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For dual-income no-kid couples – commonly referred to as DINKs – their significantly different financial reality needs to be front and centre in conversations with financial planners

When couples meet with a financial planner, they’ll most likely talk to one focused on saving, investing and leaving behind an inheritance for children. Which is great – unless you’re not planning on having children.

For dual-income no-kid couples – commonly referred to as DINKs – their significantly different financial reality needs to be front and centre in these conversations. Although not all of them will end up wealthy, they’re all saving hundreds of thousands of dollars by not having a child. And that extra disposable income opens up a world of freedom.

According to the most recent estimate from Statistics Canada, it costs $350,000 to raise one child from birth to age 17. That figure rises by 29 per cent if parents support that child through postsecondary education to 22 years old. (Of course these days, some kids live at their parents’ home well into their 20s and even 30s.)

While not all DINKs deliberately chose not to have kids, as birth rates around the world drop, it’s not surprising that their numbers are rising: There were 1.9 million DINK households in Canada as of 2021, up from 1.7 million in 2012.

So how is DINK life different? Child-free couples have more flexibility in how they shape their lives because they’re not paying and saving for all sorts of kid-related expenses. It may not be as important to them to own a multibedroom home, one that’s near a good daycare or school. They can be riskier with their careers, decide to power-save for retirement and choose not to buy life insurance.

That’s the bright side, but there’s also unique hurdles that DINKs face, such as how to prepare for old age without any support from adult kids, or navigate a legal system that often assumes your children will handle your estate.

It’s important, then, for these couples to seek advice from someone who understands the differences. That may be harder than it sounds, though.

Listen to our Stress Test podcast: How much more fun are DINKS having?

Samantha Sykes, an investment adviser and a personal financial planner at Raymond James Wealth Management, says the investment world is traditional, and many established advisers aren’t set up to think outside of the box for DINKs.

She suggests finding someone who can relate might trump years spent in the business. “To me, having people who are experienced and battle tested, yet not ready to retire in the next five to 10 years, will be good listeners and provide holistic financial wealth management to people who are DINKs,” said Ms. Sykes, who is based in Toronto and has many DINK clients herself.

Jay Zigmont, a U.S.-based financial planner who focuses on child-free couples – a specialization not yet taken up in Canada – says DINKs need to shop around. “Ask your planner if your financial plan would be different without kids, and if your planner says it’s not different as a DINK, then just turn around and walk away.”

Mr. Zigmont also recommends using a fee-only adviser with a flat rate per appointment, because advisers that charge through a percentage of your investments or through product sales are, by default, biased to sell more products and increase your portfolio size. But DINKs might not always need their accounts to grow the same way as traditional families.

Other differences for DINKs can include more complicated end-of-life planning, what to do when you’ve maxed out your RRSPs and TSFAs, whether to buy life insurance, and if it’s worth investing in riskier portfolios to reach early or aggressive retirement goals.

Ms. Sykes’s big-picture advice for DINKs is that they not fall for the trap of comparing their financial lives with others. Yes, they may be saving a hypothetical $350,000 by not having kids. But they shouldn’t feel bad if making lifestyle decisions means there isn’t an extra $350,000 in their savings account.

Ultimately, being a DINK does create more flexibility in your finances and your life. To see how that can play out, we spoke with four couples about how that freedom shapes their lives, and their financial plans.

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Jennifer Herman and Michael Ball are child free and love the luxuries of the dual income lifestyle without children.Ashley Fraser/The Globe and Mail

Jennifer Herman, 46, and Michael Ball, 47, Ottawa

Jennifer Herman set herself a goal when she first bought her Ottawa home 20 years ago as a 26-year-old: She wanted it paid off before she turned 40.

Her husband, Michael Ball, thought that was too ambitious.

But years of discipline and chipping away at the mortgage on their $200,000 home paid off, and the couple were successfully mortgage-free by the time Ms. Herman was 39.

“Those were the years where, other than on a birthday or an anniversary, there were no fancy dinners,” she said. “But that short-term pain allows for now, I don’t have to think about the price of broccoli or the price at the pump.”

Ms. Herman and Mr. Ball were deliberate in how they used the extra time and money they had by forgoing parenthood. The first 20 years of their adult life were spent diligently saving and building up their careers. And while every bonus went to the mortgage, much of the couple’s income went toward their RRSPs.

The couple started a marketing company together 15 years ago. They put in long hours – and still work up to 60 hour a week – to grow their business into a successful endeavour.

Now, some of their money can go toward immediate pleasures.

They’ve renovated their mortgage-free home, converting it from four bedrooms to two larger ones, with ample space for them to work from home. They also added a gazebo to the back of the property.

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Jennifer Herman and Michael Ball work together at Initiate Marketing Inc. in Ottawa’s west end, a company they started together 15 years ago.Ashley Fraser/The Globe and Mail

They reap the benefits of debt-free life by splurging: eating at Michelin-starred restaurants when they feel like it, and booking vacations without too much thought – like the six weeks they recently spent in Maui.

Mr. Ball, a guitar player who loves heavy metal, recently bought VIP tickets to a Metallica concert. The $5,000 package came with backstage access where he met two members of the band, and a special floor space to watch the concert right in front of the stage.

Ms. Herman says one thing she is concerned about is the expense of retirement, which she has been saving for diligently. It’s the only area of her life that she thinks may be more expensive than it is for couples with children.

She says there’s no guaranteed family help available if one of them needs long-term care in their old age.

“I can’t rely on Michael’s niece and nephews to step in and look after us, and as good as our friendships are, they’re not traditionally the relationships you rely on for that stage of your life,” said Ms. Herman.

She says they have probably saved adequately for retirement, but the lack of support means they’d prefer to have a larger financial cushion in case they need extra care.

On the topic of care during the later years, Ms. Sykes from Raymond James Wealth Management advises DINKs to always keep their will and power of attorney up to date. Otherwise, they run the risk of their money and possessions being seized by the government, or having a court-appointed representative making medical decisions.

Of course, Ms. Herman and Mr. Ball are still young and in the prime of their careers. Sometimes, they think about having to work harder and longer to be extra safe in retirement, and that’s not always an easy thought when they have a bad day at work. But other times, they also think about how much they love working for the business they’ve built.

“We could do this until we’re no longer going to be on this planet,” said Ms. Herman.

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Veronica Ochoa and Jamie Watson cycle in Vancouver, where they rent an apartment and funnel large amounts of their income towards retirement savings.Jennifer Gauthier/The Globe and Mail

Veronica Ochoa, 39, and Jamie Watson, 40, Vancouver

Unlike a lot of Canadians, Veronica Ochoa and Jamie Watson aren’t determined to own a home.

They rent a small two-bedroom apartment in Vancouver, and they like the flexibility that provides of easily packing up and moving at any time. That mindset is how they ended up moving to Vancouver from London, England, three years ago, where they rented an even smaller one-bedroom apartment.

After 11 years in Britain, they wanted to try living somewhere else, and Vancouver was the first appealing place where one of them landed a job.

Ms. Ochoa hates the idea of feeling obligated to make important life decisions in a certain way. That’s part of the reason she didn’t want kids.

“Life is complicated enough as it is,” said Ms. Ochoa, who is currently unemployed but worked as a sustainability consultant, adding that she also would prefer to avoid the environmental impact of having a child.

With the low monthly cost of their small apartment and their disciplined spending, the couple are able to focus on retirement by funnelling large amounts of their income toward savings. Mr. Watson says their TFSAs are maxed out and they make healthy contributions to their RRSPs. As citizens of the U.K., they also have sizeable savings in their U.K. equivalents of those tax-sheltered accounts.

As a result, for a couple entering their 40s, they are very well prepared for retirement – whereas their savings would be much smaller if they had children.

“We’d invest but the values would be a lot less and we would lose out on compounding interest,” said Mr. Watson.

For her part, Ms. Sykes says DINKs should still get advice after they’ve maxed out on their RRSPs and TSFAs, and that they might consider putting funds into real estate or private equity. And in order to minimize how much tax they pay, she suggests they proactively make tax-deductible donations, especially if they plan to leave money to charities in their will.

The flexibility of the child-free life also benefitted Ms. Ochoa’s career. When the couple first moved to Canada for Mr. Watson’s job as an engineering consultant, she took advantage of not working for a while and enrolled in extra courses.

“Being able to take a step back and not worry about money was something that I could actually do,” she said.

If they decide they want to, the couple says it’s possible for them to eventually work part-time or retire early. Ms. Ochoa says they’ve talked about retiring in Mexico, where she’s originally from and her parents reside. Having the option to retire in a more affordable part of the world at an age where parents may otherwise still be supporting adult children is another advantage that Mr. Watson points out.

When it comes to factoring in increased expenses in old age, Ms. Ochoa says they never imagined or relied on getting help from family, so being child-free hasn’t changed much about their retirement plans.

They considered getting life insurance at one point, but an adviser recommended against it, since the two are financially stable on their own and don’t have any dependants. And the fact that this protection is less crucial goes back to one of their main reasons for not having kids: There are few personal and financial obligations that come with their current lifestyle.

“There’s a peace of mind for us that we don’t have to worry, and we’re both very independent,” said Ms. Ochoa.

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Wendy Underwood and Kurtis Kolt grab a coffee in their Mount Pleasant, Vancouver neighbourhood. Fourteen years ago the couple decided to become self-employed, uprooting their stable financial lives.Jennifer Gauthier/The Globe and Mail

Wendy Underwood, 48, and Kurtis Kolt, 49, Vancouver

Fourteen years ago, Wendy Underwood and Kurtis Kolt made the bold decision to uproot their stable financial lives and became self-employed.

Ms. Underwood left her job in corporate media relations to create her own travel marketing and communications firm. Mr. Kolt, meanwhile, went from working for a restaurant to starting a consulting business, writing about wine and becoming the co-proprietor of a Vancouver wine festival.

And while the two of them have been successful, their career decisions weren’t driven by maximizing their income.

For Ms. Underwood, running her own business gave her the freedom to pick and choose clients that would be more fun and fulfilling to work with, as opposed to the ones that pay the most.

Meanwhile, Mr. Kolt was able to dive into writing and takes pride in the success of his wine festival, despite the fact that it’s not the most lucrative endeavour he could pursue.

“It’s different from friends who’ve had to take whatever work comes their way or hold on to a ‘boring office job’ when they don’t necessarily love it because it comes with parental leaves, health benefits and things like that,” said Ms. Underwood.

Their careers demand plenty of their time. There’s travel, evening events and irregular schedules they’re happy to accommodate, thanks to their flexible schedules.

The couple also says their child-free life is the main reason they’re able to own a property in Mount Pleasant, a trendy part of downtown Vancouver. They first bought a one-bedroom condo in Vancouver in 2008, and if they did end up having a kid they would not have been able to afford buying a two-bedroom unit.

The two have also found that being child-free, and the financial flexibility that comes with that, makes it easy to accommodate the fact that they have very different relationships to money.

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Wendy Underwood and Kurtis Kolt say their childfree life is the main reason they’re able to own a property in Mount Pleasant, a trendy part of downtown Vancouver.Jennifer Gauthier/The Globe and Mail

Ms. Underwood never carries debt on her credit card, even if it means eating beans and toast for a week to ensure her balance is at zero. Mr. Kolt, on the other hand, doesn’t mind the odd splurge and carrying a credit-card balance – something that would make his wife nervous if their budget was tighter.

“Having that argument over money every month is just not necessary,” said Ms. Underwood, adding that they’re aware that money can be a common reason for relationships to fail.

She said their different approaches to spending would be difficult if they had children and one of them started working more or less as a result. This way, they each feel very financially independent within their marriage.

They do, however, think carefully about how they’ll prepare for old age, especially the possibility that they will need to be cared for because of health issues.

In case one of them was to die unexpectedly, the couple elected to get a term life insurance policy that would help with things such as mortgage payments, rather than a more expensive universal life insurance program, since they have no dependants.

“It’s an advantage for us in that we’re very clear of the fact we need to plan for this,” said Ms. Underwood.

Even before they’ve turned 40, the two of them have organized wills, power of attorney and health directives in case of a medical emergency.

For her two cents, Ms. Sykes adds that couples with enough disposable income should consider critical illness insurance, an often overlooked form of insurance that pays out a lump-sum for certain illnesses such as late-stage cancer.

Emily Smith, 38, and Andrew Smith, 37, Calgary

Emily Smith describes herself and her husband as people with relatively simple tastes. Sure, they recently went skiing in Montana and purchased a nice car. But they don’t necessarily have the kind of extravagances that she believes people associate with the DINK life.

That’s because they have one lofty goal: early retirement. Ms. Smith, who works in marketing, and Mr. Smith, a project lead at a manufacturing shop, dream of retiring in their mid-50s.

Ms. Smith says the couple automatically puts a third of their paycheques into retirement savings, and they invest even more when they receive bonuses or tax returns. Ms. Smith puts her savings into an RRSP to supplement her workplace’s RRSP contributions. Meanwhile Mr. Smith focusses on his TFSA to keep some funds liquid and to maximize the amount of money they can withdraw tax-free in retirement.

They still have a long runway to retirement, so their investments are fairly high risk and mostly in stocks. They even funnel some money they’re willing to lose into experimenting with cryptocurrencies.

Mike Burns, a certified financial planner with Objective Financial Partners in London, Ont., said the DINKs he’s worked with tend to opt for less risky portfolios, since they’re able to contribute so much more with their disposable income.

“Some DINKs have saved and invested more money than they will need in their lifetime, so sometimes they might say, ‘Well, I have enough invested anyway, why would I deal with more volatility and stress with my investments than I need to?’” said Mr. Burns.

On the other hand, he also has child-free clients who, like the Smiths, believe their lifestyle creates an opportunity for riskier investments, since they’re able to ride out a rocky market in their bid for the best returns that can beat inflation.

Of course, the Smiths are also looking for balance. Although they’re working hard to reach that early-retirement goal, Ms. Smith, who lost her mother at a young age, says it’s important that they enjoy life now as well.

They say their child-free life has helped them balance fun with disciplined saving – and they previously struggled to see how they could retire at all if they had children.

The couple used to live in a three-bedroom suburban home, but once they were sure they didn’t want to raise children, they sold it and moved to an upscale condo in downtown Calgary. The condo came at a fairly high price point, and with strata fees, they don’t necessarily save on their monthly costs after moving.

But the couple reaps the benefits of living in a more central location in Calgary, without worrying about all of the effort and time required to maintain a larger home.

Instead, they spend their time with each other, or on their pastimes.

Mr. Smith plays bass guitar and spends lots of time practising and playing local shows with two different bands. Ms. Smith gets satisfaction from the time she spends volunteering to support elderly folks in her community. She says she’s still a maternal person despite not having children, and volunteering is one way she has an outlet for that part of herself.

Sometimes, Ms. Smith admits feeling a little guilty about the quality of life and freedom that being childless has afforded them. But she says that guilt is fully internal – none of her family or friends have ever tried to make her feel that way.

“It’s just part of being part of the world, you can feel guilty about just about anything if you put your mind to it,” said Ms. Smith.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article included some incorrect details about Veronica Ochoa and Jamie Watson. It has been updated to specify that they rent a two-bedroom apartment in Vancouver (they rented a one-bedroom in London, England, three years ago); and that Ms. Ochoa is no longer working as a sustainability consultant.

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