Can You Afford a Large Family?

by Tracy · 6 comments

It doesn’t take a scientist to figure out why so many couples are choosing to stop at just one child. Raising children is not only a very expensive proposition these days; it also takes a lot of time and energy. Many parents find that they’d rather focus all of their energy on one child.

That said, there are still many couples that dream of having a house full of kids. But is that a practical dream these days considering how much it costs to raise and educate each child? As a middle class mom of five boys, I can share some insights on the matter.

Note: Since this is a personal finance blog, I’ve chosen not to discuss the impact of larger families on the environment or how it effects child development and family dynamics. These are very important issues to think about when planning your family but outside the scope of this blog.

Five Kids Doesn’t Mean Five Times the Cost

But it does come pretty close. Each child will be somewhat cheaper than the last. You won’t have to go out and buy all new baby gear. You might or might not need a new-to-you vehicle to accommodate another car-seat. You probably won’t have to move. If you get health insurance through your employer, the premiums generally won’t increase too much.

That said, you will still have to lay out a significant amount of cash:

  • Deductibles and co-insurance costs for the pregnancy and birth, plus check-ups, sick kid visits, glasses and dental care every year going forward.
  • Some baby gear might be worn out or expired. If your children are close together, the oldest one might still need the crib, car seat, stroller and high chair (I had three in cribs at one point). If you have a girl and a boy, you might not want to use very girly or boyish gear for the opposite sex. It’s a good idea to buy gender neutral baby equipment when possible if you know you’re planning a second.
  • Hand-me-down clothes are terrific, but there’s a good chance that the second baby won’t be the right size in the right season. You could have a rolly polly baby followed by a long lean one. Or a boy and girl. Once they get into the toddler years, you might find that a lot of the clothing is stained and ripped after the first child gets done with it.  Some kids are incredibly hard on clothes.
  • Daycare for two can be more than many people make in a week. I will go out on a limb and say that daycare for three kids under five is more than most people make in a week in this country.
  • Feeding a large family does let you take advantage of buying in bulk, but it’s still a significant amount of cash to adequately nourish a family of five or more every week. Once they hit the teen years, it’s almost terrifying to see how much and how fast kids can eat.
  • Vacations can become super-expensive fast. A Disney vacation for a family of seven is about the same price as a decent used car.
  • A public school education is pretty much free but you might have to pay a serious premium when buying or renting a home to get into a good district. Private schools and homeschooling might be an option, but both of these are much more difficult to swing with larger families.
  • Your family size will be taken into account when it comes to college financial aid, however you might not get any assistance for all of the little costs that add up quickly such as application and testing fees, college visits, graduation costs, not to mention all of those proms!
  • While there is no obligation to pay for your children’s weddings or to help with the down payment for that first house or leave an inheritance, not doing so might go strongly against your cultural beliefs and expectations and leave you robbing yourself of a retirement to fulfill these dreams.

Less Direct Costs of Having a Large Family

It’s difficult for both parents in a large family to have a career outside of the home. Not only because of the cost of daycare, but also because there are so many more balls in the air to juggle.

The more children you have, the more potential conflicts you have with work. It’s not uncommon for me to have one child out of school at least one day out of the week for weeks on end.  Kids get sick (and if you have several children in several schools and activities, chances are your home is where germs mix and mingle in your town).

Kids have frequent appointments. Kids need to be ferried from activity to activity. There is always an open house or a recital or a big game. There are ways to mitigate all of these demands on your time, but not eliminate them altogether if you want to raise well-rounded children.

Larger families mean more work. The kids can and should pitch in, but until they are well into school age, mom and dad will still have to be in charge of the household chores.  Cooking and cleaning and yard-work for a large family add up to a full-time job. Many large families find that gardening, line-drying, couponing and scratch-cooking are not just nice extras for frugal living but economic necessities.

This means that even if both parents want to work in order to keep their careers on track, they simply can’t afford to do so. Smaller families, on the other hand, might be able to go for several years with one salary being completely negated by the costs of child care and outsourcing household tasks, so that both spouses can advance their careers.

Saving money becomes more difficult because there isn’t as much to spare and because more family members means more emergencies to eat up your rainy day fund. Depending on when you started having children and how they are spaced, you might find yourself needing to work well into your retirement years.

How to Make Having a Large Family Work

It is still possible to raise a large family if you are determined.  It won’t be easy, but those of us with big broods can tell you that it’s a uniquely rewarding experience that makes the financial sacrifices well worthwhile.

  • Be ruthlessly organized. This will help you save money and your sanity.
  • Buy higher quality, gender neutral equipment, furniture and toys so that everything can be passed on multiple times.
  • Remember that a lot of what we consider needs these days are actually wants. It’s fine for kids to share rooms or only take one kind of dance class or have small birthday parties at home. Your love, support and attention are what your children need to thrive.
  • Make sure that your children know that they are all part of a team and every member must pull their own weight. This will keep things running smoothly at home.

So, how many kids do you have (or plan to have)?

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

ChrisCD August 22, 2011 at 10:09 am

As someone with a large family (six kids) I can attest to how expensive of an endeavor it can be. On the other hand, it is also very rewarding.

A couple of things I wanted to address. You mention Homeschooling may not be a good option for large families. In reality, it can work quite well. We homeschooled our children orginally, but now the younger ones are in private schools. The older ones are in charter schools. Most private schools do offer tuition assistance and breaks as the number of children increases.

You are able to buy in bulk, but remembering to eat the left-overs has been a challenge so food goes to waste. We have 3 teenagers in the house, and yes they eat a lot.

My wife does daycare so she is able to be home, but then I have also had to take kids to quite a few appointments and thankfully have a flexible schedule.

Large families need a tighter budget, teamwork from both parents, and teamwork from the kids. If you know what you are getting into, by all means don’t be afraid. But don’t enter into it with rose colored glasses.

Our older kids do feel they have missed out on things, but the younger ones do not. I guess they feel they have more support and siblings to be with, where as the older ones sometimes feel the younger ones are a chore. So it will be interesting to see what family size they choose. My wife and I both came from small families.

It takes a lot of patience, diligence, and communication especially as they get older. Medical costs have been one of the hardest expenses to deal with.

Anyway, there are some of my ramblings. :O)

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Ginger August 22, 2011 at 2:08 pm

I think there is a jump in cost at the third kid, before that you can get by with a compact car which is cheaper than a minivan, if both kids are the same gender they can room together etc. When you have three kids there are some jumps, at least in my opinion.

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Jason mark August 22, 2011 at 2:20 pm

We only have 4 kids all under 8. Both my wife and I went through publicschool and while they’ve bcome much more “test-centric” we still see the value in a public education. You learn about different things than private (buerocracy, etc.) but we have plenty of opportunities to learn other things.

So far our kids are young enough that we haven’t had to buy much. We’ve spent maybe $500 on cloths (mostly socks, shoes and unties which aren’t gerat hand-me-downs), and another $500 in furniture (quality used bunk bunds and baby changing station).

On the other hand we did need a bigger house. Luckily we were able to rent out our old house (which has 2 appartments) to cover our mortgage. We also bought a 2 family house with dear friends, so we share yardwork, taxes, repairs, and babysitting.

Biggest expenses are childcare since we both work (both for money and for sanity)… now that the two oldest are in public school that price should be going back down. Amazon subscribe and save + BJ’s for bulk food (including many healthy, organic staples such as Ezekial cereal, sun butter for my son with peanut allergies, natural peanut butter, hormone free beef, etc.).

We’re hoping to adopt 1-2 more kids at some point, although that is a LOT more expensive and work than getting pregnant again. We’ve saved up for one adoption.

Vacations likewise are very expensive, although we do a couple of camping trips every summer which are only minimally more than when we only had one kid.

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Crystal August 25, 2011 at 8:59 am

Children are a form of retirement planning! Also, I’m not particularly concerned about taxing our nations resources. We need more children to pay for people retiring now. And have you ever seen how much food one can grow in a yard on less than a quarter acre? Have you ever driven through Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota, or Montana and seen the wide expanses of land extending for miles and miles with no sign of people? I’m frugal to the bone, but the joys of family are the only thing worth spending a dime on!

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CreditShout August 25, 2011 at 12:03 pm

I loved reading this post and all the user comments. I haven’t thought much on the subject so I learned a lot. No kids yet, but maybe just one in the distant future. Of course you think about the food and clothing costs, but I never thought about transportation issues or vacationing with a large family! Thanks for pointing out all these other costs, but it sounds like most commenters don’t mind them at all.

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Jerry August 26, 2011 at 4:03 am

Insurance does cover a lot of the medical costs with pregnancy and birth so that’s not too much of an issue. We have 2 and it’s not been too expensive yet. We’re creative about educating them, clothing them and we try to eat mostly whole foods and that leads to cheaper grocery bills. It can be done! I couldn’t do a gaggle of kids, though!

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