Pay Off Debt Before Baby?

Over the last few weeks I’ve seen a frequent search term that leads people here to Frugal Dad:  “Should We Pay Off Credit Card Debt Before Having a Baby?”  I make two assumptions from the volume of hits I’ve received–there are a lot of people interested in having a baby, and there are a lot of people deep in credit card debt.  Many financial planners out there advise to have your financial house in order before expanding your family.  In general terms, I think that is pretty good advice.  However, I do not fully subscribe to the idea of holding off on having children just because you owe money.  Here are a few reasons why.

If You Wait for the Perfect Time, You May Wait Forever

So many times in our lives we put things off in the name of waiting for a better time to get started. Many people put off weight loss plans until next Monday, or next month, or maybe January 1st.  High school graduates put off immediately attending school to “experience life” through backpacking adventures, or working, or just taking a break and living at home.  But those things seem awfully trivial compared to the idea of having a child.  Children are our legacy.  Raising a child is one of the most beautiful experiences two people can share, and it deepens the love shared between partners in parenting.  Because we never know what twists and turns life will throw our way, it isn’t advisable to wait to have children simply in the name of finances.

Kids Are Not Really That Expensive

When you think about it, babies do not require as much upkeep as us adults.  Sure, they must be diapered and fed, and there are a few other baby expenses unique to having children, but babies do not eat nearly as much as grown adults.  Infants have not yet been exposed to commercialism, so their wants and desires are fairly easy to cover without spending much money.  Of course, as they grow older kids do add additional expenses to your household budget.  Hopefully by the time you are school shopping and fitting them for their first bicycle you will be doing better financially, and can easily handle any budget impacts.

Kids Can Inspire Greatness From Parents

When my wife and I decided to try for our first child some thought we were a too young.  We married at 20 years old (well, my wife was 19, a bit shy of her 20th birthday).  We were so young we toasted sparkling grape juice at our wedding!  However, we were both mature beyond our years and neither of us believed in long engagements.  After all, once you’ve met your soul mate, why delay the inevitable?

I had just started an entry level call center customer service job when my wife and married, and I quickly recognized moving up in the corporate world would be more difficult without returning to school to finish up my degree.  I put school on the back burner, and instead spent the first year or so of marriage just enjoying being married.  When my daughter was born everything changed. It was a reality check that led to a wake up call, of sorts.  Suddenly I realized there was more at stake than just my wife and I surviving, financially.  I wanted nice things for my daughter.  I wanted her to have an easier path than I did (although thanks to the hard work of my mom and grandparents, I had it pretty good, too).

So the summer after she was born I enrolled in a local university, changed majors to business, and embarked on a long, challenging pursuit of a college degree.  It was probably the worst timing possible considering I had a wife and newborn daughter at home, but I was not going to put off the pursuit of my dreams any longer.

When deciding whether or not to start a family, do not allow financial issues to completely dissuade you.  Give more consideration to the partner you have chosen to share this responsibility.  Give more consideration to readying your home for a child.  Do not allow money to control your destiny, and the destiny of your children.


  1. I believe, if it wasn’t for my daughters, I would never of realized that our debt needed to be paid down. I don’t think someone should push off having a baby because their in debt but I would suggest for a person who is thinking of having a child to take a good look at their finances and expenses and make sure their willing to give up those friday night movies and those lunches with friends so they can buy diapers, formula, clothes and accessories a child needs. Don’t dive into parenthood blind but definetely do not let debt keep you from being a Mother or Father.

  2. I agree with so many of the comments. Age at the time of deciding to become a parent is a huge factor. I also agree with the daycare cost, it is huge! Fortunately for us I was able to stay home with the girls. We also were lucky enough to not have any debt. But it was difficult for us to make the transition from 2 full time incomes to having only one. Timing can be everything and if the family wants a SAHM they may want to delay having children a year or two so that they can save and make it happen.

  3. We decided to go ahead and have a baby even though we had a lot of debt. I wouldn’t trade one second of time with him for a debt balance of zero, but I do wish we had worked harder before we had him to put this debt away or at least reduce it. He inspires us in so many ways, but he also makes it hard to do things like accept overtime or take on other money-making activities because it means less time with the most amazing little man on the planet (perhaps I’m slightly biased). The only thing I would add is even if you aren’t waiting to get out of the red, make sure that you do have a specific plan and budget. It may not seem like fun, but it certainly is a stress reducer.

  4. I like the idea of having a child changing the way you look at the world and spurring you to go further in life. If only I could get inspired to make major changes now instead of waiting until I have a kid.

  5. I might be delurking here for this post … and I just wanted to say that if it weren’t for my twin girls, now 2.5, there’s no way I would have realized the importance of a dollar. Or, of $18 (a pack of diapers). You can’t understand it until you’re a parent. Definitely best to do what is in your heart first, though, and try, try, try to save, save, save for the maternity leave and/or possible stay-at-home situations.

  6. I agree with the points in the article. We had a lot of debt, but if we waited until we paid it down we would have never had our son! As long as you can afford the payments AND the expenses for your baby, I say go ahead with having a baby.

    We only spend about $350 a month on baby expenses, and it is about to go down when we get rid of formula.

  7. Frugal Dad – this is a tough question! I don’t think the answer so black and white, though. Some questions that need to be looked at. How old are you? If you are 22 – you could wait 3 years easily. But if you are over 30 you may not want to. How are you managing your debt now? Are you still piling it on every month? or do you have a plan?
    How good is your insurance? Will you need daycare? How much debt are you talking about? $2000? or $20,000?

    Lots of questions. With any major decisions – planning is always the best options. Don’t walk into this with just your feelings – have a plan! 🙂

  8. My husband and I were very fortunate to have our credit cards paid off and an emergency fund growing before learning I was pregnant (due in Dec. with a boy!).

    That said, I don’t think a couple should delay having children because they’re in debt.

    If a couple wants to have children, then they should devote more time to understanding where their money is going, become more aggressive in saving money, and work on getting out of debt.

    Once a woman discovers she’s pregnant, it might actually be a good idea to just stay current on bills and making minimum payments, and putting all the extra money they can into savings (if they don’t already have an emergency fund). Having more liquid cash in this situation might be better than having zero debt but minimal savings when the baby is born.

    Once the baby arrives, they can then become more aggressive with getting out of debt.

  9. Great post, FD.

    It is important to ensure that you’re in good financial shape before you expand your family. While this doesn’t mean you have to be debt free or rolling in piles of cash (although that’s always nice!), you should at least plan well for expenses and make sure you can afford to take good care of your new family.

    Having debt is no reason to not have kids. Being unable to makes ends meet is!

  10. I really agree with this post. There is never the perfect time to accomplish milestones and God has a way of making everything line up when it is supposed to. My children have inspired me to be smart with my money and without them I couldn’t do what I do. They fuel me to be more creative than I would be if I was not a mom.

  11. While I agree with everything you wrote here, I don’t see any mention of day care. Day care costs are very high – with newborn care averaging from $700 to $1,000 a month. Add that to the incidental costs of diapers, formula (if nursing is not an option) and clothing can easily top and extra $1,200 a month on to your expenses. And don’t forget the additional cost of health care. While many companies cover the cost of the employee, the extra cost of children is paid by you.

    I agree on not waiting until every thing is perfect, there will always be some obstacle. But as a family that recently had 2 children in full time daycare, we paid almost as much in childcare as we did for our mortgage, that cost is always foremost in my mind.

  12. I agree with Dana, the decision isn’t as cut-and-dried as “being in debt”. It’s more about the overall situation the couple are in. For instance, even if the couple have a large amount of debt but one of them just got a really well-paid job then the debt will not be a problem. On the other hand, the couple may not have huge amounts of debt but they do not make great amounts of money either. No savings, no retirement plan and no budget either. This is not a good situation to bring a child into because if they cannot manage their finances before having a child, the additional financial burden may tip them over into a debt spiral. (What happens if the child requires extensive medical care, for example?)
    I’ve always said that having a child is not a quick or light decision. Hard thinking and deep emotional insight should be made to determine if having a child is right for the couple and when they may be mature enough to handle it. Far too many people take this decision much too lightly.

  13. @Lucrecia: You make an excellent point regarding the high costs of daycare. It didn’t occur to me to include it in the post because we’ve been fortunate in that my wife stays home with our kids. It doesn’t come without sacrifice, but as you say, monthly daycare expenses for two kids cost nearly as much as a mortgage payment, and in our case it just didn’t make sense for my wife to work to pay the daycare bill.

  14. Everyone says if you wait till the time is right, you will never have them. That being said, it might be smart to work very hard while the kid is young to get rid of that debt, for their sake and yours! Great advice as usual, FD.

  15. Just one comment about the cost of daycare: if one person stays home and is completely out of the workforce you can’t think of it as just “saving the cost of daycare” because that person being out of the workforce is going to significantly lower his/her potential to get back in the workforce later, no social security payments, etc. The stay-at-home will also always make less than they could have, given those lost years of work. This puts that person who stays at home at a distinct disadvantage financially relative to his/her spouse and it also increases the cost of staying home from what you’d might initially think.

    I’m not saying “don’t stay at home” I am just saying think about these other considerations first. I didn’t want my babies in daycare (first was born when I was 24) so I became a consultant and worked from home. When husband got home from day job we switched roles and I did my work. We’ve been doing that for over 6 years and while the evening and weekend work gets to us we know it won’t last forever, I am doing very well financially and career wise, and heck, we’d do anything to increase our standard of living for our children!

  16. Lucrecia (and Gretchen) beat me to the punch that “kids aren’t that expensive” is fine if one of the two parents aren’t working already and the family has adapted to a single income.

    In our situation, we’re living below our means (we have about $2000-3000 surplus each month), but we’re using our extra money for paying down debt. If we were to drop down to just my salary (I make twice what my wife makes, PLUS my website income), then we wouldn’t get ahead with our debt. However, my wife still has options to perform consultations from the home if needed (she’s a clinical dietitian).

    We’re still deliberating all this for ourselves, but it was good to hear you say that kids aren’t all that expensive (other than the SAHM thing). I realize that most of that stuff my friends/siblings haul around for their kids were gifts.

  17. Regarding day care, diapers, etc expenses, remember, they don’t last forever. Diapers are about a 3-year deal and day care maybe 5-6 years (maybe a little more depending on your after school options). With our older son entering kindergarten and younger one just graduating potty training, we feel like we’re getting a family raise. For us, that raise will go into savings. Even so, having children is truly a gift of happiness, but do it when it’s right for you.

  18. @Tom, why do people think they need to pay for their kids education? They’re adults when they leave for college. If you’re not raising your kids to understand the importance of money and good grades and extracurricular activities and experiences that will allow them to get grants and scholarships, then you should probably reassess how you’re parenting.

    I understand pitching in for housing and food for the first few years, but I would hope my child is responsible and bright enough to at least get a good portion of their education paid for by someone else. But things could always change in the next 20 years.

  19. Great post FD!

    You are absolutely right about waiting too long for the “perfect time”, but if you can pay down credit card debt before having a child you should definitely do it. Having a child may not cost that much, but being a parent carries enough things to worry about – why make debt one of them?

    My wife and I were pretty heavy into credit card debt ourselves when we had our first child. I can still remember lying awake all night after we had to shell out a couple hundred dollars we didn’t have for “emergency” pet care:

    That made me realize I needed to change my attitude and behavior regarding money and debt. Flash forward 4 years and we have no credit card or auto debt and sleep well at night…. when the kids don’t wake us up to go potty. 😉

    Having children has absolutely changed my view on many things in life. Regarding finances and debt, it has made me realize that I owe it to them to be on financially strong footing so I can provide for them and teach them (by example) good money management.

  20. Definitely subscribe to not waiting for the “perfect time.” It’s an adventure! Just make sure your can properly provide for your family. My wife and I are planning more carefully for our second child. Our first child is almost one year old. Biggest costs for us have been medical bills (even though we have good insurance) and food (formula is expensive if you do not breast feed!).

  21. This was a good response to an interesting question! My only caveat with waiting till you’re more “financially secure,” is that you never know how long it will take you to get pregnant! As someone who has dealt with a bit of infertility, I will say that I’m glad we started trying when we did, even though our finances weren’t (and still aren’t) exactly where we want them to be. God provides for us and we make ends meet, and like others have said in previous comments, our baby inspires us to be that much more careful with our money.

  22. It is a double edged sorwd. We had a baby five month ago, and are deeply in debt. Some was due to some special needs for our teeneager, and a lot of it to pay for legal fees as in pertained to adopting my two older kids. If you are in your early twenties, I would agree you can give it a few years. I am in my mid thirties, so waiting was not as viable an option. I think it should be looked at as an opportunity to reevaulate what your needs are and develop a plan for a frugal future.

  23. woooo… babies aren’t expensive? I have to disagree with you here. I’ve raised two, by myself and not only mentioning the issues spoken above, guess what – smile – they grow up! And, believe me, they get MORE expensive!

    Pay down your debt, people, THEN decide to have children. You will be happier for it.

  24. I will agree with the comment that the person who stays home finds it harder to get a job once they get back out in the workforce. I’ve gone to too many interviews to even say, that is if I even get to the interview part. I can’t even get a job in fast food and have been searching for a job a little over 3 years..yes 3 years!! (and I am not afraid to take cleaning or burger flipping jobs) People don’t like to see a gap in your work history, they figure if you didn’t need to work then, then maybe you don’t need to now, and I guess they think your more likely to quit the job on a whim.

  25. If you are anywhere close to 30 and want to have a baby, do not wait because of financial matters. I see lots of women waiting until their mid-thirties and beyond before deciding to have kids and it is risky. Once they run into trouble, they spend a fortune on fertility treatments, which far surpasses the typical credit card expense.

  26. Even though raising kids is never cheap I too don’t believe in the “perfect time” to have kids as such things are seriously hard to plan. For us we did save a bit before the birth of each child so that I could take time off (1-2yrs per child) to be a temp SAHM. With lots of options to work from home it is possible to do both with lots of discipline. I hardly use my credit card as I believe in no getting into debt over purchases with an interest rate of 24%.

  27. I think it is a fine balancing act to decide when is the best time. Although technically it does not cost much to have a baby, having one can cost a person financial stress. There can be many unexpected costs; like medical bills, classes, etc. It is always good to be financially prepared to some extent; but just don’t let time slip by so fast before trying out for a baby.

  28. Excellent post, and very appropriate for my husband and I, as we are expecting our first child in March. We chose to start a family now instead of waiting to pay off our debt for many of the same reasons you list here. Thank you!

  29. Beautifully put. We have 4 beautiful children and we got married later than you (age 30 for us both) and wanted a larger family. We thought we had our financial house in order, but things happen and you cannot predict them. Waiting to have kids would have meant never having kids. We may be not be rich, but we are content and trying to not live beyond our means. Thanks for another great topic.

  30. Inspiring greatness is a great point. There is something magical that happens when a baby comes to you. Things really do change and they make you want to change.

    I think making sure you want to change and grow as a person is more important that just paying off a credit card. If you are dedicated to growing the card will most likely be paid off in no time.

  31. Raising kids is only expensive if you let it be expensive. You’d be surprised how little it actually costs in actual ‘needs’ versus ‘wants’.
    One doesn’t have to have all those fancy doo-dads. Clothes can be sewn or bought at garage sales. Toys can be made for little or nothing. As long as one cooks from scratch feeding them is not expensive either. (In my opinion) They don’t need fancy furniture – basic furniture will do.

    The diaper cost is negligible – 4 dozen diapers at a garage sale were just $4 – a dollar a dozen. Plastic pants – 6 pair, $12. That’s it for diaper cost except for laundry. 4 pins – $2.00. Or make your own diapers from all the great patterns online. They are so easy to wash – the washer and dryer do all the work. Even a working single parent can handle that as long as they already have the washer and dryer. (and aren’t lazy) I used to run a load every night – no problem. I guess I just have no patience when people say diapers are expensive, because they weren’t. If you want to throw money away, then yes, you can use disposables… but are you legally disposing of them? By law they cannot go into a landfill unless they have been soaked/rinsed out… they are NOT supposed to go straight into the trash. But how many people bother to be legal about it?

    More important than having the money you may think you need to raise kids, more important is Time. You need to have the quality time to give to them, to teach them, to enjoy them, and to enjoy life! The Time is more important than the money, in my book 🙂

  32. As a father of 5 children, I say go for the child.

    You have said there will never be the perfect time. I say that so long as we are responsible, it’s always a good time.

    Children bring focus and purpose to our lives. Maybe children would be the best medicine for the credit card indebted souls.

  33. I don’t plan to have kids for a few more years, which is why my husband and I worked hard this year and aggresively paid off all credit card debt. I want to be in a solid financial position to have a baby, and I want options if I choose not to work full-time in an office.

    That said, if I was already in my 30s and had the debt, I agree with the others not to put it off. Just get serious about your finances ASAP and have the baby.

  34. I totally agree with you! I have found that having the baby has made my husband and I much more serious about handling our debt!

    Thank you for your beautiful story about your daughter.

  35. I’m 32 and recently freaked about the age and the risk advanced age does to both me and the unborn child, so we just went for it. It took half a year before something “took” and now I’m honestly freaking out. I’m starting to feel like this was the stupidest thing I’ve ever done. I know both me and my husband will do what needs to be done to care for this child and considering what our income is now we’re way better off than most people. But I still owe 2K on my car, $600 to a credit card, and I have student loans lingering. Those student loan themselves suck $200 a month out of my income. That being said I see people who make more money and are in worse shape and really can’t understand where their money is going. I recently sucked it up and researched diapers and baby clothes, etc and none of that actually seems too exorbitant. The largest expense I’ve come across so far seems to be a car seat. And then of course health insurance might be an issue. I’m hoping we can put the kid on the husband’s plan since he’s at IKEA. Putting it on my plan will drastically drive up the premium. But that’s how it is. I wanted a kid “someday” and the days are passing. We’ll get this done.

  36. Hints on Having a Baby

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  37. Slightly late to the game, but actually I do think it’s important to have your financial house in order before you have children. In particular, I think you should consider how you will be able to afford them, and start on your plan for getting out of debt if necessary.

    You don’t need to have finished everything, but you should be heading in the right direction.