If your dreams include retiring early, you’re going to have to save money more quickly than someone who retires at a traditional age. There’s a lot of advice out there about how to save more money: Forego a daily latte, give up cable TV, stop eating meals out, and get your books from the library. Sure, you will save a few bucks this way, which will add up over the years. But if you really want to supercharge your retirement savings, think big. Don’t have kids.
According to this calculator at Babycenter.com, the cost of raising and educating the requisite 2.3 kids where I live would have set me back nearly a million dollars. That’s a lot of lattes. I would have had to forego nearly 273,000 lattes to generate that kind of cash. Even if I stopped at the coffee shop every day on the way to work, it would have taken me 1,092 latte-free years to amass that pile of cash.
These figures only take into consideration the direct costs, such as feeding, clothing, and educating the kids. They don’t include the hit to household income when one parent decides to give up a career or downshift for a few years in order to be home with the kids. Nor do the figures include what Ann Kingston describes as the motherhood premium in a Maclean’s magazine article. The motherhood premium is the plateau and subsequent drop in salary experienced by university-educated women after having a child.
The costs also don’t reflect the dip in marital bliss. Vicki Glembocki reports in a Philadelphia magazine article that after the first baby is born, marital satisfaction drops in 70 percent of couples. A 2005 study by researchers at Vanderbilt and Florida State University reports a higher rate of depression among parents than among nonparents. “Parents experience lower levels of emotional well-being, less frequent positive emotions, and more frequent negative emotions than their childless peers,” according to study co-author Robin Simon. “In fact, no group of parents—married, single, step, or even empty nest—reported significantly greater emotional well-being than people who never had children.”
A growing number of women are deciding not to have kids at all. According to a 2006 Census Bureau report, 20 percent of women in the U.S. between the ages of 40 and 44 don’t have kids. That’s twice as many as three decades ago. And the numbers go up as the level of education goes up. Some 27 percent of women with advanced degrees in the same age group are child-free.
Now I’m willing to bet that early retirement dreams are not influencing these trends. It certainly didn’t figure into my own decision not to have kids. But I can’t deny the impact that my decision had on my own ability to retire at the age of 44. Of course, if you decide to give up the joys of parenthood, you’ll have to be comfortable being out of the mainstream. But then again, that will be good practice for being out of the mainstream when you retire long before you are eligible for your first Social Security check.
Sydney Lagier is a former certified public accountant. Since retiring in 2008 at the age of 44, she has been writing about the transition from productive member of society to gal of leisure at her blog, Retirement: A Full-Time Job.