Much is made in personal finance circles about personal responsibility, attributing success and failure to a particular financial decision. Not in the weird, political, shaming-you-for-being-born-poor way, but in the here-is-how-you-game-the-system-to-get-ahead-now-don’t-we-all-feel-clever kind of way.
In many respects, it’s solid advice! We talk about how making decisions based on ethical consumption saves you money and the planet; how you should be mindful and careful of where your money goes, lest you waste it on shit you don’t actually like or need; how every day the choices you make affect your financial future in large and small ways!
For a bunch of money nerds, gamifying personal finance by connecting calculated decisions to building wealth is exciting stuff. I’m getting a little hot under the collar just thinking about it!
I’ve made some pretty big money decisions in my time. Some decisions were purely financial. Others were personal decisions with a big financial impact. Sometimes I chose right. Sometimes I really, really chose wrong.
Today I want to tell you about one of the biggest personal financial decisions I’ve ever made… and why I would never recommend it to anyone else.
The most impactful financial decision I’ve ever made
Little-known carpenter Pete Adeney once wrote “You’re allowed to have only one kid!” The local cycling enthusiast is right, of course, but I don’t think he took it far enough.
I chose not to have kids. My life is complete without them. My husband and I adore our lifestyle: we travel whenever we want (global health crises aside), keep breakable shit on low shelves, and walk to the bathroom naked when our roommate isn’t home. We also spoil the fuck out of our nephew and our friends’ kids, and are easily able to step in and babysit or help out when our bechildrened loved ones need us… because we don’t have any tiny humans depending upon us 24/7.
Mathematically speaking, choosing not to reproduce probably saves me more money than any other financial decision I’ve made. About $250,000 over eighteen years per kid, by some estimates. And that’s not including the cost of pregnancy, childbirth, and when Piggy Junior breaks her arm falling off a thing I told her four times not to climb.
As far as impact to my financial future goes, the decision to remain childfree is probably more weighty than where I choose to live, the career I choose to pursue, or whether I choose to buy a Tesla.
Not having kids: It’s my most impactful financial decision by far!
It’s not about the money
Not having kids is absolutely the right decision for me and my spouse.
But it’s not right for everyone.
If the mission of Bitches Get Riches were to encourage readers to make financial decisions based on the biggest return on investment… we would be selling BGR-branded condoms in our merch store. Actually, that’s a great idea. Kitty? MAKE IT HAPPEN.
What I mean is that if the decision to have children was only about saving money, I would be as evangelical about choosing the childfree lifestyle as craft-beer enthusiast and obscure private citizen Pete Adeney is about riding bikes everywhere.
But it’s not just about saving money.
Deciding whether or not to become a parent is about so, so much more than money.
I relate painfully hard with people who go through hell to become parents. People who wait years to adopt, endure heartache and torture for IVF, go into massive debt for fertility treatments… those people know, deep in their bones, that their lives will not be complete until they raise a child. They’re positive, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that parenthood is their calling, and damn the (astronomical) costs.
I am just as certain about my future as not-a-parent. The fact that my decision will save me metric fuckloads of money over my lifetime? Just a delightful side effect.
Personal finance is personal
Which leads me, at long last, to my point: personal finance is personal. (Another lede buried six feet under. My journalism professors are howling in agony.)
Personal finance is not always about the money. For money is nothing more than colored paper to which we assign value. And that value is only meaningful when it helps you create the life you want, achieve the goals you’re aiming for, collect the X that makes you Y.
Money is a tool you use to achieve happiness. So it would be lunacy to sacrifice long-term happiness in the pursuit of money.
You can swap out “having kids” for any happiness-inducing major life decision that requires a monetary investment. The principle remains the same.
For me, happiness is within reach without children. I’d even go so far as to say happiness is within reach because I don’t have children. Therefore, I save the money I’d otherwise spend on my squalling offspring and use it for other things. (And let’s be real: the world is, as a result, a better place. Because if karma is real, then given how often I’ve criticized the parenting of others, my children would be THE FUCKING WORST.)
But for some people, children, or a career in low-paying academia, or an ambitious athletic goal that precludes all other pursuits, or [insert money-sucking giant commitment here] is the root of their happiness. This huge financial drain is the point.
To deny oneself this happiness because of something as trivial as money would be an utter waste.
Why I don’t recommend my most impactful financial decision
All of which is why I don’t recommend my biggest money-saving personal decision to anyone else. It would be like advising BGR readers and listeners, “To be rich, just give up on the single thing in this life you feel is necessary to your happiness and self-completion.” Cruel.
Defining your happiness-making thing is something only you can do. You’ve got to Smokey-the-Bear that shit. No one else can define it for you. And absolutely no one should ever try to talk you out of it. May anyone who tries suffer the swift and merciless retribution of stubbing their toe on the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night!
What’s right for me may not be right for you. The thing that brings me joy beyond measure might spell absolute misery for someone else. It’s a dick move to scoff at the life pursuits of others in the name of financial efficiency.
Don’t ever let someone else define your future. They ain’t you. Even if your future happiness will be defined by a choice that enriches you with joy and fulfillment rather than actual riches.
Don’t listen to the naysayers who advise you to choose a higher-paying career that will make you miserable, or give up the creative pursuit that gives your days meaning, or use your time to earn money instead of volunteering for a cause you feel could change the world for the better.
Personal finance is personal. And the personal must be taken into account when making major decisions, even if it is to the detriment of the financial.
Making a big money decision?
What has been your most impactful financial decision, for better or worse? What’s the joy you pursue that makes zero sense if your ultimate goal is to become as wealthy as possible? I want receipts, people! Tell us all about it in a comment below.
And if you need help making a big money decision, we want to help! Over in our Etsy shop, we have coloring workbooks to help you set goals for paying off debt or saving up money. Plus we have shirts, mugs, buttons, other worksheets, and all sorts of other affordable goodies. Browse away!
Too long; didn’t read?
Personal finance is personal. It’s not always about the money. Money is a tool you use to achieve happiness. So it would be lunacy to sacrifice long-term happiness in the pursuit of money.
Defining your happiness-making thing is something only you can do. You’ve got to Smokey-the-Bear that shit. No one else can define it for you. And absolutely no one should ever try to talk you out of it.
45 thoughts to “The Most Impactful Financial Decision I’ve Ever Made… and Why I Don’t Recommend It”
I got a degree in technical theater and now work for a community college’s theater department. I could have earned way more money in another industry but would have been miserable. I am a night owl. I love having a flexible work schedule. I like working really hard for a few months then taking time off. I get to be an out queer woman in a supportive work place. Looking purely at the numbers it’s an okay financial decision but it’s not always about the black and white numbers.
BUT ARIANA. DON’T YOU REGRET YOUR MAJOR AND WISH YOU’D LEARNED TO CODE????
I love how you frame this decision as more than the money. A supportive work culture is heckin priceless, especially for queer folks!
Back when Reagan was president, DH and I decided to take our fledgling relationship to the next level and got engaged. We immediately got into a fight over whether I’d continue to work or stay home and be supported since he was working a cushy job at a very high salary. I won, telling him my mama always said a woman needs her own money in her own name and that being forced to quit bringing in my own income meant returning his ring and walking away. Shortly after the Big Hitch, he was laid off and found his dream job – at less than a third of his previous salary. He’s still in that dream job but never recovered financially to the same level. Meanwhile I now make more than he does. 🙂 Big Financial Decision #2: DH and I have always kept separate finances and share the expenses roommate style with me managing the household expenses, including raising a kid. This has prevented many a fight and also saved my credit record since I have frugality down to an art form whereas he comes up with new and creative ways to waste or lose money (mostly his instead of ours). Come to think of it, maybe staying married to him is really my #1 Big Financial Decision, LOL (but he’s still cute and his companionship is worth it).
Bahahah! Yes, I definitely think staying married to him is your Big Decision. But I love how your unorthodox (for the times anyway!) decisions were borne out over time. It was important to you emotionally to stick with your mama’s advice. And as a result, you’re both richer and happier for it.
I also have separate finances from ye olde DH. And while we’ve been criticized for it, it’s not about the money for us. It’s an emotional decision that works for us.
Thanks for chiming in, Laura!
We had three kids and honestly they never seemed to cost us much of anything. They are all grown self sufficient millennials and went to public schools, all got completely free four year degrees. They were all healthy. Sure my spouse chose to be a stay at home mom but our home was so fun with those kids that I think it helped my career take off to the point where I made more than even most dink families. By the higher income also disguised what the kids cost I imagine. I agree completely it is what works for you. I’m convinced happy people do better in life. People who have kids they don’t want or childless people who want kids they can’t have both have to struggle in ways that hurt their ability to achieve their life goals, including financial ones. Great post! Where did you ever come across that Pete nobody?
Thanks Steveark! Agree 100% that the opportunity cost of your SAHM and your high salary probably balanced out so that the difference wasn’t noticed.
I wish more people understood that it’s not the lack of kids or unwanted kids that spell unhappiness… but not being able to make the decision best suited to the individual.
No idea where I stumbled upon that Pete guy. Must’ve come up in a google search.
I’m another no-kids-thanks person, which is probably my biggest financial/happiness decision to date.
If time=money, my best expensive-ass purchase is therapy. Lots and lots of therapy. Once or twice a week, every week, for years. In terms of actual money, it adds up. I haven’t tried to do the math, but… yeah. A lot of time and money.
It has been 110% worth it. My upbringing left me into an overachieving perfectionist wreck (and left me vulnerable to some trauma once I got out on my own), and it’s taken a looooong time for a series of very patient therapists to help me untangle the mess in my brain. I am so much happier and so much more actually myself than I would even have dreamed possible back when I stepped into my first therapist’s office. Also, Pete Walker’s books on CPTSD are amazeballs. They’re a lot less expensive than therapy, tho. 🙂
Dude, therapy is no joke. I know so many people who consider therapy an ESSENTIAL investment. I’m so glad you’ve made this choice for yourself!
I like to make things. I sew and knit and draw pictures. And I’m getting good enough to design my own things as well as snobby enough to insist on The Good Materials.
There is no way I’m getting a good ROI on the amount of time and money I’m putting into my current A-line skirt, what with the online class on couture methods and the endless making and remaking of the mock-ups so it fits. But I spend the time with my mom and my ADD hands are happy with something to do.
Not to mention keeping my house hubby in the middle class luxury I want to give him.
Keeping our menfolk in the style to which they’d like to become accustomed is its own reward. As is a life of artsy craftsy hobbies!
I agree 100% with the tl;dr. That said, as to having kids, I’ll respectfully suggest that from a pure dollars-and-cents perspective, not having them won’t necessarily always save someone metric fuckloads of money over his or her lifetime. Sure, that person won’t have to cover the child-related expenses we typically think of. And he or she can instead invest and/or use the money like a baller. But on the flipside, that same person also won’t benefit from the potentially metric fuckloads of money-saving care and attention that those children can deliver or arrange for when this person is older or (more) infirm and has no partner (fit) to deliver that care and attention. Sure, there’s no guarantee that that care and attention will be forthcoming. Or that it’ll match or exceed the dollars spent on bringing said children into the word and rearing them. But maybe it will. After all, care and attention don’t come cheap.
Never trust in having kids as a retirement plan, folks. Put your own money aside for long-term care. Even if you’re lucky enough to have those kids survive & still like you enough to take care of you, it’s a huge burden on them that they may not be able to carry — esp. if *they* have kids! See also: the sandwich generation 🙁
Oh we definitely need to write about the Sandwich Generation.
Batty is right: having kids is no guarantee that they’ll provide for you in your old age. My grandmother just moved in with my parents, and they’re all stoked about the situation. I’m wonderfully proud of them for providing her with care and a home, but I recognize that can’t happen for everyone.
To your point about the financial savings of getting your kids to take care of you in old age, Fi for the People, I think it probably all evens out! You spend money on your young children, they spend money on you when you’re old. Maybe it’s not an even exchange, but if it works out, that’s awesome!
Yeah, even though I’m childfree by choice I would still hope that my strictly theoretical kids would have full enough lives that it would be a real burden for them to drop everything to look after me.
Caretaking is real work that deserves real pay and reasonable working hours.
Mr. BuLL and I wont be having kids either and as a way to rubber stamp the whole process, he is getting his tubes tied.
I still stumble awkwardly through the “child/childless” question I get but I am hoping in the future I can respond with a graceful, “No, we aren’t having kids but we are retiring early.” Problem solved, right???
Oooo, I love that answer as it’s a great way to answer a rude question with just the right amount of snark.
I’m 34 and the person who asked the awkward question most recently was my Grandma, soooo… hopefully she hasn’t got her fingers crossed???
“So it would be lunacy to sacrifice long-term happiness in the pursuit of money.”
I feel personally attacked!! 😉 Just because I’m super miserable in my job but don’t feel I can leave because I’m making 2x as much as my husband and have no backup plan or alternate source of income!
We are also childfree by choice and love it. Being a parent was just never going to be for me. I’ve never, ever wanted kids–the family story is that as a kid I even threw away my dolls! I value my freedom & free time much more.
You absolute madwoman, you. 😉
We’re DINK and plan to remain that way which is our biggest positive financial decision. I’ve never wanted kids, the financial part is indeed a nice side effect.
Our biggest drain, however, is in our income. I’ve chosen the perfect university studies for me and was able to start my career in my dream job. It’s in the worst paid part of government, but I love it.
Perhaps my ambitions or the salary will change in the future but right now it looks like I will have this salary forever. There are almost no options for promotions. Those few require lots of overtime, while my current job has normal hours, no overtime, and an afternoon off every week. My current salary is ok, but I could earn way more with my degree in a job I dislike.
My SO has not had the luck to find his calling so soon and is still adrift. That means: no career path, and no big salary. His job impacts his mental health a lot so staying in a sucky job is no option.
I have no regrets though. I work to live, I don’t live to work.
Damn straight, Rina! You’re making the right decision. I hope your SO can find that same happiness soon.
Thank you for your kind reply!
I got some good news yesterday and wanted to add: I’ve got a raise! It’s still nowhere near salaries in other fields and this is the only possible raise (ever) in my current job, but I’m happy with it. Especially because I gathered all my courage and asked for it.
Never before have I dared to ask for a raise, but now that I’ve read all of your articles…
Thank you for your advice and encouragement 🙂
I just recently completed my master’s degree in library science, so I can achieve my dream of working as a librarian. Will this job bring me lots of money and make me rich? No, not at all. Was the degree very expensive, putting me thousands of dollars in debt? Yes. Was it worth it? Absolutely! I’ve done a lot of work in libraries, both volunteering and part time, and have loved every second of it. I know that no other job would be as satisfying, fulfilling, or bring me as much joy as that of a librarian. So, while I’ll never be rich and I’m massively in debt, I’m content knowing that I get to work in a field I love and am passionate about!
As the daughter-in-law of a librarian, I have a soft spot for the profession. I’m so grateful you made this decision. It might not enrich you with money, but it certainly enriches the rest of us who get to have another great librarian in the world!
Kids. I got em. Looked at the first and said “this is great. I’ve gotta get another one”. Birthed two. Adopted three more. Fostered a sixth and still miss her years after she went home. All as a single mom. After the fourth I talked my boss into letting me drop to 4 days a week. Took a 20% pay cut to gain 20% more time. My kids have asked if it would have been easier not to have so many. Yes. Easier by far. But not better. Not richer. And I would NEVER recommend it because it IS personal. Money$? We have enough. I’m careful and lucky with my funds. But I know it’s not for most. Parenting is MY calling and my financial trade off. My family thought I was nuts. Saw me as working without a net. They are only finally relaxing as my oldest three enter adulthood. Not wealthy but no regrets. My sister is a DINK who also had no regrets. I recommend the courage to do what makes you happy.
Linley, your story is EXACTLY WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT. Heckin inspiring, girlfriend. You made the decision that was right for you and your family regardless of the financial “consequences,” and you’re happier for it. Your kids have a great mom.
Still pondering the biggest financial decision question, but I just want to say that I appreciate the Homeric epithets.
For me this one depends on the time frame and the actual financial gain. If it’s a short term sacrifice for financial gain (let’s say 2-5 years), in which timeframe you can make so much money that you wouldn’t have to work a day in your life again unless you want to, I would say sacrificing your personal pleasures would be worth it. Since at the end of those 2-5 years, you can quit and do 100% of what you love, on your own terms, without having to make compromises ever again in your life.
This is a reeeeeally good way at looking at the decision. Sacrificing those handful of years for a life of freedom would definitely be worth it to a lot of us.
They’re in there just for you!
No wedding, no kids, no car. Damn, why don’t I have more money saved??
If I had to guess? Income. That’s the side of financial stability that’s always left out of these discussions, and it’s fucking important! Yeah, not having kids is saving me a ton… but a not insignificant part of that math is the fact that my spouse and I both have incomes of over $50k annually.
But you tell me, Andre!
Great article, thanks for sharing!
That bit about ROI really got me. If we only looked at the financial impact of our decisions, none of us would EVER retire. If more money is always better than less money, then leaving a paying job will always be a bad idea.
Great insight on balancing happiness. Thanks!
Thank YOU, Jay!!!
The 250K estimate does not include the opportunity costs of all the time spent looking (and worrying) after our children. If you were learning something, I can only imagine the loss in the compounding of that knowledge (and the money that comes with that). We became parents this year, and the only free time we have is when our daughter goes to bed. By then, my wife and I are both too tired to do anything.
I miss the free time I used to have – when I would read, learn, exercise, etc.
That said, our daughter brings us a lot of joy, meaning and completeness. And a whole new adventure to look forward to. She feels like a miracle.
I didn’t even consider opportunity cost, but you’re absolutely right! That’ll put an extra dollar amount on the decision for everyone.
Your little girl feels like a miracle because she heckin is. <3
Interesting. Having kids definitely costs money. We saved more before we had kids. But still, having kids has been great.
I’m so glad you got to make the right decision for you and that it’s been worth every second!
We are also in the “not having kids” camp. We spend our money on travel and donations to worthy causes. We also put a huge chunk away for retirement.
I kind of did the whole sell-out thing once I realized the thing I wanted to do (teach English) didn’t give me the joy I thought it would: just devastating stress and weight loss. Sans specific career-driven passion, I suppose working for a corporation for a little over a decade was probably the single biggest financial move we made but…yeah, it came with costs. 2/10. Would not recommend.
Oof. Yeah, that sounds rough.
But you had the self-awareness to pivot, and to interrogate your true feelings before making the decision to do so. I call that a win!
I’m also childfree by choice and I do recommend it purely because there is so much pressure to have kids and I want people to know it’s a choice. Sometimes it turns out fine when people have kids just because they were expected to, but sometimes it really, really doesn’t.
Another choice that had a big financial impact was working for a couple years after graduating high school. If I had gone straight to college I don’t think I would’ve appreciated it the way I did after escaping from walmart. I ended up in a career that pays well (I’m the nerd who did learn to code :), but I think what’s important is that I had a chance to think through what I really wanted to study and where I wanted to go to school before taking on a bunch of debt. I also did a 2-year diploma at a community college instead of a 4-year degree and that worked out really well for me.
This is why I take the time to catch up on your writing. A smart, somewhat subversive, strangely humble and yet also slightly smug view of a decision that for most folks is actually never even thought of as a decision, just the next thing to do on the list. Seriously good.. please keep writing…
Aw, Jack! Thank you so much.
My most impactful money decision was marrying my husband.
On the one hand, I would NEVER have had kids if I hadn’t met him and thought the world would be better if we made two little people — so my life got more “expensive” as a result.
On the other hand, I’m a woman with goals and a high risk tolerance for business and tech, so I could NEVER have had this lucrative career with a “traditional-thinking” partner holding me back. I think we edged out ahead on both the money and happiness factors.