A Portrait of Childfree Stability

Aug 30 / Jay Zigmont, PhD, CFP®

31, Female, Married, Wisconsin
Master’s in Nonprofit Management

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

Laura is married and works in finance. She is passionate about her causes and making an impact on the world. However, she balances her passions with a need for stability. Her need for stability and avoiding financial insolvency drive many of her decisions. Like many people, she is trying to find a sweet spot between making the right financial decisions and the right decisions for her heart (and the world).

Laura never wanted children:
“I think I’ve known since I was a child that I didn’t have an interest in being a parent. That just remained as I got older. Then I met somebody in the same boat who never had an interest in having children. I kind of wondered if that would change as I got older. As I entered my thirties, I had this realization that it was never going to change, and I was always going to remain Childfree. I just never felt compelled to be a parent or have a child or to bring somebody else into this world.”
“For me, it’s the freedom and flexibility in your life to be able to change and grow and evolve without having this extra baggage of another human being. For me, that’s been a huge benefit because I like moving around the country. I like traveling. I like changing my career. I like doing different things at the time in my life that suits me. It’s really difficult when you are responsible for another human being so fully to be able to continue to evolve and change and change your life.”
Laura provided an example of how she has used this freedom and flexibility in her life:
“About two and a half years ago, I was in a place in my career, working in a nonprofit, where I was a little burnt out, and I just realized I wanted to take a sabbatical. So I actually quit my job and didn’t work for three months, which is the exact amount of time I planned for. It was wonderful. I had time to recharge and think about what I wanted. I moved to a different city during that time. It was this really freeing moment for me. I don’t think I would have been able to do that if I was responsible for feeding and housing another individual.”
Laura does not have any regrets from being Childfree:
“No regrets. Sometimes I wonder about missing out on this very profound life experience. I know a lot of people who are having children right now, and it does seem like a very loving, exciting, very rich part of their lives. Sometimes I wonder how I’ll feel about that when I’m older if I feel as if I’ve missed out on something very profound… I think for me, I’m willing to take that risk of missing out. I’d rather regret not having children than to have children and regret it. I think that would be much more serious. I mean, I know people who have had children and regretted it, and I feel like that is the worst option.”
Laura has a deep passion for conservation, the environment, various causes, and helping others. But, as she shares:
“I’ve always had this image of, like, building a dream home, cultivating land, spending more time doing, like, impactful, meaningful work.”
So why hasn’t Laura achieved her goal yet?:
“I think the constraints of life prevent me from doing a lot of those things. It could be time management. A lot of daily life demands so much of your time and attention. There are many demands on my time like my job, maintaining my home, maintaining my relationships, maintaining my physical health on top of everything. There’s so much that distracts away from attaining our goals. It’s very easy to get caught up in daily life, which makes it very hard to find those moments where you can work on things that fulfill you… I think it’s up to me at this point to figure out exactly how I can structure my time to achieve those things that I’ve always dreamed of. ”
In addition to time, it may be finances that hold her back:
“I do think that cultivating enough financial wealth for myself right now is a part of what holds me back from achieving those things and having more time to devote to those things. So it feels like at this point in my life, it’s a must that I have to put in the time [towards finances].”
Part of the reason Laura works so hard at finances is to prepare for her future (especially her elder years). Childfree individuals know they need to provide for their future as they don’t have kids. Census data says that in adults over 55 in the U.S. who are childless, 2.5% receive financial support from family. Interestingly, in the same sample, only 1.5% of parents receive financial support from family. So Laura is looking at her future and planning to take care of herself as everyone should:
“I think part of my motivation is that I feel there is a little bit of a risk in the future. I won’t have people to support me quite as much as some other people would have if they had children, but that’s never a guarantee. So, right now, I feel compelled to work as much as I need to, to be able to support myself as I continue to grow older.”
I asked Laura if there is a “magic number” at which she would feel like she has enough money to feel safe and follow her dreams:
“I don’t have a magic number. I mean, if I had enough in retirement investments to maintain the same standard of living I have now, I would be happy. For me, that would probably be a minimum of $2 million in investments. I would love to say less, but considering inflation and how expensive living is becoming, I don’t know that it could be less than that. I think $2 million would probably be very much the threshold. If I was able to achieve that level of investment, like, tomorrow at this age, I could make it work. It would be enough to sustain me if I was careful with how I manage that money.”
Laura doesn’t really consider herself a FIRE person. She is just trying to ensure she has enough finances to be safe and stable. Both Laura and her husband work. He loves what he does, but Laura seems a bit restless. Laura wants to make a more significant impact and achieve more. They both effectively earn the same salary, and they could live on just one salary. So then why doesn’t Laura quit her current job and follow her dreams?:
“That’s a good question. I feel like there are just things that keep getting in the way. I don’t know if it’s a time management issue for us. I think there’s this assumption that when you’re Childfree, you have significantly more time than other people… In our own individual lives, regardless of whether you have children or not, you’re always going to find reasons or issues not to do what you say you are going to do… You don’t have that excuse when you don’t have kids, but you can still find excuses. Like you can still find reasons not to do the things you’re gonna say you’re going to do.”
Being Childfree almost gives us too many options at times. The flexibility of being Childfree allows us to make different decisions than those with kids, but at the same time, it puts pressure on us. Laura explains well how we can find ways to fill our time and put roadblocks in our way. It becomes a real challenge when we are unhappy with our work (or another part of our lives). Laura is okay with what she is doing for a living but wants to do more for the world. She wants to make an impact. Her work is sucking the energy out of her so that she does not have the energy to do the things she wants to do. So why keep doing it?:
“There’s a sense of stability that I get out of it. I don’t hate it by any means. The people I work with are lovely. It’s a very stable job that feels doable. And I like the people I work with, but no joy is not a part of it… You know, now that you mentioned it, I think it’s fear‑based. What I mean by that is when I look at how things are just like, like economically in this country, I have a lot of fear around not having money and a lot of fear around being financially unstable. We don’t live in a country where we are privileged enough that if we get sick, there’s a guarantee we’re going to get healthcare. That terrifies me. I’ve known several people in my personal life who’ve been in that situation. So, it’s not something that I can conceptualize. I can conceptualize being sick and then being indebted the rest of my life for getting cancer or something, which terrifies me. It terrifies me the idea of living becoming so expensive that I would then have a very substandard quality of life because I didn’t have enough money. So, it’s sad to say, but it is for fear‑based reasons that I do what I do and I just don’t ever want to be in a situation where I am not financially solvent. I’ve seen it happen to people, and it’s just, it’s no way to live.”
This fear of not having money (especially regarding healthcare costs) is widespread. I have some of this myself. In my other interviews, money fears were often tied to growing up poor. However, that wasn’t the case for Laura:
“I guess my parents would probably be considered upper-middle-class. They were very vague about how much our household income was. I think one time I saw our income tax returns, and it was somewhere between $200,000 and $300,000 in like household income, which I guess was upper-middle-class. However, the way my parents managed money made me feel like we didn’t have that much money. They were very weird about it. They were constantly stressed about money, yet we lived in a nice place. They were constantly stressed about money, yet they could pay for our college. So, growing up, it was confusing. I didn’t quite understand where we stood financially.”
The way we were raised with money has a significant impact on our relationship with money throughout our life. The challenge is that having more money does not necessarily make us feel more secure or stable. Laura stated that her goal is $2 million, and she should reach that without a problem. She has enough invested now that she should be fine, given time and average returns. But yet she worries:
“I’ve looked at what we have in investments and how much we’re contributing monthly. I know we’re fine. If we worked until we were 65, we would probably have enough money to pay for the college tuition of every single one of our nephews and nieces and retire. I think it stems from my childhood. I just grew up in a place where it was just like, money was stress. And it just felt like there was never enough. I think we were technically like, okay and well above the median household income, but it was just this feeling of just like, oh, we’ll never have enough. And like, well, what if we need more?”
I spent some time with Laura looking at her finances. She’s in a good spot both for now and in the future. But, even though she is in a good spot, Laura keeps working on improving her finances. She is making a conscious choice (as many of us do) to put her finances ahead of her dreams. In the end, I asked her if she was okay with that decision?:
“Am I okay with it? No, I’m not okay with it. This is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. How can I get my life to a point where I feel comfortable? It’s something that my husband and I have talked about a lot. Like, do we want to buy a very cheap house somewhere and just bring our living costs down as little as possible to focus on the things we want to do and do them now? And is that achievable, and is it something we should just do? I don’t think I’m okay right now with the way things are. It’s probably why we’ve moved a couple of times. It’s probably why I’ve changed careers a couple of times. I think I am looking for something. I think I’m looking for that spot in my life to be able to do those things that I want to do. Why haven’t I found that spot? I don’t know. I think it comes back to this fear, this anxiety about being unstable, being financially insolvent.”
So what does the future hold for Laura and her husband?:
“I’m at a very strange crossroads in my life. I’m trying to figure out when is it time to take that plunge and live my life the way I want to live? And I do feel like, for whatever reason, I continue to talk myself out of it. I talk myself out of making a big change in my life that would allow me to do those things. I know that I cannot continue doing that for much longer. I am turning 32 next month. I don’t want to lead a life that feels unfulfilling. I don’t want to be older and look back on my life and think, why was I so afraid not to do that job? What I’m saying is I feel like I’m getting to a point very soon where I think things are going to have to change. I don’t honestly know how much longer I want to continue doing things the way I’ve been doing them.”

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.