How I accidentally became the Bank of Mum and Dad


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If you were told, as a teenager, that you would grow up to open your own bank, you'd probably start picturing mansions and Maseratis. But if you were then advised that your bank would give out countless interest-free loans with little hope of any repayments, you might not believe you could ever be so foolish.

Grow up to become a parent, however, and this is exactly what you will do, as you unwittingly set up your very own Bank of Mum and Dad.

The ability humans have to justify their flights of financial stupidity is perhaps one of our greatest mental feats. I bet a chimpanzee couldn't do it.

how i accidentally became the bank of mum and dad

My mother has been an avid and insatiable collector of shoes for more than 50 years now, and shows little signs of either slowing or turning into the kind of human centipede that might make sense of all that footwear.

Apparently she "needs" all of those shoes, just as badly as children need food (which is almost as much as they need screen time and TikTok accounts) and she can justify each pair in unfeasible detail.

Her efforts are as nothing compared to hearing someone justify their investment in children, particularly those seemingly unhinged types who have had one kid, experienced the tsunami of financial devastation that followed and then leapt back into the deep end again.

I recently met a Sydney real estate agent (I believe they're called "millionaires" in the common parlance) who justified his decision to have a fourth child by saying "it's only fair, my wife let me buy a Porsche, and she likes kids, so she's getting what she wants".

Cars are depreciating assets, it's true, but to compare them to children is like saying that planting an oak tree in front of your house is the same as spitting an apple seed on your step.

Children cannot be traded in, remortgaged, leased or sold. I believe there were some golden ages where it was possible, but today, the ability to send them to boarding school is about as close as we get. And that's expensive, too.

Essentially, what you are doing by having a child is establishing your very own financial institution; one that is doomed to lose money faster than a shop selling milk past its use-by date.

Most commonly known as The Bank of Mum and Dad, this institution will loan out money, not just at low rates, but with little hope or expectation that it will ever be repaid.

As the years go by and the demands of your beloved offspring increase, it will fund cars, clothes, airline tickets and even, if you are particularly generous/wealthy, first homes.

If you're a new parent, or thinking about becoming one, you might assume this expenditure is decades away and thus a problem for another day (this is another wonderful ability of the human brain; not worrying overly today about things it knows will be hugely problematic later, and if we didn't do this it's quite likely no logical person would have had a child since contraception was invented). But the fact is, the spending quickly accelerates from nappies and food to monthly bills that would have mystified, alarmed and possibly bankrupted my parents.

I have child who's barely a teen and we are already paying his mobile bill, X-Box Live account, Microsoft-software membership of some kind and a Disney Plus monthly bill that only seems to keep going up. And that's just the regular, monthly bills to keep him from frothing at the mouth about how hard done by he is.

The only bright spot is that in a few years he'll probably accept the offer of a new iPad and a bus pass rather than a hugely more expensive car.

So is there a payoff for all this financial frittering away? Some will point to old age and not having to be lonely, and that's a nice thought, if you live in Italy and are thus likely to be invited into your extended family's home.

In Australia, at best, you might be blessed with children who'll plonk you in a nicer kind of soulless aged-care home.

There is no sensible financial justification for having children because the return on your investment is, of course,  too vast and inexpressible for numbers or balance sheets. Parenting is priceless and having children is an almost overwhelming joy, most of the time, that's impossible to equate with anything else you ever do in your life.

But seriously, there's no way of justify having more than two kids. We're only given two hands, after all, and two pockets from which to pluck money for our demanding yet delightful offspring.

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Stephen Corby used to sit next to the staff of Money magazine, back when he was the editor of Top Gear Australia magazine, and he really wishes he'd listened to all of their helpful financial advice, instead of revving his engine and pretending he couldn't hear them. Stephen likes to buy and sell shares, has bought and sold several properties and believes that negative gearing is a very good thing, but that stamp duty is evil, particularly if you live in Sydney, as he is blessed to do.
Sarah Thomas
March 11, 2021 9.59am

As a childfree-by-choice woman, I love this! I am smirking in smug satisfaction at the little hands that will never get a grip on my hard earned cash.

Lani D
March 11, 2021 11.33am

Laughed out loud with this one. Also happily child-free but appreciating my parents all the more.

Stella S
March 11, 2021 12.10pm

I love when parents are honest about the financial implications of having kids. No-one is asking if you regret having them, but this brutal honesty is appreciated. And funny.

Car Guy
March 11, 2021 12.17pm

Porsches for kids, eh? Sounds like an interesting transaction for Mr Real Estate. Hard to find the time to enjoy a sports car if you're a new parent, though.