money·4 min read

Should I Wait to Have Kids Until I Can Afford It?

mother working with child in lap
Design: theSkimm | Photo: iStock
Mar 22, 2022

Figuring out how much you need to budget to have a baby can be overwhelming.  And it can leave some folks feeling like they’ll never be able to afford a child. The fact is, you can’t plan for everything. Even high-earners may run into surprises that leave them strapped for cash when they have kids. 

Give it to me straight — how much does it cost to raise a child?

The US Department of Agriculture says, about $270,000 (after adjusting for inflation). Including approximate costs for food, shelter, and necessities for a child’s first 18 years. Not included: the cost of childbirth, any unpaid leave you may need to take, or the (potential) college years. In other words, it’s a lot. 

A LOT. Is there financial aid for parenthood? 

That'd be nice. Because research shows that more money may help stimulate a baby’s brain development. One recent study gave cash stipends to new, low-income mothers and found that more financial help in the baby's first year alone helped boost brain activity associated with thinking and learning. 

But the joy of parenthood shouldn't be limited to a certain tax bracket. Plus, a growing population can be good for the economy. But until the US has paid family leave, affordable child care, and other widespread programs to improve conditions for all parents, mamas gotta work with what they have. 

So…you're saying I can't afford to have a kid?

Not exactly. Many costs associated with raising your child are variable  — from their shoes to the schools they attend. In other words, parents have plenty of choices to make (and opinions to consider). What matters most is less about affording expensive baby items and more about figuring out what budget will work for your growing family, including covering bills or saving for emergencies. 

Also, not having that money in the bank right now shouldn’t discourage you from being a parent. Melissa Walsh, a certified financial planner and the founder of Clarity Financial Design, encourages hopeful parents to take it one step at a time. “It's not always necessary to plan to tackle everything at once,” she says. “You don't need to be able to fully fund a college savings account in order to start thinking about having kids.”

Great. How can I make a financial plan to have a baby?

Nobody wants to worry about their financial situation, especially when adding a child into your budget. That’s why Walsh says to think less about the specific numbers and more about your financial habits. “There is a financial discipline that makes sense to develop before having kids,” she says. “If you've been able, in the past, to save for retirement or to live within your means, and not accumulate credit card debt, I would say those things are important.” 

And think long term. Whether you have a baby now or later, your financial situation will continue to evolve as your child grows. So it can help to plan ahead. Example: If you have strong beliefs about what kind of preschool you want your child to attend, consider starting to save for that while you’re still in family-planning mode. Or maybe you want to raise your kids with sustainability in mind. That could save you money if you shop for secondhand toys and clothes — and you can put that extra cash toward a sport or other activity down the line. Your family budget should be just as values-based as your personal budget.

Speaking of my personal budget, what about my personal financial goals? Like buying a home?

Walsh is a believer that parents can have it all…with a little patience and planning. Just like your child won’t be asking about their college fund right out of the womb, your career dreams don’t all have to come true while you’re caring for a new baby. 

“One of the most common conversations that I have with people is, ‘Yes, you can do it. No, you can't do it now,’” Walsh says. “Whether that's buying the bigger house, or starting the business, or taking that career risk that you've always wanted to take. There's no reason to say no, but sometimes, it doesn't all have to happen at once.”

So having a baby might mean putting some of your goals on the back burner or even adjusting them. But it does not have to mean giving up on them.

theSkimm

Affording children can seem like an unattainable goal. Because, in some regard, it is. Putting yourself in a money mindset that prioritizes your personal values, financial ability, and child’s well-being can empower you to figure out a budget that works for you and your baby. 


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