As my husband and I gathered up our bank statements, spreadsheets and mugs of tea left to go cold, after a couple hours of going through our finances, I found myself saying: ‘Thank God we don’t have kids.’
Like many people in the UK Worried about rising living costs, my husband and I recently sat down together to do ‘The Budget’.
Energy costs are increasing, we’ll be renegotiating our mortgage soon, our roof needs repairing, and there’s a tightness in my throat every time someone mentions the word ‘recession’.
So we sat down to face the reality. It’s not dire, but it’s not exactly comfortable – and it’s reinforced my decision to never have children.
Because, while parenting is anecdotally fulfilling, it’s also famously expensive. There is no way I could afford to have a baby now, or in the foreseeable future, without also signing up to years of debt.
There were many reasons that led me to decide, long ago, that children weren’t for me. In no particular order, I thought about the environment and climate change, and what kind of world I’d be bringing a child into. I thought about how having a baby would affect my body, mental health, career, relationships, and freedom.
In short, every part of my life. Beyond that, I considered if I’d be a good parent.
But money, and if I could afford a child, never used to factor into the decision at all.
Now, I can’t help but feel grateful my biological clock has never begun to tick, as many well-intentioned friends and family predicted it one day would. If it had, I’d be forced to make a horrible choice: either become a mum and fall into debt, or not have the child I longed for.
This is a choice that many people in the UK are, no doubt, having to make right now.
The Child Poverty Action Group puts the expense of raising a child between £160,000 and £193,000. The cost very much depends on the support you have, both physically and financially.
My husband and I don’t have the option of hand-me-downs when it comes to a pram, car seat, or cot. I could use my savings to buy them second-hand with cash – or my other option is to reach for a credit card.
It turns out, that’s exactly what lots of UK parents do. Last month, the Office of National Statistics reported that parents were more likely than usual to say they had used credit because of the rising cost of living.
I know full well that anything I spent on my credit card in preparation for the baby, I’d then struggle to pay off while on maternity leave – and it would be the same credit card I’d rely on once my earnings were swallowed by childcare costs.
The idea of increasing my credit card debt feels more than uncomfortable. In this economic climate, it’s like creeping towards the edge of a cliff with no safety net.
Without our own parents to help us, my husband and I would be facing the average childcare bill of £7,210 a year for a child under two, at 25 hours a week. We’d also need to find the money for formula, nappies, clothes, and everything else a baby could need.
While we’re lucky to be able to just about manage the economic crisis as it is, having a baby would make everything unstable.
The costs don’t lessen as children grow up. Parents of primary-aged children pay for uniforms, swimming lessons, birthday parties and the latest toys, and field requests that start with, ‘Mummy, daddy, can I have…’
Parents wrestle with their child missing out all the time. No parent can say ‘yes’ to everything, but there’s a difference between saying no to a toy and no to new shoes.
Friends describes ‘mum guilt’ for declining things their child wants while doing their best to make ends meet. It seems every stage of parenthood has significant costs, from first bikes to first cars.
Of course, it’s possible to do free or cheap activities with kids – I know this first-hand.
I grew up in a single-parent family and we struggled financially. There were no holidays, no cars, no day trips, no music lessons, and no new clothes.
Instead, we had books, walks on pebbly beaches, blackberry picking, library visits on the bus, and baking at home. These were lovely experiences, and I have some great memories, but the impact of growing up with no money has never left me.
For this reason, it would be especially important to me to provide a relatively comfortable life for any child I brought into the world. Not to spoil them materially, but simply to protect them from the worries of living without enough.
As well as making sure all their basic needs are covered, I’d want to save for their future, to take them to enriching places, and to pay for clubs and lessons. With the cost-of-living as it is, this would not be possible.
It’s been long reported that millennials are more likely to have pets than children, and they’re accused of doing so in a ‘cavalier’ way, as though climate change, the housing crisis, the pandemic, and numerous other factors aren’t good enough reasons.
Now the cost-of-living crisis adds another barrier to parenthood. It won’t be surprising if more people choose not to have a family at all or decide not to increase their family like they had previously hoped.
I’ve always known I’d never be a mother, and the cost-of-living crisis has only strengthened my decision. It feels on some level, like the choice has been set in stone for me by the economic situation.
Even if I wanted to change my mind, I couldn’t.
And, while it’s not necessarily sad for me, I can only imagine how painful it must be for anyone having to choose between having a much-wanted baby, or being able to afford to live.
Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing James.Besanvalle@metro.co.uk.
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