I heard a very frustrating interview a month or so ago. It started with a throwaway comment.
“When you’re childless, buying is all about* impressing others and status symbols. You can’t spend mindlessly when you’re a parent.”
The comment was from Nazeem Hussain, an Australian comedian who has a financial podcast, The Pineapple Project.
Once again, a comedian with children mistakes being childless with being in your 20s without kids. Aaaaargh! And whilst there are 20-somethings who are childless in the permanent sense of the world, most would not consider themselves childless. Most are waiting to “have kids,” to first find a partner, if they can, to begin their careers or get out of student debt, to see the world, to grow up and become an adult. Many others are trying to save for a deposit to buy increasingly out-of-reach houses, pay off student loans, support wider families, or just trying to keep their heads above water when living in expensive cities. Maybe some are buying things to impress others or to buy status symbols. But I know plenty parents who do that too! I don’t think it has anything to do with childlessness.
Of course, the host (father of four kids so far), who can’t stop showing his pronatalism on national radio (although he occasionally tries, often unsuccessfully), totally agreed with this comment, talking about how having children teaches you how to save! Double aaaargh!
I don’t know about you, but never having extra money as a kid taught me how to save. Seeing my stressed father do the farm accounts, saying, “I don’t know how I’m going to pay that tax bill” taught me the value of money. Working summer jobs from the time I was about 12 taught me to save. Having to pay my own way through university (after the first term) taught me to save. Growing up taught me how to save. Knowing the difference between a want and a need, a necessity and a treat, and compromising on both based on my bank account taught me how to save. Delayed gratification allowed me to save.
Being childless doesn’t mean we are profligate. Rather, I think that it means we think about saving. Yes, we might be able to spend all our money because we don’t have to leave any as an inheritance. But it is more likely that we will have to spend all our money because we don’t have kids who can help us out (physically or financially), and so we worry about whether we will have enough. We don’t have children as a back-up. And sure, my husband and I have spent much more money on travel than our friends (with and without children), and it may appear that we can do that because we don’t have children. But the reality is that we don’t have the big fancy house, the kids at private school, the multiple cars, etc either. We save in many many other ways.
It's too easy for parents to be smug about the childless. The comfort of the majority makes too many of them thoughtless, and cruel – even if unintentionally. It’s a cheap laugh for so-called comedians at the expense of people who are already isolated in our communities. It shows a lack of empathy and imagination. And I’m getting really tired of it!
* this isn’t verbatim, but it’s very close