Last week I was out walking with a friend when she admitted she was scared she would never have kids.
“We'll never be able to afford them,” she said as we made our way around the block and up the next street. She and her husband are about our age (and not getting any younger), and I could tell she was worried.
“Oh, I'm sure you'll figure it out,” I said as I tried desperately to change the subject. That was terrible advice and I knew it, but it was the same advice someone had given me several years before. (And probably for the same reasons.)
When it came to having a baby, I'm glad I followed bad advice
It has been over six years now, but I still remember it like it was yesterday. I was working at my old job in the mortuary and surrounded by a bunch of senior ladies who made up our widow's outing group. We were chatting up a storm when the conversation turned to kids and if I ever planned to have them.
“I honestly don't know,” I said.
We didn't have maternity insurance through work at the time, and I knew it was prohibitively expensive. I also knew that we weren't saving much at all, which was a shame since our income looked good on paper. As I explained my concerns to the women, they simply smiled and nodded. I wanted kids, I told them, but I was afraid of what it would mean to our bottom line.
Strangely, it was as if they already knew what I was going to say before I said it.
“Please just have children,” said one of the ladies, laughing as she spoke. “You'll thank us later.”
The entire table then broke into a fit of laughter as I sat and listened to a group of women who seemed to know something I didn't.
“Don't wait for the perfect time,” said another friend. “It doesn't exist.”
Throwing caution to the wind
And that's exactly what we had been doing. We were waiting for the perfect time to come without realizing that we might end up waiting forever. So after some soul-searching, we decided to go ahead and try for our first child. And after applying for several types of maternity coverage, I finally found a plan that would accept me. Finally.
Then I waited nine months until my coverage became “active” so that my pregnancy would indeed be covered by insurance. (This was in 2008 — before the passage of the PPACA and when pregnancy was seen as a pre-existing condition.)
The wait was awful, but I was lucky. Within a few weeks of trying for a baby, I found myself pregnant and spending the majority of each day with my head hanging low, trying not to throw up as I hobbled through my responsibilities at work and at home.
I was sick — very sick — but I was soooooooo happy.
Unfortunately, I was also clueless. The truth was, I only had a vague idea of what having a baby would cost us. And sadly, I was in for a rude awakening. For starters, the maternity rider on our insurance climbed to over $500 per month at the one-year mark of my coverage. And that was just for the maternity rider. It didn't even include our regular health insurance coverage.
Second, my insurance deductible was over $4,000, an amount of money that we barely had saved at the time. And third, I hadn't even considered the cost of daycare, formula, or what kind of pay cut I would take during maternity leave.
With all the balls up in the air
Fortunately, the ladies were right — things actually did work themselves out.
Due to some minor miracle, we got raises around the time our first child was born. Christmas bonuses from work paid our insurance deductible for the hospital stay, and we managed to absorb the cost of daycare and everything else without too much trouble.
On the other hand, we weren't doing as well as we probably should have been. We still had student loans, car loans, and credit card debt after all, and we also lived in a fairly large home that cost a pretty penny to maintain.
In a lot of ways, we were barely keeping all the balls up in the air — robbing Peter to pay Paul, raiding our meager savings to pay for basic necessities, and sacrificing tomorrow in order to afford today.
But then, all of a sudden, everything changed.
Two mouths to feed
Before I knew what hit me, I was pregnant with my second child. The clock was ticking. We made it work the first time, but now things would be different.
We once again had that $4,000 health insurance deductible to pay, and I would once again need to go on maternity leave at half-pay. But now I would have two kids in daycare, two mouths to feed, and two children to care for financially and emotionally. Something had to give.
So we embarked on a journey to get our financial house in order. We started by creating a zero-sum budget to track and monitor our expenses and we whittled our monthly bills down to only the bare necessities.
All those small things made such a huge difference to our bottom line that debt repayment became nearly painless. And over the next few years, we paid off $60,000 worth of unsecured debt, paid down our mortgage to a reasonable level, and stashed away a cash emergency fund for the first time ever.
What I gained from following bad advice
It's pretty amazing when you think about it: The biggest financial gains we have made during our marriage came at one of the most expensive times. In a sense, our kids actually made us snap into reality and take our financial lives seriously. They gave us a purpose; they gave our marriage meaning. And I now realize that they were the motivation we needed to straighten things out.
Did my friends give me bad advice? You bet they did.
But now I realize that it was the only advice that made sense.
Just as I suspected, they knew something I didn't. They knew that having kids has a way of changing everything. They knew that seeing my children's innocent faces would force me to take life seriously in a way I hadn't before. And they knew that there truly is no perfect time to have children; but that if you want something bad enough, you'll find a way to make it work.
And most of all, they knew that it would all be worth it — every dollar spent, every tear shed, and every sleepless night.
And they were right.
Have you ever made an important decision based on bad advice that turned out for the best? Do you think there is a perfect time to have children?
Author: Holly Johnson
Holly Johnson is a credit card expert, award-winning writer, and mother of two who is obsessed with frugality, budgeting, and travel. In addition to serving as contributing editor for The Simple Dollar and writing for publications such as Bankrate, U.S. News and World Report Travel, and Travel Pulse, Johnson owns Club Thrifty and is the co-author of Zero Down Your Debt: Reclaim Your Income and Build a Life You’ll Love.