Children are not only expensive — they can turn the financial lives of many mothers, especially single moms, upside down, complicating financial planning or making it harder to keep up with the bills that go along with parenting.
Washington, D.C.-based author Kimberly Palmer said she began wondering why men get magazines and books on investing and getting rich while women are targeted for lectures on pinching pennies at the grocery store and saving $10 on their next sweater purchase. It’s why she recently wrote the book “Smart Mom, Rich Mom: How to Build Wealth While Raising a Family.”
“I am a mom myself and I write about money,” Palmer said. “I wanted to address the bigger topics moms are faced with like saving for college and saving for retirement and investing and taking out life insurance. These are some of the bigger things that are so important to moms to make sure we are building financial security for our families.
“I worked hard to make sure I interviewed moms in all kinds of situations: single moms, married, working and stay-at-home moms. What unifies us is that we are moms and it has such a big impact on our finances.”
She said there is a lot of overlap for moms and dads raising children. But the difference in being a mom is that, statistically, moms are more likely to be making the household spending decisions. Also, she said because of the high divorce rate and women tending to outlive men, there is a good chance that at some point women will be managing money on their own.
“That is why it’s so important for us to embrace that responsibility and make smart choices,” Palmer said.
The latest report issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in August 2014 showed that a middle-income family with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend about $245,340 for food, housing, child care and education and other child-rearing expenses up to age 18. Costs associated with the mom’s pregnancy or expenses incurred after age 18, such as higher education, are not included.
For middle-income families, housing costs are the single biggest expenditure on a child, averaging 30 percent of the total cost. Child care and education was the second largest expense at 18 percent, followed by food, which accounted for 16 percent.
In 1960, the first year the USDA report was issued, a middle-income family could have expected to spend $25,230 to raise a child until the age of 18.
Pittsburgh financial adviser Carrie Coghill, CEO and president of Coghill Investment Strategies, said she works with a lot of couples with children, and she also was a single mom for most of her daughter’s young life.
“The biggest challenge moms have is they are juggling a lot, and with all those tasks they juggle there is actually a price tag on it,” Coghill said, adding that it includes clothing, doctors appointments, school activities and so on.
“Unfortunately, what we find when it comes to saving money and planning for the future is moms tend to take the money that’s left over to apply to those issues,” she said. “Usually there isn’t much, if any. So the old adage of paying yourself first is essential for moms.”
Many mothers have other women in their lives to help with child-rearing — either by providing direct hands-on help or by offering practical advice on parenting, said Lynnette Khalfani Cox, founder of AskTheMoneyCoach.com, based in Mountainside, N.J.
“But even those closest to us — our own moms, grandmothers, sisters or girlfriends — often don’t tell us everything we need to do to become successful parents from a financial standpoint,” Cox said. “This matters greatly because raising kids is incredibly expensive in America. And it’s so easy to let costs spiral out of control or to jeopardize your own financial future or that of your family.
“Women are increasingly the primary breadwinners in their families, or they’re often managing the household budget,” she said. “Even moms who are single, or who have spouses or significant others that out-earn them need to pay attention to their finances and work on building wealth in order to have a secure retirement or meet other goals like buying a home, starting a business or paying for a child’s college education.”
All phases of motherhood come with their own challenges. However, Palmer said the first six months of a baby’s life are the most shocking financially, emotionally and physically. During this time frame moms will debate how much time to take off work after a baby is born, in what capacity to return to work — full time of part time? And how aggressively they should continue to climb the corporate ladder now that they are moms.
“Child care for young kids can eat up almost all your income,” Palmer said. “So you have to think long-term because as kids get older those costs go down while hopefully your income goes up. So it gets easier over time. That’s why you have to not get discouraged during those early lean years when the kids are young.”
Patricia John, a vice president at the Hefren-Tillotson financial services firm outside Pittsburgh, said what she often sees is that moms spend so much of their lives taking care of other people that when it comes time to look at their own financial future, they are often left holding the bag.
“Most mothers are likely to put their children’s financial wants and needs ahead of their own,” she said. “Moms are more likely to get a second car (for the family) rather than add to their own 401(k). The best thing we can do for our children is to be financially secure as we get older.
“Typically women sit back and let the men take care of long-term investments,” John said. “All of a sudden if the man is not there anymore due to divorce or death they are faced with things they are not prepared for. I see that a lot with women. I rarely see that with a man.”