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Sunday, December 1, 2019

Hidden Wealth Can Explain Choices

When my wife and I decided to have a third child, I got a lot of unsolicited comments and advice. The most common by far was trying for the boy. The next most popular comment was usually something about the costs of children. For me I always thought about the daycare costs that was the present cost, that's where we are struggling with childcare costs. Almost inevitably the conversation steered towards how expensive college has become. Some people explained that this was an obstacle to them having another child. The fear they could never retire, not wanting to saddle their current children with college loans. A fact I've almost never share, is that's a smaller concern for us.

As I've written in previous posts, college is taken care of for our older two thanks to a generous 529 gift from my mom, after she came into a windfall. The third child has a decent start since I started a 529 for my oldest 6 years before she was born and transferred it over.

What others don't always know is that my wife makes a very good salary as well. That we have gotten a significant, but not crazy amount of help buying our first house, replacing our car, etc.

Without this support the third child would be unthinkable. We wouldn't be able to afford the town we live in, we probably wouldn't be homeowners yet. I think it speaks margins about the wealth inequality in this country. We are are two hardworking people in the top quintile of salaries for our state. We are both more than 15 years out of undergrad. Yet without help a middle class lifestyle would be out of the realm of possibility for most. Recently a family friend brought her daughters to play with our girls. She mentioned casually that she was going to Disney World. We have yet to go. We had mentioned we were looking to go. She warned me about the price. For us the newborn is a greater obstacle than the price.

These are the types of things that often aren't discussed. Now offsetting a lot of that privilege is also costs of college, expensive graduate degrees. The fact that my salary was significantly lower until 3 years ago, childcare costs, that much of the support we have gotten came over the age of 35. This speaks to the power of time. If we had gotten the help younger and were of proper maturity, we would be in a stronger position.

But I mention this because people tend to judge people by what they think they should be able to afford. When it comes to finances there are often a lot of hidden variables.

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