27 September, 2021

Cheap laughs

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


  1. I hate this comedian!

    I also - like you - never having extra money as a kid taught me how to save. And seeing stressed working-class parents taught me the value of money.

    The comment about spending mindlessly - it is just silly and naive.

  2. This whole idea of childless/free people having loads of money to toss around is such a harmful stereotype/myth. For one thing, are we talking couples or singles? Because I'm on a couple of childless forums with women who are childless and single, and it's a struggle for some of them to meet all their expenses and save for the future on just one income, particularly if they live in an expensive city.

    For another thing, many childless couples exhaust their savings &/or go into debt to pursue infertility treatments and adoptions that don't pan out. We pay taxes to support other people's children, while getting none of the tax breaks that parents do.

    Dh & I started out with nothing -- the first Christmas we were married, we did fly west to be with my family, but I had 65 cents left in my wallet. FIL helped us with the rent once or twice and gave us a generous sum to help us with a down payment on our house but everything else, we did for ourselves. Most of our vacations consisted of going to see my family, and whenever we got any tax refunds or bonuses for work, we'd put aside $50 or $100 each for us to splurge on books or whatever we wanted, and then make a lump sum payment against our mortgage. Once we decided to cut our losses and abandon fertility treatments (after spending $10,000+ in a little over a year, without doing IVF), we managed to pay off the mortgage (a 25 year mortgage in just 11 years), and after that, we started socking our money away towards the goal of early retirement -- which was a lucky thing, since both of us lost our jobs in our mid-50s.

    Meanwhile, the families around us were trading up to bigger and fancier homes (and no doubt bigger mortgages...!) bigger and fancier cars (second cars for the spouse and then cars for the kids when they reached driving age), and taking their kids on expensive sunspot vacations every year. Some have bought cottages here in Ontario and/or vacation homes in Florida. We may not have the big, fancy house or car or taken many glamorous vacations, etc. -- BUT we managed to retire in our mid-50s, debt free, with some savings. AND we've been able to help our nephews with their educations, give them generous wedding and housewarming presents, and start an education fund for Little Great-Nephew.

    If we are doing any "mindless spending" these days -- which we're not -- (a) because it's not really in our nature, and (b) because, pandemic = nowhere to go, including the malls, which we were closed for quite a while -- I think at this point in our lives we've earned it. ;)

    1. Excellent point about childless couples exhausting savings or going into debt for infertility treatments and adoption. I can't believe I didn't include that!

  3. Ugh, Parenthood has nothing to do with "good" spending. I know plenty of parents who spend mindlessly on their kids, all the latest fun electronics and games, and paid out allowances of astronomical values without requiring work. And YES to Loribeth's point -- I spent all my parenting money up front with no payoff. I should be able to save and spend however I like now.

    I'm tired of it too!

  4. I always find it surprising how often in public discussion or in such bad "jokes", childless people are seen as being superficial. It is outrageous that this “comedian” postulates that (all) childless people are so small-minded that they need to distinguish themselves through status symbols and that we only buy things for status. Where does it come from that couples or singles without children are seen negatively and parents altruistic and thoughtful?

    Buying just to impress others isn’t the same as buying mindlessly either. Where along the way are people who don't have children supposed to have lost their brains and turned into a superficial, mindless person? We don’t have children yes, but we do grow up!

    Seriously there are people in the world who need to define themselves through buying status symbols, and who don’t think about how they spend their money, but that doesn’t have anything to do with whether they have kids or not.
    Obviously, for him status and impressing others is quite important, otherwise he wouldn’t have brought it up. Poor, poor guy.

    1. Lilly, your last two sentences are the perfect response!

  5. Uh, newsflash Nazeem. There are plenty of parental-types who DO spend mindlessly. Just how out of touch are you?