Updated 23 January 2017
If every child were born with the final bill attached, then new parents might weep a lot more. But with the cost of raising one child now on a par with buying a home, why aren’t more of us seeking a similar level of professional advice?
‘I’m thinking of starting a family. Do you know a good financial adviser?’ Maybe that made you smile. But it ought to be a serious question.
Many people take financial advice when buying a home. Very few do when planning a family. In our latest survey, we have found that a sizeable minority (nearly 40 per cent) of respondents took financial advice when buying their first home, and nearly a quarter continued to do so right up until their most recent property. But it’s hard to find anyone who took financial advice when their children arrived – just 5 per cent of respondents had done this. Some might have thought it was an odd question.
But is having a child really so different from buying a home? Most mortgages last 20 years; childhood lasts 18 (and that assumes the child stops being dependent at midnight on their 18th birthday… come on, what are the odds?). According to recent findings from the Centre for Economic and Business Research, the average cost of raising a child in the UK is around £227,000. Meanwhile the average UK home (according to the Office for National Statistics) comes in around £272,000. They’re jarringly similar figures – and that’s before you consider that most of us only buy one home at a time, while many families have more than one child.
Take a look around the country and it becomes impossible to ignore. House prices fluctuate a lot from place to place – you can pick up an average house in Wales for £172,000. But the cost of child-rearing is less varied; you’d still be paying around £210,000 per head. That’s right – in some parts of the UK each child could cost you more than your house.
When does reality sink in?
Our respondents said that starting a family was the most significant event in their life. Buying their first home also ranked highly, though was only half as significant overall. But while a large proportion of respondents took financial advice on their property purchase, hardly any did so upon starting a family. When the figures are broken down by region, the discrepancy becomes even starker: in Wales, for instance (where houses look cheap compared to children), just 1 per cent had taken financial advice regarding their family. By contrast, 35 per cent of first home buyers in Wales had sought advice.
Why don’t people see this inconsistency? Our survey suggests that perhaps they do – but only when they believe it’s too late. Although starting a family is rated the most life-changing event overall, responses vary considerably across the age groups. Those between 18 and 34 appear more blasé, with only 34 per cent rating it top (on a par with changing jobs!). By 35-54 this has shot up to 49 per cent, perhaps because by then the financial reality has begun to bite. Parents of newborns, take note: with all the sleepless nights, nappies, colic and teething that you endure, you still aren’t making as big a noise as the parents of school-age children.
But there are signs that we are learning. Of the few who did seek financial advice on starting a family, the greatest proportion are those now aged from 18 to 34. At 13 per cent, this is more than three times the figure for those aged 35 to 54. This may be partly due to a growing awareness of financial advice, but it could also be that the younger generation is becoming more savvy, and learning from the mistakes of its elders. Things like getting that first job don’t seem nearly as significant, in hindsight, to that older age group. Maybe the message is filtering down.
Home and family mean the same things
We remain a lot better at planning to buy our homes, than we are at planning to fund our families. This doesn’t really make sense. Is it just force of habit? We enter a house purchase knowing the full cost, but where children are concerned we often can’t see beyond the next feed or football practice. But in financial terms the issues are pretty closely matched.
By the time we understand how much our lives have changed, many might think it’s too late to seek advice. This isn’t the case; proper financial planning can make a big difference at any stage of raising a family, from funding childcare costs to supporting higher education and beyond. But one thing is generally true of such advice: the earlier you seek it, the better. So after you’ve told all your friends the joyful news, maybe give that IFA a quick call.