As the FIRE (financial independence/retire early) movement grows and gains in visibility, a common refrain among naysayers is, “It’s only possible because they don’t have kids.”
Even financial experts amplify this myth, saying dispiriting things like, “Children are God’s way of ensuring that you cannot ever retire early.” And certainly this myth is reinforced by stories like my own: my husband, Mark, and I retired at 41 and 38, respectively, sped in part by not having kids and the expenses that come with them.
But the myth that you can’t retire early (or at all) if you have kids simply isn’t true.
Read: How to save twice your salary (or more) by age 35
It’s entirely possible to retire early with kids, a point proven by the many stories of those who became financially independent or retired early in their 30s or 40s, with kids, like Carl and Mindy Jensen and their two daughters, Leif Dahleen and his wife and two sons, Elizabeth and Nate Thames and their two daughters, and Justin and Kaisorn McCurry and their three kids.
Angela Rozmyn has heard the myth plenty of times that only child-free, high-income earners can retire early. But the 31-year-old mom of a 3-year-old son from Kirkland, Wash., doesn’t let it deter her from continuing on the path to financial independence. Though she and her husband both earn median salaries, and don’t make six figures combined, they’re still on track to be fully financially independent in their early 40s with the option to retire early and never work again.
“Kids generally don’t need anything new,” she says. Especially little kids. “They’re just as happy with a hand-me-down as something straight out of a box.”
By avoiding many of the purchases that average families make, Angela and her husband are able to save that money instead. But, she adds, having a child certainly costs more than not having kids. “We do spend more, but that spending is on quality child care, fun activities, and travel experiences. Even at not quite 4 years old, our son remembers those experiences well more than any one thing we’ve bought him.”
The notion of retiring early — decades earlier than the traditional retirement age of 65 — is appealing to many. The FIRE movement has grown in the past several years, and is often characterized by frugal living, extreme saving and investing and cultivating multiple streams of income. With the cost of raising a child hovering around $250,000, according to some estimates, it’s often assumed that financial independence at a young age is impossible if you’re a parent.
Jamila Souffrant hears both the myth about retiring early with kids, along with the one that says you can’t save a lot of money if you live in a high cost-of-living area. But the New York City-based mom of three takes issue with both.
“Living in a big city gives you more options, diversity and community programs,” she says. “So I’m always looking up free events at the library or local park.”
Jamila and her husband save money by minimizing purchases for their kids, focusing instead on free activities right in their neighborhood.
“Since we don’t overspend on clothes and toys, it allows us to spend on things like experiences which we think help them become more well-rounded people,” she says. “So we prioritize experiences over things and teach them about the value of money.”
Bob Lai, a married father of two in Vancouver, British Columbia, who is also his family’s sole earner, says, “Kids are only as expensive as the parents make them out to be.”
Despite living in another high cost-of-living city, Bob and his family are close to full financial independence after saving for about eight years.
“We are a single-income family and we save by prioritizing what’s important,” Bob says. “Too many parents sacrifice their own retirement savings for the sake of their kids and education saving. And meanwhile you are in trouble if you don’t save up for your retirement. Because time isn’t on your side.”
Like Jamila and Angela, Bob and his wife focus on giving their kids experiences rather than a lot of new stuff. “It’s OK to say no to kids when they ask for something,” says Bob.
But don’t just say no, he emphasizes. Instead, “Explain to them why you aren’t getting it for them,” and use it as a financial lesson in addition to a money-saving strategy. Or teach them to earn their own money so they can have some of the things they like without jeopardizing the parents’ ability to save.
Most working parents have no choice but to pay for often-expensive child care while kids are young, and that fact will affect how quickly parents can save for early retirement. But the cost of child care doesn’t need to derail your early retirement vision entirely. While Bob’s wife stays home and cares for their children, both Angela and Jamila are in dual-income households, and they’re still on track to be fully financially independent in their early 40s. So having kids may shift your timeline to early retirement, but they don’t make it impossible.
More important, many parents find that having kids changes their priorities and makes early retirement — or at least more flexibility in their work — more urgent.
“’They’re only young once’ is such a true statement,” says Angela. “Pushing hard to reach FIRE within a short time means that you can never get those years back with them.” Instead, Angela has chosen to take a step back and reduce her hours to have more time with her son now, while he’s young. “Even though it will push my financial independence date out a number of years,” she insists it’s worth it because her son is growing up quickly.
The anonymous blogger known as Mrs. Adventure Rich, a married millennial mom of one, has focused on slowing down overall, an approach that both boosts her family’s savings and gives them more time together.
“It can be as simple as taking a family walk or bike ride, taking a weekend to play tourist in our area, watching the sunset or enjoying a glass of wine outside after our son falls asleep,” she says. “Prior to parenthood, I was much more focused on spending my free time growing my income or finding the best deal. With a child, the goal is still financial independence, but the focus is living a fulfilling, meaningful life along the way.”
Like Angela, Mrs. Adventure Rich is willing to take a slightly slower path to her ultimate financial goal, but it’s worth it to her, because she’s living a life she enjoys in the meantime, and has more quality time with her child. “With this perspective, we admittedly will not be winning any ‘race to financial independence,’” she says, “But we maintain financial independence as a goal that informs our daily decisions.”