One in five millennials are actively delaying having children because they feel they can’t afford a family, according to a new survey by accounting and advisory services firm BDO Canada.
In a country where the average non-mortgage debt load is $20,000, young adults are the most likely to say they are “overwhelmed” by their liabilities, with 34 per cent of millennials saying so, compared to 26 per cent of Generation Xers and 13 per cent of Boomers.
But if age is a predictor of financial struggles, so is having children. Over a third of Canadians with children said they felt crushed by their personal debt, compared to 20 per cent for childless debtors.
That might explain why couples in their 20s and 30s, many of whom are working off significant student debt, hesitate to make babies.
But finances shouldn’t dictate family planning, financial experts told Global News. Here’s what cash-strapped would-be parents can do to make the math work:
You can be a good parent even if you can’t afford to give your kids everything you had as a child
Often what people mean when they say they can’t afford to have a family is that they won’t be able to pay for everything they had when they were kids, said Shannon Lee Simmons, a Toronto-based fee-only financial planner and founder of the New School of Finance.
But just because — unlike your own parents — you don’t have enough money for Disneyland, doesn’t mean you can’t be a parent, Lee Simmons said.
Often, she added, the perception that you can’t have children “is more about perspective than finance.”
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Move back with your own parents for a while, if you need to
Another potential psychological roadblock to parenthood is the shame that often surrounds the decision to move back home for a while.
But that can be a perfectly sound financial decision, if it allows you to repay your debt or save up for a down payment for a house, said Rebecca Sudano, a licensed insolvency trustee at BDO.
Parents should think of this as “enabling your children to sustain themselves in the future,” she said. It’s not much different than when they taught them to swim or ride a bike.
The key is having a plan, Sudano said: How much will your kids be able to save by staying at home? How long will they need until they can move out again?
As long as those questions have answers, going back to your child’s bedroom or your parents’ basement for a while can be the key for financially setting yourself up for the next step in your life: Settling down and having kids.
Focus on the debt, not the house
Conventional wisdom holds that young people should first buy a house, then put some kids in it.
But “the house doesn’t matter,” says Lee Simmons. “You have your entire life to buy a house.”
Dealing with your debt, on the other hand, should be a priority if you’re thinking of procreating. Monthly debt repayments can seriously hinder your ability to get by when you’re off work after the baby comes.
“You need to pay down debt in order to be able to afford your life while you’re on maternity leave,” said Lee Simmons.
If you can’t pay off your non-mortgage debt in full, try to reduce it as much as possible.
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Have a plan for parental leave
There are many things about having children that will invariably catch you off guard, Sudano said, but parental leave shouldn’t be one of them.
If you’re prepared to live frugally during those first 12 or 18 months, you’ll probably be able to fit baby within your old budget, she said. You’ll be buying diapers, for example, but won’t spend nearly as much on gas now that you don’t have to commute to work. Plan on saving enough to bridge the gap between what you need to cover your pre-baby expenses and what you’ll receive through Employment Insurance and any employer top-up you might have, Sudano suggested.
Lee Simmons suggests budgeting another $2,000 to $4,000 as “baby setup costs,” like crib, car seat, stroller and other costly essentials.
Still, Lee Simmons said for some of her clients going through maternity leave without dipping into debt to make ends meet simply isn’t feasible.
In this scenario, she said, new parents should aim for “a slow debt burn.” It’s OK to borrow a little bit for a year or so to cover living costs. But that moderate borrowing should be part of the budget — and there should be a plan for paying it back once everyone gets back to work.
Even parents facing sky-high daycare costs usually see a small income boost once parental leave is over, she added. That extra income should go toward debt repayment, Lee Simmons said.
It’s OK to scale back on retirement savings
New parents should also know it’s fine to scale back on retirement savings during those costly parental leave and daycare years.
When money is tight, tax refunds from registered retirement savings Plans (RRSP) can be used to contribute to registered education savings plans (RESP) or to pay down debt, said Sudano. But an RRSP may not be the right retirement savings vehicle for everyone, she added.
Lee Simmons said even pressing the pause button on saving for retirement is OK.
“Your main job during the daycare years is to survive and not go into debt,” she said. “You can make up for it later.”