We’ve all heard of trophy husbands and trophy wives. But what on earth is a trophy kid? Here’s how one expecting parent explained the term to me at the playground one day.
A trophy kid is what’s known as the 4th kid or greater in a family. Because raising kids is so expensive, especially in the coastal cities, having a 4th kid is one way the rich signal to society how rich they really are.
Not only do these parents have the fertility to have multiple children, but they also have the financial means to provide for additional kids. A family of six requires a bigger house, bigger travel budgets, bigger tuition budgets, hired help, and more.
As a couple who took almost three years to successfully have one kid, I view having four or more kids as a miracle. Think about all the things that have to go right for any couple today to have four kids.
- A couple has to meet early enough in their lives to build a loving and trusting relationship. To have four children will likely take at least 10 years from the time a couple first meets.
- A couple needs to be healthy enough to conceive and birth. Things such as endometriosis, ovarian cysts, low sperm motility, irregular cycles, ectopic pregnancy, spontaneous miscarriages and more can and will affect the process of birthing a child.
- A couple needs to have a high enough level of happiness and energy after each kid to go through the process three or more times.
- A couple needs to have enough financial means to support a growing family. A recession or a layoff could easily derail the child birthing process.
- A couple will need to come to terms that an early retirement for both parents is highly unlikely.
Sure, a man can have four or more kids quicker by having multiple partners. But that doesn’t negate his responsibility of caring for each child. I’m unfamiliar with deadbeat dads.
A woman would still have to spend at minimum five years to have four children with multiple partners, unless of course she has twins or more.
American Household Size Over Time
Let’s look at the American household size over time according to the Pew Research Center.
In 1976, 40% of mothers ages 40 to 44 had four or more children. 25% had three children, and 24% had two children. Only 11% of mothers at the end of their childbearing years had had only one child.
In 2014, the once-dominant four-child family has been replaced by the two-child family. 41% of moms at the end of their childbearing years now report having two kids, while just 14% have four or more children.
Meanwhile, the share of mothers at the end of their childbearing years who have one child had doubled – from 11% to 22%. Interestingly, the percentage of mothers who have three children stayed constant at about 24%.
Most of the change in family size occurred from 1976 to the mid-1990s as more professional opportunities opened up to women. Since the mid-1990s, family sizes have stayed relatively stable.
There is also an inverse correlation with the number of kids a mother births and her educational attainment. Only 10% of mothers with a bachelor’s degree have four or more kids.
Bottom line: having four or more kids today is a rarity, especially in high cost of living areas.
The Cost To Raise A Trophy Kid
Now that we have some background on today’s family sizes, let’s look at the cost of raising four children.
I first started with an annual household income of $500,000 to see if raising four kids was possible in an expensive city like San Francisco or New York on an average budget. I’m sad to report it’s impossible.
I then raised the household income to $650,000 to see whether impossible was now possible. Nope, still impossible. It was only after I raised the household income to $800,000 that I could extrapolate how a couple might reasonably afford to raise four kids.
See the budget below.
As expected, the biggest costs revolve around the raising of four children. Each kid attends private school at an average of $40,000 each + $2,000 a year in school fundraiser donations. Few families with enough means to have four or more children would dare send their kids to public school. After all, one of the purposes of having so many kids is to convey status.
Then there’s the live-in au pair, which is a necessity for raising four kids because both parents work. The au pair route is the cheaper route because the family is providing lodging and food. The expensive route is a professional nanny who lives independently, but costs anywhere from $7,000 – $12,000 a month for 40 hours a week.
To house seven people requires a massive, six-bedroom, four bathroom house. The parents live in one room, the au pair lives in one room, two kids live in their own rooms, and the youngest two share a room. Every bedroom is occupied and there is no space for guests or an office. Six-bedroom, 6,000+ square foot homes in San Francisco easily cost $6 – $15 million dollars. This couple’s $3.2 million home is a relative bargain.
On the positive side, this couple is putting away the maximum $38,000 a year in their 401(k)s for 2019 while also contributing $20,400 a year to their kids’ 529 college savings plan. The couple is also paying down roughly $36,000 a year in property principal.
Total savings when adding up their 401(k) contributions, 529 plan contributions, and principal pay down equates to roughly $94,400 a year, or 11.8% of gross salary.
An 11.8% savings rate is about double the national savings average, but this family feels the strain of living paycheck-to-paycheck. One unanticipated emergency will force the couple to draw from principal or drastically cut back on vacation and charity expenses, and potentially more.
An $800,000 a year household income is the bare minimum to raise four children in an HCOLA. It is only when this couple starts making at least $1 million a year that the strains of having a trophy kid will begin to loosen.
But What About Budgeting For College Bribery?
Even if this household earns $1 million a year, after tax, they will only take home roughly $120,000 a year extra in cash.
Given we learned from the college admissions scandal that the average bribe was $500,000, this $1 million a year earning family would have to save aggressively for 17 years to afford to offer a $500,000 bribe per child. Even then, there’s no guarantee this would be sufficient to buy their kids’ way into a top private school.
The only way to really improve their kids’ college admissions odds is to legally donate $5 million or more per child to a school’s campus renovation project or some type of fundraising. That’s what all the really wealthy people are doing for their children nowadays.
Unfortunately, this family can only come up with $2 million after 17 years for their four children, let alone $5 million for one.
For a family to participate in legal bribery while having a trophy kid requires a household net worth of at least $50 million and more like $100+ million. Once you’re at this level, private grade schools and colleges will start welcoming you with open arms.
Good thing public schools rock and the internet is making learning tuition-free for all.
Everybody Deserves A Trophy
If a mom can birth four or more kids, I think she is amazing and deserves a trophy. If parents can comfortably support four or more kids, then I think they too deserve trophies. And as for the trophy kid, she or he deserves a trophy as well because all kids are precious.
My wife and I would be ecstatic with two kids. We both have sisters so living in a family of four is what we are used to. Four people can comfortably sit in a car or take up a four-seat row on an airplane. There are also four sides to a common table, which makes dining out easier.
I’ve spent the last 20 years aggressively saving and investing to raise a family in San Francisco on investment income. Alas, a family of four is all we can comfortably afford because neither my wife or I want to go back to work to boost our wealth. Further, our fertility is almost near its end.
If we get a second wind and a surprise financial windfall, we’ll definitely consider adopting or fostering another child. But in the meantime, bless all the children in this world.