Saturday, July 18

Debt first, kids later?

Last Saturday, Tim and I went to finally meet the newest addition to our friends' family. His name is Eli, he's 4 months old and absolutely adorable.

When we arrived, though, we were shocked to find that our friends' friends, who we'd met on several occasions, had their own little, 7-week old bundle of joy. Also seriously adorable.

Tim admired the kids, and we got to catch up with two other friends we hadn't seen in months. I spent a lot of time trying to squelch girly noises and hit snooze on my biological clock. (I actually remarked, as we were leaving, that it would have been nice if the boys had been a little fussier, so I could feel better about having decided to wait for kids.)

The thing is... Tim and I definitely want a kid. But not right now. First of all, we both agreed that we wanted some time as husband and wife before jumping in to parenthood. Also, we want to have gotten rid of our credit card debt.

At one point during the get-together, the father of the 7-week-old asked if my biological clock was ticking. I explained our philosophy about debt. Later, we ended up repeating it for his wife. The father laughed and said, "In other words, they'll never have a kid."


There was a pause, and I smiled graciously and explained that we were well on our way to paying off our debt. It was simply taking longer because Tim couldn't work and I can't earn a lot by working part-time.

It was all chuckled away and clearly he meant no harm by it, but I have to wonder about the age-old wisdom that you can never truly afford kids. I've had this argument with a few people, and frankly I find these attitudes terrifying.

Obviously, accidents happen. And if Tim and I were to find ourselves as impending parents, we'd figure it out somehow. But we also try to be careful so that we don't have to struggle any more than we already do.

So, by and large, I guess I am simply stumped as to why people are so laissez-faire about the idea that you should create a whole new large financial strain on your budget before you're out of the bulk of your debt. (Of course, children are far more than a financial burden -- or a tax write-off as we all like to joke -- but the fact remains that the lil buggers are expensive!)

Perhaps it's only because we're already low-income people, but Tim and I don't want to equate parenthood with severe financial distress. We don't want to add to existing credit card debt and then wonder how and when we'll ever be able to get that number down.

For me, the jury is still out on whether you can ever, truly, afford kids. My non-parent attitude is hell yes. People do it every day. I'm not saying you can live as lavishly as before, still I know that there are couples like Eli's parents who can even make the choice to go down to a single income. (To be fair, Eli's dad recently got an excellent position in a large, stable tech company; and that was after being given a large severance package by his old firm.)

I had this argument back at age 21, when a friend announced she and her new husband would be trying to have a kid within the next year. They both came from big families, both with parents who started young. So they both felt it would be "weird" to hit 23 or 24 without having a kid. I should mention that, at this point, she was working as a receptionist in a car dealership while her husband pursued his PhD.

Of course, she is and was a frugal gal, so they made it work. At least, as far as I know. We've fallen out of contact, by and large. I know that, a couple of years ago, he got his degree. At least initially, though, most non-teachers have to do a year or two of low-paying work to get any real credentials. I'm sure, too, that having a wife and child certainly helped his financial aid package. Still, I just don't understand the desire to start a family amid that much debt.

Perhaps it's just that I was raised very middle-class, with parents who were financially comfortable. Perhaps it's because so many people on my mom's side of the family have kids young, then spend the next 18 years (or more) struggling to pay for everything. Or perhaps I'm simply being practical. Whatever the reason, I can't picture having a kid while we owe thousands of dollars.

Obviously, Tim and I are a special case, since our earning potential is probably lower than most people's. In other words, being overly cautious will probably save us, financially.

But what about a sterotypical couple? Am I being too idealistic about finances and kids? Do you think anyone can ever truly afford a child? Has anyone made $10,000+ of debt and kids work, without a lot of strain and stress?

(And, on a completely different note, the cutest onesie ever? Eli's black, cotton number, with a iPod on it with the words "iPooped" on the screen.)

Labels: ,


Blogger DogAteMyFinances said...

I always find it very interesting to hear Dave Ramsey tiptoe around this. Plenty of the people who call him made a bad situation way worse because they had kids they couldn't afford. But he would never say that.

I don't see any problem with having a kid while getting your PhD because you know it will get better.

I don't really know that much about y'all's situation. I guess it depends on whether you think either of you is ever going to be able to work full time. Raising a kid on public assistance is possible, people do it all the time, but I wouldn't want to live that way.

July 18, 2009 at 1:15 PM

Blogger Cat said...

When my ex and I were planning a baby, he was in the military, I had a good job, and while we had debt, we also were earning enough to pay it off (even though we didn't... we wasted so much money... so many regrets!). By the time I was 4 months pregnant, he had been kicked out of the military, lost several civilian jobs, and had a psychotic break, complete with violence and delusions directed at me and my unborn son. Now he's in debt, unable to pay child support, and institutionalized, and I'm a single mom who lost money selling a house in a crappy real estate market and is trying to get out from under the credit card debt we ran up (the court ordered him to pay half, but it's just not happening).

By the grace of my family, I have a roof over my head. By the charity of my state, I have WIC to buy $15 of groceries a week. My job is stable. I had no way of knowing that my husband would rapidly start deteriorating just after I got pregnant. But regardless of what I did or didn't know, there are so many things I should've done to make sure I was in a better place financially before trying to conceive.

I guess what I'm trying to get across is this... pay off the credit cards. Because once you have kids, you're their only source of support. If you're living paycheck to paycheck or in debt, you don't have any backup for when bad things happen. For your future kids sake, build up that backup. Kids will still be expensive- diapers, iGadgets, clothes, college- but at least you'll be starting out in the black. It's like you said- why start young and struggle when you could wait and make it so much easier on yourself? Parenthood is amazing no matter what, but it could be so much more FUN if I didn't have to worry about money all the time.

Sorry for the long comment- but it was a very thought-provoking post!

July 18, 2009 at 10:09 PM

Blogger Shevy said...

I would never have considered putting off having children "until we could afford it". Too many people nowadays do that and then find out that having kids doesn't just happen that easily later in life. Then they end up spending $10's of thousands of dollars on fertility treatments or even adoption, putting them into far worse debt than they had previously.

I married the month I turned 19, got pregnant for my 1st wedding anniversary and my marriage unexpectedly broke up when I was 20 weeks pregnant with my 3rd child.

I was a single parent for something like 16 years, going back to work when my youngest was still under 3 and it wasn't easy. But when my big kids were little I had a budget and stuck to it like glue, holding things down in certain areas to be able to buy them nice clothes and toys, send them to private religious schools, etc.

When I remarried in my mid-40s we were fortunate enough to be able to have a child of our own without any intervention and I'm currently looking at having a daughter graduate high school at roughly the same time as we'll be retiring.

Do we have enough money? No. But I don't kid myself that I would have had the money if not for the children. Our sages tell us that "no man dies with even half of his desires fulfilled". If I hadn't spent it on the kids, it would have gone for something much more fleeting and I still would have wanted more.

July 20, 2009 at 10:26 PM

Blogger Abby said...


I can see where you are coming from, certainly. But Tim and I have already agreed that, if we have trouble conceiving, we'll save the money from fertility treatments and use it to get a kid from another country. No sense in spending tens of thousands on treatments when there are kids needing homes already.

That said, I can see the argument for not waiting. I'm not sure I agree with it. But as the kid of a young mom, I also have a pretty unique viewpoint on just what that does to a parent-child relationship. I have had a few friends with young moms and most of them have experienced the same problems with boundaries, especially as they got to teenage years. I'm sure not all young parents have this problem, but it is one reason I was very careful about pregnancy in my early 20s. I just wasn't ready for kids.

Also, of course, Tim and I are coming at this from a standpoint of bad health. Most young people (which, I suppose, we don't qualify as anymore, now that we're 30+) assume their health is unassailable. We currently don't know what our earning potential will be. And neither of us wants to bring a kid into the world if we can't afford one. Perhaps that will change as time passes, but if so I frankly think that will be us being selfish.

Thanks for writing in. I remember part of your story from before. And I really appreciate the long comment (even if it took me forever to reply -- things have been busy around the homefront). Personally, I agree with you about the credit card thing. Personal debts to family may or may not be forgiven if a baby comes around, but creditors won't be dissuaded by an infant. I only hope that things work out for you, financially. And that Tim and I get a chance to experience the joy of a child when we're a little more financially stable.


I agree, I don't want to raise a kid on public assistance. It doesn't seem fair to anyone. Now, if we plan carefully and have the money and have the kid and then Tim loses his job or whatever... That's another story. But I just don't feel it's right to put another person on the welfare rolls simply because we want a kid. I want to be able to provide for any life that I create.

Oh, and regarding the PhD... I suppose you're right but PhDs in science don't generally tend to pay well, so I'm not sure it was really going to make them a lot of money. But, again, having a family probably helped him get more financial aid so they wouldn't have to pay too much in loans. I hope.

July 20, 2009 at 10:42 PM

Anonymous Lulu said...

I completely agree with you about wanting to be more financially stable before having children. I watched my mother struggle to take care of two children on a paltry salary and I know it was not fun for her.
I want my children to be able to have what I did not I am working on that credit card debt before having a family.....regardless of what my friends say.

July 22, 2009 at 12:40 PM

Blogger Revanche said...

I wanted to be financially stable before I had kids because I have health problems. When and how quickly my condition will deteriorate is a big fat unknown, so I want to work and save as much as I can now before I'm basically crippled. But then again, I'm not even sure I can physically withstand a pregnancy or raising my child if I were to have one so if and when this gets much worse, I'm going to have to make the call to give up on the notion of having a family of my own.

No matter what, though, becoming financially stable is an absolutely necessary first step because while no kid needs designer duds, they do need parents who can be present in their lives and proper nutrition. Both are difficult to provide when you're struggling just to pay off debt.

August 5, 2009 at 10:38 AM


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home