Is Your Financial Situation Limiting Your Family’s Size?

by Miranda Marquit · 18 comments

I’m satisfied with my family size. I only have one child, and, to tell the truth, I’ve never really been that interested in having a big family. I think I could handle maybe one or two more, but having several children has never been my ideal. That being said, my satisfaction with one child puts me in the minority — at least according to a recent study from the Pew Research Center.

The organization compiled research on ideal family size versus actual family size, and they found that many Americans wish they had slightly larger families. According to the study, 52 percent of women in the United States said two children is ideal, while 44 percent thought the magic number was three.

To put this in perspective, 40 percent of American women reaching the end of their childbearing years said they don’t have as many children as they would like.

What’s causing us to limit our family sizes? 

The Financial Cost of Kids

The Pew study found that there appears to be a correlation between economic well-being and birthrate. Overall, when times are good, the birthrate is higher, whereas it drops during difficult times. This might be due to the fact that raising a child can be expensive. While many of us can get away with raising a child from birth to age 17 without spending $200,000 (like the government says it costs), it is still an expensive endeavor.

If you feel like you can’t afford them, you might limit the number of kids you have to save money — and you might not reach your ideal number. Additionally, the research points out that many women are starting later, which limits the number of children they can have. Some of them wait because they’re trying to establish careers, or because they feel like they need two paychecks in order to make ends meet.

The Career Cost of Kids

Those that do have children might be limiting the number they have for career reasons, as well. Consider this: If you think you need two paychecks to meet your expenses, it’s hard to ask someone to give up work for weeks, or months, on end. Your finances might not be able to handle it.

If you have more children, there’s the obvious higher costs — but there’s also the fact that someone will need to spend less time on an outside career and more time in the home.

That can be a daunting financial and career reality for many, and one of the reasons that parents are actively limiting family size.

How Do You Make It Work?

Of course, there are plenty of stories of how to raise a large family on a tight budget. There’s a family in my neighborhood with seven children, and several families in my neighborhood have at least four. They succeed because they prioritize their spending, and live frugally on one income, or with the primary caregiver working part-time or earning from small at-home business ventures.

It’s up to you to decide what size of family you want — and how you’ll make it work financially.

What’s your ideal family size? How do you make it work?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Alex @ Credit Card XPO says:

    We have 2 kids and we are definitely done. One of the reasons why we don’t want more is because we like to travel while we are still young. Traveling with kids under 4 years of age is really hard and exhausting.

  • bookaunt says:

    We were blessed with 4 children and while there is no question that it was occasionally stressful both emotionally and financially, we DID make it work. The habits of economy developed while we were living on a single income enabled us, after I returned to the workforce, to save aggressively and we anticipate a comfortable retirement within the next few years.

    • David @ says:

      Awesome story! Congrats on achieving the dream and letting everyone know that it can be done even with 4 children.

  • lana says:

    We had two kids. I stayed at home for 22 years. We made it work. We weren’t extravagant. They got scholarships and we helped out. I provided preschool and we did most things modestly. In the process, they learned a lot about money and budgeting. Win-win.

    • David @ says:

      Great perspective. People will make it work! The beauty of the households that actually need to budget is that kids get to learn a valuable lesson that rich kids will never experience.

  • Evan says:

    It definitely feels like having kids is a financial leap of faith in a fundamentally different way from years past. I know of few couples who go into parenthood confident of the financial ramifications whereas for out parents and grandparents kids were expected and seemed to fit right into the paycheck of a single breadwinner.

    • David @ says:

      I’m not sure if the previous generation felt flushed with cash even with kids. Having more people to feed / needing a bigger house is always a strain on finances. If there wasn’t a need for $$$ in the previous generation, I doubt dual income will ever become the norm it is today.

  • Amy says:

    My husband and I also have only one child by choice. There are many factors that went into our decision – our age, finances, etc. The biggest one, as it should be for any family, is that it’s what works best for us. We’ve found that having only one allows us to most comfortably balance “adult life” with “kid life”. There are tradeoffs either way, but this is what works best for us.

    • David @ says:

      I joke to my wife that we just need to wait another 20 years before we can travel again (our second one is 15 months now). I’m jealous you’ve found that balance between “adult life” and “kid life”!!

      • Amy says:

        Travel is rough with a 15 month old, but you’ll get there! Just think of how much money you’re saving until then. 🙂

  • Aldo @ MDN says:

    I never thought I’d be able to afford having kids so the thought of having them used to make me freak out. But that’s because I was terrible with my finances. Ever since I started paying attention to my finances and having a budget, I no longer worry about being able to afford having kids. I don’t have kids yet but I plan to some day.

    • David @ says:

      Good for you on fixing your finances. And when you have kids, you get to show them how to start off right too 🙂

  • Sam Ginnis @ I Know Why You're Broke says:


    This has been a hard to discussion that has become easier over time. Initially, we thought we needed to get “financially ready”, the decided there was no “right time” and we learn to budget around our kids, instead of vice versa.

    If people felt like they we’re more financially disciplined in general, I think they would feel the same. Instead, they feel like the need two incomes or more income to provide a lifestyle for their kids.

    We’ve gotten into the re-use community, which happens to be fantastic for all goods which will be temporarily used by children.

    • David @ says:

      I wish more people would embrace the idea of reusing kids goods, especially with infant/toddler stuff. We get a ton of clothes/toys from our friends and we always pass on stuff we no longer need. And what’s great about kids stuff is that everything we get and pass on is in mint condition it can be passed on as new!

  • David @ says:

    We always wanted two (the number just “felt” right).

    Someone told me before that it would be really good for your children to have a sibling because they will always know that someone close to them are alive in this world after we pass away. But OMG kids can be really expensive and so much work. I don’t know how people do it with 3, 4 and sometimes even more.

  • David @ Simple Money Concept says:


    I actually feel the same way as you about having only one child.

    Raising a child is probably more expensive today than 10, 20, or 30 years. It’s partly because of all the baby/kids items that are available today. I mean just a pair of those blinking shoes can cost $50 bucks! Oh, don’t forget the college cost…

    • David @ says:

      I think kids are more expensive today because there are more temptations out there. There are still a ton of modest income families in the U.S. with multiple children and they still make do.

      It could still work!

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