WWYD: Judging Friends for Being Broke and Wanting to Have a Baby

Hey Billfold Heeeey:

A friend and co-worker of mine is on a mission to have a baby. She’s always wanted to be a mom and finally at 34, she’s in a fantastic, stable relationship with another co-worker who equally wants to be a dad. They’re going to make fantastic parents. The problem is, they’re broke. The bigger problem is that it isn’t a problem for THEM and that strangely feels like a problem for ME.

As the financial lead of our department, I am aware of (but not in control of) both of my friends’ salaries and they’re not great (combined under $80,000/yr living in a major metropolitan city). I also know from working with them that neither has the drive (or, quite honestly, the skills) to move up at our company. There are often opportunities to take on short-term projects for bonuses and neither of them have ever taken advantage of these. Yet I hear complaints from both parties on a weekly basis that they can’t go out that weekend, or come to after-work drinks or pitch in for a co-worker’s birthday gift because they have no money. I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they’re both putting savings away for a new bundle of joy, but I know that any saved money has gone to new iPhones, or weekends in Vegas.

Now, I know very well that it’s not my place to judge someone else’s financial choices. I often choose luxuries over savings and am quite aware of how unwise I’m being. At the same rate, I’m not trying to have a kid. My friend has come to me in the past asking for hand-me-downs for her to wear/eat/drive/decorate her house in. I’m happy to help when I can, but I feel like if you don’t have the money to feed or clothe yourself, you should be creating another body to take care of right now.

My friend comes to me in tears on a monthly basis about not being able to conceive. They haven’t been trying for very long (about 6 months), but it worries her. She hasn’t gone to the doctor to have her or her boyfriend’s fertility measured because — gasp! — doctors’ appointments are expensive. I’ve asked what’s going to happen when the baby needs to go to a doctor and she shrugs it off.

My friends with kids (or at least maternal instincts) laugh when I tell them the situation. They say that if you wait ‘till all circumstances are perfect, you’ll never have a kid — that it’s something you do and figure it out later. Maybe I don’t get it because I don’t care to procreate, but you shouldn’t buy a new car or house or even a new pair of designer jeans when you’re broke — why is it ok to bring something so much more expensive into your life?

Best,

Childless and Clueless

Dear Childless and Clueless,

The friends who are laughing and telling you that if you’re waiting for the perfect time to have kids, you’ll never have any are right! I am neither broke, nor a parent, but the best example I can give you about this is that when my parents had me and my siblings, they had very little money. They came to the U.S. as refugees, and had to start from the very bottom, and we lived in other people’s spare bedrooms and bad neighborhoods until I was nine and they took out their first (and only) mortgage. I’m also an early ’80s baby, meaning I was born during a severe global economic recession.

How could these two people have a child during a recession, when they have no college educations, and have less than ideal living arrangements?

Well, they did, and they figured it out and got jobs and bought thrift store clothes and never went on vacations and even though we were poor, I never once felt like it because what I felt instead was loved and taken care of. I think I turned out okay.

Your friends will figure it out. They have a combined income of $80,000 a year in a country where the median household income is $51,017. The money they used to spend on “new iPhones, or weekends in Vegas” will shift to child care.

Read this interview we did last year with Tracy Moore, who described becoming unexpectedly pregnant during a time when she had little money in the bank, and how she and her husband figured it out. Moore says:

Also, among working class families, which is how I grew up, I never heard families discussed as something you “plan” anyway. People get married, they have babies, and they figure it out. So that attitude had been normalized for me in ways I probably wasn’t even totally aware of. It’s not that I didn’t understand the risks of unplanned pregnancy — in large part, that had informed my lack of a strong desire to breed. I saw how motherhood changed women’s lives. But I also felt that I had better prospects for rolling with it, if I just refocused my energies and money. I was employed and had a career, a degree, things that seemed to be a better launchpad for an unexpected pregnancy.

You think your friends will be fantastic parents. That’s what matters. In any case, even if your friends have a tough time figuring it out, that’s not for you to worry about. As you say, “I know very well that it’s not my place to judge someone else’s financial choices.” If I were you, I’d leave it at that.

Photo: Joseph Novak

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