As a newly married couple in the tech industry of the San Francisco Bay Area, my partner and I have set our sights on achieving Financial Independence, Retire Early (FIRE) within the next 10 years. At the same time, we plan on starting a family in the near future. This has raised questions about whether our pursuit of FIRE needs to be put on hold.
In this blog post, I will explore key considerations for high-earning couples, like us, who are navigating the intersection of starting a family and pursuing FatFIRE in a competitive environment. I will discuss the dilemmas we are facing. These include balancing risk versus stability, prioritizing family time versus career advancement, and finding the right balance between convenience and savings. Lastly, I
3 Key Dilemmas of Pursuing FatFIRE and Starting a Family
For many pursuing FatFIRE while starting a family, several dilemmas arise. These dilemmas revolve around finding the right balance between key considerations, including risk vs. stability in jobs, family time vs. career advancement, and convenience vs. savings.
Dilemma 1. Balancing Risk vs. Stability in Jobs
One common dilemma in the San Francisco tech world is choosing between the stability of jobs and the potential upside of joining startups.
Tech giants like Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google (FAANG companies) offer jobs that provide stable income, excellent benefits, and a solid career trajectory. Compared to startups, the trade off is less growth potential, and less upside potential to stocks.
Compensation. A software engineer in mid-senior level at Google can get paid average total compensation of $505,257 with base salary of $243,970, stock grant $215,520/year and an annual bonus of $45,767. With the same experience, one might be able to get a director/VP level role at a startup. The base salary might be lower, and the stock grants are illiquid until sale of the company or IPO.
Equity upside. Stock upside for a tech giant can be around 5-10% each year depending on market conditions. A startup’s stocks can appreciate multiple times (or go to zero).
Compensation for Google L6 Staff Software Engineer
Responsibilities and career growth. Startups offer more responsibilities and opportunities for career advancement, whereas tech giants have more formal promotion cycles and defined responsibilities across teams.
Benefits and culture. Tech giants provide better insurance coverage, including fertility treatments (see How Much does IVF Cost?), and parental leave policies. Startups often don’t offer as much coverage or benefits. Tech giants also have more working parents on the team. This make the transition to parenthood easier since there’s more understanding to the needs of a new family. In contrast, most people in startups are in their twenties.
Personally, I would prioritize going for as big of a company as possible. It may mean choosing a stable FAANG job (or other established tech companies). That provides a reliable income and work-life balance while trades off upside potential. I have also run a startup before as a founder, so my “itch” for working for an early stage company is scratched for now. Some people say having a child is like starting a startup, so I guess that that suffice as a big enough challenge!
Dilemma 2. Balancing Family Time vs. Advancement in Career
Another dilemma is how to balance family time with career advancement. Parenting is a job in itself, demanding time, attention, and energy. Dedicating time to building relationships, networking, and taking on additional responsibilities at work may become more challenging as we prioritize our family’s well-being.
Personally, I would bake in the first 6-12 months of having a child as “playing defense”. I believe there are seasons when it comes to a long career. Going offense in some years means to networking aggressively, fight for promotion etc. As a female after giving birth, playing defense can mean meeting expectations but not exceeding. I would not go so far as quiet quitting. There’s a middle ground between quiet quitting and hustle culture. Staying in the game is better than burning out and then leaving the workforce altogether.
Dilemma 3. Balancing Convenience vs. Savings
The third dilemma we face revolves around balancing convenience and savings. Paying for childcare, household cleaning services, and meal delivery can alleviate the demands on our time and energy. While these expenses may reduce our savings rate, it buys back invaluable time, energy and perhaps even sanity. In turn, that can be devoted to spending quality moments with your child.
Personally, I’d set aside a first year kids fund (see section below) so I do not feel I’m derailing from my regular savings.
Practical Strategies for Pursuing FatFIRE with a New Family
Be OK with Saying No
As a high earner, you’re probably used to raising your hand for every single new project within the company. Is there a new business line looking for a leader to take charge? Is there a strategically important geographical area that’s requiring a lot of travel? Think twice before raising your hand as you prepare to start a family.
Be okay to stay within our lane. Instead of trying to “exceed expectations” each review cycle, it is okay to “meet expectations”. While I personally am not a fan of quiet quitting, I believe there’s a middle ground between hustle culture and quiet quitting.
Negotiating for Advancement Before Starting a Family
As early as possible before starting a family, negotiate for career advancements or promotions. Ideally try to get a promotion a year or so before starting a family. Whether it’s pursuing additional certifications, taking on new responsibilities, or showcasing our skills and accomplishments, advocating for professional growth is easier before having children than the first few years of starting a family.
Creating a First Year Kids Fund
To reduce the stress of the additional expenses for a growing family, set aside a dedicated fund to cover the expenses associated with the first year of having a child. This initial phase can be financially demanding, with costs ranging from newborn essentials to childcare expenses.
Carefully assess the anticipated costs involved in raising a newborn, such as medical expenses, baby supplies, and potential income declines due to maternity leave. Just like saving up for a big trip, create a specific fund earmarked for these expenses. That way, you can maintain financial stability during this transitional period.
Negotiating for Flexibility
Flexibility at a job can mean a hybrid or fully remote work setup, exploring part-time options, or negotiating for a reduced workload. Having the flexibility to balance our professional and family responsibilities is paramount. I personally know multiple female friends in finance, who gave birth and switched to working part time for the first year. After the first year, they returned to full time and many of them got promoted in the subsequent years. It is reassuring to see that even a demanding industry like finance is able to offer flexibility to new parents. Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself.
Proactively seek a flexible work environment. That allows you to be present for your family while continuing to pursue your financial goals. In a post-COVID world, many workplaces are much more open to a flex-work setup. It can go a long way in achieving a harmonious integration of work and life.
Consider Online based Side Income or Real Estate Investments
With a new addition to the family, there are additional costs and much less free time to pursue side business ideas. For the more ambitious FIRE pursuers who wish to accelerate their journey towards FatFIRE while starting a family, find ways to generate income from home.
One example is starting a blog, or social media account. For me, that’s this blog. It could also be a blog that shares their daily recipes, or a Youtube channel that shares their workout routines. Prioritize something that allows you to put in work consistently, from home, at any hour.
Investing in rental properties is another avenue for income generation. It still requires effort to choose a property and managing tenants, but for the most part real estate is a good way to build relatively passive streams of revenue that contribute to long-term wealth accumulation.
While additional income streams can accelerate towards financial goals, prioritize striking a balance between work, family, and personal well-being. To me, it’s important to ensure that the pursuit of additional income does not overshadow the quality time we spend together as a family.
Thinking Long Term
The first year of having a child is stressful. Avoid drastic moves within the first year of giving birth. This period is filled with adjustments. It requires ample time to adapt to the new dynamics of parenthood. Instead of making hasty career changes or leaving stable jobs or moving across the country, aim to maintain stability. Reassess the long-term plans once you have settled into your new roles as parents.
Navigating the path to FatFIRE while starting a family is a dynamic journey that requires careful consideration, strategic planning, and a commitment to balance. By choosing the right balance between risk and stability, prioritizing family time while advancing our careers, we can successfully pursue financial independence while embracing the joys and responsibilities of raising a family.
Readers, what are your dilemmas and strategies when it comes to building wealth as a new parent?