In the United States, fertility rates are declining. One of the key reasons young people are opting not to reproduce: Kids are too expensive.
That conclusion comes from a survey conducted by Morning Consult for the New York Times, which found that, among respondents who had or expected to have fewer children than desired, the cost of child care was the most popular reason, with 64 percent citing it. In addition, 49 percent said they had or anticipated having fewer children because of worries about the economy, while 43 percent cited concerns about financial instability.
That’s not surprising, experts say. “The reality is it’s expensive [to have kids],” says Emily G. Stroud, financial planner and mother of two in Fort Worth, Texas. “You have to have a stable income, you have to have secure housing with either stable rent or a mortgage that’s not going to change, and then you have to have reliable and affordable child care.”
Earning a middle-class salary on the entry-level rungs of the career ladder isn’t easy, and finding the job, housing and budgetary stability to start a family may be tough when you’re in your 20s and 30s. The cost of child care and the persistence of poor family leave policies at work contribute to the feeling that parenthood is financially out of reach, experts say.
So what can you do if you’re looking to become a parent but have concerns about your budget? Here’s how to know whether it’s time to start or grow your family, or whether you should hold off. (Keep in mind, of course, that not everyone has the luxury of deciding when they start a family. Many pregnancies are unplanned, and biological factors contribute to the length of time during which a couple can reproduce. Keep all of these factors in mind when determining your situation.)
Do you have support? Supporting a child financially is easier with a network of family or friends who can help pick up the financial slack and provide additional child care. Do you have a co-parent who is will to help care for the child or share income-earning responsibilites? Do you have family nearby who can help with babysitting and provide hand-me-down clothes and other financial support?
Having access to these support systems is crucial, and being a single parent can intensify some of the financial risks associated with parenthood. “I cannot even imagine how difficult it would be to juggle everything without having a partner,” Stroud says.
[See: 7 Signs Your Romantic Partner Is Financially Unstable.]
Is your lifestyle stable? You don’t need to own a home to be financially ready to become a parent, but a stable lifestyle is helpful. You’ll need to reevaluate your living conditions and how they’ll work if you have a child. Consider whether you have access to nearby and affordable health care, what the schools are like in your neighborhood and whether you can continue your current lifestyle with the addition of a kid.
Good public schools, safe parks and sidewalks and access to child care services cost money, but they are very necessary. “Unless you have a lot of resources, public schools are going to be very important to you,” says Jamie Ebersole, a certified financial planner in Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts. Bake that consideration into your future lifestyle plans.
Do you have a budget? A good exercise to perform before having a child is building a budget, Stroud says. Determine how much you spend on necessary costs and develop an understanding of what you can cut back on when you have children. If you scale back on dinners out and travel as a parent, will that be enough to cover diapers and onesies?
Determine how you can increase income or slash expenses to make room for another mouth at the table. For a middle-income, two-child, married-couple family, the cost to raise a child is about $12,980 annually, according to 2015 data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
[Read: How to Feed Your Teen Without Destroying Your Food Budget.]
Are you concerned about ramifications at work? The lack of family leave is a reason 38 perent of respondents to the New York Times survey weren’t having as many children as desired. An absence of workplace flexibility for parents is a huge hurdle for career-minded wannabe moms and dads, and the gender pay gap may be exacerbated by the “Mommy effect” — when bosses tend to overlook working mothers for promotions and raises.
“If you do want to work, you want to make sure you’re in a job where you can reduce hours for some time period and it doesn’t destroy your career hopes,” says Patrick Dwyer, a Miami-based managing director and international private wealth advisor with Merrill Lynch Wealth Management. It’s easier to pivot to a new company or industry before you become a parent, so think about what you can do to solidify your career before the child arrives.
[See: 8 Ways to Tell If You’re in the Middle Class.]
Embrace the unpredictable. As wonderful as it would be to know in advance exactly when your children will be born and how much the little tykes will cost, the nature of childbirth and child-rearing is unpredictable for biological parents, adoptive parents and foster parents alike.
Know that all you can do is set yourself up to be as financially stable as possible — pay off debts, find a well-paying job, stick to a budget — then prioritize your goal of becoming a parent. “Having children is inherently an optimistic endeavour, and that’s the way you have to approach it,” Dwyer says.
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Are You Too Broke to Be a Parent? originally appeared on usnews.com