Do you know how much a child costs?
It is neither selfish nor self-indulgent to be pragmatic about the potential costs of conceiving, giving birth and raising a child. It’s expensive under ideal conditions, not to mention the tens of thousands it can cost couples struggling with fertility. Partially deciding against parenthood is certainly not selfish, as it is likely that your overall quality of life would decrease because of what would be affordable for you.
It’s important for prospective parents to consider the financial implications of having children the same way current parents should assess the cost of having more children.
To be clear, this is not a manifesto about avoiding children just because of the cost. Instead, it’s an attempt to normalize conversations about the full ramifications of the decision to have children, rather than just saying, “You’ll find out.” It’s hardly a comforting refrain when the current estimate for a middle-class family, one child by age 18 exceeded $300,000, according to the Brookings Institution.
The “let’s find out” style of preparation is particularly worrying given rising inflation and tight finances. According to the Getting Paid in America 2022 survey conducted by the American Payroll Association, nearly three-quarters of Americans said they would have trouble meeting their financial obligations if their paychecks were delayed by a week. Hospitalizations for childbirth are probably one of the leading causes of surprise medical bills in the US, according to results recently published in the JAMA Health Forum.
Also, what exactly does “find out” mean? Does that mean you have to work longer hours to offset the new costs? It seems odd to bring a child into your life only to find yourself working long hours that prevent you from forming necessary bonds. Does “figuring it out” mean giving up a career to save money for childcare? Trying to find the perfect alchemy of what is practical and sane for both parents and in a child’s best interest is a tricky combination.
Shamefully, there are no safeguards in the US when it comes to parental leave. The modest level of protection that exists is provided by the Family Medical Leave Act, which protects a job for up to 12 weeks after birth or adoption. It is unpaid and only requires that your workplace be available for you upon your return. Without going into how appallingly tenuous these conditions are, the other problem is that FMLA is only required by the private sector if you’ve worked for your company for a year and your employer has more than 50 employees within a 75-mile radius.
Of course, your employer can be benevolent and provide paid maternity leave — and requirements vary from state to state — but according to 2021 Bureau of Labor Statistics data, that accounts for just 23% of the civilian workforce.
A majority of expectant parents in the US have to fund their vacations themselves. Another way to subsidize the cost of maternity leave is through short-term disability insurance, particularly one provided by an employer. But that assumes you’re even eligible. Certain segments of the self-employed population, such as freelance writers, may have difficulty obtaining disability insurance.
As a self-employed woman who is the main breadwinner, it is a real slap in the face to realize that I am the sole sponsor of maternity leave. My husband’s job offers paid paternity leave. But suppose I had given birth to a child, going back to normal shortly after the trauma of childbirth would be physically difficult. The discussion about how childcare should be handled and whether one’s own career should take a back seat temporarily or in the long term is also difficult.
In our situation, my income is higher, albeit unpredictably, but my husband’s job provides access to quality health care and a pension. None of us really have the luxury of retiring without significant long-term consequences for our family’s financial future. It’s a situation that’s not remotely unique.
Additionally, according to Pew Research, about 44% of Americans say they don’t have family close by. Those without family members to help with caregiving struggle with the financial cost of outsourcing that care — a legitimate concern considering 51% of parents say they are over 20, according to Care.com in 2022 % of their household income spent on childcare survey.
All these factors are the reason for stressful dreams and hectic Google searches. As a woman in her 30s who understands that the decision to have biological children now officially has status as a “ticking time bomb,” I’ve spent many nights crunching numbers to decide how financially ready my husband and i am able to have children.
Ultimately, the potential spend of $300,000 to raise a child to 18 and then another, say, $250,000 to college is staggering. It can also leave expectant parents (at least these ones) worried that there won’t be enough money saved to take the plunge.
It wasn’t until I came across a blog post by Eric Roberge, a certified financial planner and founder of Beyond Your Hammock, that I found some solace. Boldly titled “What to save before having a baby might be the wrong question,” Roberge’s post argues that focusing on saving is slightly misguided and that instead you should focus on cash flow should. There are, of course, upfront costs associated with having a child, whether by birth or by adoption, but the bigger consideration is how this new item in your budget fits into the amount you’re making.
Cash flow is also crucial, given that the estimated $300,000 to raise a child will fluctuate over time. After all, the costs for the day-care center are subsidized by the school, especially if you send your child to a public school. But different stages of a child’s life can come with expensive activities or medical expenses (hello, braces).
But the point still stands. Whether your focus is how much you’re saving or what future cash flow you have, it’s a good idea to calculate the projected cost of having children. Sure, it’s nearly impossible to consider and plan for every potential variable, but a basic financial safety net is handy and crucial.
More from the Bloomberg Opinion:
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• Your guide to the permanent pandemic economy: Allison Schrager
• Get a prenup before paying your spouse’s student loan: Erin Lowry
This column does not necessarily represent the opinion of the editors or of Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Erin Lowry is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering personal finance. She is the author of the three-part Broke Millennial series.
More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com/opinion