Taking Money Out of the Should-I-Have-a-Baby Equation
I had a chat with my friend Jen recently about the cost of raising kids, and something she said has been stuck in my mind ever since. I told her that money was probably the #1 or #2 reason we might not have kids (depending on where you rank a lack of desire to actually have them). She seemed surprised by this, and suggested that I take money out of the equation entirely and focus solely on deciding whether or not we want kids first.
To be clear, Jen’s not naïve and would never suggest that people who can’t afford kids should have them. She said it knowing that Drew and I could technically afford them and we should first decide if we want them and straighten out the finances later. In theory, this isn’t a bad idea. It narrows the scope of what seems to be an impossibly large decision into a more manageable chunk. The problem is, I’m not sure how useful this revelation is to me when taken out of an important context.
Imagine if I’d hemmed and hawed for ages and then came to Drew, squared my shoulders and said, “Yes. I’m ready. I’m ready for my beautiful new Astin Martin, let’s head to the dealership right now!” Could we afford an Astin Martin if we REALLY wanted one? I guess so. But I must say, I’ve never understood this concept of whether or not you’re able to afford something. If you spend your very last dime to get it, and it makes your life financially uncomfortable to do so, is it really “affordable” for you?
Whenever the importance of money comes up (particularly when pitted against non-monetary items of value like family), people are fond of saying that it can’t buy happiness. This is perhaps true, but I must humbly submit that
a LACK of money can buy UNhappiness
And I don’t mean an emotional tailspin because you can’t have your pink glitter Roberto Cavalli slingbacks. Depleted funds may mean you’re unable to buy a $600 Christmas plane ticket to see your family, send a pop of yellow tulips to a sick friend, take that advanced pastry dough class, get the creative writing Ph.D. you’ve always dreamed of, find those Elvis Costello tickets for your husband’s birthday, play Scrabble on the spin board. (Fine, the Scrabble board’s a luxury.) It can also mean refraining from activities that make you a well-rounded person like travelling or trying certain sports like skiing. In fact, it’s sometimes quite difficult to lead a well-rounded life on a limited budget.
There are people who do it, and do it fabulously. My friend Leah quit her job over a year ago and has been traveling the world with her boyfriend Ben, surviving on little more than her wits and wintergreen Tic-Tacs. Having the time of her life. [you can check out her blog at www.TwoWithoutAClue.com]
But I’m not Leah. Money is important to me, and a lack of it scares me. My parents were somewhat poor when my brother Ken surprised them with his existence. I have no idea what inspired them to have two more after that (especially knowing they might turn out like Ken – good grief!), but they did, and we grew up on something of a shoestring budget. I’m not saying we didn’t have what needed – and more, particularly in the later years (they generously paid our college educations, gave us safe cars, etc.) – but we certainly weren’t sporting Juicy Couture velour jogging suits in our youth.
So when I started babysitting at 12 and then took my first “real” job at Burger King at 15 (photos from this time period are conveniently missing), my mom made sure I put 50% of it in the bank, every payday. That stayed with me. My parents have plenty of money now, and so do I, but it’s hard to break that mode of save, save, save if that’s what you grew up with. The thought of living paycheck to paycheck makes me downright nauseous. And that’s essentially what we’d be doing if we had two kids and still lived in Southern California.
But I’m all about trying anything to make this decision and feel good about it. So I took Jen’s suggestion seriously and asked myself – would we want kids if we were independently wealthy? I don’t know. Maybe? Even the seemingly non-monetary things I worry about (not having enough “me” time, my house being a wreck, etc.) actually melt away when you toss a trusty Mary Poppins figure into the mix. But in the end, I’m not sure I’ve really answered the question. I don’t seem to be capable of making even a hypothetical decision in a vacuum, ignoring certain circumstances. We wouldn’t have a nanny, and I wouldn’t have any regular sanity breaks.
So is this exercise pointless? Not necessarily. I think it works nicely for those who are excessively worried about money, but would come up with an enthusiastic YES! to kids when it’s taken out of the equation. Unfortunately, my answer was still a resounding …
How about you guys? How much does money factor into your decision?
PS, many of you reading this may think, if you’re so concerned with money, why don’t you get a REAL job, you blogger bum! And to that I say…touché.