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.