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Blog: Is it selfish to have one child?


Is it selfish or financial sense to have one child? Mum-of-one and personal finance journalist Sue Hayward says money matters when it comes to raising a child.

mother and child

"Just got the one then?"

It's the way people say the word "just" that bugs me.

It's as if they think something's wrong because I have one gorgeous daughter instead of multiple offspring.

Or, when the national average is 1.7 children, is it because some people think it's selfish to have one child?

Small families are the way forward

And what's this fascination with big families anyway?

Okay, so TV shows like Channel 4's 16 Kids And Counting may make for compulsive viewing.

Many watch to find out how on earth you can fit 16 people round a table for tea, let alone afford the weekly food shopping. 

But in reality families are actually getting smaller, with an increasing number of parents having one child.

The Office for National Statistics says nearly half of all families - 47 per cent - now have one dependent child which is 5 per cent more than in 1996.

By contrast families with three or more children have fallen to 14 per cent.

How much does it cost to bring up a child?

While parents may have one child for a variety of reasons, there's no getting away from the fact that kids are expensive.

And you get clobbered with most of the big costs in those early years: the very time when you may be considering a second baby but find your finances stretched to breaking point. 

The life insurance firm LV= puts a price tag of £222,000 on each child's upbringing in its annual "Cost of a Child" survey.

What's more, it says that 30 per cent of this sum - more than £68,000 - is for the first five years alone. 

And while this headline figure does cover every last nappy, bottle of milk and birthday present, plus three years of university education, it makes for sobering reading.

Doing the baby sums

Weighing up the prospect of having a second child like a business decision sounds horribly cold and calculating.

But isn't it worth considering the long term financial investment, along with whether you can afford to make the necessary spending cutbacks first? 

The government-backed Money Advice Service claims half of parents underestimate the cost of having children.

The result is that more than 20 per cent of parents spend up to £5,000 more than expected in the first year, which can mean a debt ridden start to family life.

What do parents say?

I asked around some of my fellow parents who have anything from one to three children.

Jackie, 38, from London, has an eight-year-old son and admits: "It was tough financially in those early years and it's only recently that we're back on an even keel."

She says having another baby would put a huge strain on her finances.

"I'm not sure it's something I'd want to do." 

Childcare costs

For me childcare stands out as my biggest expense in those early years, and it's one cost that inevitably doubles if one become two.

For many working parents with two children it's a struggle to make the sums add up when two childcare bills, plus commuting costs, can easily wipe out the best part of a week’s salary.

While my own decision to have one child wasn't a financial one, I know plenty of parents who feel having one child means they're in a more stable financial position.

This meants they're better able to afford school trips, activities and clubs.

With two or three children, costs quickly multiply, which in turn piles pressure on the family budget.

The knock-on effect of this is that parents may be forced to work longer hours or take second jobs to support their growing family.


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