What It's Like to Raise Kids on a Tight Budget

November 19th 2016

For certain people, having children is one of life's most rewarding experiences. It's also an expensive choice that can be particularly scary for low income families.

Because of the costs associated with starting a family, some people face judgment for having kids during times of financial struggle.

Low income parents are sometimes viewed as lesser providers for not being able to give to their families in a way that others think that they should. In 2015, for example, Fox News personality Bill O'Reilly asserted that children only went hungry in America due to "derelict" parents. Some critics assert that families in tough economic situations are always looking for handouts from the government because they'd rather not work to get what they need. In 2014, writer Daniel Payne argued in the Federalist that there "should be a stigma surrounding government dependency" so people might be discouraged from using government services such as free lunches in school.

"I think any low-income individual faces stigma, whether it's an individual person or families," Sarah Feeney Ph.D, an assistant professor of Family Studies at Central Washington University, told ATTN: in a phone interview, adding that some people might assume that those who have children earlier in life aren't serious about their professional lives. "I think people who are from a middle or upper middle class background see careers as being the [most important] priority and think that children are going to get in the way of that. Also I think there is sort of that underlying expectation that if you add to your family without having a certain income level that you are going to be relying on [government] services, and there's a huge stigma around that. I think that's an undertone."

Feeney added that the social stigma against having children on a tight budget or early in life can vary by social class:

"I think it really depends on what social class you're a part of. I think if you're part of an upper or middle class income, where people have access to college education, probably there's a greater stigma in that population. But if you look at lower income communities where there's high rates of unemployment and low rates of college degree obtainment, it's actually a stigma in the other direction. Like if you don't have kids in your twenties, it's like, wow, what's wrong with you? So I think it really depends on what your social context and class is."

But even if you think you feel financially prepared to start a family, a new mother named Sara Demler told ATTN: that she thinks "you can never be prepared enough" to have a baby anyway. Demler, who lives in California, has faced criticism from others for having a child on a $13 dollars per hour income.

"I have definitely been told I didn't have enough money for kids or led to believe I had to wait until I was married or financially stable. My boyfriend and I both lost a parent so we eventually decided that we want our child to hopefully have as much time as possible with us while we are healthy and young. I would agree that [financial security probably] helps, but just because someone has all that money doesn't mean they are budgeting well themselves.

Laura, a mother of one in Dubai who asked ATTN: to withhold her last name, agreed with the sentiment that no one is ever really "ready" to be a parent regardless of how much money they've saved. Laura found out she was pregnant right before starting graduate school in southern California, and she and her partner were living off her monthly stipend from school at the time. He was initially concerned about how they would make ends meet in their situation, as he was freelancing. She said she faced postpartum depression and financial difficulties during her time in graduate school.

"The one person who was most vocal about our financial instability was my baby's father (now my husband)," Laura told ATTN:. "I found out that I was pregnant one week before starting grad school at USC, and my husband was freelancing various art jobs. We lived on the monthly stipend that I received from school, so we were both constantly dreading the end of the school year, where we would have to find another source of income. My parents raised seven children, so they always assured me, 'You'll make it work.' And we did. Thankfully, we are now living abroad in Dubai and living a very comfortable life."

babyStocksy/Tana Teel -

Laura also cast doubt on the idealistic notion that you should be in a financial sweet spot before becoming a parent. By this logic, some people might wait forever to have kids.

"I think we all have this ideal scenario in our minds where we are married, completed years of travel, and have an established career, a sizeable savings account, and a cute little starter house before having our first child," Laura said. "Very rarely does life turn out this way."

"Through hard work, selflessness, and determination, I think that a family can always make it work, even if they're living from paycheck to paycheck for a while," Laura continued. "My dad financially supported all six of my siblings and I, while my mom stayed home to rule the roost. While having more money would make it a little less stressful on first time parents, a baby can get colic no matter how much money is sitting in his/her parents' bank accounts."

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