Culture of Death,  Family Life,  NFP

On Debt and Openness to Life

I was FB chatting with a friend earlier this week and she made a comment about how freeing their experience of being debt free has been, and I had a kind of “aha” moment while her words sunk in.

I also got really, really excited about the future, and about being able to experience that kind of freedom for myself.

Now, the friend in question has more than a handful of kids. And my mind immediately jumped to the conclusion that financial freedom was probably immensely liberating in the bedroom, too, in terms of family planning.

Does that seem far fetched?

I kept thinking about it all afternoon, considering the connection between our deeply-indebted culture and a general aversion to children, past the perfunctory one or two. (And I’m speaking here to couples who are intentionally avoiding additions to their family, not to those struggling with the heartache of infertility.)

I thought about our neighbors across the street, eager to hand me bags and bags full of darling little girl clothes, and equally happy to tell us on more than one occasion how very “done” they were because they simply “couldn’t afford” any more children. That their youngest daughter, though very much loved, was very much a surprise.

They’re a sweet family and she works hard to stay home with her girls, running an event planning business and keeping another baby 40 hours a week for a working mama. Their girls have the best toys and clothes, and they throw fantastical themed birthday parties every year – last year’s fete for the 4-year-old was Frozen-themed and featured a live, rented reindeer, a snow machine, a karaoke set up, Elsa’s wedding cake, and a spread of Swedish food that put Ikea to shame.

I have to wonder whether what they – and so many of us – consider to be necessary trappings to the ideal childhood are really just that: trappings.

I know that kids care about having cool stuff, but I think they can be coached into caring, can be educated into a certain lifestyle and level of expectation, just like any of us can.

On the other hand, I think that parents who are drowning in consumer debt, choked by student loans and car payments and ridiculous mortgages, are probably honest-to-God afraid of having more kids under such circumstances.

I am just wondering where the intersection is between “hot damn it’s expensive to raise a family in this economy!” (and it is) and “you know, maybe we don’t need to be racking up semiannual beach vacations on our credit cards (but mileage points!) and driving 2-year-old cars with all the best new features to have a happy family.”

I wonder how many American couples are avoiding having any/more children because of debt. 

I wonder how much of the Very Real Struggle of NFP is tied up in financial insecurity.

I wonder if there’s some kind of connection between generously and prudently managing one’s money and one’s fertility.

I am speaking to a stereotype here, but as is often the case with stereotypes, they issue forth from grains of truth.

Is it hella costly to raise and launch a kid into the world we live in?

Yes, yes it is.

But we all make choices, whether in our careers or in our decisions at the grocery store or the mall. We all decide how and where we’re going to spend the money we’ve been entrusted with, and whether or not we’re going to make debt a part of our lifestyle.

Some families have fewer options, whether due to underemployment, chronic poverty, or disability and restricted income potential, but I’m speaking here to the typical suburban American family, the one driving multiple car payments and buying brand new clothing and eating out in restaurants every week.

I wonder how much of our collective inability to manage money (and I’m looking in the mirror here) translates into our collective terror at the specter of Too Many Mouths To Feed (though that is hardly the real issue for 95% of us, let’s be honest with ourselves.)

I think that being freed from the crushing burden of thousands of dollars of debt flowing out the door every month would go a long way to alleviate some of the fear of the unknown in terms of how many kids we might eventually be blessed with, creating some space for daring and generosity in hearts that are cramped and burdened by chronic stress and fear.

And I fully own that we made – and are making – the choices that got us here, and the choices that will set us free.

(And in the spirit of full disclosure, here’s a little snapshot of our budgeting plan.)

What do you think? Totally reaching here, or maybe onto something? I can’t be the only one thinking these crazy thoughts.


  • Carolyn_Svellinger

    Totally on to something. And the thing is, I think it depends on where we live- even down to the city. The cultures manifested there among our families and friends pressure us to spend without thinking “do we really need this?” And “what is our end game?”
    These thoughts kept me from going crazy with decorating a new completely decorated nursery with each baby– and the fact that I’m lazy and the fact that we’ve naturally found that bed sharing is the best for us at this phase in our life.
    But I entered marriage thinking that every single person needed their own complete room, and decor and just that we HAD to do these things. But somehow, and I tend to think it came with learning to be open to life, we’ve learned and are still learning to ask, “do we really need to buy these things?” Most of the time the answer has been either no, or not yet.
    BUT ITS HARD living around others who throw those types of birthday parties you described above.

  • Ellen Johnson

    Oh yeah you’re on to something. We have neighbors (they rent) who do Disney trips and just got their 10 year old an iPad for Christmas, but the mom regularly whines to me that they can’t afford a house. She can’t believe we’re so young and we’re homeowners already. They’re in their 40’s.

  • Molly Walter

    One of the reasons we’re tackling our debt right now is that it would give us the freedom of being even more open to life – not having to earn more means not having to work more which means less daycare and possibly more kiddos (God willing).

    Thinking of a future when a new baby *won’t* mean 1k in daycare expense right out the door is thrilling (though luckily with clever scheduling we avoided that beast too).

  • Kimberly Lynch

    You are definitely on to something! There is a pervasive mentality that children=burden, but maybe that is stemming from an already financially overburdened suburban culture of debt? Your post makes so much sense.

  • Mary Wilkerson

    Yup, yup and yup. One thing that turned us on to financial peace and Dave Ramsey was that he never discourages having children. He also does a lot with cost of child vs. what anti- child people say it has to be.

    • LPatter

      He does, however, really emphasize 2nd incomes and extra work to get out of debt. I think it can be a little detrimental to a young family to work too much vs. investing in the young life of the kids. I think the intelligent and confident faith-filled couple will integrate, with the help of the Holy Spirit, the very wise advice and encouragement to pinch pennies and get out of debt into the big picture of what God is asking of their family, but I think it’s important to note that being patient and accepting of less-than-ideal financial circumstances while doing what’s best for the people in the household is virtuous as well.

      • Alexandra DeRosa

        I agree with you. Even though we had overwhelming debt when we were first married we made the decision I would be at he with the kids. I was adamant that I would be home. (The debt was 95% his). I took care of the kids during the day and taught private music lessons at night. We made it work for 8 years while paying debt. Then, my husband’s job changed and with no health insurance I returned to public school teaching. We are still paying off debt and we haven’t been able to save much for college, but we survived. If we can do it almost anyone can. Good article on debt and children; a lot to think about especially now with college around the corner for our kids.

    • -Missy

      Yes, he does encourage the 2nd income and extra work, as a short term solution for a long term goal. My husband worked 60 hrs a week when we were trying to save for a minivan when we were expecting our third child. Was it hard? yes. Did our kids miss seeing their dad? yes. But it was for four months and I’d much rather have that then be saddled with a five year car loan and feel tied to it. Dave’s entire point is if you can sacrifice now, then you will have that freedom for much longer.

    • The Momma

      While I agree with Dave’s ideas of sacrificing so you can get out of debt and even trying to plan for emergencies so you’re not caught unawares, but where I part company with him is this idea that you *need* to build wealth so you can have financial freedom. I think we’re called to live more simply and to love God and our neighbours out of whatever extra we have. It doesn’t mean you have to live crammed into a small house like sardines or drive a car that is so old that it’s falling apart and you’re always wondering when you’re going to be stranded somewhere or eat beans and rice (Dave’s favourite meal suggestion for folks trying to get out of debt) all of the time. It just means not living beyond your means and even cutting out things that may be distracting you from pursuing God’s will for you and your family. Even though I agree with some of Dave’s ideas about debt reduction, I also think that as much as he preaches that ANYONE and EVERYONE can do his plan, it’s really not feasible for absolutely anyone and everyone.

    • Mary Wilkerson

      Eh, I don’t know, I think that’s kind of what rocks about him. I hated every moment I worked when I wanted to be a SAHM, but I owed people money- and until that money was paid off (87k) we discerned I had to work. I felt ‘called’ to be at home, and it was an unsettling truth that if I did that, our debt would extend for another 3-4 years. Instead, we sacrificed. I worked a lot, through 3 pregnancies and 2 babies. It was very hard. But, 1.5 years ago, when we were debt free, and I quit my job- I realized every sacrifice was worth it. I know this is dangerous to say, but sometimes, I think it would make sense for more households to decide to be two income for a couple years in order to pay the debts they owe and avoid government assistance. I realize I’m making a blanket statement, and obviously every couple has to discern for themselves….but it was my irresponsible borrowing that kept me from being a stay at home mom when I wanted to be. That fact was a hard one to swallow, but it sure as heck helped us to tighten up every single avenue of our spending for 2.5 years until we were out of debt.

    • Mary Wilkerson

      Eh- I don’t know about that either The momma. He, from what I have heard, always leaves open the possibility that some are called to live simply in that they drastically cut all their pleasures. BUT, for most of us, living simply is much more complicated. I have always heard the message that you build wealth in order to give it away. Currently, the ol’ husband and I are at the wealth building part- and we are able to give charitably almost to the degree that we were paying student loans previously. That is an awesome thing. I could go on, but I get a little uncomfortable with the ‘living beyond our means’ thing… because, well, america.

    • Jenny

      yeah I agree with you Mary. I think of Joseph of Arimathea, able to donate his empty tomb to Jesus…and St. Helen convening a rescue and recovery of the relics of the true Cross. Sometimes (not all the time, but some of the time) charity is much more effective when one has the means to be radically generous. That’s the future I want for my kids, not that they get their own cars at 16 and know what Hawaii looks like, but that their friends know that in times of desperate need, we can help them in tangible, practical ways (I’m thinking here of paying for a semester or two of college for a friend who wouldn’t be able to continue otherwise. Or paying somebody’s mortgage for a few months while they’re out of work, etc.) That’s the kind of legacy we want to leave.

  • Mandi Richards

    Right now, my husband and I are in the spot where we could afford another child (but just barely – scraping by, you know?) but I have recurrent pregnancy loss so we have to pay a lot for the tests and procedures (surgery later this month!) that will hopefully diagnose and fix it. So we feel like we can either afford to do the medical stuff to have a baby or we can raise a baby, but we can’t afford to do both! We are preceding with the testing and hope we will be blessed with a living child and will just have to figure it out financially as we go. Having lost several children, I can no longer look at children as expenses but only gifts and I hate to admit that I am less than charitable toward people who can have more kids but don’t because they aren’t willing to give up luxuries. I would gladly give up every luxury if I could only have another child and be able to provide for the basic material needs of my family. But I need to be more charitable because financial struggles are heavier burdens for some than others.

    • Mandi Richards

      Thanks for the concern, but I have those bases covered already. I took progesterone for two of the four pregnancies that I lost and have been checked out for all potential blood clottung disorders and I don’t have any so heparin is unneccessary.

    • Tia

      best of luck to you. I had to have uterine surgery after repeat m/c and now have my beautiful son, conceived basically as soon as we started trying, with none of the complications we had with our first. So fingers crossed for you that they find something that is easily fixable.

  • Christina Gignoux

    Yes, the culture is a powerful thing! And it can pull you in many directions, not always good. Now that I am 41, I am looking at the end of my fertility very shortly, and hoping I might be able to have my 7th before too long. There is so little that kiddos need when they are young, it is our big kids that cost an arm and a leg. We are honest with our big kids about trying to make prudent financial decisions for the good of our family. They are more willing to accept less and forgo things/activities to actually be with their little siblings and I hear many of their friends “wishing” they had a little bro or sis. All so very interesting! Thanks for posting!

    • Amelia Bentrup

      Yes, it’s definitely true that while babies and little kids are cheap..big kids cost a lot of money…and I don’t mean things they don’t need, but things lthey actually do “need” like clothes and to be involved in meaningful acitivties and books and curriculum (if homeschooling) and more food. Not that this isn’t a reason to have more kids….just saying that they are a lot more expensive when they get older.

      When I look at the expense of having more kids, I think there are three majorly expensive things that can play a role. 1) if the new baby means one needs a bigger vehicle. That can be a major expense. 2) if there will be major medical expenses from the pregnancy and birth. Although I think all states offer medicaid for pregnancy women and the income limits tends to be fairly high for something people could at leat look into. 3). If a new baby needs one needs a bigger house. And, I don’t mean bigger as in each kids needs their own bedroom, but if a family truly is squishes (like 5 people in a 2 bedroom apt. or something). 4) If the addition of a new baby necessitates greater childcare expenses.

      We have 4 children. Three were born when we were fairly comfortable financially and one was born when we were super poor. Either way, it all worked out and the babies really aren’t expensive. The baby born while we were financially struggling didn’t add anything to our financial burden. But, that was because we had already had a big enough vehicle and housing was okay and we didn’t have childcare expenses.

  • priest's wife

    It is funny- we are now renting (for half the going rate) a house from a friend that is almost 3 times the size of the townhouse we own. There is an extra guest room downstairs but the kids (15, 14, 7 & 5) still share a room with their respective age-mate. The master bedroom is lovely- but ridiculously big- the two kids’ rooms are normal sized. It is clear that this HUGE house was meant for maybe 2 kids. Sad.

  • Annery

    It is so important to be a good steward of your resources. As a mom who could easily afford twice the kiddos, but instead shells out the dough on infertility treatments, it’s so hard to hear people say they can’t afford more. Because some of those people are saying that from a place of greater comfort than me. We need so much less than we think, and in the end, we’re called to find a balance between prudence and generosity because God will provide.

  • Nell @ Whole Parenting Family

    Your money posts have been really wonderful and thank you for being so open with us, your devoted readers, about them. This one hits me as I hear it all the time “can’t afford college tuition for more than 2” and I think “who knows what upper level education will look like in 18 years?”

    • Valerie

      I agree Nell. I hear that frequently too. I always think, “having a 529 plan fully funded in your name is not a pre-requisite to be born.” If that were the case, none of my six would be here on this Earth!

    • Amanda

      Agree. I hear this one a lot. As well as clothing expenses being too much, buying cars for each child, technology items, etc. The big one though is college. And, I can’t agree enough with the fact that we really don’t know what the climate of upper education will be in 18 years. It’s already changed so much, but with the internet and technology I really wonder the role college will play or how the two will play together. Also, everyone is so big on every child *must* have the same experience and similar items at similar costs. Fairness is the ultimate. Each child being unique and different completely being disregarded. Emphasis always on fairness.

      I wonder if that’s a result of a generation of large families though that didn’t know how to foster that contentedness with little as well because they just expected their kids to be grateful and not wanting. Instead materialism started to take off and TV, etc which left that generation seeing all that they did not have but all the things they swore each of *their* children would have. Meanwhile their parents not thinking to encourage or foster that there’s something greater than all the things because it was just a natural flow to their upbringing?

      Sorry if I’m not making sense. There really are so many angles to this but it is so common to hear. I even hear it and we have two young boys. How we shouldn’t have more less we are being irresponsible because surely we wouldn’t be able to afford raising them all equally.

    • Kiera Kurak

      I’m totally with you Nell on the college thing. I feel like there is going to be a bust in the system at some point or we will just find alternatives to it. However, I also paid for my own education instead of my parents doing so, so I may just have a soap box about it.

    • Martha

      I paid for my own college! I never once, ever, thought about my parents paying for me. They paid for my plane tickets back and forth from my out of state college, but sometimes, they couldn’t – and I spend vacations with friends’ families.
      But I was smart and worked my butt off, and got lots of money to do fun things – study abroad, etc. – and never regretted that my parents made me value my own education.
      My husband got scholarships, but his parents had the mindset of paying for his education and that’s very much in his mind too. It baffles me. Never would I consider paying for my child’s college unless I was fabulously wealthy. Will it limit their options? Maybe; maybe not. But they’ll still be able to get an education and even if it’s not at their ‘first choice,’ it’ll be okay.

    • Celia

      I agree. We used to have the mindset of paying for our kids’ college because that’s how my in-laws did it with my husband and his brother. But, with the rising cost of education and the realization that with me at home and my husband in the military there was no way. Well, that and my own experience. My parents didn’t pay for my college because they COULDN’T. We were about median income, or below, with three kids. I went to a fancy Catholic college in New England completely on scholarship save for room and board, and worked my butt off to keep that scholarship. (And to pay off the minimal $15k debt after college.) Honestly, even if we could afford to pay our kids’ way I probably wouldn’t now. There are lots of options out there to reduce college costs while still getting an excellent education. They do all include lots of work.

      That’s not to say we won’t help our kids if we can. But we’re not going to avoid children just because of college costs. (For instance, my alma mater, with room and board, has gone up to almost 60k a year since I went there. Yikes!) We’re looking at trying to help our kids complete some college credit courses by the time they graduate from high school, which seems doable at minimal cost with our homeschooling plans.

  • Valerie

    Accruing college debt is a really hard one. I always thought that we would push for our children to attend a solidly Catholic college because faith is the MOST important thing, right? The more I see people coming out of college with massive amounts of debt, wanting to get married, but putting kids off because…debt, I am certain that I will try to get my kids through college in the least expensive way possible. (Why oh why does it cost $40,000 a year for a Catholic college education??) If that means staying local for a year or two, and ultimately graduating from a state college (with a great Newman center at least!), then so be it. I want my children to be free from the chains of debt. I want them to not have to put off marriage or children because they have racked up so much debt during college. My husband and I were fortunate enough to pay off all of our student loans within one year – just a couple of months before our first child was born. If we (ahem, my husband – thankfully!) weren’t so focused on getting that debt paid down quickly, I would have been in a position where I would have HAD to work to pay our monthly bills. It is so hard to know before you are a parent the love that you will have for your children and the desire to raise them yourself vs. working and sending them to daycare. I have seen many of my friends in a position of wanting to be stay at home mothers, but unable to do so because of decisions they had made before even becoming parents (i.e. student loans, buying a house, buying new cars etc.) When you are working and having to pay day care fees, it is so much easier to monetize the cost of a child too. You know how much more each new life would cut into your bottom dollar. Sometimes it is hard to make decisions that seem so counter cultural too. Like for instance, if you are going to have a family then by all means you should buy a house to raise that family in right? That would be the responsible and normal thing to do. We have rented for all of our married life, because that has enabled us to have one parent at home and to homeschool our children. Satan tries frequently to steal our peace and make us feel badly for not having bought a home yet, but ultimately being with my children is more important than owning a home. My husband and I just look at it like we are storing up our treasure in Heaven by raising these beautiful children day in and day out, and in the end it won’t really matter if we rented or owned anyhow. Great post Jenny! I think you are spot on.

  • Julie Walsh

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. I know families who consider Disney vacations an essential part of childhood and others who are genuinely struggling under the weight of student debt. Whatever the cause, it seems to be universally understood that folks can only ever afford a couple of kids because They Are So Expensive.

    Personally, I’m fortunate to be married to a man who’s made a lifetime of good financial decisions (including enlisting in the Navy out of high school, then making use of the GI Bill), so we can comfortably afford for me to stay home. (Ladies, start talking to your teenagers about $$$ now…) We have a nice home, but we almost never eat out or vacation or buy things for ourselves.

    I have found — much to my surprise — that financial stability is very, very sexy. 😉

  • Stephanie K.

    Definitely on to something! My husband and I have discussed this over and over again because people CONSTANTLY tell us that kids are so expensive…but we can see that their expectations of what they think kids need vs our understanding is vastly different. Of course another baby does equal more cost…but I don’t think it has to mean SO much money as many people think it does. Kids need food and clothes etc but they don’t NEED to go out to restaurants or have designer, brand new clothes. Those are choices

  • Matt, Marie, Laura, Hannah & Emma

    Good post, Jenny. This is a reality for some of us. My husband and I have used NFP to avoid pregnancy while we financially recover from adding a 3rd child to daycare, which is $1200/month just for that third child! We have to work due to over $100k in student loan debt. We live fairly frugally compared to most of our friends. We cook most meals and don’t go on expensive vacations (or any sometimes). But even attacking our debt aggressively, it will take several years for us to pay it off. That said, I think there is a balance to discerning whether to avoid pregnancy or to be open to it and being completely financially ready. I think that’s a part of faith. I do believe that saying, “with every child, comes a loaf of bread.” God will provide for our needs. So even though we aren’t out of debt, I don’t think we should not be accepting of His blessings, in the form of children. Just my thoughts.

  • Catie

    I’m so glad I found this post to share with my readers. I am currently running a short series on my own blog about financial steps to take when planning to be a stay at home mom (or dad.) I vividly remember once that a very devout, but legalistic, priest told a room full of RCIA participants that financial concerns were not a valid reason for delaying pregnancy. That statement literally had me sweating and a bit angry, because I truly wanted to not delay pregnancy, but we were in the midst of credit card debt and cars that weren’t going to work for much longer. It wasn’t just the money itself that had us concerned about a baby, but the stress that finances can cause on a marriage. All of our energy was going toward paying off that debt. I’m not going to judge whether or not we were right or wrong to delay our family for a short while, but you are 100% correct that money has influenced the size of my family.

    • Jenny

      that’s why I’m so grateful there’s not a magic NFP list that defines “grave reason,” you know? I do think Fr. was trying to communicate a real truth (that children are a blessing and not a risk to be managed), but it sounds like he didn’t have an adequate relationship (or the finesse) to say it to the class.

    • Laura

      Humanae Vitae itself lists “physical, ECONOMIC, psychological and social conditions” as factors in exercising responsible parenthood. So to say that “financial concerns” are not a valid reason is really off.

      • JB

        There are so many expectations that really just shouldn’t be – the Compulsory birthday parties and Disney trips. We have 4 kids and are blessed with enough financial security that I can stay home. We have a far smaller home than others think we should have – 3 bedrooms! Our cars are far from the newest model – I admit to dreams of a new swagger wagon with working sliding doors! We do family birthdays – or maybe a movie with a few good buddies. They get one singular birthday blowout with their class when they turn 6. (Granted it is in our backyard or at the affordable Y (when I was 9 months pregnant and just couldn’t imagine doing it myself!)- but we have games and cake and fun.). My oldest whines about not having the coolest stuff – and we tell him that isn’t what we value. I pray one day he will understand. I am bargain hunter and couponer – and honestly my kids miss out on very little. I would like to believe their lives are enriched by their siblings.

  • Liz

    As the wife of a financial planner, I agree with so much of what you’re saying, Jenny. In the present culture, our homes tend to be twice as large and our families half the size compared to what those things were in the 1950s. Many people live well beyond their means, refusing to own up to their fiscal waste. A common practice is for families with high incomes to buy too much real estate– they will get the biggest, most extravagant home for which they can get approved for financing– and then, when they are saddled with ponderous mortgage payments, they really HAVE rendered themselves unable to afford something truly worthwhile, like having another baby. It’s sad indeed.

    That said, there’s a flip side to all this. My husband has met with some really admirable Catholic families– many with 4-6 children– who really have worked hard to retrench and live frugally. Most of them are largely debt-free and live in modest homes. That said, he has yet to meet a single family among them who has ever bothered to set up a will– to determine who will get guardianship of their children if something should happen to them. This is a disturbing oversight, since many of these families make such great sacrifices to give their kids a certain type of upbringing. If something happens to the parents and there’s no will, the courts will determine which relative will get guardianship of the children. It might very well be someone you wouldn’t want raising your kids, and all your solicitude over giving them the right kind of rearing will have been for nothing, especially if the children are still very young. Another unsettling reality is that these families tend to have very little life insurance. C’mon, people! Insuring a homeschooling SAHM is all the more necessary, because the cost to replace her services is astronomical! Many of these husbands tell MY hubby, “Oh, if anything happened to my wife, I would definitely want to quit my job for a few years and stay home with the kids.” That’s all well and good, but with what money??? Most of them have no plan and no clue.

    And for those of you reading this who’d be inclined to shrug off my warnings, with the excuse that “the Lord will take care of me, as He always has”: well, my and my husband’s moms used to state that exact phrase….right up until each of them became widows tragically and unexpectedly in their 40s, each with underage children left in the house, and each with far too little $ on which to meet all their family expenses. Seeing what his mother went through is precisely what motivated my husband to become a financial planner.

    So, I would say, Yes– people SHOULD make the effort to have bigger families. They should learn to live simply and be willing to forgo luxuries in order to welcome new life. But certain things– like a will and adequate life insurance– are most emphatically NOT luxuries, and I don’t think any couple should be bringing 4, 5, 6 kids into the world without ever getting around to tending to those things.

    • Jenny

      Agree 110% – life insurance (on both of us) and a will were two of the first things we did when we got married (though we need to update the will to include our youngest still.) Dave Ramsey is adamant about both, and honestly, term life (which he pushes) is so cheap it’s crazy to think of anyone passing it up. Thank you for sharing this!

    • Carolyn

      Yes, I agree most wholeheartedly. We have 4 children, and I’m a SAHM who also homeschools. We have wills, insurance (including me), and have appointed guardians for our kids. The problem? Our current guardian says they don’t want to be responsible for 4 children. From discussions I’ve had with other largish families, this is an issue – no one wants to be named guardian and be named responsible for such a large brood.

    • Martha

      Yes Yes YEEEEES. I’m an attorney and it drives me nuts when people don’t make out a will.

      Also, life insurance! My husband has made sure that if anything happens to him, I won’t have to work, especially if I invest carefully. Part of that means budgeting, in our life insurance, to pay off the remainder of our debt. We made sure I’d have enough to: pay all our debts (including what we owe on the house), afford a funeral, and live for quite some time. We made sure that if something happens to me, a funeral is paid for, and that my husband could afford to stop working while he relocates to be closer to family (he could still make mortgage payments, etc.).

      People think it’s crazy, and it probably seems that way – right up until the point where you need it.

    • Celia

      Yes, absolutely, to life insurance and making a will. We have to update ours for a number of reasons, but have had wills and life insurance for a long time because I’m mom/educator/homekeeper and my husband is military. If one of us (or, God forbid, both of us) were to die, it would be a HUGE financial burden on our family. And guardianship is a huge thing. My parents both died relatively young (51 and 54), while my youngest sister was still in high school, and the guardianship problem was a big one. Keeping our mortality in mind is uncomfortable, but important.

    • Laura

      I’m late to the party here but I’ve been mulling this over . . . .

      My grandmother was widowed in 1960, when she had six kids aged 6 months to seven years. Growing up, I always wondered how she ever managed. But she mentioned once that my grandfather had “good life insurance, for a poor man.” Go Grandpa!

      My husband and his siblings all had to pay for most of their college educations, yet they all have graduated college or are on track to. And they’ve all paid off their debt as quickly as possible. So yeah, I don’t buy the iea that you should only have as many kids as you can pay college tuition for.

      I wonder about private grade school though? It’s not an NFP issue for us right now, but possibly it could be in the future.

      My impression is that many observant Catholic families don’t see school tuition as a Serious Reason because–hey!– homeschooling is free. (And those that send their kids to public school seem to keep it on the hush hush. 😉

      Homeschooling works really well for some and really poorly for others. I’ve seen cases of true, true educational neglect by “homeschooling” parents–educational neglect that sets a kid back for life, especially with his or her self-esteem.

      And the attitude seems to be that, “well, we can’t afford private school because we’re a big family, and we have to be a big family because we’re Catholic, and anyway academics aren’t everything.” I’m trying not to be judgmental; I don’t know how many people actually have this attitude . . . but I’ve seen instances where they _seem_ to. Some mothers make homeschooling a large family look easy but it most definitely is *not* for everyone.

    • Laura

      Oh my, I can’t stop commenting here but . . . don’t forget about disability insurance! A breadwinner is much more likely to be disabled than to die prematurely! Many employers offer it but many do not.

  • Ari Mack

    I hear what you’re saying, but I would point out that you are speaking to people who are relatively comfortable, middle-class, I daresay, NOT the “95%” you reference you made. Maybe half the people are in the situation you describe? Or maybe I am much poorer than I thought. My husband and I use NFP, not so that we can use our money selfishly, but so that we can get out of debt (or have much less debt) before considering children. The debt is a result from our wedding, home repairs, some unexpected medical expenses last year (near-fatal car wreck), and then a car payment (on a used, low-cost car, more than 2 years old, nothing to sneeze at). We don’t spend frivolously, we didn’t get parental support from our parents for the wedding (or for college). We don’t even have cable, literally every dollar matters. I get incredibly frustrated, and possibly jealous, and those in the extremely fertile Catholic community who seem to think that those of us without children or trying to avoid pregnancy must be selfish people who just don’t have enough money to SPOIL a child or that we are refraining from children (or more children) because we think they won’t get an iPad or their own bedroom. We refrain because they wouldn’t get food, because we couldn’t stay afloat, couldn’t pay the bills. I am in a situation in which I will most likely ALWAYS have to work (due to the line of work my husband is in and a permanent disability on his part). For the same reasons, we are in a situation in which the child will HAVE to have care from someone besides my husband or me. This poses a huge financial burden to the extent that child care would be more than half my paycheck, and I’m pulling in more money than my husband in the first place. This doesn’t even mention the fact that in order for me to HAVE a child (with insurance), I would have to pay several thousand dollars out of pocket (that we don’t have), in addition to taking vacation time to have any type of maternity leave (which I also don’t have). It’s literally impossible right now for us. I agree that people lately have been treating children like an expensive accessory, and we have no plans to parent that way. I would love to be a stay-at-home, homeschooling Catholic mom, but at this rate, who knows if we can do that. We pay more for housing in order to be in a decent public school district, should the day come. However, it’s getting from birth to free education (those 5 years) that seem impossible right now. And NOT because we take a yearly vacation abroad, and NOT because we buy the latest gadgets, and NOT because we drive new cars that are replaced every two years, but because it’s all we can do to feed, clothe, and house the 2 of us. I heard one priest say that if we were going to start our marriage using NFP to avoid pregnancy, we shouldn’t have gotten married. I disagree, but this economy is still recovering, or possibly, this struggle is the “new normal” for many. We make just enough to be too “rich” for aid, and not enough for children to be a foreseeable possibility in the near future.

    • Colleen

      Ari – I was totally in your shoes when we first started our marriage, but maybe even financially worse because my husband was in grad school and I was supposed to be the breadwinner but I got pregnant before my real job even started! We had no health insurance for the first two months of the pregnancy and all medical tests we had to pay out of pocket. It was such a difficult time, and I could not ever foresee things getting any better for us financially. Long story short, 12 years and 6 kids later, and we are doing okay. Like lower-middle-class ok. It’s a whole lot of hard work and faith and trust that God knows the big picture and it will all work out somehow. I’m not telling you to try and start your family now…only you and your husband and God are priveleged to that discussion, but I’m just saying that NFP means always being open to the possibility of life, and if you do get surprised by pregnancy, I want you to trust that God will provide. It’s impossible to see the future or wonder how things are EVER going to get better, and it’s only in looking back that we can see God’s providence over us. You are doing the right thing by trying to live simply and pay down debt, and I hope you will one day soon be able to become a mom 🙂

    • Ari Mack

      Thank you. I certainly believe in living as debt-free as possible, and I never would have thought we’d be this far in above our heads right now, but I also couldn’t have predicted the last year we had. We are open to life, it is truly all in God’s hands. If we were to get pregnant at this time, we’d cross that bridge when we got there, even though I don’t know how it would be handled from my human perspective, we’d make it work. I’m one of four kids. Looking back, I have no idea how my parents provided for all four of us, but we survived.

      I guess I just get defensive when it’s implied that good Catholic people or that 95% of the population don’t have kids because they can’t provide them the most comfortable American suburban lifestyle possible. I know I can’t be the only one practicing NFP for reasons that seem grave to us, when to outsiders it might seem like we are just living up the married with no kids newlywed phase. I just hope that I get to be a mom while I’m still fertile, and that we will somehow be able to pay for childcare, child birth, and meet our needs.

    • Ellen Johnson

      Ari, I think Jenny is talking more about the “typical” American family. “I’m speaking here to the typical suburban American family, the one driving multiple car payments and buying brand new clothing and eating out in restaurants every week.”

      Although, reading over the piece again just to make sure, there are these couple of lines:
      “I wonder how much of the Very Real Struggle of NFP is tied up in financial insecurity.
      I wonder if there’s some kind of connection between generously and prudently managing one’s money and one’s fertility.” Maybe, can you clarify, Jenny? I can sympathize with you, Ari. My husband and I had to postpone starting our family for a year and a half for financial reasons (although, in our case, we knew there was an end to our financial situation in sight) and we got some religious flack for it (never from clergy, from overly-scrupulous busy-bodies). But I don’t think Jenny is whipping out the whole “Financial reason are not good enough reasons to practice NFP” argument. I read it as a commentary on American consumerism and overall financial flippancy that reinforces the national standard of having only one or two kids because they’re “so expensive.” But maybe I missed something?

    • Jenny


      I’m really grateful for your contribution to this conversation. I would hate if you felt slighted by the “95%” comment, and I make that comment not from the viewpoint that “oh gosh, people who are childless are selfish and paying out for Direct TV and gym memberships,” but the fact that 95% of Americans are drowning consumer debt of some sort (us included).

      I was mostly dreaming about a future where, when we are free from debt, the financial ramifications won’t even enter into our NFP conversation. I imagine it will be so freeing.

      And I do think that for every one couple like you guys, struggling and discerning and dreaming of kids, there are easily a hundred who have put other things in their lives as priorities: mortgages, cars, clothes, eating out, internet, etc. I’m not saying that as a judgment from a super fertile stay at home (but most definitely NOT homeschooling, ha.) catholic mom, but from the conversations I’ve had on the playground and at school events with other moms. Its’ something people volunteer to me all.the.time., maybe because our kids are so close together? Anyway, the assumption is that we make a ton of money and can just crank ‘em out without fear of our lifestyle taking a hit.

      We do make decent money, but we both work – I found a job I could do from home, and I’ve worked full time the entire time I’ve been a mom – and we have good health insurance. But we also drive paid off 10/15-year old cars and rent our house. For us the kids are the priority, not the lifestyle.

      Does that make sense?

      I hope you guys can find a way to make it work, and that you are blessed with the children you desire.

    • Ari Mack

      Thanks. It makes sense. I appreciate your insights, and agree that Americans are drowning in debt, have screwed up priorities, and often choose their lifestyle over building a family. Maybe it’s just that I guess I think finances should always play into decisions regarding children/spacing/family size…or it’s that I literally can see it no other way. I can’t imagine finances NOT being a concern or a factor in that decision. I know there are lots of people who do put other things in their lives a priority over kids, I guess I would venture to guess that it is 100:1 ratio or 95:1 ratio…maybe in certain circles, but surely there are more than 1-5% of us struggling. I view crippling debt as another reason the “culture of death” uses in its arsenal. For us, it’s not just debt, it’s the expenses of having kids once the debt is gone, childcare costs, etc. It’s my role as the primary breadwinner, it’s my husband’s disability. I personally think this struggle is the TRUE war on women. We can contracept for free, but try being a working, middle class mother, and the system is HARD and stacked against you. (Not wanting to be Debbie Downer, it’s just my vantage point.)

    • Ari Mack

      Not to beat a dead horse, but what is still giving me pause about all of this (a day later), is that it reminds me of the “where would you vacation if money were no object?” question…well…money is an object in my life, and unless I become a bazillionaire, I can’t imagine a life in which it weren’t. And while DEBT sucks, and I hope to be rid of it, money management will always be a part of major life questions and discussions. I do think society would possibly be more open to life if we weren’t in debt across the board, or if we viewed parenthood and resources differently (with or without debt), but at this point in the “culture of death,” I think debt is tidy reason/excuse for SOME. For others of us, finances/debt are a reality that must be faced and considered.

  • Colleen

    Oh this is wonderful and disturbing! Being in debt made me put a pause button on having the 5th baby, and once it was paid off (besides the mortgage) it felt so freeing and I was definitely less worried about having more babies. Now the financial concern of having more is the cost of daycare!! It’s terrible to have to plan your family around what you pay for someone else to care for them, but it’s our reality right now.

  • Rebecca Rooney

    I think you’re exactly right, Jenny. When I got pregnant with my first child, I was teaching theology at a Catholic high school while my husband was in grad school full time, and we were (and still are) paying off our undergrad degrees. I actually had a student ask me if we had thought about “not having the baby” (his actual words) because we didn’t have a lot of money. I was really shocked – first of all, that’s way too personal a question to ask a teacher, and secondly, he was so serious about it, it was very clear that he thought our low (but not poverty-level by any means) income could justify an abortion.

    I think several of my students had the same kind of mindset; this may be in part because most of them came from upper-middle class families; many of them already had cars that were much nicer than mine. I think it’s also because few, if any, of them knew any families that had more than four kids, so the whole idea of a large family or your parents not paying for college was completely foreign for them. It was pretty depressing.

    (And sorry if this comment posts twice!)

  • Jena

    I think you make a really important and good point. My husband and I are extremely blessed, as we came into marriage without any debt, and he provides very well for our family where I can comfortably stay home with our (for now) 2 little ones. So, at this point, the financial burden isn’t an issue with us, but there are other things (societal or personal) that come into consideration as we continue/consider to grow our family. Time and energy is the biggest “currency” that I worry about, and while love multiplies, the hours in the day don’t ;). So even with financial freedom, there are always limitations, which thankfully NFP allows us to prayerfully consider to responsibly and lovingly grow our family. But again, I think you make an excellent point for a vast majority of America; I try to keep in my mind that you can afford what you WANT to – it just may take sacrifice in other areas (of course, barring some extreme circumstances!).

  • ourmilkandhoney

    Great topic. My husband and I have been married for seven months (and practice NFP)…I have the college debt, he’s currently in school, we live in a super small apartment in the outskirts of Boston (not cheap at all). Needless to say, it’s not easy – every dollar makes a difference in our situation. But we try to be attune to the Spirit, and a few months ago felt complete peace with trying to conceive. It hasn’t happened yet, but we’re hopeful. If, God willing, we conceive, we will have moments of being absolutely terrified. But at the same time, we are co-creators with God. If he’s blessing us with a child, no matter the struggle that comes, he will give us the strength needed to get through it.

    We’ve also learned that when we are generous with our resources, God will bless us abundantly in return. For instance, tithing is not always easy (and we have to be prudent with the other money we have as well), but we do it even if it hurts. But we’ve seen incredible graces from it and received little surprises along that have helped us greatly. So why not be generous with our fertility? I recognize everyone is different, and this is just our particular situation. But God has been so good, and as daunting as the next couple of years look, I know that He will always be good.

    Thank you for this great post! I enjoy so much of what you write!

  • diana

    I think there is definitely something to what you are saying. I get really annoyed when people complain to me how “poor” they are but then later talk about the $1,000 they spent on their kid’s first bday party or that they “just had to” buy the extra couple hundred dollars of studio pictures because the photographer talked them into it. On and on and on. Kids can be expensive; our son spent 2 weeks in the NICU. That was pricey. But really raising him once all medical issues were cleared has been much cheaper than I expected. He only needs so many clothes and toys and I shop sales and clearance. We just don’t buy him much. We were raised to make do with what we have and are determined not to spoil him (besides with love, obviously).

    Thank you for this post. I was nodding my head the whole time I was reading it!

  • EW

    Not to mention the fact that just going through pregnancy and birth (even WITH decent insurance) in the American medical model is going to run you around $10,000 on average. I know lots of couples who don’t want more kids not because they’re in debt but because they don’t want to incur the debt of hospital birth. And what if there are complications? A NICU stay could potentially wreck you financially, not to mention the emotional trauma. It almost seems like the system is designed to discourage having more than one or two kids, if you’re into the whole population-control-conspiracy-theory thing.

  • Amanda

    I certainly know it has been easier to convince my husband to be open when we’re in a better financial situation. Finances matter- not just so each kid has a room, but having another baby puts him one more mouth away from going back to grad school. And babies are cheap, but what about when they all need braces? And homeschool curriculum for high school? I try not to let myself get worried and to trust God to provide, but I know it weighs on my husband how many people rely on him to get paid. I’m not sure how much sense this makes, but it seems like being debt free not only encourages openness but is wise for future unknowns no matter how many kids you have.

  • Paige Kellerman

    Good food for thought, Jenny. Expanding on what EW said, I think the system has also been set up now to make birth control super available, but when it comes to those of us wanting to have more kids, health insurance, even great insurance, is going to hit you with a super high deductible. Just to have the twins delivered was 5,000 out of pocket for us and our next baby was another couple thousand. Couple that with just a basic mortgage, student loans your husband is paying for both of you because you stay home, and just the generals like utilities and groceries, and one income becomes extremely tight. I do think there are people who live outside of their means, but when you’re hit with debt right out of the hospital, that’s a huge worry for most people. At one point, we had to put my loans in forbearance just to make the hospital payment. I just wish they didn’t make it so costly medical wise.

  • The Momma

    You are TOTALLY on to something. One of the reasons that my husband and I have discerned that at the present time, we cannot afford to have more children. We are open to more children and we’d make it work if we conceived again, but for the moment, thanks to our financial situation, we just can’t. There are other reasons too, but that is definitely one of the major ones.

  • Caitlin

    Yes! We live in Seattle and have two toddlers. We’re 25, five to ten years younger than most people start their families here. Obviously just the general extreme liberal-ness of the area contributes to that, but it’s also because things (particularly housing) are very expensive. My husband does get paid pretty well as a software developer, so it’s not much of a sacrifice for me to stay home, but we probably won’t buy our first house until our oldest is in middle school. We’ve come to peace with that, but renting for so long would just be unfathomable to most people here I think.

    The craziest example of this phenomenon happened when we were with extended family over the summer. A cousin and his wife (they’re our age) were playing with our girls and mentioned that they’d love to have lots of kids but they could never, ever afford it. Even though they’re both in school to become a dentist and a lawyer!!!!

  • teacherstress

    Now that I am pretty deep into motherhood, what stops me from just wantonly having babies is not the money., I am not saying there can be very real financial limitations. But the fact that I have spend almost no time with the kids I have since I am so busy just taking care of corporal needs makes me sad. Saying yes to another child is sayi no to the kids I already don’t spend enough time with. And no, I do not work and am a full-time mom.

  • Kathleen

    A rented reindeer?! Like a real, live, breathing mammal??! Whoa.

    Also, we are open to life and we go out to dinner (because we can afford to, thanks be to God). Just want to make that clarification. All people who go to dinner aren’t bad-culture-of-death people 🙂

    Love your posts, Jenny, thanks. Lots of thought-provoking comments too!

  • NiqDan135

    My comment is for shameless self-promotion, but do you think that attitudes toward the coming-to-be of human life pivot upon any additional societal factors, or do you think the attitudinal chain continues, for example from Debt–>Contraception–>Anti-Immigration? For Anti-Immigration cannot stem exclusively from an attitude against debt, since we willingly shoulder debt for many things. Anti-immigration seems rather to incorporate the same anti-human element as contraception does. I would be curious to know if you think contraceptive attitudes impel other societal attitudes.

  • Kris

    I think there is definitely a correlation. I was listening to talk radio last night and the host was inviting people who are from big families, and/or have big families to call in. He was asking these types of questions – pros and cons, why people have big families or choose small families, etc. It was really interesting – all the big family callers talked about financial sacrifice but how it was totally worth it. People who didn’t have big families that called in all mentioned finances as a reason why they only had one or two children. So I think it’s a perception that you can’t have more kids if you can’t “afford” them. We have 5 children. And there were some lean years. We both drive 10-year old cars with 230,000 and 175,000 miles on them respectively. We don’t take fancy vacations every year. My boys all wear hand-me-downs at certain ages and I’m not too proud to accept outgrown clothing from friends. But our kids go to private high school (Catholic), we live in a nice house that we own, they all do sports, they have all been skiing a couple times, we went on a big extended family trip to Belize a couple years ago, we go to the beach some years, we take a fun camping trip with friends every summer, etc. But all budgeted/saved for. We have no debt except our mortgage. So it’s doable, if you have the mindset that you budget and save, you only buy what you can pay for and you make choices, every day, about what’s important for your family financially. Oh, and I stay home and have since my oldest was a baby.

    • Beth

      Kris, This was my childhood, except my mom worked part-time at a job that was from 6a-2p and allowed her to do things like fully breast feed and be there after school, etc.. Anyway– you’re so right. It’s totally doable and sets a great example for your kids of learning to prioritize and not blow money on day-to-day things. We wore hand-me-downs, our cars were not impressive, we didn’t have fancy birthday parties. Most years, we went camping close to home, but my dad was always proud that he managed to take our whole crew to Disney World. We learned not to be tight fisted, but rather to enjoy and celebrate life and to be generous. I hope that my son learns the same (and if we are blessed with more children, that they learn this too!

  • Beth

    I think this is a good point. When my son was really young, I belonged to a mother’s group at our church with women who were a bit older and had kids who were mostly teenagers. They were discussing how things like tuition costs at the catholic school, and decisions about catholic high school (even more pricey!) really factored into their decisions about how many kids to have. On the one hand, they were lamenting the gone days of Sisters teaching. But, I wonder how many of them considered what OTHER sacrifices they could be making. Vacations, summer camps, sport camps,etc.for kids were really common in this community, not to mention constant eating out and going to Bounce U on Fridays, etc. It really is a lot to think carefully about.

  • Celia

    Thank you for this article. I think there’s a lot of expectation in our culture to have “more” (of whatever–toys, clothes, vacations, new cars, more cable channels, etc.). It’s so counterculture to say no to more “stuff,” and yes to more kids if God wills it. I’m pregnant with our third, and while I’m not sure how many children we’ll be able to have (for medical reasons), knowing that living more simply and without debt will allow us to manage is so liberating. I’ve gotten some comments about “well, three is OK but four is too many [because….]” that really get my goat. Who’s to say we have to have everything we *want*? My kids don’t need a ton of stuff to be happy; we don’t need to live lavishly to raise our kids well. So much to think about with your article (and these excellent comments)!

  • Micaela Darr

    I think you’re absolutely right, Jenny. In fact, I KNOW you’re right and I’ve got a 7 week old baby to prove it. 🙂 Long story short, last year we were in a modest amount of debt but had lifelong poor spending habits and no plan for paying anything off. We took a FPU class at our parish and it got us on the right track. We’re still working on paying stuff off, but my (gorgeous) daughter’s conception is due in large part to the fact that, once we had a plan, we could be much more open to life.

    • Jenny

      I thought I was pretty clear in my distinction that *not* every couple with a small family is making a choice of lifestyle over openness to life. (And I definitely wasn’t sneering at you. I’m so sorry if you felt condemned in some way by this piece.)

      I mean, I don’t know how much more clear I could have been than this:

      “Some families have fewer options, whether due to underemployment, chronic poverty, or disability and restricted income potential, but I’m speaking here to the typical suburban American family, the one driving multiple car payments and buying brand new clothing and eating out in restaurants every week.”

      I think that does speak to the vast majority of the American Catholic church – the richest it the world – and I think we do need to ask ourselves hard questions. As for you and your family’s situation, my heart goes out to you. I know couples who are struggling that way, and it is a big cross. But I don’t believe that it will always be that way for them, and I don’t believe it will always be that way for you guys, either. I don’t presume to know everything about your situation, but I do believe that in America, we’re not condemned to remain in a suboptimal income situation. There’s always hope. I pray that you guys are able to pursue the family you feel God is calling you to, and that you’re able to find the financial means to do so.

  • Sharon Rose

    My husband has a low-pay, part-time job. He doesn’t have a degree, and I do, but I have several chronic illnesses and find it hard to be dependable enough for steady work. We have one beautiful daughter, conceived two months after our marriage, and we have started “trying” again. We do have credit card debt off and on, but no mortgage, no student loans, and one car that is paid off. We hardly EVER go out to eat, aside from small fast-food lunches occasionally. We are extremely happily married, and we trust God to provide. We are on government assistance, and we have no problem with that, because my husband has worked hard and paid his taxes for about 20 years. It’s time to collect the benefits.

  • saintrose8

    I’m a little late to this discussion, but wanted to bring up another angle to this discussion and see if I am deficient in my perspective on this.
    By way of background, my husband & I just became Catholic this past Easter. We have now been married 8 years, but decided after 1 year of marriage to quit using birth control for good. We have three children. Due to some poor financial decisions on our part and some unexpected health problems, we have about 7k in credit card debt. We also have a mortgage which is a little higher than we should have according to dave ramsey type things. We have looked at less expensive houses but selling wouldn’t be prudent at this time, so we’re stuck.
    Now, my husband works for the state. He has a great pension plan, great health insurance, and a not so great salary. He does extremely high quality work (not just saying that – it’s been said by his superiors) and yet was overlooked for a promotion (even though they promised it to him AND he did the work with no overtime or extra pay of the promotion position + his current position…sigh…). So, given the situation, we qualify for both WIC & SNAP (Food Stamps). And we get the Earned Income Tax Credit.
    I have heard some people say that if you receive government assistance that it’s a reason to not have more kids, but my husband and I have no real qualms about having at least one or two more children and me not working is because, frankly, the amount of money we would be getting from the government to pay my teacher’s salary (I have a teaching degree) and provide “free” education for our kids is vastly higher than the amount of “free” food they give us every month. I would make about 40k per year and by the time all 3 kids are in school the cost for our area would be about 24k. So, in other words, the government could give us $64,000 per year or they can give us an extra $8000 {$4,900 (EIC), <$2,400 (SNAP), and maybe $600 (WIC)}.
    I really disagree with a system that takes money from some and gives it to others, because I don’t consider it to be authentic charity – it feels forced, sterilized, and dehumanizing to have to accept government aid. But on the other hand, we live in an economic situation where if a mother chooses to stay home and school her own children, there is no kind of help offered. The government will give you free school and everyone seems to think that’s acceptable, but when you mention the government giving you $190 a month to buy groceries, all of a sudden there’s something wrong.
    Am I overlooking something here from a Catholic perspective?

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