A portrait of Childfree Freedom - Amelia and Matt

Nov 15 / Jay Zigmont, PhD, MBA, CFP®

29, Female, Married, Colorado
Bachelor’s in Sustainable Business
Sustainability Manager

33, Male, Married, Colorado
Automation Design

This portrait is one of 26 real life stories presented in the book, Portraits of Childfree Wealth. You can download a free copy here.
Amelia and Matt have been married for nine years and are living their best lives with a freedom that most would envy. Amelia works as a sustainability manager for a pet supplement company while Matt runs his own business in automation design. Matt also serves our country in the Air National Guard. They live with no debt, in a paid-for house with their dog and cat. They recently moved from Michigan to Colorado and have made sustainability and zero waste a large part of their life. Being Childfree is just part of their life, and as they shared:
“I think we were just, we never felt necessarily the drive to be parents. Like that was never like a goal or an ambition.”
While Amelia and Matt never really wanted kids, they did consider adopting. Amelia shared:
“From the time I was little, I was in like middle school, and I was like, I am never birthing a child. I want to adopt. I was all about it. I wanted to adopt. And then we decided to be host parents for foreign exchange students.”
Matt was on board:
“I was open to adoption just from an empathetic point of, like, these kids need homes. So sure, I could do that. But I did not want to be a dad, which creates a lot of problems. So we ended up hosting foreign exchange students.”
Matt and Amelia suggest hosting foreign exchange students as a chance to “try out” having kids. Unfortunately, their experience did not go well. Amelia shared:
“We gave it a solid go, and we’re really bad at it. Three of them left before their year was up because they hated living with us so much.”
Matt continued:
“We liked her. We didn’t like being parents. We didn’t like having rules. We just did not like being parents. That was not fun. At that point, we were like, all right, this is a real clear indicator that we could just not have kids, and that’d be great.”
So, do they have any thoughts about fostering now?
“No, I think the only instance that we’ve talked about of ever having kids is if something traumatic happened. For example, if my brother and sisters died and my nieces and nephews needed help, we would take them. We would take care of them. So, it’s almost unrealistic that that would happen. We said we would be willing, but I think they know us.”
When I asked what they think the most significant benefit of being Childfree is, Matt was quick to say it is Freedom:
“I think it’s freedom for me. Freedom, autonomy. It’s on a macro level, like this evening. If I want to go do a thing, I can just go and do a thing. It doesn’t matter what the thing is. As long as I’m in good health, I can do anything. It doesn’t matter. Same with financial freedom. If we want to ruin our financial trajectory for our future, that’s fine. It doesn’t affect our kids and doesn’t affect anyone except the two of us. We don’t even have the responsibility for somebody else to raise them. So, across the board, it is freedom.”
They don’t have any regrets about being Childfree and even see it as a way to prevent regrets, as Amelia explained:
“Growing up, I was an only child. My mom was a single parent. She was a good mom, and she loved me very much, but she also made it very clear that my birth kind of ruined her the trajectory that she had planned for herself. She didn’t get to have the career she wanted or do the traveling that she wanted or do anything. So, I think that solidified it for me. I mean, you might have a kid and regret it too. That sounds a whole lot worse.”
Amelia and Matt are happy with their life and living what I call the FILE lifestyle. If FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) is an on/off switch for work, FILE (Financial Independence, Live Early) is a dimmer switch. It means doing the work you enjoy at a pace you enjoy. For Matt, that includes running his own small business. For Amelia, it means working a job that she wouldn’t quit, even if she had more money than she knew what to do with:
“I enjoy my job. My career is something that I’ve been passionate about since I was young. I love sustainability. I love that I get to go to work every day, and it sounds dumb, but I feel like I’m impacting the world. It’s fantastic. I’m trying to leave our planet, if not in a better place, make it less bad than it could be.”
They are far enough on the path to financial independence that they can make different decisions, as Matt explained:
“We’re on a trajectory towards financial independence, way sooner than expected. So, we’ve been thinking about reaching financial independence. We’ve been living our life that way. Amelia has taken job opportunities that she’s had a passion for. We up and moved to Colorado when Amelia lost her last job. I just quit my job and said, screw it, I’m moving. I just opened a company. If it fails, it fails. If it goes great, it goes great… I think Amelia is passionate about sustainability and the stuff that she impacts on the grand scale. For me, I love a lot of design work. I just love designing things and being creative.”
Besides a bit more travel and volunteering at a dog rescue in Spain, Amelia and Matt are living their ideal life. COVID-19 has cramped some of their travel plans, but they have a big trip planned to Mexico with a group of friends soon. That trip was scheduled for a while. It was a bit of a celebration and reconnection since Matt had just returned from his second deployment with the Air National Guard. They don’t need an excuse to travel, however. It is just part of their life and something they can do because they are Childfree:
“I think travel is tough to do when you have kids. Yeah, they say it’s possible. I’m in a few travel groups on Facebook, and there’s a women’s travel group. In the group, all the time, there’s somebody who says: I just got pregnant and I’m not going to be able to travel anymore. People try to say that you still can travel; you just do it differently. Then they, like, disappear and you never see them again, and that’s just how it goes. It’s just so much easier to travel without kids because you can be more reckless too. When we went to Colombia, everybody was like, you are going to die. You’re just going to get murdered. That is not how it went. Colombia was lovely. But if you had a kid that you were responsible for, you wouldn’t bring your child to the rainforest.”
Travel is a widespread hobby in the Childfree population. For Matt and Amelia, travel ranges from road trips staying in hostels and Airbnb to an all-inclusive resort. They love interacting with friends, families, and strangers. As Matt shared:
“We love people. We absolutely love people, but we don’t like the idea of creating people. We love strangers. We’re the kind of people that love to travel, meet strangers and just chat for hours and have drinks.”
They can travel and live their best lives because they have the freedom and the finances to do it. It wasn’t that they were born with money, far from it. As Matt shared:
“We both grew up in trailers, dirt poor.”
Amelia credits growing up in this environment as part of the reason they are so driven:
“We grew up in a really small, really poor town in Northern Michigan. There was a lot of poverty, a lot of drugs, and it’s not a great place to be, but we got out. So that’s good. I think what makes us so driven is because that’s where we came from. We grew up watching our parents struggle.”
Matt shared about his life growing up:
“I heard a lot growing up that you guys are expensive, you guys cost this, you guys are a drain. We don’t have any money. My parents are divorced, and my dad made like $70,000 or $80,000 a year, which would be considered well off, but we lived paycheck to paycheck at best. He was in mountains of debt. He had six kids he was feeding. He was terrible with money to start. So there was a lot of that growing up where you saw irresponsibility. I mean, you either have role models, or you have people that you don’t want to be like, right? So, he was an example of somebody financially that I didn’t want to be. Then my parents, on the other side, my mom and stepdad, had no money. They weren’t necessarily great with their money, but they started getting a little bit better. You could see the impact of your financial decisions, and I liked that a lot better. With my dad and as far as having kids plays into finances, it looked like there was no win. It was never helpful in any way.”
Growing up poor, in poverty, or lower class is a recurring theme in my research on the Childfree lifestyle. I don’t know if it is a correlation or causation relationship, but it is common enough to be a trend. The challenge with poverty is that it can be tough to get out of. Matt and Amelia have worked hard, graduated college, and now are in a great financial situation early in their lives. They are goal-driven people. The challenge comes once you have achieved your goals, as Amelia shares:
“I think we’re at an exciting spot right now. Matthew just got home from deployment last week. My goals were to graduate high school, and I wanted to graduate college. The minute I graduated college, I wanted to find full-time work in my field, which frankly was not the easiest thing to do and took a few years. And by the time I got full-time work in my field, I was like, just kidding. I don’t like Michigan. I want to move to Colorado. And that took quite a few years. And then, by the time I came out here, we knew he was going to be leaving in a couple of months. So, that was looming. And then he left, and I was like, okay, I just have to get through this. He’s got to come back home… The point is that now we’re finally at a point where the next goal is retirement, which is about ten years away. I’m excited about it. But for the first time it feels, it doesn’t feel like life is going to start. This week has been the first week where I still have financial goals and want to retire, but it’s not something that I’m chasing hard. If retirement gets pushed out a couple of years, I don’t care. My goals are more around having meaningful friendships and developing those relationships. Also, traveling more and being a well-connected member of my community that can give back and be a good resource to people I mentor. They’re not really like, oh yeah, I need to do X.”
Matt sees the goal of FIRE as easy and just a matter of going through the steps:
“I mean, we’re both goal-oriented, and we have met a lot of our goals. A lot of the FIRE steps are very achievable, straightforward goals. Paying your house off is like literally just putting money in, and the house is paid off. Right? It is just a lot of achievable goals. I think we’ve achieved a lot of the goals we’ve set for ourselves up to this point. We are to a point where our goals now are much loftier. Like a goal of retiring early, we’re going to do that. We’re hitting milestones and stuff to do that.”
So, what financial plan did they follow to get there? As Amelia says:
“I’ve got a spreadsheet.”
As Matt explains:
“We’re Excel nerds.”
It isn’t about following a strict spending plan for them but tracking their progress, retirement accounts, and the like. The key to them is that they are completely debt-free, including their mortgage. While growing up, the most significant advice they got was to keep their credit score up. It may have been the example from their families that convinced them to get rid of debt altogether:
“I think it was for me at least a hundred percent how I grew up. My mom was always in so much debt, and everything was on credit cards and racking up a ton of interest. I know it stressed her out a bunch, and it just made me nervous, and it was not how I wanted to live my life. So we made sure not to get into debt. We did have student loans. We had a car loan once, and we had a mortgage for a few years. Debt just made me uncomfortable. I understand that it’s not always the most financially smart thing to pay off debt. I mean, our mortgage was like 3% interest, and it’s not necessarily the smartest financial move to pay it off. I know that, but it was just like the psychological relief of not being in debt was important to us.”
Amelia’s story is familiar. The vast majority of Childfree people I have talked to who achieved FIRE (or FILE) did two things: they paid off all of their debt and maxed out their retirement accounts. To Matt’s point, it isn’t complex. It is just ticking off tasks. Pay consumer debt first, then invest in retirement and pay off your house. Paying off all of their debt was just another tool, like being Childfree, that gives Matt and Amelia freedom to live their best life as she shared:
“It worked out for us. When COVID hit, I lost my job. The entire sustainability department at my company was eliminated. Because we didn’t have any debt at all, it was fine. Like, okay, I lost my job. Cool. And I looked at Matt and said we’re going to move. I lost my job, made him quit his. We moved across the country. Because we owned our home outright, we had options. We wouldn’t have been able to qualify for a mortgage as neither of us had income at that point. But because we own our home, we could sell it and take that money to buy our home here. We would never have been able to make that move if we had a mortgage. There was way more freedom to make a move when the opportunity presented itself. So, it was the right choice for us.”
About the Author - Jay Zigmont, PhD, 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.