At some point in your 20s and 30s, you’ll start to wonder if you want to have kids, and if so, when you should do it. There are a lot of online articles and quizzes about how to tell when you’re mentally and emotionally prepared to have kids.
Before I had my daughter, I read a ton of these. Eventually I realized that hemming and hawing so much over the issue was a good sign I wanted a child.
What I didn’t read enough of were articles like this one…how to tell if you’re financially ready for kids.
In the two years since my daughter’s birth, I’ve learned that the things I thought would cost a lot of money (setting up her nursery, for example) are actually cheap. But things I never even knew about (like fruit and vegetable squeeze pouches) cost a lot of money.
I asked some of the smartest parents I know for tips on how you can figure out when you’re financially ready to have kids. Here’s what they had to say:
There’s no magic number
You don’t need to be rich to start the process of trying to conceive a child.
Trust me – it’s a process.
Before I had a baby, I assumed I’d get pregnant – and stay pregnant – right away. After all, my mom and sister had no problems. I thought fertility was genetic, too.
But it wasn’t so easy. It took a year for things to work out (which feels like ten years when you’re trying to get pregnant). My daughter ended up being born on my 39th birthday.
During that time, I saved a lot of money, so I’m glad I didn’t wait until everything was perfect with my finances to even start trying.
You don’t need to panic if you’re over 35 and still haven’t started trying. Scientists and the media have done a terrible job reporting on women’s fertility.
The best research out there proves that a woman’s fertility doesn’t really drop off until she turns 40. Even then, plenty of women still have successful pregnancies.
My point is that if you wait until you are “rich” enough to have kids, you may not ever have them the old fashioned way.
There’s always adoption, IVF and surrogacy (and foster parenting), but those options are really costly.
Keep in mind you can still save money after the baby is born. “Children are pretty satisfied with food and love for the first few years of life. It has been my observation that children learn what they think they ‘need’ by the lifestyle of their parents. Regardless of income, the simpler the lifestyle, the fewer expenses any family will incur. If a young couple ‘needs’ all the gadgets, bells and whistles, then their baby will too,” says KD Elizabeth Beisinger, who doles out advice at AllExperts, an online question and answer service.
Birth an emergency fund before a baby
While you don’t need tons of money sacked away to start trying for a kid, you should have an emergency fund ready to dip into once the baby arrives.
“Having savings to cover three-to-six months of bills is recommended for everyone,” says KD Elizabeth.
Yeah…yeah… we always say this. What’s the big deal about having one when you have a kid? Well, you may actually need that money, and fast.
Some new parents are lucky enough to get paid maternity leave. But many aren’t. Parental leave law in the United States is horrendous: it only requires companies that employ at least 50 people to provide new parents who have worked full time with the company for at least one year with up to 12 unpaid weeks off.
So if you’ve held a full-time job for at least a year with a large company, count yourself lucky: You can take three months off…without pay.
It’s pretty common for female employees to get some paid time off after having a baby, but I know plenty of women who didn’t. (Some companies are finally offering dads paid time off, too).
Translation? You may not have two incomes coming in for a few months.
You may also find that it’s just too hard to raise a child (or two or six) when both parents work full-time.
I never understood this before I had a baby. I always thought, “Just send the kid to daycare or get a sitter, dummy.”
That doesn’t always make financial sense.
According to a 2012 survey, the national average hourly rate for babysitting or short-term assignments is $16 per hour. The national average gross weekly salary for full-time live-out nannies is $705.
Yeah… that means over $2,800 per month for in-home care. That’s more than many people make in one month.
Daycare is cheaper when a kid is over two, but you can expect to pay $371 to $1,100 a month depending on where you live and how long the child spends there.
Another reason to have some savings? You might end up needing them before you ever buy your first package of diapers.
My water broke seven weeks early (something I thought only happened in Lifetime movies). That meant I was put on immediate bed rest in the hospital, and my daughter spent ten days in the NICU (a place you also never hear about until you have a preemie).
I’m lucky enough to have a great insurance plan through my full-time job, but my husband and I were still left with over $6,000 of medical bills.
We had even more immediate financial issues. For 17 days, my husband needed to park our car in the hospital garage. Parking isn’t free for the family of patients, nor is their food.
During those few weeks, we spent at least $410 in parking alone.
Good thing we had some savings.
It’s about more than diapers and college
Pre-baby, I thought my biggest cost – at least for her first few years of life – would be diapers (a cost that can be minimal if you’re willing to use cloth diapers…your call).
But that’s actually the least of my financial problems (I found that Family Dollar’s Kidget diapers work as well as brand names and cost $6.50 for 31 diapers compared to $8.99 for others).
Don’t fall for the media and marketing hype that babies need:
- New cribs (a used one is usually fine)
- Exersaucers (most medical professionals say they actually delay physical development)
- Fancy baby tubs (the kitchen sink works better)
- Expensive toys (they can’t actually hold or play with toys for many months)
Save that money, because you’ll need it when your child gets older.
My daughter, who’s now two, is usually perfectly happy staying at home for days in a row playing with my Tupperware.
But I have noticed that she’s getting a bit more bored at home, so we’ve started doing stuff like going to family yoga ($24 for both of us) and playing at an indoor playground ($12 per visit). “Extracurricular activities will bleed you dry,” says my friend Michele Steinberg, a mom of two who works in the financial industry. “As kids get older, Mommy and Me classes morph into karate, ballet, gymnastics, and whatever else. You need to expect a minimum of $20 per class, per child. So if you have two kids and they only do one activity each, that’s over $240 a month.”
Once your kids are in school, you’ll need to figure out what to do with them during summer if both parents work full-time. That means paying for childcare again, or sending them to camp. In LA, where Michele lives, camps cost between $3,000-$6,000. (And, no, they’re not overnight!) Ouch.
Do you feel “stable-ish” in your career?
These kinds of costs are one of the reasons I keep working at my full-time job as a professor at Loyola University Chicago (a more important reason is that I love the job).
When I was considering having a child, I did realize that I was in good shape career-wise.
I’m good at my job, and the institution’s future is stable.
My cousin made sure her career was on solid ground before she had children, too. “Biology was a big drive but probably because we waited until we both had gone [and] finished school and were secure in our chosen careers before even thinking about starting a family,” says Christina Levin, an attorney at Levin and Associates.
Of course, it’s hard to feel your job is a “stable” job ever since the recession. We all learned the hard way that nothing in life is guaranteed to last.
But you may want to ask yourself the following questions before you take the parenting plunge:
- What’s your work/life balance like? How many hours do you spend each day working?
- Does your job offer any flexibility in terms of scheduling or time spent on site?
- If things don’t work out with your current employer, what are the chances you’ll find a similar position?
- If you couldn’t find a similar position, what else are you willing to try out?
My friend Fawn Julsaint knew before she got pregnant that she wouldn’t be able to keep her full-time job – nannying for three children – once she had her own child. “I never got to the place where I felt like I was completely financially ready to have kids,” she says.
But she knew she’d do whatever it took to bring in enough money. She works almost 40 hours per week putting together gigs as a nanny, housecleaner and organizer through her website, Facebook parenting groups, and sites like TaskRabbit.
Related: 40 smart ways anyone can earn extra money on the side now
How confident are you about your home?
I bought my first house two years before getting pregnant. When I was shopping around, I thought about the neighborhood – but in a different way than I do now.
Pre-baby, I was concerned about if there’d be enough rooms for both my husband and I to have our own home offices, how far I’d have to walk to restaurants and bars, and if I’d have a garden.
None of those things matter to me now. Instead, I’m focused on the schools in my neighborhood (crappy) and crime (equally crappy).
Almost every mom I know saw her neighborhood in a different light the moment they had a child.
Michele says, “Our house was great, but was in an up-and-coming neighborhood. I didn’t even think about schools. In hindsight, I should have. Even if not for me, you want to think about resale value. Would the next family want to buy our house when we were ready to sell?”
I always thought I’d just send my kid to private school if need be. But it turns out those are also way more expensive than I realized. According to data from the Nation Center for Education Statistics, the average price of a year of private elementary school is $7,770, and the average annual cost of private high school is $13,030.
In Chicago, where I live, it’s actually a lot more.
Other factors besides school may force you to move, too. Fawn says, “We actually moved from one neighborhood to where we are now because of safety reasons when I was 8 months pregnant. Also, the size of our apartment and how many stairs we would have to climb with an infant and car seat played a factor in our decision.”
I’m OK with living in my house until my daughter is school age. And I’ve made peace with the fact that I’ll need to do it then, even though I’ll live in a far less exciting neighborhood.
So if you’re thinking about having kids, consider your savings, career, and real estate, too. They don’t need to be in perfect order, but you should feel basically OK about where you’re headed.
And in the end, if you decide to remain child-free, don’t let anyone make you feel weird about it. They’re probably just jealous of your freedom – and finances.
- You should have a healthy amount of savings you can tap into before a child is born, in the event of emergencies, childcare, and changes in employment
- Childcare will likely be your biggest financial kid-related cost until the child is school age
- Activities, classes, and camps are a hidden cost that often aren’t talked about
- Analyzing your job or career stability is an important step in figuring out if you’re ready for kids
- Many parents relocate based on school districts