A Portrait of a Childfree Couple Recentering

Jul 26 / Jay Zigmont, PhD, MBA, CFP®

32, Female, Married, Ohio
Bachelor’s in Web Development
IT Security

32, Male, Married, Ohio
CNC Programmer

This portrait is one of 26 real life stories presented in the book, Portraits of Childfree Wealth. You can download a free copy here.

Rebekah and Matthew have been married for three years. Rebekah works in IT security for a bank, and Matthew is a CNC programmer. They recently bought a house and are now working towards being debt-free by 40. They are working on setting goals together and recentering to refocus on the things that are important and to achieve a balance. They are Childfree and trying to enrich the world rather than adding to the suffering out there. As Rebekah shares:
“I think more than anything, we enjoy watching the world around us and being a part of enriching it. But, at the same time, I’ve become aware over my short life of just how much suffering there is in the world. So, that’s been driving a lot of our decisions with, you know, not adding to the population. We both have siblings, he has two sisters, and I have three sisters. So, we’ve got a lot of people hoping to have kids and having kids. And a lot of our peers are doing the same. So, we definitely feel like we get to experience the joys of watching children, but we don’t feel the need to do that ourselves.”
Being Childfree isn’t something they just jumped to. Rebekah’s decision to be Childfree came from a lifetime of experiences:
“I think it was a long time coming for me. I grew up in a conservative home. I was homeschooled through the ninth grade. I went to a public college, but you know, there were a lot of preconceived ideas. I think that it was unspoken. It wasn’t like our parents told us, yes, you’re going to have kids. It just was kind of an understanding that that’s where your life was headed. Even at a young age, I didn’t feel motivated in that way. I was not super maternal… As I got older, I became more socially aware. Right after the Sandy Hook shooting, I looked at what happened, and I just said, this is not a hospitable place for children. That kind of sealed it for me.”
Matthew’s choice to be Childfree was more related to his experiences helping to raise his sister’s kids:
“I was taking care of my sister’s kids because she was in a situation that she couldn’t. So when she had them, they were essentially newborns, and she couldn’t do it. And at the time I was living with my parents, I had a part‑time job, and it was up to me to care for them. I love both my nephews. So when it was my time to stop looking after them, I was so relieved. I was so done with changing diapers and burping.”
Both Rebekah and Matthew had decided to be Childfree before they met. When they came together, it just seemed to fit. While they agree on not having kids, Rebekah sees the biggest bonus of being Childfree as the time it allows you, while Matthew sees freedom as the biggest benefit:
“The time gained to focus on not just things that you care about personally, but others and people outside of your immediate area because you get tunnel vision. When you have a family to take care of, that’s your world… I know it’s a general statement because time can be applied in many different ways, but I think about the time for careers and each other. Time to hopefully go out into the world and help people that need help. I think ultimately it is where we want to be.”
Matthew had first volunteered freedom, but how is that different than time?:
“I would say, well, freedom is part of the time. In general, I like being free to take a nap when I want to take a nap and just be a little selfish. You grow up, and you’re told what to do all the time. It’s just nice not to have to do anything sometimes. And that is so hard to do with kids.”
Do they regret their choice to be Childfree? Matt provides his perspective on regrets:
“I think a lot of regrets, especially for men, are around. Oh, I have to keep my bloodline going. And I had to have my DNA in a smaller object and watch it grow and push my beliefs on it. And all this other stuff. That desire has never been any desire of mine. I’m the only son and youngest of my family. So like I have no desire to just be like, I got to keep this name going.”
Rebekah has no regrets but does have fears:
“I don’t have any regrets at this moment in my life. I do have fears, just in the sense that I think a lot. Working in a bank, especially working in the security department, we’re very aware of all the elder abuse that comes from it. And honestly, it comes a lot of times from families, right? From people in their own safe space that are stealing from them or not advocating for them in the correct way as either being power of attorney or whatever. I do worry about not having a close family member that could be counted on if we can’t make sound decisions or whatever the case may be in our old age. That’s my biggest worry. It’s not a reason to have kids by any means.”
Rebekah’s fear is common. In general, Childfree individuals need to have a living will and will. A living will states your preferences of what should be done while you are still alive, while a will talks about your estate after you pass. You need to appoint someone as a medical proxy and possibly a durable power of attorney (POA) and executor with those documents. The problem is that both the medical and financial systems break down if there is no next of kin to make decisions. Childfree people should consider appointing a professional trustee and fiduciary (whom you pay) to ensure their wishes are followed. Rebekah explains she hasn’t started looking into ways to address her fears:
“I haven’t done a lot of research, even though this is a fear that is slowly preying on me. I know it’s a long time off, but it is never too early to research and just to understand your situation. If you want to pay somebody, you got to have the funds to pay somebody. That’s the other piece of building our wealth so that we can be as independent as we can for as long as we can.”
I ask a series of questions about what people would do if they were financially secure, had five to 10 years to live, or had only 24 hours to live. After those questions, I asked Rebekah and Matthew to reflect on what they should be doing differently now. Rebekah had a list of things to do differently, while Matthew did not. Rebekah shared:
“Financially, I think we’ve put some goals ahead of ourselves that we’re working to achieve, and we’re knocking them out. We didn’t jump on saving for retirement fast enough and aggressively enough. I know finances are only one piece of it. There is a whole balance of time is money, but time is your life as well. It’s not all about financial security. It is all also just about time spent. You can die with a pile of money and have lost years of your life getting there. So, I do balance those two goals pretty heavily in my mind. I think today we’ve got to do better budgeting and the way we handle our money. I think we’re working on that, but you know, we slip up.”
Rebekah and Matthew just recently combined their finances. When a couple combines their finances, it is often less about the accounts or accounting and more about having joint goals, dreams, and planning. It tends to be rocky at first, so Rebekah’s reflections are normal. Rebekah shared:
“Our bank accounts have not been together for most of our relationship. It is odd, given that we were very much on the same page regarding how we handle our money and are very transparent with our money. But, for whatever reason or another, we just didn’t put all of our stuff together until recently.”
Matt added on:
“It’s probably a little bit of, like, I don’t want you judging me. Like I buy these worthless three-inch pieces of colored plastics [gaming miniatures]. They’re not expensive, but it’s more the amount I buy. It made me look at our finances and realize these aren’t just my finances now. They’re yours as well, and I should look at that and our goals.”
Rebekah closed with:
“[combining our accounts] has clarified our common goals for sure.”
It is okay for couples to combine their finances (or not). From a financial planning standpoint, if a couple decides not to combine their finances, they have separate plans and are closer to roommates. This does not imply any judgment on their relationship, only on financial structure. A legally married couple can manage separate finances, but keep in mind that it is not that easy in the eyes of the government. Even if you file your taxes under the status of Married Filing Separately, in many debts and financial situations, both partners may be on the hook. The bonus of doing things together is precisely what Matthew and Rebekah shared. It brought them together on common goals. It does take time and effort to recenter together and work together on goals.

So, what are their goals together? Rebekah shared:
“They are very career-oriented and saving-oriented right now. Our home is our only debt right now, just our mortgage. And we want to be debt-free. So that’s a big goal of ours.”
They are on the right page. The vast majority of my research on Childfree Wealth says that if you want to achieve financial independence, you have to do two things: 1. Get out of debt (and stay out), and 2. Max out your retirement plans. I shared these two things with them, and here was Rebekah’s response:
“That’s excellent! Those are exactly what we are working on, but it’s so hard. He didn’t get a degree, while I earned a Bachelor’s degree and had student loans. We both had car loans plus the mortgage. It was a lot, and we’ve made really good progress getting all but the house paid. Then at the end of the day, we can be maxing out retirement. Getting out of debt 100% and then staying out of debt is hard. You’re going to need more cars eventually. We need to get that savings up so you can pop by with cash and do it smart. But we’re still learning. We didn’t grow up wanting. We grew up moderately well off. But we weren’t given strong examples of how to handle money by our parents. My dad handled the money 100%. I had no idea of what was going on. But, there were always some feelings of anxiety about what we could afford. Then on your side [Matthew’s], I think it was similar. We were kind of learning on the fly here and still are.”
Their experience growing up with money is entirely normal. Growing up, the only thing I learned was how to balance a checkbook, which is completely useless now. They are learning together now, which is excellent. The hard part is shifting from individual finances to doing things together. As Rebekah explained, she bought her first house at the age of 25 on her own:
“When we got together, we were only together a year before I was ready to buy my first house. I was 25. I had the down payment, and I’m like, hey, I’m buying a house. Do you want to come live with me? And that’s what we did. The house was just in my name because we weren’t married at the time. But at the end of the day, I was always like, if this goes south, this is my house.”
Rebekah and Matthew are like many Childfree couples. They could live on one income, but now they are doing things together and finding the right balance. Being Childfree means that we have more options and could cut back on work (or even cut out one income) and be fine. The challenge is to find a balance between work, goals, and life. Both Rebekah and Matthew expressed that they would like to spend more time with friends and family. So why doesn’t Rebekah cut back a bit on work to get that balance?:
“I’m salaried, but putting in extra hours to work towards promotions or things of that nature aren’t necessarily required. So it may be possible to get that time balance back to what we wanted.”
Towards the end of the interview, I reflected that it sounds like they are working on finding a balance, getting the right goals, and recentering on what matters. So I asked if that made sense and Rebekah replied:
“Absolutely. I can’t tell you how much we were driven to spend money on things like what everyone else is doing. Everybody’s going out to this thing. Everyone’s going out to that. We love our friends. We love doing things. We would go. We would just be like, well, goals are secondary. That’ll come later. Then like you said, recentering is like, Hey, no, let’s think about it. When we stopped for a little bit, we found that we had extra money. And then when we started seeing that debt fall, that was addictive. That was like, oh wow, look at it, go away. Especially the student loans. I just started hammering the student loans away. Then when we got this stimulus, checks went right on the debt. It was just like, we don’t need anything. Let’s go. We didn’t miss a day at work through the pandemic. We hate saying no to people when our friends are going like, hey, we’re just doing this thing. Not that they would hate us if we didn’t go, we just don’t like to be that person. Well, no, again, we’re not being drug out. Before, we were overextending ourselves hugely. Then once the pandemic hit and we got to stay home, I was like, I never want to go back to where my time is the same as everyone else’s. 2021 came around, and everyone’s like, hey, everything’s opening back up. We have to figure out a way to reduce the number of things we’re doing. Not to be miserly with our time, but to recenter, and to refocus on the things that are important and find a balance and not overextend ourselves, but also not being selfish.”

About the Author - Jay Zigmont, PhD, MBA, CFP® is the Founder of Childfree Wealth, a life and financial planning firm dedicated to helping Childfree and Permanently Childless people. Dr Jay is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, Childfree Wealth Specialist, and author of the book “Portraits of Childfree Wealth.” His Ph.D. is in Adult Learning from the University of Connecticut.