Friday 21 July 2017

Money can get in the way of the cutest plan

Should your finances be the deciding factor in whether of not you have a baby?

Perfect number: it can be difficult to strike a balance between desired family size and the burden of financial pressures
Perfect number: it can be difficult to strike a balance between desired family size and the burden of financial pressures

I always hoped to have two children. When I was young and daydreaming about the future it was always two babies I imagined. When it came down to it, though, the biggest impediment to achieving my imagined number of children was an obstacle I didn't see coming. Money.

Children are expensive, we all know that much. But just how expensive was a surprise. When my husband and I began to talk about having a second child, finances were top of our agenda. With one child, we were doing alright. If we were to add a second, things were going to get more than a little tricky.

We didn't want a new baby to reduce the future opportunities of the child we already had. By opportunities I don't mean ballet or tennis lessons -- I mean a third-level education.

But we were equally determined that our child needed a sibling, so we budgeted and planned ahead as best we could -- then we took the plunge.

One year later, heavily pregnant, my husband comes home to tell me he had lost his job. One maternity leave later I too lost mine. For all our planning we were now worse off than we could have imagined. So what did we do? We did what everyone else does -- we coped.

We became adept at budgeting and did our best to not let our worries cloud the happiness of our new arrival. We were learning one of life's lessons. You just can't plan for change -- but it does help to be prepared.

We Irish are a fecund lot. According to the 2009 Perinatal Statistics Report, Ireland was once again reported as having "the highest birth rate of any of the 27 EU countries".

However, planning to have a baby in 2011 Ireland has taken on a whole new dimension. These days it seems that wanting a baby isn't enough. Knowing you can afford the baby may be the final deciding factor in getting pregnant.

"We had always planned to have another child," says Susan, a mother of two from Lucan, Dublin.

"But two years ago, within the space of three months, both of us lost our jobs. It was such a scary time. We were fighting to keep our heads above water. Trying for a third child got put on the back boiler."

Once the couple had acclimatised to the shock of their new circumstances, they began to realise that there was more than one reason not to have a third child.

"It just didn't feel responsible throwing a new baby into the mix. We went from having a normal life to relying on social welfare to keep us afloat. Trying to have a baby and collecting your dole just didn't feel right.

"To be honest, most of the time I was too worried to feel broody anyway. The way I saw it we were very lucky to have two healthy kids."

Two years on and things have changed for the family.

"My husband went back to college. Part of his course was a placement and they decided to keep him on full time. I've set up my own graphic design business and am picking up bits and pieces through that. Things are so much better -- the rain clouds are beginning to lift."

Rethink

With that in mind, Susan now feels ready to rethink their decision to have another child.

"I never stopped wanting to have a baby -- I just knew that for us it wasn't the right time. I needed to make sure there was enough of everything for the boys, for now and in the future. But now things are better, it's back on our mind big time. I suppose I'd say watch this space!"

Susan is not alone in letting finances be the deciding factor in whether or not to have children. Recently on an Irish parenting forum there was a poll asking whether or not people felt they should be financially secure before trying to conceive.

"Yes, of course I do" was one of the first responses. Judging by the poll results, most agreed. Out of a total of 176 votes 57pc felt it was better to wait for financial security before trying to conceive.

One poster with two children wrote: "Finances are a reason why we won't be actively trying to conceive. It's not the only one, but it is a very big influence. We could afford to feed another child, but for us, we want all our children to have more than just food, so we chose to stay as we are."

The topic of financial security and family size is obviously on people's minds. Only a few days later, on the very same site, someone asked: "Did you have the amount of children you wanted?" "No," replied one poster, "but finances are dictating that we can't for the moment."

In fact, a surprisingly large number of posters felt likewise, all citing the recession as the reason. As one put it: "I wanted three or four, but no room firstly, and money dictates, too."

Many couples in Ireland are experiencing similar financial constraints, but not all are letting it put them off the decision to get pregnant. For couples such as these, learning to budget for everything has become crucial.

"We've thought long and hard about it, but we've decided to go ahead with trying for a baby," says Lucy, a mother of twin boys from Cork.

"My husband is a self-employed builder, so work has dried up for him but I'm still working full time. Finances are tight but we've wanted a baby for a long time. We could wait for things to get better but time isn't really on our side. We're not in our 20s any more."

Lucy and her husband decided to sit down and work out exactly how much it would cost them to have a baby.

"We calculated everything coming in and everything going out. Then we did a second budget for after the baby is born. We figure if we're careful we can just about do it.

"Our overheads are quite low and we have everything we need for the first few years. Okay, so we won't be getting a Bugaboo or a fancy nursery but we have calculated that we will be well able to feed and clothe our kids -- so it's a no-brainer for me."

There's only one possible glitch on the horizon now for Lucy. "Twins! We've had one set -- a second would be a big surprise. But we'd be happy with whatever happens."

Of course, for some, having a baby is the best thing that can happen to your finances. Sarah, a mother of one from Kildare, readily admits: "I was financially all over the place before I got pregnant. It was the pregnancy that made me realise how important it was not to spend over the odds and get my act together."

For Sarah, having her daughter turned her finances around and helped her to grow up.

"If I had not gotten pregnant I would probably be in a lot of debt right now. I guess it made me grow up a bit and value money more than waste it on nights out."

If you are thinking of trying for a baby and you have some doubts about your finances then Michael Culloty, a spokesman for Mabs, Ireland's Money Advice and Budgeting Service, advocates forward planning.

"In any course of action it is important to plan ahead. You don't buy a car without thinking about car tax and petrol. People need to be prepared -- other life changes may have to take place, your social life, holidays -- things will have to be cut. Choices will need to be made in order to meet the demands of this particular choice."

Michael advises couples thinking about conceiving to sit down and work out a budget.

"See what your income would be both pre and post the birth of a child. Look at your outgoings and see which of these you can change or modify -- or get rid of altogether. It's no harm either in talking to other parents to get an idea of how much having a child is going to cost. Then compare your income with your outgoings and you'll be able to make a decision."

I'm lucky. I know that. I finally achieved my imagined number of babies. True, money and the lack thereof did its best to get in our way. It's also true that the future isn't as bright as most of us would like.

But if you are considering having a baby, then why not sit down and make out a budget?

Either you will end up feeling more secure as you take the plunge or else it will allow you to feel better about revising your imagined number.

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