Bad advice about having a baby I’m glad I followed

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

Having a baby

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?

More about...Planning, Economics, Insurance

Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others

Subscribe to the GRS Insider (FREE) and we’ll give you a copy of the Money Boss Manifesto (also FREE)

Yes! Sign up and get your free gift
Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others

56
Leave a Reply

avatar
newest oldest most voted
adult student
adult student

Why are you so sure it’s bad advice? I’m following it as well, and due to some other life changes going on at the same time (moving, job changes, job searches…), I’m pretty freaked out about the financial aspect. But I know people who have done the opposite, waiting until their financial houses were totally in order, which looks like smarter thing to do – and since I got pregnant, some have been sharing with me that they’re in treatment for infertility. I think these gambles are going to become more and more common, as it becomes harder to achieve… Read more »

S. J.
S. J.

I couldn’t agree more! The moment you find out you are expecting all of your priorities shift. It makes me sad when I talk to friends that long to have kids but want to get everything “perfectly” in order beforehand. Babies really need very little: love, diapers, breast-milk, a crib and a few outfits. It is our ego that expects Pottery Barn inspired nurseries, wipe-warmers and expensive outfits.

Mal
Mal

And daycare.

Jen
Jen

Day care may or may not make financial sense for someone(s) having a baby. For me, despite the high cost of day care, we couldn’t have managed (and got out of debt) without my staying in work.

nicoleandmaggie
nicoleandmaggie

Too bad that not everybody becomes more responsible after having kids. Of course, folks that don’t probably weren’t waiting for the “perfect time” anyway.

Rob
Rob

Holly,

I don’t know if you are going to get a lot of flack for this article or not, but I just wanted to say I really appreciate you writing it. Children just do not make sense ‘on paper,’ especially from a financial perspective. And the advice that ‘everything will just work out’ seems so trite. But in our experience, it is so true. I can’t explain it. I don’t ever want to view my children as some kind of burden or commodity/liability, but the inexplicable blessings they are.

getagrip
getagrip

Everything you eat, use, own, occupy, etc. has a cost to you. You choose to live a certain way and accept those costs. Having children is a higher cost overall than many other choices, but not as outrageous as the media propagates.

One big difference I’m beginning to see is that I got used to the costs of supporting kids and now that they are leaving the home my costs are decreasing because I’ve gotten used to living on less “net” income.

Holly
Holly

Thanks Rob =) I really appreciate that and think I know what you are trying to say. You are so right that kids do not make sense on paper. And when you’re just getting started as a married couple, it is easy to let those figures scare you. In a lot of ways, I’m glad I didn’t think about it too much. I know that’s awful advice. But I also know that, if I had considered the financial consequences of having children, I wouldn’t be blessed with the two I have now. They are miracles. You simply cannot put a… Read more »

Barb
Barb

While finances are important, I’m going to suggest that planning a life and a future purely on a financial basis is probably not the best way to live a rewarding life-at least for many people. While the ladies advice may have seemd bad from a financial sense, from a parenting and life planning sense I suspect it was spot on. life has its way of having it’s own way. And while there are some exceptions, in general the people I know who waiting until they had the perfect life and time to……….are in general less happy over all than those… Read more »

Brian @ Debt Discipline
Brian @ Debt Discipline

No matter when you have children planned or not I believe you can make it work. Our first turned into twins, surprise! We were in sticker shock over the cost of diapers, formula, etc the sleepless nights, but we made it work. I wouldn’t change anything about it. We are the proud parents of 3 children and we never questioned the timing.

FindX
FindX

The advice to have kids and things will work out is probably bad financial advice in some instances. But it is the best life advice. It’s difficult to have money in your 20s to raise a kid, but its manageable. The problem in your 30s is that fertility declines and then you might have to shell out thousands of dollars. So, I had one kid in my 20s and one in my 30s. I had both problems. I just want to say that my kids where the best decision I ever made. So if you are waiting on a perfect… Read more »

getagrip
getagrip

What was the name of that movie, “Idiocracy”. I swear I’m watching it unfold as I watch the smartest, most intelligent people never pass on their genes because they suffer from analysis paralysis when it comes to having a child. They waffle about how good a parent they would be, about bringing a child into this “terrible” world (as if it’s any worse than any other point in history), about if they can afford it, etc. The list is endless. Then again, people in parts of the world raise kids living in shacks with communal outhouses, so how much do… Read more »

M
M

“It’s what plants crave”.
Awesome movie and frighteningly prophetic.

partgypsy
partgypsy

I LOVE that movie! I might have to rent that again.

Lauren
Lauren

I have totally used Idiocracy as an argument to have children and stop waiting around for the “perfect time”. Glad to hear I am not the only one…

Marie
Marie

As part of a social circle of childfree folks, I have been given this movie several times as an argument for why we should reproduce. It has not worked, but I did enjoy the film.

Laura
Laura

For me, the best time to have a child was after I’d gotten enough of my ya-ya’s out to feel mature enough and responsible enough to handle taking care of a helpless human being without totally ruining its life. The self-introspective work I did (including counseling) in my 20’s and early 30’s finally got me to that point by my mid-30’s, at which time we took the plunge and became parents. Finances were only a small part of the equation, and even that was primarily just, can we afford child-care? It took DH moonlighting 2 jobs and eventually me working… Read more »

sarah
sarah

I have to agree that being financially ready is just a small part of the equation. I got pregnant at a horrible time financially but things did work themselves out. I felt glad that I was at a good point in my life otherwise – stable marriage, professional degree, established career, and a decade of traveling and partying like a 20 year old that I was getting tired of anyway.

Shari
Shari

I don’t think it’s bad advice at all, as long as you have enough money to provide the necessities like food, medical care, clothing, etc. My mom told me “If you wait until you can afford kids to have them, you will never have them.” She was so right. We were not making a lot of money at the time we had our kids, but we made it work. We worked around each other’s hours so the kids didn’t have to be in daycare, we drove older used cars, we chose a less expensive house….we lived a very frugal lifestyle… Read more »

Mysticaltyger
Mysticaltyger

25 years to save for retirement? I hope you’re right. A lot of people lose good paying employment in their early to mid 50s.

Shari
Shari

I’m in a profession (librarian) where many people work well into their 70’s since it is not a physically demanding job. I also have a side “business” which is right now just a hobby but could be a full time job if it had to be. My husband (a police officer) can retire in 10 years if he wants but if he does he can teach at the police academy to continue earning. We both have a wide variety of skills that could be used if one of us lost our jobs. Also, we’re used to not having a lot… Read more »

Crystal
Crystal

There’s always going to me some reason why it’s not the right time to have a kid. I don’t want kids for a variety of reasons but knowing how I am, I would have make sure my financial situation was solid and I had a ton of cash in the bank before I’d ever considerig trying to get pregnant.

Lomaxee
Lomaxee

I agree with Shari – if you wait until you can afford kids you will never have them. So true. Our first was a surprise but guess what – we made it work! We are doing just fine considering. If you are a responsible person, maybe you don’t have your financial house in order just yet, but kids will help you prioritize it. Especially when you think of what type of life you want to provide for them!

Ben @ The Wealth Gospel
Ben @ The Wealth Gospel

People these days seem to think that they can’t do anything family-related until they’re financially stable–getting married and having kids the big ones. I think part of it is out of fear of having to struggle and another part is it’s just an excuse to push it off. We’re definitely going to struggle once our baby comes in February, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Vanessa
Vanessa

I sincerely hope you don’t have to struggle. My family struggled when I was growing up and I’m still healing from the scars.

CandiO
CandiO

I’m sorry but it doesn’t always “just work itself out”. And as the thing we are referring to is another human being thats kind of an awful gamble to take. Do I ever think its going to be the “perfect” time to have a kid, NO. But there are some real benefits to planning, to waiting, to preparing and some times when you just absolutely should not do it.

phoenix1920
phoenix1920

As an initial point, bringing a baby into the world is ALWAYS a gamble–and always has been. My cousin died 3 weeks after giving birth. Hopefully, we will be blessed enough to be there, to provide for our children, to be their parent as long as possible, but what in life is riskfree? From my experience, if one is a responsible person who is emotionally ready, I have yet to see the situation where it didn’t work out–unless it involved medical issues. However, every one of us is already taking that gamble with our own lives–we are not guaranteed tomorrow… Read more »

Prudence Debtfree
Prudence Debtfree

Perhaps you are right, CandiO, but I’m not sure. I would definitely not want to be the person to determine what constitutes sufficient waiting, planning, and preparing. Your idea of it might be different from someone else’s. And despite a lack of objective “readiness”, it’s amazing what people can manage when they’re in love with their baby and willing to do anything to make it “all work out.”

BD
BD

CandiO: THANK YOU. How many children end up psychologically messed up for life because parents took this bad advice, and things NEVER “worked themselves out?” Ugh, so many people are so irresponsible when it comes to having children. They just think that “things will magically work out” and hey, if they do, that’s great! If not, so what…you have a messed up kid(s). Oh well, say these “parents”. GRR. Yes, this is a huge sore spot with me. I’ve seen too many children’s lives ruined by people like the OP, when things didn’t magically work out.

AMW
AMW

My husband and I did all the right things. We were financially ready to have children. Sometimes it doesn’t matter. I got pregnant and 4 months later my husband lost his job, we had to pay for Cobra insurance and there was a complicated birth that cost us tens of thousands out of pocket. We were wiped out financially. We recovered. Four years later, we were again in a good financial position with insurance that covered maternity 100%- until his employer changed it a month before I gave birth and we had to pay 30% out of pocket. Not as… Read more »

Sara
Sara

I’ve always thought of waiting for the right time to be a continuum instead of black or white. There’s a wide range of circumstances between living in a cardboard box with no job and having enough saved up to pay full cost tuition at Harvard. There may not be a “perfect” time, but there are definitely some times that are better than others. When we first started thinking about kids my husband was unemployed, I worked a job I hated with terrible coverage and we were selling stuff just to pay the bills. Bad time to get pregnant. We started… Read more »

sarah @ little bus on the prairie
sarah @ little bus on the prairie

In my experience, being pregnant with my fourth, every single pregnancy has occurred at a seemingly inappropriate time for a plethora of reasons, financial or otherwise. However, I have to admit that usually my disappointment or fretting over being pregnant was more a result of how things would inconvenience ME more than worrying that we wouldn’t be able to take care of or provide for our children. Kids are a huge “inconvenience” no matter how much money you have saved and I think it’s often more the fear of interrupting a lifestyle one has become accustomed to than anything else.

phoenix1920
phoenix1920

Great article on an important issue. I am not sure it is bad advice, though. Because that commercial “Babies change everything” applies to everything, especially on a personal level. Once a baby is coming, you make completely difference choices–and you are motivated in a completely different way. You will no longer be the person you were before.

Carla
Carla

As a childless person by choice (not because I don’t want kids), I am very well aware that it doesn’t always “work out” no matter how hard one tries. With that said, everyone has their own life event they’re willing to gamble with. I’m going back to school in my mid 30s and I know many people who wouldn’t take that risk.

Alea
Alea

Hi Carla: Same here, I chose not to have kids, because I also chose not to get married, and in my heart I knew I could not handle motherhood as a single lady, especially financially. But hats off to the ladies who can handle it. Not sorry about my decisions, and thruthfully, once I made that decision, I never felt more free in my life. Besides, kids are a total lottery in life. Either you get a healthy one or not, and later out their turn out to be total jerks (like my brother), no matter how much love you… Read more »

Jen
Jen

I think it’s wonderful that people who don’t feel that having a child will work for them, make the choice to not have a child.

(Me, I chose not to pursue having a child, but then suddenly the time was right, and I did have one; but there’s real value in making a choice that you feel you can live with.

Caitlin
Caitlin

What an honest, unsentimental thoughtful article–good advice for taking any risk.

If that goal is important to you, anytime (with some calculated risk-planning) is right.

Good call putting this one forth!

Robb @ Top Financial Advisor
Robb @ Top Financial Advisor

Great post, Holly!

Given that wealth negatively correlates with children — that is, poorer people have more children, and it’s not the children making them poor — there’s something off about the standard “children are too expensive” narrative.

Amanda
Amanda

I don’t think it’s bad advice. Often when we knowledgable GRS readers want to give other friends and family advice, we come to hte conclusion that the friend has to want the change and it normally doesn’t happen until some “Ah ha” moment. Having a baby can be an “ah ha” moment in finances, giving the motivation to get stuff together. I am speaking as an outsider, as parenthood is not something I’m motivated to do. I observed my sister and her husband jump in with both feet at “inopportune” times and they don’t have a ton of money, but… Read more »

Riss
Riss

Great article Holly Johnson, thanks for sharing and for getting this conversation happening here. I just turned 40, waited too long to feel ready emotionally in myself and now still waiting because I don’t feel my current relationship is stable enough. I loved hearing everyone’s points that once you have a baby everything is different and your priorities change. I wish I’d read this article when I was much younger. I think if people know they really want children and feel confident about their own capacity to be decent, loving parents, then it’s probably worth taking the leap even when… Read more »

Mark
Mark

Hey I’ve taken much worse advice than that! Its something I think a lot of people think about. I’ve heard so many people talk about putting off a family because they don’t feel like the can afford it. Thanks for sharing your experience!

Emily @ evolvingPF
Emily @ evolvingPF

Today I heard for the first time the saying “Babies are born with a loaf of bread under their arms,” meaning, I think, that other financial or life blessings tend to occur when you have a baby. That fits very well with how your life unfolded, it seems.

Personally, we’re waiting for the right time in our marriage to start reproducing. It’s pretty independent of our finances. We are reasonably stable enough, I think, and as you said there is no perfect, so it’s not really a factor we’re considering.

Lance @ Healthy Wealthy Income
Lance @ Healthy Wealthy Income

My biggest raises came around getting married and having our first child…and thank goodness! I learn from good examples and bad examples of other people. I don’t know if there are ideal times for anything, how do you know what is the best time of your life for anything. Usually we just scare ourselves in to inaction delaying something we should have started earlier in life. As long as you have a plan go with the plan.

Hein
Hein

Nice article! A person once said: “Going throughout life without having kids is like drinking warm French champaine out of a plastic cup.”

HKR
HKR

Someone could also say “going through life without being a millionaire is like drinking a hot Natty Light out of a straw” but that would be judgmental because not everyone can be a millionaire, and some people have other interests or priorities.

lmoot
lmoot

“Having kids” is not the only way to have kids in your life. I do not plan on giving birth for multiple reasons: I’m 30 and not in a committed relationship, and I just don’t like the gamble of having children (will it be healthy at birth? Or will it have life-long problems that I and they will need to deal with ever after? Or will it be healthy but just turn out to be a sucky human being that I have let free on society? And mostly, the desire to have natural children is not more than my desire… Read more »

T_McArthur
T_McArthur

lmoot, I kind of feel like the intention of her post is that she wanted to have children but was worried about it being a responsible decision when she thought she couldn’t afford it at the time. It sounds to me like you don’t want to have children, and that’s fine but I kind of think you are missing the point.

Brandy@bustedbudget

I agree that there’s no “right time” to have a kid and you might not ever be “financially stable” enough. We can always improve. I’m kind of wavering in that period when I need to start thinking about it at my age, but not sure if I want kids. My mantra is that if it happens, it happens!

Heather
Heather

I love this post! I love that it is true that it was bad advice at face value, but in the long run, it changed everything!

Leah
Leah

Honestly, for $500 a month, you should have just put that money in an account to pay your bills. I know part of this is because I have insurance, but the cost for having my baby looks like it will be approximately $6-8,000. I have a high deductible plan with a $6k deductible for each of us, so I’ll be paying everything anyway. Her costs are somewhere around $1500, and I’m still waiting for the final bill for mine, but I think it’s just under $6k. Thus, with two deductibles, I get it all. For $500 a month times 18… Read more »

Holly
Holly

I had two spinal fusions in my early 20’s and still have two metal rods in my back, so I didn’t want to take that chance.

That ended up being a good decision- I needed a C-section both times and a 4-day hospital stay. It cost far more than $9,000 each time, even after the discount. It was also worth it for piece of mind.

On the other hand, I would have definitely considered going that route if not for my surgeries and concerns.

Millionaires Giving Money
Millionaires Giving Money

We have a 4 year old who at times can be a handful. Our finances were stretched at the beginning but things have fallen into place once we were forced to grow up and get our budget in order. We now spend less with another child than we did as a couple which just goes to show how effective budgeting can be. Having our child was the best thing that happened to our finances – we had to take responsibility and wake up. Great post.

Joseph
Joseph

Me and my fiance don’t think we will ever have kids, because we barely make enough to maintain a decent quality of life now (and at least I make good money, her not so much), and we don’t see prospects of making significantly more than now; so to have a kid, we would have to move into a small crammed apartment in a bad neighborhood and give up both of our cars, maybe we are selfish, maybe not. But I don’t want to go from being middle classs to working poor because of a child

Krissy
Krissy

Me and my fiance want kids so badly I cry nearly every day because I want kids but neither of us have jobs and will soon be homeless I’m at my wit’s end I need some advice and also I’m afraid that my family will disown me since I’m 18 and haven’t been to college yet will somebody please give me some advice

Lafiria
Lafiria

I’m currently homeless of my own home I’m living with a friend for idk how long… I lost my job and found out I was pregnant…. My bf doesn’t want us to have the baby because we are not financially stable he works but lives with his prego sister and husband I jus found another job. My situation has got better from what I went through… I have faith but I jus don’t know if keeping this baby is the right thing to do… Not jus for us but for the baby. We don’t want to abort but I’m not… Read more »

Ms L
Ms L

You have a rough situation. See if there are social service agencies in your city that can provide you with temporary housing and give you donations of baby items. Sign up row WIC as well.

shares