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Kids are Dynamite for Your Early Retirement Plans

baby bili blanket

Today’s dynamite post comes from a dynamic interventional radiologist who is a regular reader and commenter on this site as well as the White Coat Investor website and forum.

The author goes by the moniker Vagabond MD. You may recall the name from a previous guest post he wrote for us: Top 5 Reasons This Physician Holds $500,000 in Cash.

Read on to find out why the good doctor feels kids can be dynamite for your early retirement plans. Hint: it’s a double entendre. 

So, Vagabond MD, let’s hear your take on having kids while playing with FIRE.


Kids are Dynamite for Your Early Retirement Plans


Whenever I ponder the annual expenses required to cover the impending not-so-early-as-some-but-early-for-me retirement for my wife and myself, I always get stuck at the kids. We have two teens, one starting college in the fall and the other a current ninth grader.

I have no doubt that we could live a comfortable life in retirement from our jobs, perhaps supplemented with some easy consulting gigs, locums or seasonal work EXCEPT that I have no idea much of our resources to expect to allocate to the kids in the future.

There are lots of potential variables in this equation, not the least of which is whether you, as the parent, feel an obligation to provide ongoing support beyond the age of majority (and to what extent).


baby bili blanket
he’s cute. and he glows!


If you have no kids (and do not expect them), much of this discussion will not apply to you. Beware, however, that your aging parents might draw on your largess, so you might not be completely out of the woods. That said, it’s your kids that are more like to blow up those early retirement plans.

Many prospective early retirees underestimate the financial implications of having and raising children and the potential ongoing nature of that commitment. While there are the obvious known significant expenses to plan (food, clothing, car seats, and college), the unknown expenses are what give me pause. Unknowns can be good stuff like lessons and training for elite young athletes, scholars, and artists and bad stuff like illness, disability, and accidents.

The Expenses Start Before You Bring the First One Home


Before the first cry or dirty diaper, the cost of even creating children might be something that is unexpected. For many couples, all it takes is a free weekend and a bottle of “three buck chuck”. However, as professional folks like physicians often put off child-bearing until the career is on firm ground, they might find that the simple biology of reproduction may not be in their favor.

With increasing maternal age, pregnancy certainly becomes more challenging, and the older dad could also be firing blanks, too. Infertility treatment and adoption can be very expensive from tens of thousands of dollars up, including the extreme example of adoptions that can cost $75,000 or more.

Once you get your little bundle(s) of joy — you see that, I just made you aware of the possibility of multiples (twins, triplets,…gulp), which multiply the expense — home and in good health, there is an obvious need to care for the young master/mistress while the physician parent is slaving at the office or hospital.

There is a good chance that you or your partner will need to cut back on work or leave the workplace entirely OR you will need day care or a nanny, either having significant impact on your household’s bottom line. I read recently that nannies in San Francisco are commanding over $50,000/year (and $35,000/year is not unusual in more moderate cities)! Before you pay for the first Amazon diaper delivery, there is a good chance that the wheels are coming off the once lofty financial projections and dreams of early retirement.


It Gets… Better?


Many children have special talents, and as proud and supportive parents, you will undoubtedly them to reach their potentials. I have a spine surgeon friend whose daughter is a cello prodigy, and he takes her to a master cellist in The Big City five hours away, at least monthly, to further develop her mad skills.

Athletes of all kind practice and play all year round and travel for camps, tournaments and meets. Thespians train to perform on Broadway in, you guessed it, New York City. You get the idea. Creating the artists and athletes of the next generation requires more than 10,000 hours of practice—it also requires a lot of money.

Physicians’ children are well represented in private independent and parochial schools throughout the nation. Some students thrive in a smaller classroom and a more focused environment. Despite intentionally living in the best school district in the state, our son never set foot in the neighborhood public school due to a mild learning disorder that relegated him to a smaller, more focused environment, a private school where he flourished.

Some young geniuses quickly outgrow the educational opportunities of their public schools and end up in private schools or nearby colleges for additional enrichment. Sadly, some people live in districts where the schools just are not very good. For any of these reasons and more, K-12 could end up costing more than college!

As your child grows, so will the financial outlay. Toys, clothes, activities, and entertainment seem to cost more with age. Smaller kids, smaller expenses; bigger kids, bigger expenses.


Cars, College, and Careers


When your child turns 16, you will be on a collision course with a big expense: driving (by this time, you will likely be exhausted from all of the driving you have done and may be thrilled). Cars and insurance are quite pricey.

In my case, I do not mind driving a beater, but I want my children to have a more recent model year car that has the modern safety features. Yes, Junior’s car is more expensive than mine. And adding Junior to the insurance plan could easily triple or more what you and your spouse were paying.

Which takes us to college. Everyone talks about how expensive it is. When my kids were young, I remember hearing the older docs (who were middle age, but I did not realize this at the time) complaining about spending $35,000/year for their kids to attend college. Holy cow, that’s a lot, I thought.


ski u mah baby
nothing wrong with a great state school


Well, now it’s more like $65,000+ for private colleges and even out-of-state public schools are north of $40,000. You are fortunate if you live in a state with great state schools, have children that learn well in any environment, or have kids that can attract significant scholarship money. For the rest of us, $250k or more for college is hardly unrealistic.

You might be exhausted and depressed by now, but your dear child is now 21, college educated, and a responsible adult. A somewhat delayed early retirement is imminent. But put away the champagne glasses because there is more…

Failure to Launch


What if your child needs a couple more years to finish college? And then graduate school? What if your child cannot get a job in the chosen field after college? What if your child is now living in your basement? A bout of depression or anorexia? An accident? A bad marriage? You really think that you are not going to help your struggling child get a foothold? Or even with happier expenses like a wedding, engagement ring, or a down payment for a home?

I am surrounded by mid-to-late career professionals supporting their adult children, from smaller expenses like the cellphone (they will never leave your family cellphone plan without kicking and screaming), ski trips, dental reconstruction, room and board, and jobs in your office. Some expenses are luxuries, while some are necessities. Either way, a lot of these youngsters seem to need parental financial help well into adulthood.

Wait… Kids Can Have Kids?!?


At long last, your children are launched, have jobs, and families, and you are in the clear, retirement here we come… but…not so fast! Your child might have children [PoF: I hope not!] (they are called “grandchildren”), and there is a penchant for grandparents to be even more indulging of these grandchildren.

Help with babysitting, family dinners and vacations, saving or paying for college, travel for visits, and everything discussed above with respect to your own children are all back on the table for the next generation. My own grandfather chipped in the last $10k of my medical school tuition.

Your children will likely bring you great joy, and that joy will be accompanied by substantial expense. The children of physicians typically garner considerably more financial resources for their upbringing than the average. The earlier you are in the journey with your children, the more ill equipped you are to anticipate future expenses for the children, and this should figure into your early retirement plans and projections.

Over time, as your child approaches adulthood, the uncertainty fades, but never completely goes away. Early retiring MDs (or other professionals) should be cautious about underestimating the financial requirement for their children, as these expenses are likely to be greater than you might think.

I have yet to have a fellow parent tell me that raising a child was less expensive than he or she expected, but countless parents have confided that their children were considerably more costly than anticipated. Some of these expenses are optional, for sure, especially those that go beyond food, clothing, shelter, and adulthood. Nonetheless, physician parents, as I have observed, have a tendency to be go above and beyond what is required…by a wide margin.



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Choices Play a Huge Role in the Cost of Raising Children


[PoF: The more uncertainties in your future, the less concrete your FIRE plans can be. Kids certainly represent a vast unknown in terms of future economic liability so to speak, but in many cases, you have at least some control over those costs.

Certainly, people of lesser means than the FIRE minded folks have managed to successfully raise children in this society without going bankrupt in the process. Yes, there is a cost to raising every child, but if you simply acquiesce to the fact that USA Today says each of them will cost a high-income household $372,210 and accept it as fate, you’re doing it wrong.

We all want “the best” for our kids. For some, that means competitive pre-K, 13 years of private schools, travel teams in two or three sports, summer camps aplenty, and tens of thousands of dollars worth of instruments and lessons from masters of music.

I’m not arguing those are bad choices — for some kids and families, some or all of those expenditures can be great options. We’ve spent thousands on digital pianos and lessons, and our kids are just six and eight years old. But we made that choice and recognize it for what it is. A choice. 

Other expenses are non-optional. Special needs. Surgeries. That bili blanket under our second-born. I recognize that despite your best intentions, some added expenses are unavoidable.

But when you look at the breakdown of the nearly four hundred thousand dollars per kid in the purported cost to raise one, you realize that many of those costs are optional. The additional cost of housing is factored in, and most of the line items assume you’re paying full retail for everything under the sun they might need.

When it comes to adult children (an oxymoron, but if the shoe fits…), beware of Economic Outpatient Care. You just might do your manchild (or womanchild) more harm than good.

I do agree that kids can be dynamite for your early retirement plans, but I mean it in the most positive way. We’re supposed to retire to something. What better to retire to than to be a bigger part of your children’s lives before they’re grown and gone?]


To read more from the prolific guest author, Vagabond MD, see all of his articles:




What do you think about retiring early with kids? Are they a deterrent? Or a motivating factor? Are you concerned about unexpected expenses interfering with your financial goals?


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76 thoughts on “Kids are Dynamite for Your Early Retirement Plans”

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  7. And who said you have to give your kid a car? pay for college? wedding? That’s why american kids are so spoiled !
    Let them fight for these things. You only raise them until high school and let them go by themselves!
    Gael – from France, where things are different than american !

  8. I’ve always pictured vagabond as a guy I’d love to get a beer with and pick his brain. Great article!

    Guarenteed within 5 minutes of talking to him though he tells you how he took call every other weekend for 20 years : D

  9. I’m not a fan of this post. Most of the “expenses” like cello lessons, private schools, sports camps, etc. that people spend $$$ on are optional.

    We have 9 children, I just cut back to 0.9 FTE. Saving 20% of my gross income. I’m definitely on track to retire in my 50’s.

    Some choices that I made to make this possible:

    Live in low cost of living area. House purchase price just over 1 years salary. Drive reasonable cars (purchased at 2nyears old and driven into ground). Only one low cost extracurricular activity per child. My wife homeschools which gives our kids a private school level education at a fraction of the cost.

    All you are obligated to provide are love, food, shelter. We hang out with other large families and they are able to raise 12 children on an income of $50,000/yr.

    The fact is, the most important thing to give your children is your time.

    Now it’s time to make some s’mores.

  10. I disagree with the tone here that these are necessary expenses. Kids don’t have to be anywhere near this expensive. I wrote a post on this myself based on the big the Department of Agriculture numbers that are tossed around on the cost of raising kids to age 18 (i.e. not including college). Almost half that number is your house and transportation costs. Since you’re paying that anyway, don’t factor this in as a double expense as one quick example.

    It’s certainly possible to spend a fortune. The really wealthy could write about how a bigger yacht and ski trips to Aspen cost more with kids. But it’s not needed. Many of the big expenses here are not needed (looking at success or happiness factors for your kids). For example, you can spend 2-3x on college with no impact on future success (there are some really good studies proving this). My point is that many of these big expenses are just socially conditioned expectations, especially for high earning parents. The more money you make (hello doctors!), the more people find ways for you to spend money, many of which have questionable value. Kids (and safety) are great selling tools because emotion can be used to get people to waste huge amounts of money.

    I’ve tracked spending carefully the last ten years, while adding two kids during that period. My overall spending went up about $10,000 per year. I spent closer to $20,000 per year on daycare, so we just naturally reduced expenses on other things to help compensate for some of the new spending and time for the family/kids. Without daycare, our spending would have dropped after having kids and of course the only reason we have daycare is to work. They didn’t just add on expenses. Without kids, we would have spent the kid money on other things like more travel.

    Lastly, the biggest value-added expense for kids is time. If you’re working to make a lot more money, you’re spending less time with them and that is likely to be a net-negative. The expensive lessons and “experience” overseas trips for the kids don’t make up for not spending much time with them. Spend time reading, and teaching them and they will do much better in school, plus enjoy learning. Help them build good eating and exercise habits. These things take time and not much money. But it will set them up for a successful and happy life. My 2 cents.

    • Thank you for your comments. I agree that many of the expenses discussed are optional and that high earners tend to be more extravagant spenders on their children, even those that tend to be more frugal toward themselves.

      That said, most parents will do what they can to help their children succeed, and sometimes that means a math tutor ($60-75/hour, in my neck of the woods), and sometimes that means a pitching coach.

      The point of the discussion was not to see who can spend more or less on raising children but to make early retirement oriented docs that are early in their children rearing path aware of some unexpected expenses (optional and otherwise) that may be lurking down the road.

      • Dear VagabondMD,

        I maybe came across a bit harsh here…..sorry. The point of your article is a good one and thanks for writing it. I agree kids certainly have costs. We are in a knowledge economy and raising kids in that type of economy is a big expense so future parents should be aware and plan for it. No argument there.

        We just need to be careful to remember we have a lot of choices that can make a huge difference in how much kids cost. I plan to have the time (because I’m FI and can say no to excessive work hours) to be more involved with their upbringing even though I won’t be a stay-at-home dad. That means I am their tutor, babysitter, personal trainer, finder of cheap, healthy entertainment like bike riding and camping (vs outsourcing to expensive activities), etc. We need to remember that spending more is (often) not equivalent to the best things for our kids.

        Regardless it’s an important topic with huge financial implications so thanks for writing!

      • I’m sure these seem like necessities, but you can hire a Skype math tutor for $15 an hour. $65 is an insane amount, and definite evidence of lifestyle inflation! If your child is bright, he will do fine on his own. If not, he just needs to pass. You can even tutor them yourselves. Education seems less and less important- many of the best jobs are in things like welding and HVAC, neither of which requires much school. Re: sports- very few kids are going to the majors- no one needs a pitching coach. Remember Richard Williams coached his girls himself, to great effect.

        If the higher-priced options are choices you prefer, wonderful, but remember they are indeed choices, not necessities, and that the Joneses will always be able to spend more!!

        • Ha, you are being sarcastic, but I actually think that’s the truth. The “knowledge economy” jobs aren’t that great, and half of them may be automated shortly (look at legal research), but there will always be a need for plumbers and HVAC technicians, at least for the foreseeable future. Education is important for personal development, but that costs nothing at all as long as libraries exist. I think parents who push college are fighting a battle from thirty years ago. People obsess over STEM, but most software engineers have a shorter, tougher career than a nurse with a two year degree.

          I don’t think education has made my life materially better at all- less emphasis on school and more emphasis on work earlier on would have led to earlier FIRE and fewer loans.

  11. Having kids has definitely motivated me professionally and financially. The burden is there, but it’s always good to keep in mind what you want yourself. Love this piece.

  12. Great post on one of the elephants in the early retirement room for my family (and awesome title, I love the double entendre)

    I think Dr. Curious’ comment on balance between 529 and brokerage brings up a good point. We plan on trying for 100K per kid in 529 before age 10-12. If we can meet that goal, we will let it ride in vanguard age based aggressive glide path and fund any remaining with brokerage, part-time work and loans. I dont mind having the kids take out some loans, “builds character” as my dad said (as he semi-retired early before I went to college and medschool). God knows we did!

    I also think Enjoy It makes a good point on high-income parents escalating life style “for the kids”. I see frugal fellow physician families (man why cant physician start with an f) have the best intentions, then slip away into luxury.
    The 6000 sqft house “for the 2 kids”
    The Cadillac Escalade “for the 2 kids”
    The designer clothes “for the kids”

    Suddenly lifestyle creep is in full effect.

    I’m no Mr. Money Mustache, but were going to keep it simple and low cost as long as possible with our family.
    And as for TMSK??? (Traveling Multi-Sport Kids) lol….. no way.

    • Thanks, GoodLife, I think that “elephant in the room” is the proper metaphor for this topic.

      And, I am SOOO glad that I did not have the next Steve Carlton growing up in our house. I would have hated the traveling baseball lifestyle.

    • A good friend of mine only has one kid but he decided his child had great acting potential at about 10 years of age. He hired an agent, rented an apartment in LA, paid for acting classes etc. The kid and his wife essentially lived in LA for 6 months. He never got a part and my friend is unsure if he can retire at 70. Sometimes parents just go crazy.

  13. I don’t have kids, but I’ve been a kid, so I can tell you that they don’t have to be so expensive.

    My father was accepted at the local university to become an engineer, but instead he and mom decided to marry straight out of high school as teenagers (this sort of thing happened in the 1950s) and he just stayed on at his summer construction job.

    I was born when they were 20 and there were six of us within 10 years. Dad was running that small homebuilding company for its absentee owner by then, but he had no opportunity for advancement until he left to work for a larger manufacturing firm at 30.

    Our family did not have much money in those years. There were no music lessons or ski trips, and no designer clothes, but guess what? We had fantastic childhoods.

    As I grew older and met many more people from various backgrounds, many of them wealthy, I realized how lucky I had been to grow up surrounded by a loving family. I took that for granted as a child, but many kids don’t have that, and it’s the only thing that really matters.

  14. Yes children cost a lot of money. Why do we never see an article about how the expense of eating hurts your early retirement date? After all, $500 a month on groceries for 40 years invested at 8% is $1.7 million dollars.

    Don’t let the expense of children influence your decision to have them. Have children because you want to have a family. And yes, your existence will cost you a lot of money, with or without children. So set a reasonable spending plan and don’t let children push you over budget with activities and college. You do not have to go to the most expensive school to get a good education and you certainly don’t need to send a 3rd grader to a $10,000 a year private school (which I have seen many times). You might choose to do so, but you don’t need to.

    The total cost of my son’s college education, University of Oregon, not living at home, was less than $80,000. That is $1,667 a month for four years. It was less than the house payment we used to have. For many high-income earners, just eliminating the house payment will provide more than enough cash flow to pay for a full college education as you go with no savings plan needed.

    Thanks for reminding us of the costs we do face and that we can make decisions along the way to greatly decrease these costs.

    • Thank you for your comments, Dr. Fawcett. I have made the observation that my physician friends who chose to not have children seem to find other ways to spend (often blow) their money.

  15. Lol, very true. From strictly a financial standpoint, kids are gonna torpedo your finances hands down. There’s no argument there. That said, I wouldn’t trade my son with anything. There’s more to life than just money. And having a family to love and be loved by, to share experience with, and share life in general with. That’s a huge blessing that money can’t buy! But either way, thanks for sharing, because it is GOOD TO KNOW what you’re getting into because a lot of people know, but don’t “know-know” the costs & trade-off in terms of opportunity costs.

  16. I retired early recently. My kids are 9,4, and 1. Their young ages were a big part of me wanting to retire early but I must admit that the unknowns ahead for expenses are a bit intimidating. when factoring in possible expenses we felt like it was a crapshoot for what college will cost. However, I agree with the above comment of not over funding a 529 and using ear marked taxable accounts instead to cover the rest. The other important thing to consider are ultimate plans/goals for retirement. If you’re like most, you might want to travel. My husband and I are thinking through this as he will retire soon too. We need to get creative and plan long term travel around their schooling To not disrupt their schedules. I don’t look at it as a burden to have to travel with kids but as affording them an incredible opportunity. Luckily, we will be doing public school for all three so that will keep costs down considerably too!

    • ODM,
      I have read your story before, and I admire your courage and conviction. Parents rightly tend to focus on the cost of college, but my concern is the myriad of costs for which early retirement folks are not focused or will be complete surprises down the road.

      I agree with you on the joys of traveling with children. Often seeing the world through their eyes is so much more meaningful than through our own tired and jaded ones.

      Best of luck!

  17. Thank you for this post PoF. I am turning 40 this year, missed the kid boat (long story…they always are), and decided not to take a late ferry. I often wonder if I’ve made the right decision choosing not to pursue being a biological parent. Posts like this remind me that there are some good things about being child free. I should have no excuse not to be FI before 50 or perhaps I’ve done something terribly wrong. Kids certainly are expensive (I don’t envy those of you with the added financial burden that children put on you), but I’m guessing the trade off is worth it.

    • Pros and cons, but from my (medical) perspective, there are still plenty of Good Ship Lollipops to board, if you change your mind, at least for the next few years. Our children were adopted (also a long story, one with a happy ending), and that option could extend your boat hailing ability, too. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • @Amy A dear friend of mine had her children at 40 and 42. It can definitely be done and my friend is thrilled being a mom. If it’s something you want, it’s not too late.

  18. Enjoyed your post, Vagabond. The high number of IVF twins and triplets at our local elementary school resonates with your description of unanticipated expenses begetting further unanticipated expenses.

    There is no fool-proof inoculation to protect against failure to launch: A relative told his parents after his freshman year of college that he was considering majoring in music or philosophy. The parents firmly explained that they were only paying for an engineering or economics degree, and that he could philosophize or play music on his own time once he had a job and his own place. He majored in econ and went on to become a high-earning consultant, but an unhappy one. Hard to know if the parents took much solace in their “win.” There has to be a balance between pursuing your bliss and paying your way.

    Agree with posts above that letting older kids have some skin in the game is valuable for all parties. Working part-time and paying for auto, gas, cell plan is part of our goal as our kids get older.

    • I have a friend, an attorney, a few years older, who had four children (and later number five with a second wife). He told them all that he would pay for college, but there were rules, and they were stated explicitly to all as they approached college age:
      1. State schools only (out-of-state okay)
      2. You get four years of expenses paid. If it takes longer, it’s on your dime.
      3. If you need some time after college to sort things out, you can stay in our home for six months, rent free. After six months, you pay rent or get your own place.

      Not foolproof, but they all launched successfully. I think that stating and restating the expectations over the years can be effective.

  19. My wife and I aren’t planning on having kids – and while it’s not a financial decision, it definitely makes the idea of Early Retirement a bit more palatable.

    Some of the costs outlined here are eye-opening!

    A very well-written article and good read 🙂

    • Thanks, and while I would not discourage you from having children because of the cost, it is obvious to me how much easier financial independence is to achieve without them.

  20. I can see it from both sides. While I love and enjoy my kids, especially at a young age it can sometimes be like a second job. That can motivate you to want to remove stress from rest of your life via Fi. But they are costly. From 6-7k for birth to the 10-20k a year day care, to the surprise stitches that cost 3k it can have a massive impact over time. But ..it still can be worth it. Also you never know, one of your kids could be the next star and support you in your old age 🙂

    • My wife would say that her kids are her third job. There’s the paid job, the job dealing with me, and the third job is the kids. 🙂

      There are lots of surprises and some are completely out of your control (“surprise stitches” are a modest, limited example). I see plenty of doc friends that have kids with more significant, longer term problems from occasional depression to autism to aggressive cancer to profound anorexia nervosa. Nobody chooses to have children with these and other significant problems, yet they exist and have to be dealt with.

      I have a colleague in his mid-60’s who probably would retire, but he has a child with Down’s Syndrome. As he confided to me, he is planning for retirement for three, with the possibility of the child living far longer than either parent and needing a caregiver for years after his parents are out of the picture.

  21. Kids are an expense for sure. Much of the costs listed are optional though. Private schools, cars, etc are luxuries – not necessities in my family. My family was dirt poor and we all survived somehow. I think too often we confusing loving our children with spending on them. Sharing costs with the child, focusing on values, negotiating fees can go a long way. I hear doctors complain about college costs all the time. Why didn’t they “front-load” those expenses into a 529 when the kid was born? Investing wisely produces great returns.

  22. I suspect a post like this will draw out those who strongly sit in either camp.

    Here is my take and hopefully it comes across as a balanced view. That’s my intent.

    If one is inclined to raise kids with a mindset of “Hedonic treadmill” crossed with “Keeping up with the Joneses” crossed with “Fancy Toys R Us”, all on steroids, kids will eat your money as voraciously as they chow down that 6th slice of cheese pizza. Like long term treatment with high dose steroids, such a lifestyle will inevitably have undesirable side-effects.

    Unfortunately, when faced with too many choices on the kid raising front, adult humans get paralyzed and default to trying to do everything. It is a horrible irony that they don’t revert to the mind of a kid and ask: “What will make me happy?”.

    Three different sports, expensive equipment, more lessons to move the skill-set from mediocre to barely above average, and suddenly the monthly budget is through the roof. Throw on top of that an annual trip schlepping the family on packed flights to see the mouse in Dismal-land, without ever researching optimization strategies with travel hacking, it is no wonder people start to struggle financially – even on inflated incomes. And the vicious circle continues, the need to work, work, work just to pay for it all. The hamster wheel never stops.

    Like some of the commenters are already starting to point out, it is all about disciplined choices. Not being paralyzed by choice, but being intentional and disciplined about the choices.

    Here are some examples from our lifestyle. As background, we plan to retire early next year with two boys, aged 11 and 9.

    Outdoor sports we love
    Hiking – costs are minimal. Good pair of boots, enough food and water and away you go. This land is your land. I have yet to find a trail in the White Mountains where a monthly subscription fee is demanded.
    Skiing – it is a myth that it is exorbitantly expensive. It is not inexpensive but smart choices of where you ski, when you buy yearly passes and being careful not to get sucked into buying the $1200 Karbon shell jacket all go a long way to keeping costs down. You can also “earn your turns” by boot-packing off trail if you are so inclined and have the necessary outdoor adventure skills to go with it. You wanna ski as a family at Park City or Tahoe at weekends or on an annual vacation (or two) and stay at the ski in – ski out Four Seasons? You better have more than one physician salary to keep that lifestyle fed.

    Teenage Years – if they want a car, they can find work to earn the money to pay for the insurance, gasoline and maintenance. I agree with your mindset of safety first. We will pay a large chunk of a suitable car that balances safety, practicality and cost. Again, one has a plethora of choices here. The used Lexus or the Mustang convertible will not appear on our drop-down list of choices.

    College Costs – Vicki hit the nail firmly on the head in her comment above. We hope to be able to support both kids through college – if that is what they choose to pursue. Funding $65,000 per year for each is not the family plan or indeed part of our portfolio planning.

    Parting thought and in my mind the most significant – ask any aging parent or doting grandparent on their reflections on life. I guarantee most of them will say something to the effect of “I wish we had more time with the kids/grand-kids when they were younger”. That precious time is something the early retiree with young kids has to look forward to. That time and freedom has no price associated with it. Retiring early with kids is possible, it is very do-able. The high expense of raising kids is true only if a high level of consumption is your lifestyle choice.

    • Kudos to this one. It feels to me that the author’s kids run the house and make all the decisions while the parents run around supporting every whim. My kids have a great life, much better and easier than I had growing up, but I don’t drive them 5 hours for things.

      As parents we still have to be parents and no matter how much money you make you still have to say no from time to time.

      • Hi, Ricky, “the author” was presenting a collection of scenarios and anecdotes collected from talking to and observing other physician friends and colleagues over the years. A minority were from my personal experience raising children.

        • Whew, I feel better already. I was hyperventilating thinking of how much the kids were doing. I think any one, maybe two would be ok to do (pay 250k for college, but not 250k for private k-12) but I was looking at everything and wondering how it could even be done.

          Thanks Vagabond, always like reading what you have here and at WCI.

    • I’m so glad you pointed this out. Kids can cost as much or as little as you want. I see it all the time with my physician friends who think spending more and more money on their kids will somehow make them happier. I watch physicians buy large houses because the kids will have more room to play with their friends. I watch physicians pay for private school, multiple lessons, expensive cars and clothing and over priced vacations. I watch physicians take their nanny on vacation with them. All of that costs a crap ton of money and none of it will make your kids happier than just spending time with them. Even teenagers that act embarrassed by their parents are actually happier when the parents are around more instead of busting their butts at work to pay for all those fancy things.

      And here is the biggest kicker of it all. If the kids are raised having certain levels of luxury, they will expect it in adulthood as well and are more likely to purchase it on credit when they can’t afford it. After all they have grown up with those expectations and think it is normal.

      If you let it, kids can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars each. But only if you let it.

    • Hi, Mr. PIE,
      It sounds like you have planned well, better than 99%, and are on a similar path with similar timing as our host, PoF. I agree that spending the time is more valuable, in the short and long run, than spending the money. Good luck with the early retirement.

  23. Agreed! Sure, kids are going to cost a good chunk of money. But they don’t have to be the “wallet-ruining heathens” that people peg them to be. Kids are just as happy playing with dirt as they are with a $50 My Little Pony toy. We all have the choice to raise our kids in a way that has minimal impact on our budgets.

    • Hmm, I cannot dream of a life in which raising children has a “minimal impact” on our budgets, but I can see doing what is reasonable to limit the damage. 😉

      Thank you for reading and commenting. 🙂

  24. You’re so right about the uncertainty associated with kids and FIRE. My kids are a motivation for me to enjoy life now and try to make work a fun and fulfilling experience at the same time.
    I know it’s not possible for everyone but so far so good.
    I do look forward to the days of less work and more time off but that will probably be more available with grandkids for me.

    Tom @ HIP

    • Hi, Tom,
      That is a great point you make. Maybe there is an implied or natural generational contract whereby we do for our kids’ kids what we could not do for our own kids. And so on.

  25. Great post Vagabond. Kids are definitely expensive and I have been amazed how much we buy them. It is not even the toys, etc. but the food and my kid is only 2. How much is he going to eat when he is 14?

    As for costs, I agree with PoF, they can be controlled to some degree. Still I feel your concern and that is why I am thinking more about part time then fully retired work going forward. What I don’t want to miss out on is time with him now, when he is young and likes having me around.

    It’s almost like our careers should be backwards. Slower when the kids are young and harder/busier when they are out of the house.

    • My wife and I have had this discussion numerous times. When we are young and early in our careers, we have kids. As we build our professional lives, we are building our family lives, often resulting in periods of absolute chaos.

      Then, the kids go off to college, and we retire. Wouldn’t it be nice if it were the other way around? That is, when the kids are young we have plenty of unharried time with them, and then, as they have more time away from us and more independence, we start woking toward our professional goals…sigh, back to realty.

    • @Dads Dollars Debts – Prepare yourself for the teen years! I have a 14 year old son (very lean/lanky, like a human garbage disposal) and my 12 year old plays club/select sports. They both eat way more than my husband or I do. On a recent trip to Chipotle, my son ate two burrito bowls and still had a snack a couple hours later. (My son found out that a benefit of working at Chipotle is free food, so he has his eye on a job there when he turns 16, which cracks me up and makes me proud all at the same time.) We shop at Costco and Aldi and rarely eat out (because holy mother of expensive), but the food expenditures are still insane. We are no longer at the point where a pound of beef/fish/chicken is even remotely sufficient for one family meal, despite mounds of veggies and/or rice on the side. And I don’t expect the food budget to go down any time soon.

  26. I never thought much about early retirement until my kids were in their teens and I just retired at 50. You are definitely right about the costs increasing as they get older (in normal situations without medical issues, etc.) Just a comment about college costs – we have one headed to college this fall. He is going to an out-of-state public university and the cost is $20, 650/year. And that’s living on campus, food plan, etc. We didn’t get any aid – but he got grants/scholarships for academics there. He also just got his AP scores back and he finished an online community college class – so he’ll be going in with 36+ credits. He plans on finishing in 3 years too. Taking time to research options and not “fall in love” with a college is key. We made it a family decision – not his decision. We have rental properties that we are keeping as a “back-up” plan to help our kids too. You are right – many things can go wrong and once a parent, always a parent. Great post!

    • Thanks, Vicki, and congrats on the academic success and good fortune for your son. We also made a family decision for college, but we collectively chose a college with the ideal learning environment, strong alumni network, and other intangibles that provided the right fit for the family. It is a private college, but not one with a ski high price tag, and he did get a modest scholarship, too.

      I like the idea of having various income drivers in early retirement and have to get working on that…

  27. I think this post highlights the “personal” in personal finance. My plan has always been to help out my kids with ample economic support during childhood, college, and for the typical “20s” expenses. If I do this, I will not be so concerned with leaving behind millions for them or their kids to inherit when I finally kick the bucket.

    I also hope to give them a solid financial education with the hopes that they will make good choices when it comes to something like college. Going to a 65 thousand dollar undergrad, I would argue, doesn’t generally have a good ROI for many careers.

    Hopefully, the time I devote to them as a potential early retiree can be the most valuable asset towards shaping them into a successful adult

    • Please take no offense to my comment, but you seam to be proposing the classic example of outpatient economic care alluded to in “The Millionaire Next Door.” Unless done very carefully your desire to do good can actually harm your kids. This is in response to your comment of “20s” expenses.

      • No I get where you are coming from. Like anything in life though it is about striking a good balance. Young adulthood is when they need money the most. I could only imagine how much closer to FI I would be if I didn’t have to pay for my med school. I want to help them financially while at the same time instilling an appreciation for finances and hard work. There are many ways I can see going about this.

    • I agree with you. My personal plan has always been to save and pay for college and to have some money also set aside for “getting started in life”.

      The latter could be used for grad school, a down payment on a house, starting a business, or whatever else helps with a successful launch. I do not consider this to be EOC (“economic outpatient care”), but just the extra nudge to get adult life started on a good footing.

  28. Great post! Kids are definitely much more expensive than we ever anticipated. That is part of the reason we decided to only have two. Even ordinary kids who won’t go on to become Broadway actors or athletes are still expensive. Tutors, summer programs, vacations, clothes, etc… all add up. When you become a parent, your priorities shift and you want your child to have as many opportunities and advantages to compete in our competitive society. In order to stay on track financially, you need to prioritize like your author stated. Do you need a bigger car and house? Need fancy clothes? Not really. It’s still possible to maintain your savings goals as long as you stay focused and prioritize.

    • Agree, just like we can’t have/do everything, neither can our kids. People who will make extreme personal sacrifices will are often far more indulgent toward their children. Maybe they (we) should be!

      There are a lot of stealth expenses that, as a parent, you do not expect until they are upon you. That is why they are stealth. 😉

  29. Great post! There’s no doubt about it, kids are expensive. From before birth through the rest of their lives. I find it odd that parents sometimes forgo retirement savings to save for college. There aren’t loans for retirement and if you’re set up well enough for retirement then you’ll probably find a way to help with college if that’s your priority.

    • I completely agree. It’s like when they tell you on the airplane to first place the oxygen mask on yourself, then on your child.

  30. Great Post,

    I agree that kids are dynamite for early retirement!

    As parents, we know the world and job market becomes more global and competitive each year.

    We know that the top performers put in tens of thousands of hours of practice. So we guess what our kids may or may not be interested in, put them in a bunch of activities and invest in them. If I waste a few thousand on lessons while they are young, oh well.

    Kids are great because they force us to think and care for someone other than ourselves.

    They also help us give up on the illusion of control that many of us have.

    The biggest cost, however, is the time they take. If you have kids, someone has to put in the time with them. For those of you who achieve FIRE before kids, it gives you all the time in the world to spend with them which is priceless.

    I think most people would agree that they are expensive but they would not trade it for anything. I rather work the extra decade if it means my kids are better long term than I am right now.

    • I could not have said it better myself. In fact, I didn’t!

      My impetus for writing the piece is that I am concerned that younger physicians with younger children (or no children yet) who have FIRE aspirations may be underestimating the resources their children could consume to raise to adulthood (and beyond).

  31. I see where kids could be a deterrent, but they can also be the most inspiring motivation for early retirement. I think I would be much more content with the “norm” and a long life of work without our son. His arrival kicked us into high gear and created a desire to move to a LCOL area, buy an affordable house and begin to chart our way to financial independence. Yes, he (and any other kids we may have) are expensive, but we can minimize these expenses along the way 🙂

    • I would consider kids to be more of an impediment than a deterrent, but it is an impediment that can be planned for and overcome.

  32. I think it is still entirely possible to retire early with kids if you create the right path. We were decent savers before finding FIRE so we have a leg up. We also do things cheaper than the average family (cloth diapers, homemade cleaning products, thrift store clothes, Craigslist toys, etc)

    For me having a family was always more important than anything else on my list of things to do in life so if that means early retirement gets pushed off further than it could have that’s fine by me. ?

    • No question, early retirement is doable with kids. Everyone has their own value system, and even though my children have cost me a fortune, (on most days) I am grateful for my family and the experience.

  33. This is another great post. I never had any kids myself and I recognize that decision helped me become financially independent early on. The relationship I was in when it was an option did not go any where so I decided not to become a single parent. By the time I got married the ovaries were depleted. A cautionary tale for some female docs perhaps. Really I wanted to share my brothers nightmare about kids failing to launch. My brother and his ex-wife are both attorneys. One of my nieces did graduate from college but it took extra time to get an unemployable degree in sociology. She was on a full music scholarship out of state but had to drop out after her first suicide attempt. She developed anorexia/bulimia and soon graduated into drugs (ectascy). She did get a degree but has never sustained a full time job. She just had a baby and has no way to support it. His other 2 girls never finished college but have stable marriages. These kids will always need economic support.

    • Hi, Hatton1,

      These tragic stories of one’s kids and their problems in early adulthood and beyond are far too common. Putting a dollar number on it often trivializes the sadness and despair, but these issues do take a toll- emotionally and financially.

  34. The college savings questions vexes me. There is so much uncertainty, and we don’t want to significantly under- or oversave. Some others recent posts regarding college savings have me thinking I will use a combination of 529s and earmarked taxable savings, but I still really don’t know what my “number” for each child will be.

    The discussion here focuses on the cost of children, but don’t forget they may become a movie star or elite athlete and give you an incredible return on that “three buck chuck” investment (isn’t is two bucks??)

    • College funding is uncertain, and many/most pay less than the obscene sticker price for the expensive private colleges.

      As to the second point, a have seen parents refer to their budding athlete as their “retirement plan”. It is spoken in jest, but there is some real hope behind these words.

      That is a lot to lay on a pitcher in eighth grade, and most of the time it does not pan out. And even if the lottery like odds are in your favor, there is no guarantee that the next Nolan Ryan is going to support mom and pop in the manner in which they expect.


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