Nothing Else Matters
How Children Shape Our Thoughts About Money
Nothing Else Matters
There are a few times in life when our thoughts about money mean nothing. When we’re young, we don’t know the value of it, where it comes from, or how our parents buy things for us. When we die, we can only give it away, it serves no purpose to us anymore.
This was illustrated by Lawrence Yeo in The Nothingness of Money.
I'm currently in the plateau phase, however, my ideas and thoughts about money have changed drastically over the past 5 years, and it’s because of my children.
A few weeks ago we brought our 3rd kid into the world and life as we know it will never be the same again. For most parents out there, the joy of bringing a new life into the world is unlike any other experience. It's exciting and terrifying at the same time. Am I cut out for this? What if I'm not a good parent? Do we have enough to provide for them? Millions of questions and concerns come to the forefront.
Not only do our thoughts about money change after kids but so do our thoughts on time. It’s comical to look back at how much leisure time I had available before kids. It wasn’t even really productive time. I remember coming home and binge watching 4-5 episodes of some show on Netflix then going to bed. Or doing projects around the house for hours on end. Then drinking and partying every weekend.
What I have now come to realize is these were just busy tasks to fill time slots and try to feel some sense of purpose in life. But it was never enough. When you have kids (and actually care about them and being a good parent), you spend much of your waking moments thinking about how to protect, teach, and provide for them. It is a difficult task that requires some reprioritizations around your thoughts on money.
Below are a few ways my thoughts about money have changed since having kids.
Caring Less About “Retirement”
I’ve previously written about how retirement is just a state of mind.
In my previous life before kids, I often dreamt of amassing enough wealth to retire early and become a FIRE guy. Yet I had few aspirations of what I wanted to do once "retired" (golf, garden, woodworking), I just knew I didn't want to wake up 30 years from now feeling unfulfilled.
With kids, I've realized that my home identity is much more important than my work identity. While I still need to provide for my family, there are still limitations where I will not sacrifice my home life for my work life if it means missing seeing my kids compete in sports or plays or helping them with homework. Maybe this pushes out retirement a few days, months, or even years. Who cares?
That may sound a bit slothful and apathetic, but it's really just a confirmation of my priorities in life now, ironically brought upon by the pandemic and WFH movement plus the addition of kids to the house.
Frugality Pushed to the Breaking Point
In my family, I’m the saver and my wife is the spender. In some ways this is a good thing and in some ways it’s bad. The good is I don’t always see the bills for all of the kids' things (food, school, clothes, etc). I would simply drive myself mad as I would escape the plateau and continue riding the trend upwards. Even though I know most of the things we buy for them are necessities, my brain can’t help but try to remain frugal with their purchases.
If you're one who doesn’t enjoy spending money you'll have to come to grips with the fact that you’ll always be spending money for your kids…daycare, school, activities, clothes, food, healthcare, all necessities. The non-necessities are endless too it seems.
So while I remain frugal throughout my own purchases for myself, I’ve come to realize I don’t need much to be happy (just some nice golf clubs) and get much more happiness seeing my kids enjoying their own experiences.
Frugality turns into selflessness.
There's nothing that can motivate a person more than bringing another human into the world. They depend on you for every necessity. The strongest feeling in the world is the need to provide for your family. Not only are kids motivators for adults to become hard-workers, they also motivate us to become better people. They watch and repeat everything we do with perfect mimetic behaviors.
While few and far between, I still have some close friends who don't have kids (yet). One of them hasn't worked in months, and that's fine because they only need to provide for themselves. They have some savings that they can work off of and can live on ramen noodles if necessary. That would be an incredibly tough situation for them if they had to provide for children on top of that.
While it hasn't happened yet and hopefully never will, if I ever find myself in a similar jobless situation, I can promise that I would go work at McDonald's the next day if it meant bridging the gap to continue providing for my family.
Fight or flight mode activated.
Before kids, I was focused on paying down student loans and credit card debt, and contributing to a 401k and Roth. After kids, the focus turned more towards allocating money to child care, 529s, HSAs, life insurance, and emergency funds.
A new Brookings Institution estimate recently put the total for raising a child through age 17 at $310,605. Let’s do some quick math: $310,605 x 3 = $931,815. Divide that by 17 years and you get $54,812 per year. Divide that by 0.65 to account for taxes and you have $84,327 per year, which is the salary you’d need to make (on average) before tax to support 3 children. Take these numbers with a grain of salt as they're likely individualized, just know it's a lot.
Congratulations! Here’s your $300,000 bundle of joy! As your mind starts thinking about what you could have spent that money on. A yearly 2-week trip to Europe for the next 25 years. A new RV. A few new rental properties. Comparing everything to how much you spend on childcare is a great way to drive yourself mad.
Now you’ll be spending that on experiences with your family that will create memories that will last a lifetime. It’s a rite of passage.
When I was single and before any budgeting apps like Mint were really mainstream, I created an Excel spreadsheet to track all of my expenses and put them in different categories (food, bars, utilities, clothes, etc.). It did take a little bit of grunt work to pull my credit card statements and copy the information into the spreadsheet, but in the end it helped me to stay under budget on certain items when I saw them get out of hand in previous months.
Once I got married and we started using individual and joint credit cards it just got too complicated to use the same old spreadsheet to track our spending habits. Then once kids entered the picture it became even more convoluted.
While we now keep our personal spending on ourselves to a minimum, we have pivoted back to budgeting again to make sure at a minimum we are saving more than spending each month. This is obviously important because kids are already expensive and stressful enough without the added pressure of piling up credit card debt on top.
While I want my kids to thrive, I do believe there's a fine line between giving them the best opportunities to succeed and spoon feeding them.
I don't ever remember discussing the concept or value of money much with my parents. And even if we did discuss it, I'm sure I wasn't listening at the time. I will make it one of my top priorities to ensure my kids understand the value of money, how to make it work for you, and the importance of being frugal during life's inevitable ups and downs.
But for now, I need to focus on teaching them letters and numbers. Then we will move onto money, blockchain technology, and stocks.
I want to leave you with an excerpt from a WSJ opinion piece that I saw a month ago that has stuck with me since.
We should think of our children as assets, not liabilities. They are truly priceless.