Portraits of Childfree Wealth: 26 Stories about How Being Childfree Impacts Your Life, Wealth and Finances by Jay Zigmont, PhD, CFP, 2022
If I were unbiased . . .
No, I can’t be. I’m childless not by choice, and I hate all these young pups who proudly proclaim that having lots of money and time to do whatever they want whenever they want is more important than having children. If they meet up with a romantic partner who is set on procreating, adios, they’re moving on. They’d rather travel or play video games. They see children as annoying time-sucks, not as future adults who will carry on their legacies.
Whew, got that out of my system. These are not my people. Period. That said, maybe there are some lessons we can learn from this book by financial planner Jay Zigmont, who was one of the speakers at the recent Childless Collective Summit. After all, if we never have children, by choice or by chance, the effect on our finances is the same as if we never wanted them in the first place. Except for the fortune we might have spent on fertility treatments.
Zigmont himself is childfree, which he defines as “not having children and not planning on having children.” He interviewed people at various stages of life from 20-something recent college grads trying to find their way to 40-somethings who already have over a million dollars and are planning to retire young. Throughout the book, he repeats several principles:
- The key to financial freedom is to stay out of debt and invest all you can in retirement. It’s a simple concept, but not so simple to do. The couples in this book who are financially successful have put all their efforts into making sure they have no outstanding bills, whether it’s credit card debt, student loans, or a mortgage. They have taken full advantage of 401ks and investment opportunities to pave the way for their future. They have also had the good fortune to have well-paying jobs and no financial disasters.
- Zigmont talks about FIRE (financial independence, retire early) and FILE (financial independence, live early), essentially saving it all for later or living it up now. For example, spend it on traveling all over the world or stash it for when you’re older? Which would you choose?
- He suggests couples behave as “the gardener and the rose.” One partner, the gardener, takes responsibility for the bulk of their income while the other, the rose, is freed up to pursue his or her passions—starting a business, working in the arts, going back to school . . . After a while, they switch places. That’s something to discuss with your partner.
- Throughout the book, we see that because they don’t have the responsibility of providing stable lives for children, the interviewees feel free to change jobs, change plans, change locations, and sometimes to fail and start over.
There’s no reason we can’t try some of these ideas. The “gardener and the rose” resonates with me because my husband did give me the time and support to pursue my writing and music while he worked full-time. I had some income but not nearly enough to make a big impact on our day-to-day living. He was supportive, but I also had this mantra: If I don’t get babies, I’m damned well going to write my books. And I did. I also earned my master’s degree at an age when we might otherwise have been paying our children’s college tuition instead of mine. Fred, who was older than I was and always worried about money, insisted we meet with a financial planner, and that was one of the goals we set, along with moving to Oregon and buying an RV.
I did not love this book. In addition to a strong strain of selfishness from the interviewees, I don’t think Zigmont paid much attention to couples who are struggling just to buy groceries and can’t even imagine the lives of freedom described here. But it does suggest some possibilities.
If you are not having children, maybe it’s time to sit down together and make a financial plan. If you’re not spending your income on baby food and braces, what will you do with it? How do you see your future as you age and consider retirement? Are you on the same page about how long you want to work and what you will do when you’re older?
I would love to hear your thoughts.