in life, diapers and formula will go down, savings for college isn’t tracked here, and it is difficult to quantify the added cost of a slightly larger home to accommodate my family (which is definitely the biggest actual cost). But on a recurring cost basis they are pretty cheap :-)

    • Impressed! says:

      Thanks for sharing. This is super insightful on how your tax savings help offset your out of pocket costs. I wonder how this compares to others. Would be an interesting second article!

    • How did you manage to have a $10 birth cost with your last child…? Did the insurance take care of it all and you’re just counting the “It’s a boy/girl” cigars you picked up in the hospital gift shop? ;)

  4. Awesome article! Thanks so much for sharing. I agree with what you said about people never *really* being ready for kids. My husband and I have waited to have kids so we could buy a house, accomplish some career goals, travel and have some fun. Oh and also to save money because apparently kids are expensive! :)

  5. I tracked the costs of my first kid very closely, including everything I spent money on including medical bills, and it added up to only $1,500 in the first year. We did get some stuff from a small baby shower, a lady from church gave us a box of infant clothes, and family buys some toys or clothes every now and then, but in general typical support from family and friends.

    I have continued to track child related expenses, and it hasn’t changed much yet (he is still 2). I anticipate things getting more expensive in the future, but for now my child related costs are about what I get in tax credits and deductions.

  6. My husband and I have no interest in having kids. I really wish that would be mentioned more places as a perfectly acceptable option. You get way more judgment for not having children than any decision about having/raising them. At least that’s how it feels.

    • I’m in the same position you are. Husband and I have no interest in kids and are perfectly happy. I receive so much criticism/disdain from others for that decision. It’s fine if others need children to be satisfied with life, but they ought to understand that not everyone else feels that same need and some of us have an extremely fulfilled existence (and we didn’t have to pop out babies to get there!)

  7. The decision to have a child is a very complex one. I get that “you’re never really ready” but there’s a difference between wanting to maintain a lifestyle of vacationing/dining out frequently and knowing you truly can’t afford to support a child. Here are a few reasons we are not ready:

    1) Insurance. Upon the birth of a child, our health insurance premiums would increase approximately $150 per month. Additionally, having a dependent means I will need to start paying for term life insurance (approximately $25/month).

    2) Student loans. While my husband was able to get a good job right out of college, we are struggling to pay down his $50K in student loans – most of which are private and thus not eligible for IBR/forgiveness/deferment.

    3) Maternity leave. While my employer technically offers maternity leave, it’s only 4 weeks (unpaid). FMLA does not apply. So basically I would need to work until the day I give birth, find daily childcare for an infant, and be back to work in less than a month… or quit my job entirely. Kind of a lose-lose situation.

    In summary, having a child would cost us approximately $23,000 per year right off the bat due to insurance costs and job loss. Add the cost of diapers, clothing, baby gear, etc. to our own mandatory expenses like food, housing, transportation, student loan payments, etc. and we’d be completely broke within a few months.

    :(

  8. This post hits really close to home right now. I was born to be a mom. I’m a 26 (very close to 27) yr old teacher, at a family party you’ll always find me surrounded by the little ones and the idea of not having children can literally bring a tear to my eye. I’ve been dreaming of the day my husband (dated 8 years, been married for 2 months now) would have kids. Until I got married. At first I said ok I’ll wait one year so we can go through all the holidays once Asa married couple… But then, looking at our financial situation (me=teacher, husband=computer programming student, and part time bar tender, using student loans to help survive) I thought I want to go to Europe before I have kids, we can’t go to Europe within one year! I want to buy a house before we have kids, but we need to get rid of some of this debt first, and save a down payment, a year won’t be enough for that!! Maybe I’ll wait longer. But I don’t want to be a 30 year old girst time mom! Almost 60 at graduation? Where have my priorities gone? I am glad you’ve reminded me kids are a joy and I can go all those places when I’m 60 and my husbands making the big bucks!

  9. Baseball Beth says:

    We’ll be 31 and 36 year old parents, when our first baby is born this December. We have through information from a genetic specialist about how old is too risky to conceive, and our current pregnancy is healthy.

    We’re pretty comfortable to be this age, and not at all worried about being older than some parents when our kids are in college. This is in part because we eat right and exercise. I know that it’s important for everyone, not just parents, to take care of ourselves as we age so that at 60, we don’t look like we’re in our 70s, etc. I’m sure at college graduation, some parents will seem healthy and energetic, while others will seem worn and tired. Age is a part of that yes, but lifestyle will impact it greatly.

  10. Baseball Beth says:

    Hey one more thing about first time parent expenses: Craigslist. We just purchased a crib (which turns into a 1st bed) and a matching changing table for $120 (for both). The post was titled “need this out of my garage.” Thank god for Craigslist.

  11. This is a very interesting (and im guessing controversial) post. I truthfully don’t know what to think of it. I’m not sure you made the best case for your side of the argument, but I see what you were trying to convey. I personally am the only child to parents that had me at 39 years old. Choosing when I will have children is difficult because I feel the pressure to have them younger so my parents can enjoy grandchildren. However, I think I have every right to wait. My parents had full lives before kids and I should have a right to that as well. I have career goals and life goals and maturities to find before I every fully commit to parenthood. Plus i’m not ready to act like im 42 home with the kids when im 26.

  12. I’m 29, unmarried and childless and plan to be that way forever. I have nothing against those who choose otherwise, I just don’t have the drive or energy to have a family. I try my best to be understanding and accomodating to those firends and coworkers who do have kids, but I resent the double stand that exists for single men vs. married men. It’s as if you’re 25+ and not married or dating there must be something wrong with you. While it’s not the same as the discrimination married women and especially women with kids experience, it gives me pause on how much society really needs to learn about people different from themselves.

    • I’m 29, unmarried and childless and plan to be that way forever. I have nothing against those who choose otherwise, I just don’t have the drive or energy to have a family. Money is not the issue, I just don’t think I’d have the energy or time to be a good dad, even if I really wanted it.

      I try my best to be understanding and accomodating to those firends and coworkers who do have kids, but I resent the double stand that exists for single men vs. married men. It’s as if you’re 25+ and not married or dating there must be something wrong with you. While it’s not the same as the discrimination married women and especially women with kids experience, it gives me pause on how much society really needs to learn about people different from themselves.

  13. My partner and I had a commitment ceremony this year and currently have no interest in children. We’ve been together for almost 7 years and were in school for 6 of those years getting our master’s and bachelor’s degrees. After that torture, we were finally able to find full time jobs in our field. It was a struggle for me, but I eventually got there. A few months ago we purchased our first home. There’s so much more out of life to enjoy and kids at this point in our lives does not fit. My niece is enough for now. We are also sure that my partner’s sister will start having children as soon as this is married as she has been with her fiancee for almost 5 years.

    I agree with others that not having children should have also been pointed out as an acceptable option. Perhaps when we are more stable in our lives we’ll consider adopting.

  14. I got married at 19, kids at 20 & 22. I would suggest leaving at least a couple years after marriage to be DINKS but only 1 or 2. Have kids sooner than later, its easier to tell your kids no to all the toys they want when you have no money to buy them with. When you’re older, you’ll be tempted to give them everything because you can. Kids who have felt need grow up to work harder. We love our kids but everyone is different.

  15. Discovering that I was going to be a mother was quite a shock to me. As a relentless saver, all I could see was little babies draining my precious accounts that I had worked so hard to build. I was only 23 the first time I became pregnant, and was still in the process of figuring out what exactly I wanted to do with my capable brain. I am now grateful that I began building my family young. This means that by the time my kids are older (& more expensive!) I will be ready to really start making leaps & bounds in my career. I have managed to work part time in the meanwhile, and attend school online to build my credentials. Of course, I wouldn’t be able to do this without the hard work on my husband’s behalf. It’s all about balance, & as others have mentioned, I have been pleasantly surprised at how little my children have cost me thus far. Of course, again I must give credit to great insurance, careful budgeting, & generous friends & family.

    Also, kudos to those who don’t want children! There is no shame in that, & this article is clearly directed towards those who do… I don’t believe it was meant to paint childless adults in a negative light at all.

  16. Greaaaaat article, been reading the site for a while, all the articles, this one should be sent out to the masses and expanded somehow, thanks notify me of comments