Can’t a Guy Have It All?

For some time now, my dream has been to retire early and travel the world.  But I’ve also wanted to have kids and raise a family.  Sometimes I wonder if these two lifestyles are mutually exclusive — you can have one but not the other.

On one hand, it would be easy to retire in the next few years with more than enough assets to cover the two of us for life and begin our travels.  Perhaps we could settle down somewhere after our travels and see where life takes us.  But my wife doesn’t think a nomadic lifestyle is conducive to raising kids.  I wholeheartedly disagree and think it would make for a great education.  On the other hand, if we had kids sooner rather than later, they’d probably take over our lives, which would lead to me feeling resentful that I never got to follow my dreams.

So at least one of us (not me), feels like we can’t life both lifestyles at the same time.  That leaves doing one before the other.  I’d rather not wait until I’m old and grey to travel so I would advocate traveling first, then having kids.  Then it becomes a race against the clock as I’d want to achieve financial independence before traveling and having kids.  (I know this is unconventional and many people do not even have the luxury of this option so for the second post in a row, I apologize if I seem out of touch.)  In reality, the gravy train I’m on will come to a complete stop when I leave Biglaw and, for the purpose of avoiding a false sense of security, I am assuming that I will never be able to get back on.

Image(Source: New Yorker)

But there’s even more uncertainty in this approach.  The timing is very delicate, but I think it will work out.  My wife is in her late 20’s and she will enter her early thirties in 2-3 years.  By that time, barring any major financial crashes, our combined net worth should be over $2M.  If we then travel for 1-2 years, we should have time to have 1 or 2 kids when we return.

The $2M net worth seems OK, but I really do not have a good sense of how much kids cost and what our cost of living will be in the future.  That’s the part that’s eating me right now.  I imagine we’d have to move somewhere cheaper.  If we spend $300K on a house, that leaves $1.7M (or ability to spend $57K a year at a 3% withdrawal rate). We spend about $50K a year right now, but that includes $23K in rent, which would be replaced by ~$5K in property tax, leaving a buffer of $25K per year to spend on one or two kids (including tuition savings).  Is that reasonable?  I have no idea — it doesn’t seem to be according to the hysteric mass media telling us we need millions to afford kids. I suppose one or both of us could work again, but it’d have to be something I’m passionate about as I couldn’t bear to work a depressing and uninspiring job for a fraction of the amount I’m making now.  Perhaps I could bootstrap a business.  But I don’t want to HAVE to do that, I want to have the OPTION of doing that.

So now it seems like instead of having two choices, there are three and I can only choose two: long-term travel, children, and true financial independence.  What do you all think?


10 thoughts on “Can’t a Guy Have It All?

  1. I’m going to go ahead and say you can’t have it all. When you have kids the philosophy of doing more with less doesn’t go out the window but there is a pull to do the best by your kids. That may mean realizing that public school just isn’t working for them, or they want to attend certain summer camps, or they may have special needs. Regardless, I don’t think you can live the life I think you’ll want for them using a 3%withdrawal rate on $2M. My own retirement goal is $4M, and that’s with planned withdrawals coming much later. We’re spend about $5-6k per mth. but that spending includes Roth and 529 plan contributions as well (just to provide some context). I think the reality will end up being you need to work longer than you would like.

    • Thanks for the comment. When you retire, will you still have Roth and 529 expenses? If not, that probably takes you down to spending 4K a month, which gives you just over a 1% withdrawal rate. Are you expecting any large expenses in the future? How old do you expect to be when you retire?

  2. We’ve thought about stuff like this a lot, though for us kids aren’t really a priority – more like a who knows if that’ll happen (maybe 10% probability?). We definitely see ourselves traveling post FI (which is probably 4-5 years out), and I’m a worrier (and had a bad enough childhood) that I would probably not be super comfortable with kids on travels like the ones we have in mind. Also, I would want to be firm in our decision on having kids before we check out of our jobs for good (and thus plan the fundage accordingly). While Mr PoP’s job in tech sales would be easier to hop back into than BigLaw, and mine to a certain extent (though I’d have to worry more about skills getting stale), the last thing I’d want for any kid is to have parents resentful that they need to return to the workforce to fund the critter’s every want and need since it wasn’t planned.
    That said, there are definitely people that do have kids and travel, and quite inexpensively. If you haven’t ever checked out you might want to. I believe they left finance around 10 years ago, and started having adventures and traveling. At some point they realized they didn’t want to go back to work, so figured out they needed to spend slightly less on their adventures to make that a reality. They had a couple of kids along the way and now the kids travel with them, and they’re currently riding around the US in an ancient RV, though they’ve also done RTW in a sailboat (what we really want to end up doing) – but the RTW was without kids.

    • Thanks for the comment, PoP! I feel like our thoughts are very similar. I agree with wanting to be firm about whether or not to have kids before checking out. I suppose another way about this is just to plan for them financially and if it doesn’t happen, then that’s a windfall!

  3. Any way you shake it, this is a great problem to have…congrats that all your hard work in BigLaw is paying off. If you have a second, check out my blog post on Wealth, Luxury and Freedom, and why we can’t have all three…

    So far, you’ve been living the wealth-building lifestyle, but this hasn’t allotted you a lot of freedom. Transitioning to a wealth and freedom lifestyle makes wonderful sense, and it’s what I’m shooting for myself.

    Thanks for these great posts, and please keep them up!

    All the best,

    • Thanks for your comment. Funny thing is I came across your post on my own after I had posted. A lot of good thoughts in there. As I get closer to wealth+freedom, I start to realize that these concepts aren’t black and white, but rather are in subtle shades of grey.

  4. Enjoyed reading your post. I’ve had similar goals, but my view has certainly shifted a bit on this as well now that I’m in my late thirties w/ 2 young kids. My original thought was $2M in assets or $60k/yr would be manageable w/ 2 kids. However I can see challenges with this as we get closer to our $2M goal and well into parenthood. Our monthly spend is now up to around $5-6k/mo (including mortgage) + health insurance. The amount spent on children has surprised me for all the reasons you and others have indicated. I expect health insurance costs will be comparable to our mortgage payments (if not higher long term) and I only anticipate minor reductions in our expenses after FI. For now I am still working towards our $2M net worth goal, but right now am not currently very comfortable that I can pull the ripcord when we get there.

    • Thanks for your comment. Health insurance certainly is a big wildcard — one that I haven’t even begun to research in earnest. Whether ACA will remain intact for the foreseeable future is an issue too as is pricing trajectory. In some ways it promotes a race to the bottom as people will be incentivized to get under 400% of poverty level to qualify for subsidies. It’s probably a good idea to stick to your current target and then re-evaluate. I think that’s the mode we’re in as well.

  5. I am in a similar situation to you. Like you, I have always wanted to travel the world and collect new and interesting experiences. Like you, my wife likes to travel, but a larger priority for her is raising kids and having a stable, secure, and fulfilling environment to grow up. We have two kids, a son – 5 and a daughter -2. We are deciding by the end of this year on whether we will have a third.

    First, to your question on cost. Children don’t need to cost anywhere near what the estimates say in order to excel and have a fulfilling life. Especially with one parent staying home, many of the things that people spend money on aren’t necessary. Most children’s clothes and toys are available in like new condition as hand-me downs or at consignment sales because kids grow so fast. Homeschooling and time with the stay at home parent will be more effective than pre-k classes as my son enters kindergarden this fall and can read basic books, add and subtract two digit numbers, etc. Sports and moms groups provide plenty of socialization. Food for kids doesn’t cost much more unless you start getting lazy and go the fast food route.

    Regarding whether you can have it all on travel with kids. Judging by my experience with the first two, I don’t think that significant (months long) travel would be too easy or fun for me until the youngest child is 3… but after that, I think that it will be completely doable. We envision, trips like hitting all of the National Parks early on, then things like spending the summer in a foreign country each summer as a next step (ie an apartment in Paris one year, Melbourne the next, Cuenca the next, etc.) If we find we like that, full years where we home school or enroll the kids in school in another country may be possible. I plan on keeping the house in the suburbs of Atlanta so there is always a home base. However, I think there are so many options and ways of travelling that you can find one that is successful for your family.

    Regarding your plan to travel first and have kids later… I think that might be a mistake if you really want a family. For one thing, the ability to have kids isn’t guaranteed and can get harder as both people age. Also, energy and youth are helpful I think, especially when the kids are little, and I don’t really want to be 60 when my last kid gets out of high school. Working now, with one parent home as the kids are really little has worked well and will probably give your wife all of the “regular” home with kids time that she wants. 🙂 Finally, I think your kids will definitely add something to your travel experiences. I have always wanted to hike the Pacific Crest Trail and my wife wouldn’t be interested at all. I think my son definitely will be once he gets to middle school age, though. 🙂

    So, my long-winded answer to your question is that you can have it all, if you are willing to compromise a bit on how you do it and put the effort in to make it work.

    – Kevin

    • Thanks for the comment, Kevin. Everyone seems to have a different take on how much kids cost. Since we’re below the median in spending in other areas, I hope this means we can also keep kid expenses down as well. Part of me likes the certainty of knowing not having a kid will cost zero. But another part of me thinks I’ll miss out on the joy of raising a kid. I guess that’s the threshold question we have to figure out in the meantime. Hopefully we will still be able to have kids when we decide to and we’ll be in a secure financial position at that time as well.

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