What Having Kids in My 20s (30s and 40s) Meant for My Money

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moms at every ageFor me, having kids in my 20s would not have worked for many emotional and psychological reasons … but also for financial reasons.

I had student loans to pay off before I could start saving, and my chosen career path—stand-up comedy—was not child-friendly. I wanted kids, desperately, but put it off because I knew the responsibility was beyond me at the time.

I always like to say, in describing my situation, that I was in my 20s for 20 years, and now, at 45 with two preschoolers, I’m in someone else’s 20s.

But, aside from our pesky biological clocks, there’s no real age requirement for mothers. We spoke with moms who chose to have kids at 21, 44—and every age in between—to hear their feelings about that decision, and the financial impact it had.

Aida, 37

Became a Mom at: 21

“I had kids right out of college (at 21 and 23) and that was perfect for me and my husband. When I compare myself to some of our friends, I see how the kids grounded us: We didn’t run up credit-card debt, we didn’t buy cars, we didn’t buy a house at the top of the market. When the kids went to school, that was just when my husband’s career as a drummer started taking off, and I went back to work as a preschool teacher. Now I’m turning 40, my oldest daughter has started college, and we’ve just bought our home and started a home-based business. Plus, we’re young enough to have fun. It’s worked out well for us.”

Beth, 29

Became a Mom at: 22

“I went straight from college to marriage and kids. It’s definitely different from what a lot of my people my age are doing—I’m like the anti-Lena Dunham. But I feel like the kids are my job, and everything I do with them, from fundraising for their school to coordinating childcare with my friends to budgeting for my home, is helping me grow in ways that sharpen my focus so that I’ll really know what I want to do when the youngest hits grade school and it’s time to pick a career.”

Jessica, 29

Became a Mom at: 25

“My whole family had kids young. My mom had me when she was 17, and my great-grandma is still alive and very active. So I have a ton of help with my kids. I had them in my 20s because I wanted to, not for financial reasons—it’s actually extremely difficult, balancing a growing family’s budget on my husband’s associate-level income. But having that family around to watch the kids when I have to go shopping, or go to the doctor, or just spend one-on-one time with my little guy or my little girl is amazing.”

Rhiana, 33

Became a Mom at: 29

“I didn’t have a particular financial reason to have kids when I did—I was just ready. The timing was good, because my husband was on professionally solid ground and my profession, middle-school math teacher, didn’t pay substantially more than child-care would cost. So it was a fine time to become a stay-at-home mom, though I have continued to work part-time as a curriculum writer and tutor this whole time, although it’s more to keep myself positioned for an eventual return to work than for the cash.”

Sheryl, 37

Became a Mom at: 35

“I have two kids, which is great, but I desperately want a third. Can’t do that until at least next September, so I’m not paying for three kids in childcare (the oldest will be in kindergarten). You’d think that two attorneys would have the financial advantage, but we both have law-school debt and we didn’t go the corporate route, so there you are. And I’m very freaked out that by waiting for a better financial moment, I’m letting my biological chance get away.” 

Alyson, 45

Became a Mom at: 29

“I had my son when I was in graduate school, but held off on having my daughter until I had gotten a tenure-track position, so that I could feel secure  that I’d have a job to return to. I just knew I wouldn’t be able to put in the hours I needed to if I had my second kid during that stressful time. Now I’m tenured, I have both kids, life is good!”

Pushing a baby out didn’t immediately imbue me with a talent for getting and holding on to money.

Christine, 42

Became a Mom at: 39

“I waited until I was 39 to have my son. I thought I’d be more financially and emotionally stable and my husband and I would already be in management-level jobs, so returning to the workforce would be easier for me. Of course, then the recession happened, and my husband has been laid off three times in the last four years, and we had to move for one of his job changes, and the animal hospital where I was working can’t afford to give me a raise, so it hasn’t quite worked out that way—but that was the reasoning, anyway. We’re certainly more stable than we were in our 20s, but only marginally so.

Judith, 45

Became a Mom at: 41

“I wasn’t really thinking of kids when I got accidentally pregnant at 41. Awesomeness abounded; I went with it, Knocked-Up-style, and now I’m a married lady with a beautiful son. My finances are still a mess—I’m a freelancer, and oddly, pushing a baby out didn’t immediately imbue me with a talent for getting and holding on to money—but I’m more equipped to handle that stress because my priorities are more in order than they were at any earlier period of my life.”

Susan, 48

Became a Mom at: 44

“I didn’t plan to have my daughter so late, but it took a while for me to find my one true love, and I had several years of fertility treatments. So: My plan had been to save like crazy in my 20s, and I did that. At least I had a down payment for a home, which is no small feat. But the fertility treatments and then the adoption took the rest of our savings, and though my daughter is totally worth it, we’re not the well-positioned older parents we thought we’d be.”

amy and daughterAmy Keyishian moved from the most expensive city in the world, New York, to the other most expensive city in the world, San Francisco. She’s an expert at finding free, cheap, and offbeat fun for herself and her kids, and juggles work and fun—and tries to make work fun—as best she can.

  • V.L.

    Very interesting article, especially for someone like me in their 20′s who is thinking about these things…

  • t

    I wish the women who waited until their 40s had better stories to share. I’m 30, no man in sight, so late 30s or early 40s is the best I can hope for at this point. I was hoping to hear how waiting put them in such better financial positions, but they only sound marginally better.

    • Kristin

      I’m with you. Although happily in a relationship, marriage and kids are still a ways off (mid 30s at the very earliest). To be honest, this article makes me more nervous than anything. Like the two attorneys, we are stable but won’t be making a significant amount by the time we have kids – and childcare is so darn expensive (we don’t live in an area that will allow us to live successfully with a family on only 1 income). I don’t live near family, either, so that eliminates the possibility of help there. I would appreciate more stories on older women and, perhaps, learn more about ways they’ve managed to balance factors like this.

    • Kathy

      I’m disappointed in the stories, too. Waiting to have kids was a terrific financial choice (and all-around best life choice) for me. I had my first child at 36 and second at 38. Being established in our careers means that my husband and I are free to leave early for doctor’s appointments, work from home, etc. and our bosses are okay with it. We can afford to show our kids the world, enroll them in fun classes, buy the toys and clothes we want, and I can choose to work because I want to and not because I have to. Plus we’re saving for a comfortable retirement, which will hopefully be sooner than if I had missed early years in the workforce. It’s not the best plan for everyone, but it definitely worked out the best for me.

      • Sharon J

        I am so happy you shared this story. Thanks you soooo much for your comment. I’m 30 years old, and while I am in a secure relationship with the man I plan to marry and have children with, he’s had trouble finding a job and I’m still in school. So children, I feel, are a minimum of 3-5 years away. I’m so glad that you had a positive experience in waiting to have children. I’m happy for you and your husband and the way things worked out for you.

  • Carol F

    I had a child when I was 22. Granted at that point I had a well paying job that I had secured my second year in college, and had 2 years in the workforce already. I did the 6 weeks of maternity leave and was back to work. I also lucked out that when my job sent me for a 6 month assignment in Japan when she was 3 months old, they allowed me to include her (although I’m sure the fact that her flight was free, and I took care of the child care while there factored in). I started off hiring my aunt to watch my daughter, but when my cousin had her child, I went to an in-home day care because I didn’t want to overburden my aunt with too many newborns underfoot! I’m now 29 (30 in May – yikes!) and I can’t say that having my daughter when I did has set me back career wise. I would say that I’d probably be much better off financially if I didn’t have a child (establishing custody and my own household set me back a good 10k, and I was something of an irresponsible 20-something for a while), but I managed to finally “grow up” a little and get everything together before 30. I bought a house last year, and paid off all my credit cards. I’m working on that 6 months of savings (will probably take 3 years at the rate I’m going) and putting about 9% in my retirement account a month.
    I will say that having a child early enough that my parents are still active enough to help out is a great boon. Being able to occasionally rely on grandparents to provide child care has allowed me to go out at night and get away from being mom is a huge asset.

  • Lauren

    I’m a little surprised by how unbalanced the article is. I love LearnVest, and enjoy reading every day, but every woman here who had their kids young didn’t end up working after their kids were born. (What happened to being a young mom and continuing to work?) Then all the older moms do work. (What about the moms that saved like crazy early on so that they could stay at home later with their kids? Or the moms that built successful careers, took some time off, then went back to the work for successfully?) The examples given here paint pictures of a small percentage of women, and I would have hoped with so many women quoted that the responses chosen could have been more balanced.

    • Carol F

      I’m all of the above you described – young, continued to work, and continued to succeed/advance my career. I also consider myself incredibly lucky to have been able to accomplish what I’ve done to date.

      I concur with the lop-sidedness of the article however. Where I live, a majority of parents are single income households (or if they are dual income, one is part-time). There only seem to be a few dual income households, and regardless of how they get their income, they are 10 – 15 years older than I am with kids the same age.

    • http://life.littlekujodesigns.com/ Patti McHugh

      Lauren, I agree with your comment. My husband and I are waiting to have kids after we pay off our student loans and credit card debt. It’ll all be paid off in 2-3 years and then we’ll start trying in earnest. I’m turning 27 this year and he’ll be 32, making us first time parents around the age of 31 and 36, if we are blessed with kids right when we actually try.

      We currently live in Massachusetts and the childcare expenses are high as are the living costs. Unfortunately, my mom doesn’t live nearby and we have no other relatives that can look after our children. After all the debt is paid off we plan to move to Virginia with a hefty savings and down payment for a home ($200k will get you a 4 bed/ 3 bath home in VA. That will get you barely anything in eastern MA. My friend’s 2 bed/ 1 bath in Westborough cost them $250k back in 2008). We also plan for me to be a SAHM, but I would want to work part-time and eventually go back to work full-time after the kids are in school.

      I believe waiting will bring our family more financial security than raising kids with $80k of debt over our heads right now. Like a friend said, “There’s never one good time [or age] to have kids…” but to each their own.

  • Tania Ginoza

    I wish I hadn’t waited to have children. Of course, there were other factors than financial reasons including my marriage. After I got divorced in my early 40s I considered trying to have a baby (assuming I still could). I’ll be 45 in a few months. Last year, I made the very difficult decision to have a procedure done to block my fallopian tubes because I can’t fathom having a baby at this age. I know many people do it but like anything else it depends on our profession, relationship status and other life choices. For me personally, I’m way too exhausted to manage a baby at this point in my life. Not having children earlier however is one of my biggest regrets in life. It doesn’t bother me all the time but when it does, it hits hard. I always wanted to have children, it would likely feel different if I had been in the camp on the fence or if I hadn’t wanted children early on.

    • Smecksie

      You could try adopting a child. There are many children, other than babies, that need a loving home.

  • The Dean

    Ok, here we go…..I’m all over the place cuz…well…life happens. 3 BEAUTIFUL girls, starting at age 25…third one at 31.. Worked very little out side the home ..lived very frugally… my husband started a business, (Jeweler) 6 months later gets a soft tissue cancer…and is gone 5 months later( dies at 34 yrs of age).So there i was, with a 7,6 , and 5 month old, thriving fledgling business, and a widow. Who does that?

    Two years of crying, grieving, battling the demons (Family!!), not super well off, but our simple lifestyle made staying at home and healing possible.At 34, Prince charming rides in, grieved at being 40, divorced, and…no children. Oh the possibilities!! Fixed him right up!Married 6 months later, pregnant again @ 39…with a baby boy. Not entirely a bowl of cherries, I do regret not having another…..my son is kinda an only child…not the best situation, in my book. Keep life simple, It does leave more possibilities open..Praying for you all….God is Good!!

  • Robin

    I had my kids at 31,33 and 40. I cannot imagine having children in my 20′s due to financial reasons, plus I think it really could have strained our relationship as we needed more time to adjust and mature. My husband and I waited about 4-5 years into our marriage and it was a good decosion.

    • Sharon J

      Thank you for sharing that. I seem to be in line to follow in those footsteps. I’m 30 now and we probably won’t be having kids for at least a couple years at the earliest. I’m glad it worked out for you.

  • Robin

    I forgot to add that i was hoping to be a SAHM for a bit but we could never afford it. I always worked altho i worked 4 days per week vs 5 and that helped keep my sanity.

  • Jamie

    I had my first child at 26 and financially we have had our ups and downs. But, it seems like most of my friends who don’t have children are not saving their money. They are living the single life and spending money on things that don’t acquire anything. When you start your life young I feel like it spreads out big expenses out. Buying a house, Renovations, Wedding, honey moon, Babies. I believe that if you wait to have children and save your money. You will have less financial bumps. But, if you spend your money like you are a single diva Good Luck.

  • Kd G

    We had our 1st when I was 19, our second -22 and our third -24. We’re planning on having at least 1 more – whatever the Lord gives us. Financially we’ll probably never be ‘rich’ but the Lord has blessed us beyond measure and provides for our every need. I am a stay-at-home mom, my hubby is a private school teacher that makes less than $20,000 per year. Yeah, money is tight – especially with 2 still in diapers. I love homeschooling our oldest (in Kindergarten). Having kids young is what God had planned for us – we had been married just over a year when our first showed up. We love our kids and have no regrets about when we started having them. As an added bonus we’re looking forward to someday being just the 2 of us again while we’re still not too old. ;)

  • Barbara

    I’m 23, and I know I definitely want kids, but I also know that I don’t want to have them until I’m at least in my 30s. I’ve been struggling a lot since I graduated from college a little over a year ago, as is everybody else I know. I worry that I’ll never be financially stable enough to have kids, since right now I have no idea when I’ll even be able to afford moving out of my parents’ house! If I didn’t have student loans, I wouldn’t be in this situation, but then again, I wouldn’t have a college education either :/ Either way though, I don’t even see myself getting married for a long time (if ever, but I do hope I will one day), so there’s that to consider as well.

  • Smecksie

    I’m 26, my husband is 29 and I am soooooo ready. I still have about $4,000 in credit card debt that should be paid off by the end of the year, but I’m like, “dude. We’re fine. We’re in MUCH, MUCH better shape than ALL of my friends with kids.”

    Here’s the thing though: We rent and I’m a messy person. But seriously, why should that matter? Those are the things my husband wants to change before we have kids. :(