The cost of having kids

This started off as two totally different posts but for whatever reason, I ended up wanting to talk about the cost of having kids. Clearly feeling grumpy about it!

Having kids is a huge fianancial commitment whether you are single or not: even a married mama will earn one-third less than male counterparts by the time her eldest is 12. Very often people focus on the cost of having kids in terms of the things we need to buy for them, which is honestly by far the smallest part of the equation. Lots of places list out the things you’ll need and how much they might cost but it’s not rocket science, and with the rise in great second hand equipement, doesn’t need to break the bank. I bought everything second hand (other than a car seat because you can’t guarantee it hasn’t been in an accident which migth render it useless, and cot or Moses basket mattresses since you there is a small chance that using a second hand mattress from outside the family increases the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS).

Clue: you need very little of this stuff. Photo by elliot verhaeren on Unsplash

I got many things for free, and did without a whole load of others which seemed unimportant. Then I made sure I passed on all my used stuff, from books and maternity wear to kids clothes, toys and books, to make sure someone else benefitted. Kids use things for such a short amount of time – though honestly they can also properly trash some things which are just unusable after a few months – that most things are good for another few years. So much of the things we purchase for our children end up as waste, with more than 2.2 billion pounds of clothing for children aged 0-11 ending up in American landfill each year: the equivalent of 45 pounds per child. 90% of toys are made at least partly of plastic, and 80% end up in landfill including things in good working order that kids have just grown out of.

Which is kind of ironic given that this wastefulness is bringing about the kind of climate change that means the lovely babies we are so proud to show off in a new outfit, or make smile with a new toy, are more likely than ever to end up living their adult lives at the sharp end of a fiery apocolyptic disaster. And even if you don’t believe in climate change (you probably shouldn’t be on this blog to be fair) or don’t care, the sheer wastefulness in terms of money and resources makes doing things differently surprisingly easy.

Not my child but what a cutie: Photo by Kiana Bosman on Unsplash

But these costs are nothing compared with the cost of childcare, and the impact on your career. And we haven’t even started talking about if you want to prepare them for college, or save up so they can have a deposit for a house. In 2020, 49% of first time buyers under 35 got help with their deposit from their parents, with the majority of them saying they wouldn’t have been able to buy a house without this support. So if you can’t help out your kids, they are going to get left further behind. Just in case you didn’t feel bad enough already.

Research (though I always think these things are a bit vague given the many different approaches you can take to parenting) suggests that the cost of raising a child in the UK is £193,801 for a single parent. Using that and the lack of financial support since their birth, I will have lost almost £400,000 by having children. According to some back-of the-envelope calculators, investing that in a low cost ETF or stocks and shares ISA would grow to around £700,000 in the 18 years. Add to that the reduced earning power, and having two kids has probably cost me £1 million.

Obviously, I didn’t have children to make money (child labour is illegal after all…) And this calculation doesn’t include the fact that they will look after me in my old age (which, thanks to our cultural background, they really really will). Having kids is awesome, and my two are both pretty much the best fun I ever have, as well as potentially being part of the solution to the problems my and my parents’ generation have created in this world.

Also not my kid, but a child quietly reading a book is something I fully support. Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

But the cost of having children is real, and shouldering the burden alone can feel like a huge strain. Being part of the FIRE movement, where it feels like it’s predominantly white married couples who have nothing to do with my life (this was the other post I started writing) can make things feel even lonelier. But FIRE as an approach means that I feel in control or the spending and financial decisions I make, and more confident that I am creating the kind of future my kids, and I, deserve.

Don’t Panic!

TL:DR – don’t panic! Whilst I’m not the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, those two little words do have to give particular comfort. Especially without the exclamation mark, which suggests that panic of some kind is right around the corner. But it’s Sunday morning, and I am three coffees in and heading to a kids’ birthday party once I’ve written this, so perhaps I need the drama. But whatever you do, don’t let your panic define your actions.

This week I have been thinking a lot about doom and gloom. More than usual, in any case. I wouldn’t say that I have Eeyore tendancies but the world is a busy, scary and sometime relentless old place these days, so a bit of doom is on the agenda. From the endless heartbreaking news from Ukraine, to the real debates about what the exceptionalism shown in that situation means for the reckoning coming for the colonialist staus quo, to the ridiculous news that the UK has a monkeypox outbreak (I mean – really?): it can feel like the only time I hear the word ‘positive’ is when a friend does a COVID test.

Really don’t, even if you can’t hitchhike your way off the planet

But what is going on in the world of FIRE, of savings and investments? There have been a few things that struck me recently and I try to keep coming back to these:

This is even more true in the world of finances i.e. literally everybody’s day to day world. The soaring cost of living, shortages of fuel, eggs, potatoes or whatever is real. Every time I go to the supermarket there are empty shelves, and shelves full of things at a price that I am not willing to pay. In the UK, the price of cheese (CHEESE!) has gone up by almost one-quarter. Once the costs of Marmite and tea start to spiral out of control we will all be shafted, frankly. (Denmark is powered by licorice and pork products, neither of which we eat so I focus all my crazy-hoarder-lady issues elsewhere).

Beautiful! But can you afford any of it?? Photo by ja ma on Unsplash
  1. Plan for the worst, then remember this is what you did. My Crypto portfolio has totally crashed. In the last two weeks, more than $300 billion has been wiped off the value of Crypto overall, so this is not really a surprise. There was real panic that Coinbase was going to go bust – and take people’s money with it. Whilst that didn’t happen, Luna, a popular Crypto token, did, taking $40bn with it. My reaction has been to do absolutely nothing. I refuse to look at my portfolio other than on the twice-monthly date I always look at it. And then I refuse to act or worry about it. This is based on the fact that when I invested in Crypto, recognising that it is high risk, I did so only with what I consider to be beach money. This is money where if I lose it, it means not taking the kids to the beach in the summer, rather than meaning I can’t pay the rent. So when I freak out about losing it all in Crypto, I try and thank my previous financial planning self, and then just not worry about it.
  2. Remeber you are not a mystic. Don’t make decisions based on crystal ball gazing. The thing weighing much more on my mind is house prices and whether they will crash. And this is also one where my attachment to my net worth is at odds with a moral sense that rapid house price increases really are shafting those less well off in a way which will impact on generational wealth for a long time to come. The reason I put this one under the heading of trying to predict the future, is because a) we really don’t know and b) none of the ‘experts’ can agree. Whilst there is a general sense that the market cannot keep rising, particularly in light of inflation and changes to mortgage interest rates, there is no evidence at this point that the housing market is actually slowing down. I’ve been thinking about selling my house in the UK to diversify my assets but I need to make this decision on a range of factors – none of which is whether I can guess the future.
  3. Use this time to deep dive into your risk tolerance and decision making, rather than wanting to act. In March 2020, I panicked, and sold out a significant chunk of my investments. This was based literally on being inexperienced, and freaking out. I wrote a lot about it at the time, both the why and the results. This has definitely impacted on my holdings now but I have to chalk it up to an experience that I needed to get better at investing. It also gave me space to think about what my risk tolerance really really looks like, and how I can build that in to my investing (and my life).
Beautiful! But can you afford any of it? 😉 Photo by Travel-Cents on Unsplash

More next week on overall approaches to investing, but I wanted to start with some thinking – and reassurance – that however doom laden the picture is, panicking is definitely not the answer. Trust yourself, your knowledge, and your planning. You’ll survive the storm.

Don’t forget if you want more cakes/sunrises/Barbies and less doom, come and join me on Insta.

Mothering Sunday: the financial impact version

Aw, happy Mothering Sunday! This week I am full of exhausted rage, and wanted just to focus a little on what it feels like to be a single mum, and why generalised negativity from society, the media and government policy is harming this generation of children.

First though I want to recognise that Mothering Sunday is a day which can set off lots of different emotions depending on your own particular track and relationships, but either way, it’s getting warmer and hopefully you’ll have something nice on this weekend.

Being a mother is a privilege and a joy, let me say that first off.

But it is also bloody hard. It’s hard for everyone, even those who have a partner. As we have moved away from traditional societies (and in fairness all the rubbish things that they required), the safety nets of support have been removed.

The invisible workload of mothering (yes, mothering rather than parenting, unless you are a single dad – recognising it and owning it as gendered is a feminist position) is exhausting. There is a great post from 2018 called ‘the invisible workload of motherhood is killing me‘ which, of course, I only just found time to read because I am too damn busy. Its is an accurate and helpful portrayal of what parenting looks like – and it’s just the day to day of parenting, not what it looks like to be trying to reach FIRE, or date, or anything else at the same time.

Motherhood is in any case fraught with issues. There have been a host of articles about how fatherhood has changed during the pandemic and how dads are starting to appreciate the ‘whole’ of parenting. But this is against a background in which women are expected to take the domestic burden (unless someone chooses to step in), and in which those dads have been able to refuse to engage until they were locke at home as well. Women are expected to work as well, though by the time a woman’s oldest child is 12 she is likely to be paid one-third less than male counterparts. These days, with the cost of living crisis and lack of affordable childcare, so many low income families are struggling.

Triple chocolate brownies, the Mothering Sunday gift my 12 year old son made me ❤

The cost of living crisis disproportionately impacts women. Women consistently earn less than men across their career, which also impacts their pension and retirement years.

On my FIRE journey, earning less, and being responsible for each and every cost in the home, has a significant impact on the timeline, and likelihood of becoming financially independent. It’s not like there aren’t exceptions of course. But the system is stacked against single mothers, and in my experience, also has no sympathy for us. The impact of these collective issues on generational wealth cannot be ignored and it’s likely that our children will also struggle, however hard we try.

I was particularly triggered this month by an article about the failings of the Child Maintenance System which is a UK body aiming to ensure that children’s costs are fairly shared after divorce or seperation, and that any alimony is paid in a timely way. To quote the article – 90% of single parents are women… Half of single parents and their children are consigned to life below the poverty line, a penury that 60% of them would escape if fathers paid the maintenance due. The comments on the article went in to the predictable bun fight about access and custody arrangements, as well as not really understanding that maintenance is for the children, not the ex-spouse.

So in addition to the structural arrangements in which I earn less and have more responsibility, I am also supposed to do it alone since the legal system really doesn’t give a shit about holding both parents to account for the financial side.

I would be furious, if I wasn’t so tired.

I have been hyper-aware this week of why I am overwhelmed. And it’s two things – first, the sheer magnitude of All The Things. Work (so, so much work), kids, feeding everyone, administration of the home, family and friends, and anything I need. Secondly, it’s the constant mental engagement – the ‘invisible workload’. Planning, organizing, working around, being in communication, trying to soothe, calm, engage, nourish and play. I have been dating someone who does not have children, and whilst he very loving and caring, he cannot even begin to fathom what responsibility and busyness looks like in my world. That makes me just try to hide it all so he isn’t bored or put off: and that becomes something else I have to be responsible for.

But you know what – parenting absolutely remains a joy and a privelige. I would just enjoy it more if I wasn’t expected to run on empty all the time. Big up all my single mamas this Mothering Sunday. I see you.