I’ve got a trick up my sleeve (literally, actually, but we’ll get into that later) that I’m using to help me on my path to financial independence. It’s unusual in that it’s not a savings app and it’s not a mindset that helps me spend less money. But it’s not a secret: everyone’s heard of it, and a vast majority of women have used it in some form or another for a variety of reasons.[*]
I am, of course, talking about birth control.
While I’m on the yelling about women/political post train, what’s another this week, huh? Buckle up, kids! Or rather, don’t. Because kids—or more specifically a lack of them—is what I want to talk about.
An ode to birth control
Birth control is something that’s been on my mind lately: a few days ago was the 45th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and also the so-called “March for Life” happened last week (I will not go on a rant about how the “life” part is so deeply hypocritical, I will not go on a rant…). There was also a fascinating discussion about sex ed on Twitter (you have to open up the various replies to see all of the many threads) a few weeks ago, although by fascinating I mean “the state of sex ed in this country is at best laughably horrible and at worst actively damaging.”
Birth control in general is pretty damn awesome. Something that reduces unwanted pregnancies (and therefore reduces the need for abortions and the need to rely on the social safety net, for
the old white men in power who like legislating women’s bodies those who care about those things), is good for the environment, lets women have more control over their own lives and decide when and if they become mothers, and is good for women’s societal advancement? Yes, please!
And I shouldn’t have to say this, but I will anyway, before some troll pops up in my comments or mentions calling all women on birth control sluts: women don’t use birth control solely for “consequence-free sex.”
There are many, many reasons why a woman will use the pill for medical reasons: endometriosis is a really fucking painful condition, and taking the pill continuously can reduce symptoms. The pill can help treat polycystic ovary syndrome or amenorrhea. Same for hormone replacement therapy for primary ovarian insufficiency. The pill can also reduce acne, make heavy periods lighter, and reduce cramps and other PMS bullshit.
Every woman’s experience is different, sure. But in case you think PMS is no big deal and we should all suck it up, every three or four months I’d wake up one morning to absolutely debilitating cramps that left me curled up in a ball until the painkillers kicked in. And I wouldn’t say I dealt with “bad” cramps. Have you ever felt like you were going to pass out, throw up, or die, and possibly all three at once? Yeah, that’s what my not-bad cramps felt like.
The pill can also regulate an irregular cycle: I went on birth control originally in high school because I’d had my period for two years but I was still randomly skipping months. So my doctor prescribed me the pill, and lo and behold I not only had a period every month, but it started and more or less ended at the same time each month.
While all of the above information is totally true, ultimately it really doesn’t fucking matter whether women are on birth control for medical reasons or for reproductive reasons. Both are legitimate and good reasons to be on birth control. Let’s not act like the only non-shameful reason to be on birth control is to treat a medical condition.
But, like, I still don’t think it’s a good thing
If I got into all of the excuses I see people (okay, mostly men) make for why birth control shouldn’t be widely available and affordable, I’d be writing an entire book. I don’t have time for that and no one’s paying me to do it, so here are two of my favorites.
“I don’t want to pay for it.”
Buddy, I’ve got news for you: it’s included in health care you are already paying for. You’re paying for my birth control in the same way that you’re paying for someone’s insulin, x-rays, chemo, or ER visit. There is not some separate Birth Control For The Females (Ew) fund that your hard-earned tax dollars are going towards. Birth control is regular ol’ healthcare.
I’d also say not forcing people to have children they don’t want or aren’t ready for is about the same level of common good as roads, public schools, and running water. Guess what, you pay for those too!
(Damn the government!)
And lastly, great! If we’re not going to make birth control available, then let’s work on making the social safety net a lot more robust[**] so we can better take care of the families who had kids they weren’t planning for (see, that’s actually pro-life)! That’ll be a lot more expensive. Making birth control affordable and widely available is a hell of a lot cheaper, so take your pick about which one you want to pay for.
“Just keep your legs closed”
Yo, this response is SO BORING. Like seriously, you can’t come up with something more creative than “just don’t have sex”??
I had about
five ten five more paragraphs of things I was going to go into, including a whole rant on the utter, harmful nonsense that is abstinence-only sex ed (who spent college unlearning ridiculous amounts of sexist bullshit she didn’t even know she’d internalized? This girl!). But nope, I’m gonna leave it there. YAWN.
The economics of birth control
Why else is birth control awesome? Because kids are really damn expensive. Like $233,610 expensive. In the FI community we (okay, those of us with kids) can argue all we want about how to raise kids so they aren’t terribly expensive: have them pay for most or all of their college education, don’t buy them a car when they turn 16, curtail the amount of toys they get as gifts, don’t enroll them in ten separate activities after school, and so on.
But none of those money-saving child-rearing techniques change the fact that you still need to feed, clothe, and house your kids for 18 years. Someone will need to watch your kid if both parents are at work during the day, and that’s a hella expensive line item for your budget. Maybe your family vacations are hiking and camping instead of cruises, but that doesn’t change the fact that kids need health insurance and routine visits to the doctor. And that’s after whatever it costs for the prenatal appointments and then the delivery of said child.
Financial consequences of giving birth
Not only are kids expensive, but having kids costs women in other ways.
In the year 20-blessed-18 women are still fighting the gender pay gap, most especially women of color. This only gets exacerbated when they have children. For one, the US still shows up on a very short list of countries that don’t guarantee paid leave for new parents. Mothers are punished more than fathers over the course of their careers. And women who stay home with their kids for any amount of time lose out on a ton of money.
Oh yeah, and let’s not forget that women disproportionately handle childcare and housework in families, not to mention all of the emotional labor that goes on behind the scenes.
Given all of those incredibly depressing and enraging statistics, it’s even more clear that not having children until you want and are ready to just makes financial sense.
Y’all, I really don’t want kids right now
Remember that time I wrote about my new birth control but didn’t really want to get political? Hahahaha.
Anyway, I had a doctor put a hole in my arm, insert a plastic rod into it, and bandage me up, all in the name of not having a kid. I’m going to have to get a doctor to open me back up at the point of incision to take out that rod when it expires in slightly over two years. I had to leave a pressure wrap on my arm for 24 hours so that I didn’t get huge blood clots while that hole in my arm healed up around the newly-inserted foreign object.
Out of habit the morning after I got my implant I reached for a full bottle of contact solution with my bad arm and nearly passed out in my bathroom. It took a good week and a half for it to stop hurting. If I accidentally nudge it (don’t foam roll your implant-containing tricep after a workout is something I learned the hard way!) it still twinges. I did all of this because it was the far less scary alternative to getting an IUD and having a doctor shove a piece of plastic up my uterus instead.
Going off of the pill has meant I’m now dealing with acne issues that I haven’t had to since I went on the pill in high school. Almost a year in and I have no idea when or if I’m ever going to get a period. Unlike with the pill, I’m no longer on a set schedule and have no control over anything. Not only did I have control over whether or not I was having a period in any given month (say, if I was supposed to be on it during my family’s beach week), it was really nice to know exactly what day my period would start and how long it would last. That’s completely gone, and my best guesses now about when this natural bodily function will happen essentially boil down to ?♀️.
But I switched from the pill because I was concerned about being able to secure a steady, affordable, uninterrupted supply and because I was on health insurance that would cover the full $1,700 with only the specialist copay coming out of my pocket. I didn’t want to switch my birth control, but I knew sooner or later things would change, and I didn’t want to find myself one day stuck in a situation with expensive birth control and insurance that wouldn’t cover a LARC. Plus, I’ve now got one of the most effective forms of birth control possible (this is not an invitation for someone to chime in with “well actually abstinence is 100% effective”).
I’m telling you all of these details not because I freely share all this personal information or to gross people out (but also, get the fuck over it), but as an indication of what I’m willing to put up with for the sake of not having a child I don’t want. All of this hassle and frustration is well worth it.
What does birth control have to do with FI?
Not only do I not want a child at this point in life, but I cannot afford a child. Being a woman and having a uterus is already expensive enough. And on the general life front, I may be just within reach of becoming debt-free, but that doesn’t change the fact that my rent still costs me half of my paycheck every month (and it’ll be slightly more from here on out).
I haven’t sat down to figure out my FI number or how many years it’ll be before I can call myself that, but having a child is a guaranteed way to derail those plans faster than credit card interest compounds. Seriously, kudos to everyone pursuing FI with a family!
For a whole host of reasons I’m on the fence about whether I will have a kid or not, and that decision will ultimately be made between myself and my future partner. But it’s a decision that’ll be made way down the road, and it’s thanks to the modern miracle that is safe, effective birth control that I don’t need to think about it at this point in my life.
And in the meantime I can freely continue pursuing financial independence.
Wrapping it up
Is there a larger point here, besides kids are expensive and I don’t want them/can’t have them at the moment? Yeah.
Birth control is important, as is women’s health in general. The physical demands of pregnancy fall to women, so for better or worse the bulk of the responsibility for not getting pregnant does, too. And being able to plan when and if they want to grow their families is a major economic boon for women. Given that we comprise half of the population, that’s a win for everyone. So we should be handing out birth control like candy.
My birth control is a key factor in being able to pursue financial independence. I am grateful I can focus on getting myself to a more secure place financially without having to constantly worry about how on earth I’d manage to support a child.
I couldn’t participate in the Women’s March on Saturday because I was working. But as soon as I get my paycheck for last weekend, I’m going to send everything I made (minus what I’m taking out for taxes) over to Planned Parenthood. If you’re looking for a worthy cause to support this month, I’d suggest that one. A world where women can make decisions about their own reproductive health is the one I want to live in, thanks.
Anyone else want to write an ode to their birth control? Chime in in the comments!
[*]Because I am a cis woman, I’m going to simplify and use “woman”/”female” throughout this post. However, not all women have a uterus and not everyone who has a uterus is a woman!
[**]That’s not me hysterically laughing, that’s you!
38 Replies to “The unconventional (but critical) part of my FI pursuit”
You are totally on point when it comes to expense of children and being able to make the decision to have them if and when it’s right for you. I believe you are also correct that the work of parenting and household “duties” still skews heavily toward the mom (even when both parents are working outside the home). Now, on a personal note, the Mirena IUD. Love it ? (well, as much as you can love something plastic in your uterus).
First off, Erin, you are a goddess. This post should be mandatory reading in every high school classroom for the rest of time.
Kat – hell to the yeah! Mirena all the way. It was totally worth (still is) but I wish someone had warned me better about how f*cking painful the insertion is for a young woman who never had a kid yet…
But to reiterate, SO THANKFUL and also PP enabled me to get it for $0 dollars. Best decision of my life. Yes, everyone should support them!
Woah, goddess? I’m going to remember that one and expect everyone to treat me like one from here on out 😉
Yeah that insertion pain was something I was really scared of, plus the potential complications! Also the doctor was like an hour late for my appointment (plenty of time to psych myself up about how much it would hurt to get the thing put in my arm!) because they were all running behind so I’m really glad I didn’t get an IUD. My painkillers would’ve worn off before I even needed them ?
Thank you! And I probably would’ve gotten the Mirena, if it weren’t for the fact that my roommate had a Nexplanon and told me about it, and I decided that was a way less scary prospect! Otherwise I don’t think I ever would’ve heard about the implant.
Yes to all of this! This is a great post.
I also loved my birth control, despite the fact I haven’t dated a man in over a decade, because it kept my horrible acne at bay. I sadly had to give it up recently, as I developed an allergic reaction to it after 18 years, but I would go back on it in a heartbeat if I could.
Oy, an allergic reaction to your birth control? I can’t imagine what that would mean or how you would go about figuring out it was the pill causing it, yikes!
Yep, I really miss the days I had nice skin without a lot of work, instead of now where even keeping a decent baseline means a robust daily routine. That’s just one of the reasons that if things ever change in this country I’ll be going back on the pill.
Yes!!! “Being able to plan when and if they want to grow their families is a major economic boon for women.” I love this quote. Do you follow Melinda Gates at all? This is her whole stance and it’s one of the reasons she is one of my idols.
I love my daughter, but the whole time I was pregnant I kept thinking, “I can’t imagine how hard this experience would be if you did NOT want to be pregnant.” Birth control shouldn’t be a political issue. Society is better as a whole when women have control over when to start a family.
I don’t, but I’m going to add reading up on her to my to-do list!
I can’t speak from experience, but it definitely seems like pregnancy itself is hard enough without any of the extra worry you’d have if you weren’t actually ready or willing to have a kid.
I have so many things that I could say about families, family planning, socioeconomic impact, life trajectories, etc., from a decade of observations in the classroom. But instead of getting on my soapbox, I’ll just do this:
Yes. Yes to all of this. Thank you.
100% everything Penny said. Thank you for writing this.
Thank you for reading it!
Thank you, Penny. Although I will gladly read anything you write from your soapbox and would love to hear your thoughts 🙂
Yes. Yes. Yes. To all of this. And also- mothers in the US have the highest mortality rate in the industrialized world, and it keeps going up. Pregnancy is DANGEROUS and especially so for women who haven’t planned on becoming pregnant.
Ugh that’s yet another depressing statistic, and one that I totally forgot about while I was writing this. Yet another reason to love birth control!
I’m so glad you finally published this post! And again… I’m kind of amazed this hasn’t been talked about at all in the financial independence community because it is so freaking relevant. An unplanned (or even planned) child can completely derail your financial situation for years, if not your entire life. Cheers to birth control.
Thank you! And you’re right, this has been a week full of surprises, hasn’t it?
I love love love love love the pill.
It cost me $3 for 6 months as a student; once I was working and earning FT then I had to start paying an appointment fee (about $25 each time I went in), and then the public subsidy for prescriptions went up and I think now it’s $5 for the actual pill. Still super affordable (I’m lucky that I have no issues with the generic pill brand/formulation).
I went on it at 16 for my terrible, awful, heavy, long, unpredictable periods. Periods were a dream comparatively on the pill (shorter, lighter, no/few disgusting massive clots … TMI?) and I hardly ever had leaky accidents. I could control when I had them, and skip them if I wanted (because mine actually did interfere with life, though not very much once I went on the pill). My acne also improved.
Now I’m off it. I’m back to natural periods (timing, heaviness … maybe it’s time to give cups a go) , my skin is breaking out more. I’ve made this choice for a reason but GAH!
There’s no such thing as TMI when it comes to talking about our periods, especially when talking about how birth control made our lives better!
I keep saying I’m going to buy a cup, but I also thought I’d have more of a regular period/would’ve gone through the sanitary supplies I already owned by now. And I don’t know if I want to try something new when my cycle is utter chaos (a double period and endless spotting to make up for the fact that I hadn’t had it in a few months. THAT WAS FUN), so it may end up being a while before I get one.
“Just keep your legs closed”
To this I always say – YOU FIRST, MEN.
All of the eyerolls at men who don’t support women having all kinds of access to the birth control they need or want.
Thanks for being the first that I know of (or can remember, I’m old) to write about this. For all that we all rehash the same subjects, I don’t think there’s been anything comprehensive about birth control and how infinitely important it is to our financial stability. If we’d had a baby anytime in the first ten years of our relationship, I cannot even imagine the havoc it would have wreaked on my ability to get to a stable point in our lives, and on, by the way, our LIVES.
“Duly noted, I’ll definitely be keeping my legs closed around you” was one of the many, many things I was going to include in that section ?. And I don’t get the hate for birth control from men—doesn’t the reduced threat of pregnancy and that so-called “consequence-free sex” benefit them, too?
It’s hard to believe no one’s written about it like this before (although I’m past being surprised after the Women of FI list) because this is literally everything. Like having a baby isn’t a $5 coffee you maybe could’ve gone without. Kids change THE ENTIRE REST OF YOUR LIFE.
I don’t even know where to start with my response. Yes to all of this! I have also spent years unlearning sexist bullshit taught in sex ed class, as I imagine many other women have.
God it’s such a wake-up call, isn’t it? Like you think you’re a woke, sex-positive feminist, and then it turns out you have all these horrible things you don’t ACTUALLY believe but still have to grapple with feeling or being confused about. Thanks for the “education,” abstinence-only sex ed!
My temper is so bad if I wrote that out or a similar discussion it’s just going to be caps and cussing so thank you for putting this post together Erin.
I hate it when they smoosh religion / god as a reason in there as well. Because religion and my ovaries are not answers for me so you might as well be barking and quacking…
Hah parts of this have been sitting in my drafts folder since October so it’s had a lot of time to become more coherent than the KEYSMASHING that’s my first instinct when I talk about this. But I’m still surprised how relatively normal this came out (helps that I cut out a bunch of that draft because, yeah, lots of yelling and cursing).
Oh yeah, love the religion angle in there. I know it’s just a coverup for your misogyny so it doesn’t fool me, politician dude!
Heck yes to ALL of this!!!
Incredible post Erin, and such an important topic. Anyone who believes access to birth control isn’t an essential right needs to take a big leap into modern times. It’s about so much more than sex! And even if it wasn’t, it’s not some old dudes right to make those decisions.
Thank you 🙂 YES to your last sentence there! It’s no one’s business how or why I decide to exercise my right to use birth control!
This is such an amazing (and true!) post. The cost of children is one of the (many) reasons that I decided childfree is the life for me. I feel so fortunate to live in a time where that’s an option, but at the same time I’m terrified that so many want to take that option away.
Yep, it’s pretty terrifying how close it sometimes seems we are to losing that option.
Thanks for reading!
Hi Erin! Really liked this post because you sure are right about the right to decide when and if to have children should almost be considered a fundamental right.
Try as we may, the financial, emotional, physical and time-wise impact is much more on a woman. Unless she really wants it or prepared for it, no one should be forcing her to have a baby.
In India, pills are still not very acceptable and views about side effects of its’ long-term use are very common, even among the medical fraternity. I was on the pill for the first 2 years of my marriage. When I visited my endocrinologist for a hypo thyroid consultation, the first thing I was told to do was to move from a pill to a condom.
Funnily enough, thanks to the population explosion, no government in India dares to say “Yes to Life”. Sure, abortion is illegal and so are sex identification tests (female foeticide being prevalent still) but the government still officially promotes the use of condom.
So, yeah, in India, birth control is more under the control of men because pills are considered harmful and that’s the more prevalent way in which it is used here.
Oh wow, I had no idea that’s how it is in India. Hopefully things change soon and birth control becomes way more widely-accepted!
Yes! I am just going to say THIS is why it is so important to have female voices in the PF community. Thank you!
And thank you for reading!
Amen to this. My husband and I waited almost a decade before we tied the knot. We waited in order to finish schools and to have stable jobs before getting married. Now that we are married and recently paid off our student loans, we will probably have children soon. I know many friends and loved ones that have children early and then complain about how much the kids cost. My husband and I want to be financially ready before we tackle on a lifelong debt, children.
It’s amazing what a huge difference it makes to be able to wait to have kids until you’re ready (emotionally, financially, etc). Thanks for reading!
Yes. This is rad and I love your candor with it. I think I may print it out and hand it to the activists who insist on standing at the edge of our school campus where I teach holding signs with photos of “aborted” fetus and ones that say “birth control can be abortion too”. Please. STAHP.
Plus- we are twinning with birth control. This is my 2nd arm implant and I get a replacement this year. BEST THING EVER- after it gets shoved into your arm of course. Hehe.
I have two children who cost more for childcare than my entire living expenses while in grad school (which included my husband’s expenses as well). Kids are damn expensive, no joke. And a person staying home is expensive because otherwise they would be earning money. That is something not looked at in the FIRE community enough so thank you for posting this.