How can we afford to have children?
March 28, 2012 10:35 AM   Subscribe

Please help me understand how to make our home economics work: we want to have children, but I don't see how we can afford to.

My spouse and I currently live in Europe. We have relatively safe and well-paying jobs, putting us just slightly above the median for households where we live, and european maternity leave policies. We live as cheaply as we can already, in a small city apartment, no car, etc., but this is a very expensive country and we feel a little stretched already.

With the exhorbitant cost of housing, even higher cost of daycare, and family financial obligations, it seems like we may not be able to ever have kids. Short version of the question: should we try to have kids even if it seems financially impossible, or should we give up on the idea? Do you have a story of having kids when it seemed impossible? How did you make it work?

We both work full time and will need to continue to do so, me because I am the primary breadwinner by far, and her because she loves her job and would never give it up (and I wouldn't ask her to). Because we don't have family nearby, that means daycare.

However, I can't figure out how daycare is financially possible. There seem to be two options: subsidized daycare at a high, but maybe doable rate and private daycare at a rate that about equals US private college tuition (no, I'm not kidding). Private daycare is simply impossible financially. The subsidized daycare seems like maybe a good idea (even though it still would cost almost $2000 a month), but there is a 3-4 year wait list. Nannies cost somewhere inbetween the two, but much closer to the out of reach end of the range. We would pay a nanny more than my spouse earns, by a good margin.

So if we don't have family to watch a potential kid, can't have one person stay home, probably can't get subsidized daycare in time, and definitely can't afford private daycare, what do we do? We could just say to hell with it and try and then see what happens, but it seems like what will happen is everything coming to a screetching halt as we realize we have no money, have to move, but have no jobs to move to. I don't want that.

There has to be a way out of this, but I don't see it. The culture where we live is for the woman to stay home at least half time once children are born, and the tax and schooling systems are set up to facilitate (or require?) this model. But if this traditional set up won't work for us, what do we do?

I'm afraid the answer is that we choose between having my spouse work her beloved job and having children. I don't want this to be the answer. What am I missing?

(Extra bonus complication: right now much of my spouse's salary goes to her family, who are in need. We might be able to afford kids if we didn't support the family, but then they would be homeless. This would also be going back on our promise to support them. For various reasons including mental illness, this family cannot participate in any child care. So having children feels extra selfish knowing that it might mean disrupting or ending the much needed help we give.)
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (35 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Here is your problem...something has to give...

We both work full time and will need to continue to do so, me because I am the primary breadwinner by far, and her because she loves her job and would never give it up (and I wouldn't ask her to).
posted by Busmick at 10:39 AM on March 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Would your wife have to give up her job if she went to part time? Would it be possible for her to work 3 days a week and you to work 4 days a week (for example), with a nanny for the remaining day?

Alternatively, is there anything like a nanny share in your neighborhood, where two or more families each pay part of a nanny's salary?
posted by cider at 10:40 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sorry I shouldn't have responded so quickly. You shouldnt have a child because you can afford it. You have to work to make money and your wife loves her sounds to me like you don't really want to have a child. I'd focus more on that and then the money part will clear itself up.
posted by Busmick at 10:48 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Okay, you've set this up as impossible situation. Daycare's too expensive/not available without waiting for years, she won't quit her job, you won't quit yours, you have to provide support for family members who also aren't able to care for the baby, you can't stop that support, the city's too expensive, etc etc. You're right: As your life is currently structured you can't possibly have a kid.

But you need to take a step back and realistically think about what can change in this equation. Of course you can have a kid. People do it all the time, even in your city with all its impossible constraints. Maybe by looking at other people -- colleagues, friends, neighbors -- you can figure out just how people are doing it and making it work.

For my family that meant: I stayed home, despite the fact that I liked my job. Our cars are old. The support we provide to other family members has been minimized. My clothes comes from target. I haven't had a pedicure (one of my favorite treats) in four months. We don't eat out more than once a month, if that.

Or maybe you don't really want to have a kid? Sit down and prioritize and if you want to make it work, you can.
posted by BlahLaLa at 10:50 AM on March 28, 2012 [7 favorites]

We both work full time and will need to continue to do so, me because I am the primary breadwinner by far, and her because she loves her job and would never give it up (and I wouldn't ask her to).

This is the crux of it. You're not bad people for wanting other things more than you want to have kids, but it seems like you want other things more than you want kids.

Despite what they tell you, you can't have it all. Nobody can. It's just not possible. You are going to have to make trade-offs, one way or another. Some of those trade-offs will be hard and painful (giving up a well-loved job; giving up on having children) but they also come with their own rewards. It is up to you to decide which you want.

right now much of my spouse's salary goes to her family, who are in need. We might be able to afford kids if we didn't support the family, but then they would be homeless. This would also be going back on our promise to support them. For various reasons including mental illness, this family cannot participate in any child care. So having children feels extra selfish knowing that it might mean disrupting or ending the much needed help we give.

It is lovely that you are doing this, but the older I get, the more I feel -- and this is me, personally, espousing a value that you don't have to share -- that it is a mistake to divert resources toward the previous generation to the detriment of the next generation, to the extent that many in western societies are doing. I really don't know the details of your in-laws' situation, but if they are adults, they really should be able to take basic care of themselves, and I don't think you should be taking care of them to the extent that you have to give up on having children that you want to have. You mention mental illness and that complicates things somewhat, but ultimately it is up to you to decide whether supporting them is worth what it will cost you.

This is one of those decisions that -- in my opinion -- nobody could fault you for deciding either way. It's a hard choice, but one that you are free to make however you decide that you can live with yourselves.
posted by gauche at 10:50 AM on March 28, 2012 [8 favorites]

Extra bonus complication: right now much of my spouse's salary goes to her family, who are in need. We might be able to afford kids if we didn't support the family, but then they would be homeless. This would also be going back on our promise to support them. For various reasons including mental illness, this family cannot participate in any child care.

That's not just a little postscript; that's the problem. Until you solve that problem (dump them? find them work? find them better social services? wait for them to die?), her family are your dependents, your kids.

That, or your wife starts earning a lot more money by giving up the dream job and taking up a breadwinning job. Is she any good at anything people will pay real money for?
posted by pracowity at 10:51 AM on March 28, 2012 [11 favorites]

It sounds like you can afford to support a family, but you can't afford to support two. Most people would have similar troubles supporting two families. You seem to have four intentions: Support her family, create a new family, she keeps her job, you keep your job. I think the trick is not being so militant about the goals. You can flex some or all of them.

Can you give her family less cash (perhaps help them wade through paperwork to get other forms of assistance?

Can you flex your jobs in some way, either schedulewise or hours wise?

Can you flex childcare (nanny share idea above is great).

If it were up to me, I'd focus on doing everything I could to become as independent as I could of supporting her family. It's obviously noble, but sounds like it might be a financially crippling burden. If you can get them independent, or at least dependent on someone other than you, that would be ideal.
posted by powerbumpkin at 10:53 AM on March 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

I can't afford to work right now, and it sucks, so I feel for your wife. Unfortunately having one parent (usually the mother) stay home is often not really a choice when childcare is expensive. I'm sorry.

Can you get an au pair?
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:54 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Find a stay-at-home parent who will be willing to babysit your child in her own home as she or he looks after her or his own child(ren). It will be way cheaper than regular day care.
posted by orange swan at 10:55 AM on March 28, 2012

My husband and I were in your situation, sort of.

We have two kids.

Honestly, you just make do. Don't let money be the only reason keeping you from having a child. Writing the daycare checks hurts for about the first six months, but then it's just a part of your budget, and when the kid is finally not in daycare any more, holy hell, will you be rolling in it! (after a fashion).

It's not possible for both of us not to work --- his paycheck pays rent, mine pays daycare, but, and here's the crux, I carry the health insurance. He makes more gross income, but health insurance through his job costs more and is comparatively crappy to my less expensive and awesome insurance. So, we're in a bind where we really can't afford the kids we already have, daycare wise, but can't afford not to work. So, well, we make do. We rely a bit more on credit cards than we should and we look forward to the day when the first one goes into public (free!) school.

As for the giving of one of your salaries to the care of another relative....that's very generous, but I think you may need to consider cutting that back a wee bit or looking into less costly options for those family members if you want to start your own family.
posted by zizzle at 10:58 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

You're already supporting a child, except it's her family. Could all of you move in together, thereby combining and hopefully reducing total living expenses, and they provide daycare? That is how extended-support families generally pull this off: the grandparents and/or aunts/uncles provide domestic support in return for financial support.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:00 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I asked a similar question almost 3 years ago, and we now have a 15-month-old. Like zizzle says, you just make do. For us, we got into a cheaper housing situation, and one of us (my husband, who made much less than me and also didn't like his job) decided to stay home after we spent a few months of paying a sitter half of his salary. You get to a point where you're like, why are we working so much and never seeing this precious baby we have? So our decision was easier than yours, but it was still something that we did NOT think we could do back before we had a kid, but after he was here, our priorities totally changed.

We also are slowly going into debt, which sucks, but that's our own fault, because we're not good at budgeting (this is something we've resolved to work on this year).
posted by rabbitrabbit at 11:02 AM on March 28, 2012

You sound very realistic and responsible. Please don't try to make do and plunge into having a child when you can't afford it...its really not as simple as making do or finding the money. I would also suggest asking peers how they manage.
posted by agregoli at 11:20 AM on March 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

My child is one of the best things that ever happened to me in many ways, but also a bit of a financial disaster. I agree with agregoli.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:23 AM on March 28, 2012

You sound very realistic and responsible. Please don't try to make do and plunge into having a child when you can't afford it

If we had listened to advice like this, we never would be able to have children because we never would have been able to afford it. I agree it's a complex issue, but I'd much rather have my kids than have money.

The OP and the OP's partner may have to decide if the same is true for them.
posted by zizzle at 11:28 AM on March 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

Mother of 3 here - I always said that I would have as many children as I could afford. Right now I'm working at a deficit of 2 kids and I can't give them back! I'm poor. The kids don't notice. Everyone is happy. We never go on vacation.

You actually have an ideal situation and don't realize it. Just the fact that the society you live in is set up to encourage stay at home moms is huge. Make friends with your neighbors. Go to church more. You will find a mom who will take in your little one for a little extra cash. It will all work out.

Your wife needs to look at other options for her family's care. Are there any state agencies that can help out? There has to be another option. She cannot continue to subsidize them.
posted by myselfasme at 11:30 AM on March 28, 2012

The "just make do" strategy is indeed an effective strategy because it focuses you. You stop asking how you'll ever afford it and you just scramble to afford it. With that extra person in the house, you find a way.

You find a way to save more money: generic food brands, used clothes for all three of you, no gadgets, no movies, no buying books, no restaurants or take-out, no vacations unless it means staying home and doing more work, no snacks, no drinking, no smoking, plenty of swearing.

You find a way to work an extra job nights or weekends.

You find a way to live with her family, crazy or not, or you find a way for them to get money elsewhere.

No matter what else, I suspect your wife would either quit working all together (because she's worth a lot more as a mother than as the person who does that job she loves) or find a job that pays enough for babysitting and more. So she has to acknowledge that going into this: if she has a kid or two, she'll effectively be forced to indefinitely, maybe forever, give up the job she loves for the sake of raising that kid.
posted by pracowity at 11:31 AM on March 28, 2012

I'm surprised that nobody has mentioned this:

You don't mention that you want children. Just that you can't have them and should you give up the idea. Sure. Some people would read that as wanting kids. But they're not equivalent statements.

You also don't mention having had a single conversation with your wife about this. Does she want kids? Does she have any interest in finding a way to make more money doing the parts of her job she loves best? Would she be ok with part time work?

If you want kids, by all means. Have them. Wanted kids who are loved are the best thing ever for the planet. They don't know for the first few years that they don't have the hippest clothes. And for many super wealthy kids the biggest thing missing is parental time and affection.

Figure out a way to prioritize time over money and you'll be ok. But only if you both want a child. If there is any resentment going in, then the money might be a big point of contention.
posted by bilabial at 11:48 AM on March 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

The very expensive daycare years are short, relatively speaking, especially if you only have one child. Can you suspend the support to your in-laws for that amount of time? Is there anyone else in the family who might be willing to take over for a few years, with a firm commitment that you'll take over again once you're able?

But even if that's not possible, I feel strongly that it may seem cruel to cut them off, but having children or not is a huge life choice that it is even crueler to have made for you by the demands of the older generation. I understand that children are not necessary for everyone to feel that they have lived a life, but for me, that's how I felt and feel about it. If you are more like that, then it just seems wrong to let other people's situations take something that important away from you.
posted by palliser at 11:50 AM on March 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

The first sentence says "we want to have children."
posted by pracowity at 11:50 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

There is a difference between "just making do" and "can't make it work." Which one better fits your situation? Some people who "just make do" give up spending on little things that add up (goodbye fancy beer, pedicure, nice clothes). Some people already live frugally and there is very little wiggle room as it is (would end up homeless if they had a child).

How does your wife feel about taking a leave from her work until the kid is in school? It is a temporary thing, and she can eventually go back if she can annually renew her leave of absence.

I also like the idea of finding someone who is home with their kids and who would be open to providing daycare for yours.

Without more details about supporting her family, I can't add much that hasn't been discussed. Sustaining a second family long term is definitely jeopardizing your ability to afford your own children.
posted by retrofitted at 11:57 AM on March 28, 2012

The "extra bonus" seems to be the whole answer to your question. The way ordinary people afford this is that they *aren't* supporting extended family. You are supporting extended family. If that can't give, then that means that either your standard of living goes down significantly, you find a way to make markedly more money, or you don't have kids. Sacrifices get made in every life. But you aren't personally responsible for those people just because you're related to them. I had to choose to stop supporting my dad at some point because it would have stunted the rest of my life. Yes, he's worse off because I'm not contributing. That's not my responsibility. Where is the social safety net in the country her family is in? I mean, the US isn't well-known for this, and even here, my dad gets disability and stuff.

In the end, most people really don't "have it all". Women are usually the ones called on to make the sacrifices, but it doesn't have to be just her. So I guess that makes it "pick three": her family, her job, being middle-class, being parents. Three out of four doesn't sound all that bad at all, as life goals go.
posted by gracedissolved at 12:00 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

How old are you? If you're in your 20s put the whole idea on hold for a while. If you, and, more importantly, your wife, are in your thirties you need to figure this all out soon. It sounds like you're not living in your country/countries of origin. Have you considered going back to one of them or to another country with a lower cost of living and proximity to relatives who might help out with children?

Are there other parts of your city in which decent housing is less costly? These might be areas in which more families with young children live.

When my children were little I was involved in several childcare coops in which parents took turns taking care of each others' kids.
posted by mareli at 12:02 PM on March 28, 2012

It would be extremely helpful if you could update with information on what country you are in. In the EU country where I live, the combination of tax breaks and non-means assessed child benefit helps. Au pairs and home childcare (instead of a nanny) are also popular.

We would pay a nanny more than my spouse earns, by a good margin.

This is why the "stay home for three to five years" thing happens. Once the kid is old enough for school, you have more options and the math changes.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:23 PM on March 28, 2012

Many thoughtful comments here.

I wonder about the extended family that you are supporting. Are they explicitly aware that their needs are squashing your goals? Have you sat with them and told them directly about your own hardship? They should be aware of the extent of the sacrifice that you are making. Perhaps her extended family has other support avenues that they haven't yet tried? Ask THEM to help YOU ease the burden.

Are there other family members who don't provide the extent of support that you do? Because they can't afford it? Maybe they can afford it more than you can. Try reducing your level of support and see if some one or something might fill in the gap.

An example: I used to spend much of my free time helping my parents. I was childless and my brother was busy with his many children. It made sense of me to provide the support, even though I resented it sometimes. When I had to relocate to a distant state, I felt guilty about leaving my parents behind. Guess what. My brother managed to find time to help my parents.
posted by valannc at 12:53 PM on March 28, 2012

We also live in an extremely expensive European city, with no family closer than a three hour plane trip away, both work, and financially support my partner's relatives. The support to my partner's family is non-negotiable, for both practical and cultural reasons.

We talked about having a child a few years ago and agreed that we couldn't see any way of making it work. We did it anyway and now have a two year old daughter. It more or less works, like so:

- we were older (late thirties/early forties) so have accumulated savings to fall back on -- no saving going on now!

- we both reduced our hours at work to part time (in effect making less money for doing the same amount of work) so we could both keep our jobs and share child care. The child is in daycare for two days a week, which costs exactly half of what I earn;

- all the baby stuff was bought second hand or borrowed from friends. An advantage of living in a rich country is that second hand stuff is generally lightly used and high quality;

- going out to restaurants and most recreational shopping is done on trips back to our much cheaper countries of origin;

- I (the mother) have accepted, largely, that my career in the field I trained in will suffer;

- if we were to have another child (fairly unlikely), I would have to give up my job.

For us it is going fine so far, though there are downsides. The people above talking about making compromises are right in my experience.
posted by ogorki at 1:26 PM on March 28, 2012

The subsidized daycare seems like maybe a good idea (even though it still would cost almost $2000 a month), but there is a 3-4 year wait list.

How close are you to the end of realistic childbearing years? 3-4 years doesn't seem like a ridiculous time to wait, and you could spend that time saving every penny and learning to live on a very stretched budget.
posted by R a c h e l at 4:03 PM on March 28, 2012

Every couple with kids I know who live in expensive countries in Europe (and it's quite a few) do it this way:

As soon as you are pregnant, you put your kid on the waiting list for daycare. Sometimes it takes less time than you expect, but even so, chances are that way you'll get it when the kid is two or three.

Each parent takes the maximum paid maternity leave from their job. One at a time. Usually the mother first, because she often has to recover physically from the birth. Then when she goes back to work, the father.

In the countries I know well, that strategy gets you through at least most of the first year after the child's birth.

Then each parent drops down to part time at work. Sometimes one employer is less flexible than the other. But most of the couples I know have one parent work three days a week, and the other two. One couple does three days of work each and hires a nanny/babysitter for one day. Maybe you could even stretch it to four days of work for each of you, and a nanny for three days? Or can one of you have one work day on a Saturday, even?

It's hard, financially, but these friends of mine all manage. (They are also in countries where there's some sort of tax rebate or government payout for families with kids - are you?)

I don't think you should just have kids without a plan (especially because that often seems to result in the woman having to pick up the pieces and doing the traditional thing after all), but I think you probably only need to plan for the first year or two, and then see what happens. Don't stress for now about things like the fact that school ends at midday (I assume, from what you say about the setup expecting mothers to work part time). By the time the child goes to school he/she is old enough for playdates - you can probably enrol him/her in an after school activity/care for one or two afternoons, and have him/her visit friends one or two afternoons, and then one of you might have to work 90% time or something so you can take one or two afternoons a week off work.
posted by lollusc at 7:10 PM on March 28, 2012

Helpful realization: most people feel they do not have enough money, or feel that they could/should make more, before making a commitment. It always seems like the money is insufficient. Heck, it often kind of is.

Don't let the money be too much of a hang-up. These things have a nearly magical way of working themselves out. Or, as others have noted, they motivate you to find magical ways to make them work out. It really does tend to work that way.

Should your extended family obligations be a ball and chain that forever prevents you from enjoying the pleasures of raising your own family? That seems like nonsense. It's unlikely that they wouldn't understand if you had a kid and arrangements had to change. Well, then again, you can choose your friends but not your family... even if they can't understand or won't adapt, it isn't right for them to dictate your life. If you are helping them, that's a gift. What would happen if one of you lost your job? Think carefully about that. Would you be expected to continue supporting them regardless?

So the question you really need to ask is, do you really want kids? If so, figure out a way to do it, preferably while you're younger if you can. You don't really want to wait until you're 45; having a kid is a 20 year commitment, and you don't want to go from high school graduation to retirement ... do you?
posted by jgreco at 8:21 PM on March 28, 2012

I'm not familiar with European subsidized daycare (sounds like heaven) but do you have to be pregnant to get on the waiting list? Because if it were me, I'd get on the waiting list immediately, and spend the interim setting up logistics.

Can you get cheaper housing?
Is your wife willing to work part time to cut daycare expenses?
Can you set up a stricter budget so you can save up a little bit at a time?

Most importantly, I'd make it my full-time job to find resources and alternate forms of support for your wife's family. It's not fair for you to give up your future and it's not fair for them not to have an independent form of stable, long-term assistance.

It's wonderful that you're helping out, but cutting a check every month isn't the only way to do it. Good luck!
posted by Space Kitty at 9:08 PM on March 28, 2012

I have never known a couple who made (even slightly) more than a median salary who completely failed to raise children for financial reasons. Plenty of people have made it work while making well below the median income.

If your real question is "how can I have children while keeping the things I like about my current life the same as they are now", then you can't. If you have kids things will change and not necessarily in predictable ways. Having kids is not like whatever you think it will be like. Your attitude about other things may change once you have a child to take care of.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:42 PM on March 28, 2012

Agree with most of the above comments. Also, don't discount the idea that once the little one comes along, your wife's plans of going back to work completely change, and she may decide to stay home instead. There's no guarantee but it happens all the time, even to hard core career women. Babies have a way of changing your priorities.
posted by Jubey at 10:02 PM on March 28, 2012

People keep acting like money comes out of thin air but if you're decent with money and don't currently spend it on a lot of crap--it doesn't. It's not a choice between exchanging money for your children for some people. For some people it's a choice between children and a safe place to live, or in this case, between children and the health and well-being of other family members. Having a child is one of the best predictors of poverty, poverty which will then affect your child/children, who have no choice in the matter.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:11 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

You don't name the specific country you are in, which would help produce specific answers as to schemes and benefits that may be helpful. For example, although I as a single woman earn more than the average UK family, I receive almost £800 tax credits each month and am part of a generous salary sacrifice scheme to pay for childcare. As the parent of a child under six, my employer was legally obliged to seriously consider my request for flexible working, and so I work compressed hours and one day per week from home (saving two days of childcare each week). The only part of this of which I was aware prior to having my daughter was the salary sacrifice for childcare. If you can let us know (via a mod) in which expensive European country you reside you might get specific help as to what is available for you.

Otherwise, I agree with other posters that if you really want a child you need to rethink your support of other family members.
posted by goo at 3:20 AM on March 29, 2012

People keep acting like money comes out of thin air but if you're decent with money and don't currently spend it on a lot of crap--it doesn't.

Sometimes it does. I had no idea about the tax credits for which I was eligible (and that is money paid into my bank account each month, by the government) - I thought I earned too much, but I don't. You can't extrapolate the US experience to Europe.
posted by goo at 7:20 PM on March 29, 2012

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