Are Your Children Stopping You From Achieving Financial Freedom?

by | BiggerPockets.com

Are your children the reason that you can’t afford to save and invest for financial freedom—or the reason you can’t afford not to?

I usually write with a very specific audience in mind—the median wage earner young (under 35) and willing to make some big changes to move aggressively toward early financial freedom. To my delight, I’ve found that people from all different backgrounds, outside of my intended audience, are able to benefit from these ideas and accelerate toward early financial freedom from their respective starting points.

There is, however, one group of people who consistently push back on my strategy for moving toward early financial freedom.

That group is the upper-middle-class earner with a family, including a spouse, children, and often pets.

The conversation often goes something like this:

We are both smart, marketable, and reasonable adults who earn high incomes because of our solid educations from top colleges and consistent decade-long tenure in our respective professions. Each of us earns approximately $75,000 per year, for a combined total of $150,000 in household income. We provide the very best for our children; drive large, safe, inefficient vehicles; live in a large, newer, expensive home (of course, our home is so not expensive for the area—you should see the neighbors, AND you can’t get a home for the price we bought at nowadays anyway!), tastefully decorated, in a neighborhood with a great school district.

We’d love to move toward financial freedom, but you have to understand, the rules of personal finance do not apply to us, because we have a huge expense that NOBODY can get past:

CHILDCARE!

You see, it is so expensive to raise children that our dreams of real estate investing, much less financial freedom, are utterly impossible, and the plan for attaining early financial freedom you outline in Set for Life utterly impractical. We will spend over $41,000 in childcare next year alone on our two to three children. That’s JUST daycare and does not include babysitters, activities, food, medical bills, and the like. Of course, the average childcare center is a bit lower cost than what we spend, but we just can’t send our kids to one of those lousy centers—the other children at some of those places are just awful!

Clearly, it is impossible for us to save money.

Further, the majority of time not spent at work or taking care of my basic bodily needs as responsible adult, like fitness (we correctly eat very healthy organic food, make time for a quick exercise session in the early morning or right after work, and just generally take care of ourselves, which is part of the reason why we earn such high incomes!) is spent with the family. My spouse is NOT going to hear it if I tell him/her that I want to start doing any of this “side business” stuff when there are children to put to bed, dinner to prepare, and dishes to be done. There is NO time that I can commit to the pursuit of early financial freedom.

Clearly, it is impossible for us to make more money, invest in assets that could produce outsized returns (but that require modest amounts of work), or build a business.

So, Scott—given my predicament, how do you suggest that I go about creating financial independence for myself and my family?

This blog post is an attempt to answer that question.

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First Things First

Before we dive into solving this problem, let’s talk some math. Median household income in this country is ~$52,000 per year. The folks that I talk to in the upper-middle class about childcare costs routinely throw out figures like $30,000 per year for two children or even $40,000+ for three small children.

Someone spending $30,000 per year on kids ($2,500 per month) at $52,000 per year in household income has $20,000 left over to pay for EVERYTHING else, including taxes, rent/mortgage, transportation, and food. Clearly, that’s not happening. Still, around half of the children in this country grow up just fine. So, somewhere, somehow, the math regarding childcare expenses thrown out by these upper-middle-class income earners must be very off, or the perspective on reality that these upper-middle-class earners have is extremely different from that of the rest of the world.

Many people in this country raise happy, healthy, productive children for far less than the large price tag of $15,000 per year per child. They make choices like keeping one parent at home; sharing childcare responsibilities with friends, family, or colleagues; working at places that offer childcare as a benefit; moving closer to the grandparents for some free, enthusiastic babysitting; or finding some other creative method for low-cost effective childcare.

Related: Forget the American Dream—Renting, Not Homeownership, is the Path to Financial Freedom

It is at this point that folks begin making excuses and throwing out numbers to prove to me (or maybe themselves?) why they can’t move toward early financial freedom. Luckily, that is not going to be you, dear upper-middle-class dual-income family, because you are going to accept that millions of people who earn far less than you have economically raised productive, happy, and successful children. You are looking for solutions to your problems, not excuses to maintain your status quo.

If you already have children and are just now looking into getting your act together to aggressively move toward early financial freedom, then I’m sorry to say that no, you can’t have it all. You cannot continue to earn what you earn, spend what you spend, and put no effort into building a business or delivering investment returns and expect to move toward financial freedom at an accelerated rate.

The fact that you have children and have bought yourself into an expensive lifestyle does not preclude you from the realities of math and money. You absolutely have to earn more, spend less, or put in the time necessary to build businesses or scale investment returns the same way that those of us without children do it.

There are three fundamental areas that I will address in this blog post:

  • Deciding if your children are a reason to move toward early financial freedom—or a reason not to pursue early financial freedom
  • Deciding if the lifestyle changes needed to accelerate toward early financial freedom are unacceptable “sacrifices” or desperately needed “improvements” to your lifestyle
  • Deciding the pace at which you want to move toward early financial freedom—is a slower, more methodical approach appropriate for your circumstances?

Are Your Children the Reason You Can’t Afford Financial Freedom?

As an unmarried man with no children, I get to pursue my goals with very minimal financial and time obligation to others. I completely direct my professional and financial goals and have little to no need to compromise in my efficient pursuit of early financial freedom.

For the married parent, things are different. I get that. Therefore, I believe that additional perspective is needed. Why you want financial freedom and how the pursuit and eventual attainment of that goal will affect your children’s lives is a big component of the decision to take action. Are your children the reason that you can’t afford to save and invest for financial freedom, or the reason you can’t afford not to?

There are several ways to look at the motivation behind financial freedom (and I postulate that there’s likely to be a blend of the following):

  • You are motivated because you desperately want to be a bigger part of your family’s day-to-day life and can’t stand the fact that for 9-10 hours a day you are at work or commuting.
  • You are motivated because you don’t want to be forced to work a dull job for the next 20 years. This part of the motivation comes from your own selfish desires (not that this is a bad thing!) and is separate from the motivation to spend that time with your family instead.

Again, I do not have children, but it seems to me that a good parent could fall into a trap depending on the motivations behind the decision. In a way, reducing expenses and moving toward early financial freedom is a burden on the family that will result in sacrifices that the family has to make for the benefit of the aspiring early retiree. In another way, reducing expenses and rearranging the family’s spending and investment strategy such that one or both parents can remain at home is a tremendous gift to the family, with many decades of fond memories to be made.

“Sacrifice” Vs. “Improvement”

Are the changes necessary to move toward early financial freedom unacceptable “sacrifices” or desperately needed “improvements” to your family’s quality of life? Like your motivation, your “why,” this is a matter of perspective that only you can determine.

You must decrease your spending, increase your income, deliver outsized investment returns, or start a business to accelerate toward early financial freedom. An efficient operator will do all of those things synergistically. The question is—will that decrease your family’s quality of life, improve it, or make no difference?

Looking for ways to cut back on spending that make no difference in your day-to-day happiness should be a no-brainer. Things like downgrading the car(s), eating healthy food from reasonable grocery stores, and biking to work are good places to start. Those are layups.

The problem is that the things that will materially impact your financial position are things like housing, transportation, childcare, income production, and investing, depending on the amount of after-tax assets outside of home equity you have accumulated to date. Those categories will impact the time you spend with your children—and where they spend their time, if they attend or will attend public schools.

Is it an acceptable tradeoff to move to a B+ school district instead of an A- one? I get that education is a touchy subject. But what if your cost-effective and time-saving commute means that your children get an extra hour with mom and dad every evening? Might that be more advantageous than the slightly better school? How do you even know that the top school in your district is the best school for YOUR kid? What if the decision to move districts is so cost-effective that it not only comes with an extra hour of Dad time every day but ALSO Mom full-time at home? What if the stay-at-home parent can remain phone accessible and manage a handful of rental properties while the portfolio kicks off the ground?

Is it an acceptable tradeoff to take a shot at starting a family friendly business with your children in their spare time? Can that still be a fun and enriching experience to replace another way you might have spend your Saturday? How about investing in real estate and letting them learn about that process?

A Change of Pace

I spent my first few years out of college moving toward early financial freedom as efficiently and aggressively as I could without sacrificing the fun and good times that I hope every recent college grad gets a chance to enjoy. I encourage my peers to do the same. There is no reason not to aggressively save, invest, pay down debt, and house hack, if practical, in your 20s so that you can achieve financial freedom or close by your mid-30s or even earlier.

It’s fairly easy for a young, single person who has made few permanent decisions to optimize for early financial freedom. But a family that has acquired cars, a home, a 401(k), kids with friends at school, and the other trappings of middle class life may feel uncomfortable optimizing for financial freedom all at once.

And that’s OK.

While it’s slower to move toward early financial freedom with a big mortgage, two car payments, hefty childcare expenses, and some consumer debt, it doesn’t all have to be changed at once. It’s OK to move toward early financial freedom one step at a time.

Related: At Age 26, I’m on the Brink of Financial Freedom: Here’s How I Did It

Perhaps instead of trading in your 7-year-old SUV next year for a brand new one, you sell it and buy an efficient, safe, reliable, used Toyota Corolla instead. And yes, you can easily fit two children in car seats in the backseat of this excellent vehicle. Those with three or more children with multiple children needing car seats have permission to purchase a used minivan.

Perhaps when it’s time to move, you move to an affordable property instead of the biggest, newest home in the best school district that stretches you to your financial limits.

Perhaps when the kids go to school, you find opportunities for fun and affordable after-school programs at your school or in the community instead of continuing with expensive childcare. Perhaps you wait out the next few years of expensive childcare and don’t assume new expenses when the kids hit school age.

Perhaps when you DO receive that raise, you don’t spend it. Instead, you invest it. When that promotion opportunity with more hours at a less convenient location comes up, you weigh the increase in wage with the decrease in ability to build or invest in assets because of the longer hours you’ll need to put in.

If you keep financial freedom a priority in your mind, then over a relatively modest number of years, you are likely to make choices that optimize for that goal and see incredible progress.

Conclusion

While I am neither married nor expecting children at this time, I hope to raise seven future, unborn, unconceived “Trenchlings” at some point in the future. I understand also that I have a warped view of the world. I have already amassed significant assets and a skillset that I believe will allow me to easily produce significant income with or without a traditional job (I love my job!) during my parenting years. Thus, I hope to have the fortune of never truly being burdened by these expenses because of the actions I am taking ahead of time financially and otherwise.

But if the situation described by my upper-middle-class friends earlier sounds anything remotely like your situation, understand that you have a good problem. You earn an incredible amount of money and have a high probability of maintaining those earnings over time. Your lifestyle is one that few people in the world will ever experience and is literally the height of luxury across the vast majority of human civilization.

Not all of life is about early financial freedom. It’s totally acceptable for financial freedom to NOT be your goal. But if you are reading this blog, looking for chances to work toward early financial freedom through real estate investing, you need to begin solving problems and figuring out how you can move toward your goals, instead of wasting your time complaining about why you can’t.

Look—I get it. You aren’t sustaining a household income of $200,000 per year if you are a moron. The folks I know in the upper-middle-class are in very little danger of going belly-up in the next crash—they have stable jobs, marketable skillsets, and a margin of safety built into their lives. Obviously, you have some cash for a rainy day and are well-prepared to handle the majority of life’s curveballs.

But we’re about more than just preventing personal bankruptcy here in terms of our financial goals. The objective of the vast majority of investors is ultimately financial freedom. There’s a reason you are reading this; there’s a reason that you are taking active control over your financial picture. Understand that for you, moving toward financial freedom rapidly is going to be easier than it will be for almost anyone else in the country, let alone the world. You are only kidding yourself if you refuse to see that.

We’re republishing this article to help out our newer readers.

What are your thoughts?

Let’s get some parents’ perspectives in the comments below!

About Author

Scott Trench

VP of Operations at BiggerPockets.com, Scott is also a licensed real estate broker/agent, real estate investor managing 8 units in Denver, CO with a partner, a house-hacker, and personal finance nerd. His book, “Set for Life” (published through BiggerPockets Publishing) thoroughly details a step-by-step journey to early financial freedom for full-time workers earning median incomes and starting with little or negative net worth. When he’s not helping full-time workers move toward early financial freedom, the 26-year-old can be found playing rugby, biking, or skiing.

52 Comments

  1. Laura H.

    Wow, this sounds like you’re speaking directly to me – a married mother of two, who, along with her husband, works a full-time job in IT and has become accustom to certain things in life.

    When I started this journey oh so long ago (ahem, late last year) I thought there’d be no way to get ahead while our kids were in daycare. Even here in the “affordable” Midwest, it’s $20k/year for our two little cherubs to go learn their ABCs from someone who won’t duct-tape them to a wall when they’re singing “Let It Go” for the tenth time that day. It didn’t make sense for either of us to stay at home because we both make more money working than we would save in daycare costs. But that didn’t mean we couldn’t make a few tweaks…

    First thing I looked at was our spending (insert shameless plug for YNAB). We were spending $2-300/week in groceries. This was mostly on crap like crackers, soda, and stuff I thought I’d cook someday that would instead go bad and end up in the trash. Started meal planning and limiting food to $125/week. Now sometimes it’s under $100/week. Some weeks have a “clean out the pantry” week and don’t get groceries at all (except maybe milk).

    We were spending a lot on “wants” – beer, restaurants, entertainment, etc. I set up a separate “Wants” checking account with its own debit card. When the “wants” money is gone for that month, it’s gone. (Sometimes we fudge this if it’s the end of the month and the kids are especially crazy.)

    The husband needed a new car (his old one had 330k miles and was becoming a danger to drive). He wanted a new Tesla 3, but he got a 10-year-old Camry. Someday he’ll get that Tesla, but not while we’re building our empire. Besides, if we need a comfortable “road trip” car, we’ve got my 10-year-old SUV.

    I checked in with our insurance broker to make sure we were getting the best deals. I waited for things to go on sale. I bought the kids’ next-year winter clothes in March. Every bit threw another few bucks in the REI fund.

    There are also some things we won’t change – like our house. It’s our forever house. I love it here. I cried when I first saw the master bedroom. Yes, we could sell it and move somewhere closer/cheaper, but this house is also my office. I’m here all day every day and I still love it. I’ve tried working in the ‘burbs and there are just too many noisy distractions for me to get my work done. I know it’s a big expense, but I’m keepin the house.

    So, yeah, it’s easier when you’re young and sans-kids. SO. MUCH. EASIER. (And I tell that to every young’un I meet at local REI events.) But it’s not impossible when you’re in the middle of your life, either. Sure, it’s going to take us a little longer, but we’ll get there. It’s a pretty strong pull to want to spend more quality time with our school-aged kiddos. And maybe each other, too.

  2. Scott, since you don’t have kids, I am not sure you should be opining on the rest of us. Just sayin’. You can have it all, just not all at once. My wife and I went the MBA route, the nice house in the great school district route and yes, we paid a huge amount ( after tax) to have a nanny come to our house as we worked 10 to 12 hour days. We saved a lot, thank God. Drove Hondas and Toyotas, drove to most vacations. Maxed out our 401Ks. ( Still laugh and completely disagree with the BP experts that hate 401Ks). Crammed every bonus and raise into the kids’ college fund.

    I got a “package” from my employer 15 years ago. I was forced out and replaced with someone younger and cheaper. I was 44 years old. Best thing that ever happened to me. We had tons of equity in our house, our credit was outstanding. Kids college fund was in the bank. My wife kept her corporate job. Started flipping houses. Made a ton of mistakes. Lost a few bucks on the first few, but then figured out rehabbing, contractors, and started making money. Of course the market was going up. When the great recession hit, 95% of my peers went under and are now back in the corporate rat race. I had sense enough to quickly switch the 6 unsold flips to rentals and hung on for dear life. The flip business stopped cold for several years. Then the banks started giving away houses. Bought some quick flips ( wish I had done more). Bought some real nice rentals with great cash flow. I wish I had bought more. Meanwhile the wife gets a package because her company get bought out and they ship everybody out that has a decent salary and bonus.

    Long story short. I have a real nice rental house business with a 6 figure income and a mid 7 figure net worth. I work from a spare bedroom in my too big house. My wife is a partner in a consulting firm with 3 other corporate rejects. She works from our home office. My six figure 401K has been rolled over to a Roth IRA and now owns about 2 million of real estate free and clear. My wife still has hers in the stock market, so I guess we are diversified.

    Our children are young adults, college educated, live nearby and are great. My wife and I set our own hours. We take vacations when we want. We drive slightly nicer cars but still keep them 15 years. Our house will be paid for soon, including the HELOC I took to start my empire. We are in our late 50s and we have friends that are being pushed out of their corporate jobs with no hope of getting back in.

    Moral of the story: Live your life, take some risks, don’t wait too long to start your own business, corporate America will always screw you.

    • Scott Trench

      I think your advice here is spot on! AND, I agree that I shouldn’t be opining on this, but I felt that I needed to have some content published to address this topic that I get asked about so frequently.

      I think that the part where our journeys will differ is in the timeline and the places in which we accumulate wealth during our working careers. I prefer to accumulate my wealth outside of the 401(k) and home equity, and I believe this has and will continue to open up opportunities for entrepreneurship and early retirement early in life.

      I hope that many people get to enjoy your position! You have obviously crushed your financial goals!

      • Matt Baker

        Hey Scott,

        I don’t mind your opining on what people could be doing to help prevent themselves from staying in the rat race longer than necessary. I confess my wife and I don’t technically have a child yet, she’s just weeks into our first pregnancy but I’ll be having her read this article between her many naps.

        Using some of your ideas I could easily see someone getting to financial freedom faster and as someone without kids you’re just ahead of the curve.

        We live in a little townhouse I bought when I was 26. I rented rooms until my wife moved in and wanted more privacy. When we sold her condo we discussed buying the forever home but decided to stay close to family while dealing with day care aged kids. So for now we live in a very inexpensive 3 bedroom townhouse, we just bought a duplex to rent out and we consistently can invest 10% of our income in a tax sheltered account that earns more than we pay in mortgage interest. We will be mortgage free on the townhouse by the time the kids are no longer in day care and then we’ll buy the forever home or travel the world.

        If someone tells you that you can’t give an opinion on what to do with kids they’re letting their opinions keep them stuck in the rat.

  3. Carmelo Lopez

    Scott,

    As a six figure wage earner & parent of four kid’s, ages 4-17, this article called out to me.
    I recently learned about BP through a coworker and I thank God I did! The article’s, forum’s & podcast’s have completely changed my mindset and in many ways have saved me and my family from continuing down a road of financial destruction!
    We have since created a budget, began eliminating our debt, and of course using BP to continue our real estate education for when we’re ready & able to purchase our first MF home to house hack!
    …”you need to begin solving problems and figuring out how you can move toward your goals, instead of wasting your time complaining about why you can’t.” Well put and certainly word’s to live by!
    BP, this article, as well as your book ,Set for Life, have served as wake up calls and have brought my family and I to make necessary changes in an effort to escape the rat race and improve our quality of life. Wishing you continued success and thank you!

  4. Jerry W.

    Scott,
    I like your emphasis on saving your money in order to invest as soon as possible. The sooner you start the more it builds. I didn’t start until my 30s and then it was just an invest opportunity. Three years ago I decided to supercharge my investing. I wish I had done that 20 year ago. Even with a slow start and no focus on growing, my first partner sold his share of the company for more than 10 years of salary from what he was making when we started investing. The power of an investment that grows every year is amazing.

  5. Stephanie W.

    I agree with most of what you say here except the incredulity about the cost of child care. yes it is expensive and the “options” you listed are not available to everyone. Here in DC 10 years ago we spent about 12k a year on care for one child and that was pretty basic care. That expense doesn’t end when they hit school since chances are that you need care before or after school so you can work. So from birth to age 11/12 when they can stay home alone for a few hours that is approaching $90k in costs per kid. Yes people who make less end up paying less thru subsidies but at some income level you pay full freight and so it is harder. That said it wasn’t really the money that keeps a lid on investing but the time. Two teens in one activity each still adds up to 20 hours a week on the road to practice, parent meetings and games etc even with carpooling. Raising kids is a huge investment in time if you are doing it right. The best advice I ever got when my kids were young was to save like crazy and work as hard as possible when they were young (0-10). Then when you need to be physically there with them as middle and high schoolers you have the flexibility, time and hopefully the money to do that. Now that I am at that point with my kids I can actually invest and manage real estate and do some of the things I am interested in doing. They are old enough to help, almost driving age and understand what I am doing and why. So take heart parents of young kids, your time will come. Read, study, network, SAVE because you will blink and have teenagers and the cost of college will scare you into investing.

    • Adam D.

      While I agree that you should work hard for your family, I disagree that you should work as hard as possible while your kids are 0-10 years old and then spend time with them after age 10. Studies have shown that at least 90% of kids personalities will be set in stone between ages 0-6. People, if you want to influence your kids, do so when they are small and before they start school. After 1st grade, it may be too late to change your kids without serious fights. (not saying that ages 2-3 are without fights, but they’re still easier to mold into the people you want them to be) If you don’t believe me, and you shouldn’t, just do an internet search of “children’s personalities set by age” and read for yourself.

  6. Chris K.

    Scott:

    I’ve always enjoyed your contributions to the podcast and your articles. When I saw the title of this article, I thought it would be useful to read, as I feel a lot on BP and in the financial independence podcast realm focuses on people in their 20s and early 30s with no kids.

    I used to be like you: single without kids, and I remember how I would tell my married friends, and even married friends with kids, how their priorities were wrong or how it should be. Now, I’m married with two kids, and I get it. And, even worse, I grimace at how ignorant I must have sounded when I told them how they were doing something wrong (and thankfully, because they are good friends, they now just poke fun at me at how I used to tell them the type of things you said above.)

    In any event, all of this is to say: save this article and re-read it after you’ve had 3 of 7 “Trenchlings.”

  7. Jon Tudor

    “What if the stay-at-home parent can remain phone accessible and manage a handful of rental properties while the portfolio kicks off the ground?” – This will be my wife in 5 years. We’ve always thought that to have a child it was only fair if we could spend time with them and didn’t see that happening without being able to have at least one, and hopefully both of us not working a W2. We just got our second house rented tonight (one that we lived in and fixed over the last three years) and are buying our long term home (at about 20% of our combined DTI limit with a new roof and siding and low CapEx) that will be fully paid off each month by our two rental properties. We are going to continue to grow our portfolio aggressively so that my wife, and soon afeter, I, can retire early and not only spend time with our little Tudor (we only want one) but also follow other pursuits.

    When we got married two years ago (after being together five years) we didn’t talk kids on our honeymoon, we talked rental property and subsequently discovered BiggerPockets. Even though it was just about freedom back then, our future little Tudor is a big part of it now.

    • Adam D.

      My wife and I did the same thing. We made sure her income was replaced by passive rental income before starting a family. She answers the phone still from tenants and contractors but she can stay home with the kids. It’s a great feeling that my wonderful wife raises our kids rather than some daycare worker/babysitter. She’s such a great teacher for them.

  8. John Murray

    My kids cost about $500K to raise and educate. I worked hard as well as my wife did also. I’m 59 and worth about $2.5M, leverage $3M in rental property. Kids are harder work than you can even comprehend. Raising kids are not for sissies, and for those that do not work hard you are going to screw up not only your life but theirs too.

    • Scott Trench

      Sounds like you had a very successful career and raised several successful children John! I 100% believe that they are every bit as tough as you say here, and that’s why I hope to build wealth such that I can be there, full-time, for them before having them.

  9. James Rodgers

    Scott…

    In the past I have publicly and critically commented on your writing, and you responded privately with humility and graciousness.

    This time around, as a married father of two… I tip my hat to you.

    To agree in my own words: when it comes to the life you find yourself living (especially in regards to your family), you are never the victim – because you are always the solution.

    • Scott Trench

      Thanks James! I always appreciate and respond to feedback, positive or negative. In fact, while I am always grateful for the compliements like this one, the debate is where I really learn and become a better writer. This article appears to be a success, as there are folks that both agree and disagree, but all of the debate is around the major premise of the article.

      I hope that you keep reading and commenting!

  10. Aaron Hunt

    Good words, Scott. We have 2 kids, they attend the world’s best school (we homeschool), we have 1 car (gasp!), I get to work from home most of the time, and we live in a 40-yr old fixer. We may never attain financial freedom (certainly not early) but it’s not because we’re fighting our lifestyle.

  11. Megan Greathouse

    Great article, Scott. I’m sure it will ruffle some feathers because you’re speaking the hard truths that people don’t want to hear.

    I’ll agree with some others that the child care costs can be tough. We pay almost $1,500/month for one kiddo at daycare! And while I know there are some cheaper options, I refuse to go anywhere I’m not 100% comfortable because my daughter is the most important thing in my world! HANDS. DOWN. So I need to know that she’s going to be safe and happy when I’m at work all day.

    That being said, life is about tradeoffs. Since I refuse to go to a cheaper childcare option (at least until she’s old enough to tell me how it’s going each day), I cut down elsewhere. I bought my car for cash 5 years ago and will drive it as long as I can, instead of trading up in size like I’m tempted to. I also avoid buying the big toys and doing the frequent shopping that others in my shoes do, and instead put away a few thousand dollars per month for real estate investing.

    As for the time, my husband fully supports the fact that I go to work on our real estate endeavors as soon as my daughter is down for a nap or asleep for the night. I won’t use the time I have with her, but I will use the time I used to spend “relaxing” in front of useless TV shows.

    I won’t be financially free next year, but I believe I can achieve it in 5-7 years… right as my kids are getting into grade school.

    It’s all about tradeoffs… in spending and in time. Like you said… good problems to have! Preach on, Trench.

  12. Lance Polvado

    Scott you da bomb. This was awesome. And it goes beyond kids. There a million excuses someone can come up with as a reason why THEY can’t achieve financial freedom, but they’re just excuses. The process remains the same – “You must decrease your spending, increase your income, deliver outsized investment returns, or start a business to accelerate toward early financial freedom.”

  13. Jon Camp

    I married at 23 and started a family right away, while broke and in graduate school, and delayed my earning until my early 30s. I am now 44, a university professor (business communication), real estate investor and licensed realtor, and financially independent, although I’ll keep working as a professor because it’s the best job in the world.

    There are some good, practical insights here. My main problem is the notion that raising children can be reduced to an economic formula, when in fact there are a set of holistic challenges that suck the ever-living life-blood out of you. There is simply no way to anticipate some of the costs of child-raising. Life is full of uncertainty, and raising children is riskiest endeavor I’ve ever undertaken. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

    But millennials like formulas; they haven’t lived long enough to see that they are fragile things.

    Sorry, but this article really needed to be written by someone with parenting skin in the game.

    • Scott Trench

      Fair enough – thanks for the feedback! Thought I’d try my hand at writing about it, because I get asked about it a lot. For now, this is my answer to parents complaining that they can’t move toward early financial freedom, until I am shown or experience a more effective path toward early financial freedom for folks that also prioritize their children’s upbringing.

  14. Casey Christensen

    This is an awesome post. I was just thinking a couple days ago about this very thing. It is so easy to use kids and family as an excuse of not pursuing financial freedom. But it can also be the exact reason to pursue financial freedom depending on what you want in life. I wish I had thought about this stuff or read an article like this 5+ years ago. I am early in my journey toward financial freedom and have a long way to go, but reading stuff like this that confirms thoughts I have been having is a great motivator. Thanks for the awesome post.

  15. Enrique Pisfil

    GREAT ARTICLE BY MY MANS SCOTT!

    I got the financial free bug last yr and have been hooked ever since.

    After reading the comments thus far I am so happy to see that I am on the right path.

    My kids are 3 and 4 and am trying to save anything I can and work any type of side jobs I can get so when they are older I can spend the time with them and not worry about anything money wise and miss out on important times.

    I have one full time IT job and 4 side gigs at the moment. My wife lost her job and was lucky enough to get a job at the daycare both my kids were at!

    I had also put my reservation down for the Tesla Model 3 but that was before I realized that would be a huge mistake and would put everything I have been working so hard for on hold. Sacrifices had to be made so I am doing the best I can and thats what we can all do.

    Good luck to all the parents out there!

    • Scott Trench

      Enrique, I’m glad to hear that you are working hard and benefitting from some synergies like your wife working at the daycare! I hope that you are able to continue to move toward your goals AND spend time with your family and enjoy your children’s upbringing!

  16. Bonnie Bailey

    I liked this article, despite the fact that the author has no kids. At least he admits it. Multiple times in fact. The plain fact though is a person without kids simply cannot give advice to people with kids. We just won’t have it 🙂 Sorry, Scott. Fact of life.

    No, actually, I didn’t think this article was really even about kids. This was really just about making choices that get you to FI. It’s really all the same whether you have kids or not. If you’re in that mindset, you’re making tradeoffs. If you’re not in the mindset, you’re making excuses. Whether you have kids or not. You don’t even see that you’re doing it but you are.

    There are plenty of parents out there who are making tradeoffs all the time, who may be paying for daycare because they have no other options but they are simultaneously driving an old car without AC in a hot Alabama summer 🙂

    And there are plenty of non-parents out there who are flat-out squandering their dough. Kids don’t make a lick of difference in your mindset. If you choose to have children, you recognize they are an expense and you can either choose to apply your same mindset of frugality in every way possible to offset that expense, or you can choose to apply your same mindset of non-frugality to raising them. I have 3 kids and one due in August and I am far more frugal now than I was without kids, simply because the light went on at some point in my dusty attic of a brain and I was like, ohhhhhhh…now I get it. There ain’t a lot I can do about my daycare bill but I sure as heck have a side job and am starting a business, don’t have any debt except my house, very carefully audit how I spend money and do taxes and such, and I am VERY lucky to live in a state with low cost of living and high wages for my industry. I am also very lucky to have a spouse who is frugal. And about that daycare bill – we toured them all. We asked ourselves, what’s really important? And we decided that we didn’t need a $300/week daycare when the $170/week daycare was safe and the kids there seemed to be having a good time. Some places don’t have daycare under $300/week – again, we are lucky. But we also made choices.

    So I think the kid thing here is a distraction. People who claim they must live in a high-end neighborhood and attend the highest-price daycares and private schools and have new fancy cars and spend all their income on organic carrots and kale for their little ones are either total dingbats who will never get it anyway, or they have willfully chosen to take jobs and live somewhere that force them into certain expensive decisions for a period of time. The author is right – kids survive and thrive on the time you give them, not the kale. They are perfectly fine in bunkbeds in rooms together. Ain’t no reason to have a room for every single kid. In fact, making them share teaches them how to get on in the real world. They’ll be perfectly fine going to school with kids from “the other side of the tracks”, within reason obviously. The right kinds of adversity will turn those little suckers into productive human beings, in fact.

    Anyway, my point is…Scott, parents or not, the advice is the same. You can substitute “serious medical issue” for kids here if you like. We all have “stuff” that costs money. The FI lifestyle is about working with what you got to minimize your wastefulness. People who think kids are an excuse just simply don’t get the big idea and wouldn’t even without kids.

  17. sunny burns

    Interesting article. Currently 26 with 2 kiddos.

    My Wife and I didn’t want to go the daycare route, way too expensive, and felt the reason we wanted to kids was to raise them how we wanted – introduces too much chaos too.

    When my first Son was 6 months old we closed on our first home which was a quadplex. The gross rents replaced my Wife’s teaching salary dollar for dollar, while living in one of the units for free.

    because of that first rental property and our frugal living. Even though Im the only one working, and on a government employee salary, we are still able to max out my 401k, and both our Roth-IRAs , while still having enough left over to close on another triplex in a couple of days.

    Anyway definetly doable, like you mentioned all about priorities and what you feel is important. We value time with our kids over fancy minivans, iPads, fancy clothes, etc.

    I drive a Yaris and her a Honda Fit. 40mpg, can hold the kids great, and can even fit 8 foot 2x4s.

    Anyway you better get started if you want 7, our goal is 4, we’ll see what happens.

  18. Rachel Luoto

    Love this. MATH TIME!

    $75,000/year/person – 25% tax bracket, no matter how you file

    One person leaves the J-O-B, leaving $56,250 on the table (yes, this doesn’t account for lost ability to contribute to things like 401k matching. Keeping it high level)

    $56,250- $41,000 saved in childcare now that you stay at home = $15,250 gap to make up

    That’s $1,270/month. My opinion, but I think someone clever enough to be earning $6,250 working full time can figure out how to make $1,270/month at home – and now you have your side hustle. You might need to work it differently depending on your own kids age/needs, but this is exactly what my mom did – she only worked the hours I was in school 🙂

    There’s a podcast by Radical Personal Finance (hosted by a CPA) that breaks this down further for anyone interested!

  19. Stephanie A.

    This article spoke to me as my spouse and I started investing in real estate as part of our transition to parenthood. Our strategy was to find a multi unit investment property in San Francisco where we could live on the cheap while we each worked part time. When my doctor ordered me to bed rest during the pregnancy, I spent hours every day looking at real estate listings. My spouse created an Excel sheet to predict the costs and cash flow for each property we considered. We looked at a lot of crazy places — and I am talking about stepping over nodding out heroin addicts in the Mission and fleeing from a partially boarded up building guarded by pit bulls. BUT we found our dream multi unit. Yes it is across the street from public housing but we could not believe the numbers. With 10 percent down, we were able to live there for less than we had been paying in rent while we re-tooled our lives for parenthood. For the first three years after our child was born, I worked from home and shopped for clothes at Goodwill. I did not drive and did not get a car until my son turned 5. Now, we live in a SFH in a family friendly area and we still own the multi unit, which has great tenants. It can be done.

  20. Charles Heyligen

    Never seen that article. Good to see it popped back up in the newsletter. Very very controversial. Of course by Scott Trench 😛

    But I share the same mindset. Luckily my wife has the same mindset too.

    But unfortunately, I am looking at people at my current workplace and they make a decent living (+120K in inexpensive area) and yet they are all having financial struggle. Except those with no kid. Just an observation…

    Not saying that having kids will prevent you to be financially free. Or super wealthy. But it is a big expense. It’s also a life experience that people need and usually they will not exchange this for money obviously. Family first.

    But can’t deny it’s a big expense…

  21. Ben Freiman

    Hey Scott great article. I love how even though you’re not married or have kids you still took a stab at applying your “Set for Life” formula to debunk the myth that having kids = no real estate or saving money.

    It is all about sacrifices and choices. (i.e. we don’t have fancy things or eat organic because it’s expensive and both of us did not grow up that way and turned out fine) I got into REI with one kid and one on the way and that didn’t stop me and my wife from purchasing our first 2 properties in 2017, while still paying over $1,000 a month in daycare costs.

    If you want it you will find a way, otherwise you will find excuses.

  22. Travis Sperr

    Scott,

    I enjoyed this – although there were times I thought to myself “you have no idea what it is like to have kids”, and clearly you don’t (as admitted). But the underlying message is the same for a married couple with 2 kids paying almost $3,000 a month for childcare (myself included) as it is for a new college grad, live on less than you make! As a lender I see peoples finances everyday and am always surprised at how people live, low reserves, car payments, eating out, etc. literally a missed paycheck away from bankrupt.

    I too started with the house hack and worked up to 13 rentals properties – I started buying in 2009, some would say it was easy then but no one I knew outside of real estate was buying real estate. Those rental properties significantly changed my ability and comfort to take other risks like multi-million dollar construction projects.

    Keep up the great work in your writing and sharing prospective.

  23. Bryan Zuetel

    Wow, great article and great catchy title! Like you wrote, it’s all about our choices in life. I sacrificed in my early to mid 20’s so that I could go to law school, get a law degree and marketable skills, and have a legal career. Other friends were going out to eat all the time, buying nice cars and houses, and taking great vacations. Oh well, I just couldn’t afford it at the time. Now, with my attorney career, I can make good money to put toward real estate investing, allow my wife to stay at home to raise our 4 children, own a house, and work toward my financial goals. Each person must make their own choices, but childcare, new cars, huge houses, and top schools are not necessities, they are desires.

  24. Hello from (technically) the lower class!
    I am 26 as of a month ago. We have four kids. My husband JUST got a raise to 50k this year.
    But we are chugging along our path to freedom.
    I stay at home with the kids. Houses are my hobby. We have spent the last five years getting out of debt ($110k). We are on track to have the last dollar paid off in a year! (Outside of our mortgage).

    I buy organic food from Costco and Kroger. I drive a 13 year minivan that we bought used. My husband uses a motorcycle to commute because he gets about 45mpg for a $4000 vehicle.
    No cable, no netflix, etc. If we want/need something I find a way to make it cheaper. (Ex. We applied for assistance for weatherization assistance; two months and a lot of paperwork later they insulated our attic and crawlspace, replaced our hot water heater, and weatherized the house for free.)
    We save as much as possible, and have been trying to pay off debt as quickly as we can. I have been expanding my skill set while we wait for our kids to be old enough for me to work. I write a budget for the following three months.
    We buy quality whenever we make a big purchase. (Instead of buying and replacing microfiber couches every couple of years like our family members we bought a leather set at a discount from a warehouse, these things will last forever). We buy the things we need a year early when they go on sale. (Winter clothes in spring, swimsuits in fall, halloween stuff in November, etc.). I have turned my hobbies into money. (Gardening, selling plants and seedlings. Calligraphy; doing custom envelopes, menus, wedding invitations, etc. Refinishing furniture. Leather bookbinding.) I figure that I may as well get paid to do something I love and would do any way.
    We live in a 900 squarefoot 3/1/1 house. Rent in the poor condition houses in our neighborhood is $1100, we pay $700. We have determined that we will not sell a property for the foreseeable future. Our next house will be a multifamily home. It will either be two or three bedrooms. We will stay there for two years. Then we will do it again, staying for about a year. At that point we will start looking at owner building our family home. At that point our children will be 11, 9, 7 and 5.

    IF the housing market turns down again we will buy as many properties as we can comfortably handle, update them and hold until the tide turns. When the prices bounce back we will consolidate by selling however many it takes to pay off the other mortgages.

    This is how we have decided to pursue our master plan!

  25. Susan Maneck

    As a single parent I didn’t start trying to achieve financial freedom until my son left the nest. That was partly because I was a professor and I liked my job. I come from a family of teachers and civil servants for whom security always meant more than money. However, I valued my freedom to opt out of PERS and put my retirement funds into mutual funds. And no, grandparents for child care etc. were not an option. My family was thousands of miles away. Also, my son’s education was my foremost priority. We lived in a poorer neighborhood so I could afford to send him to the best prep school in the state (Mississippi.) It was money well spent because he got a free ride to private liberal arts college, one with tuition at 40K plus. Keep in mind that if you have too much in investments outside of retirement funds, you may limit your child’s ability to get financial aid. I got serious about achieving financial freedom only during the recession when I saw my retirement funds drop precipitously. Fortunately the recession brought a lot of opportunities as well. I certainly don’t regret putting my kid first, but you got to be smart about this.

  26. Rikki Anderson

    Hi Scott,

    This article nailed my demographic, hubs and I are educated, he makes 150k, I work part time from home and pull in 45k. we have 4 kids and don’t have to pay child care since I stay home. Even without that expense Kids are expensive, more so than it appears you realize. One of my children has dyslexia. He needs a tutor, that’s $400 a month. Another of my children requires a medication that costs $500 a month after insurance. One of my kiddos is “gifted” and goes to a special school. $900 a month. Another is an amazing pianist. Lessons are $225 a month. We also have a horse lover, $400 a month in riding lessons, we have a cheerleader…$300 a month. We have a baseball player, equipment, team fees, etc it all adds up. We also live in Money magazines “best US City of 2018” and the whole our house has sky rocketed is 10000% accurate. After living here 3 years we easily have 150k of equity…but anything else will be equally as expensive. I totally get what you’re saying about how it CAN be done. But when you have children it’s not easy to say sorry baby, you won’t be playing baseball this year. Mama needs to retire in Cabo.

  27. Peter Underwood

    My simple advice for the paradox of spending time away from your kids (working) so you can spend more time with your kids: wake up early and / or go to bed late. Also, maximize your efforts during the the time you spend away from your kids so you can take the shortest path to FI and get back to having time with them. You currently have a job, and have to be away from them, so outwork everyone else while you’re on the clock in order to maximize your earning potential. When the kids are sleeping, make sure you’re spending that time in a way that aligns with what you say your goals are.
    Use financial technology such as budget / tracking apps to stay on the same page with your spouse even when things are busy. Talk with your spouse and decide on financial goals together.
    Having kids accentuates the need to be intentional with your time and money because you usually simply have less time and less money. Moving the financial needle is all about priorities and focusing your resources toward your goal.

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