OMG Kids Are So Expensive!

by Vered DeLeeuw · 42 comments


I always knew I wanted children. Being the logical person that I am (or at least that I think I am), I actually took the time to ask myself WHY I wanted to have kids. My conclusion was that I am one of those people who would feel incomplete unless I had kids. I guess it’s just a primal drive to reproduce, to have an offspring. Is it logical? Not necessarily. But the drive was there for me and it couldn’t be denied.

So I knew that I wanted kids, and I knew that I wanted two kids, because I wanted them to have a sibling, but I didn’t feel I should be reproducing more than twice in this overpopulated world. I was trying to do the right thing for me, for the kids and for the world. By some standards I have succeeded, by others I have failed miserably – but I tried.

As you can see, I thought long and hard about having kids. I married at 22 and waited until I was 28 to become pregnant with my first child. Everything was planned, and I was lucky to conceive exactly when I wanted to, with both of my children. But with all this planning and thinking (one might say over-thinking), I did not plan for one important thing: the price tag of having children and raising them.

And the price tag is hefty.

So, How Much DOES It Cost To Raise A Child?

According to MSN in 2001, the cost of raising one child for a family like ours (a dual-parent family with a before-tax income of $65,800 and up) is a staggering $250,000. Mind you, that’s in 2001 dollars. Adjusted for inflation, the price tag is $308,000. PER CHILD!

The table does not take into account college expenses, or the possibility that your grown child would remain at your house even after they turn 18. If each of your children goes to an in-state, public, 4-year college, the price tag for each child can easily reach $350,000.

But Why Are Kids So Expensive?

It’s our culture. Kids used to be a useful workforce. Now they are the jewels in our crown, our pride and joy, our future – and we invest heavily in that future. Note that the table above shows a marked difference between the cost of raising kids for different families, depending on the family’s income. So a lot of that is discretionary. Think private schools, enrichment classes, designer clothes, electronics…

While child labor is still common in some parts of the world, the US Fair Labor Standards Act has limited many forms of child labor. Our children don’t work. They don’t contribute to the household’s finances. We wouldn’t want it any other way of course – but we must accept that under today’s laws and culture, children are an emotional joy – and a financial burden.

It’s Best To Be Prepared

My husband and I waited a long time before we had our first child. My husband is older than I am, so his career was well established by then, including health benefits. We had a good-sized emergency fund, savings, and retirement accounts. Until we had the kids, we were the classic DINKS – Dual Income, No Kids – we were able to lead a nice lifestyle while still saving a lot.

This has changed once the kids were born. There were bills – despite the insurance, our co-pays and deductibles for the births were pretty significant. I had quit my job to stay home with the kids, and did not work for five years. We stayed at our beloved 2-bedroom apartment for as long as we could, but once our second child was born, we moved to a bigger house. Until I returned to the workforce, we managed to stay out of debt, but we didn’t manage to save anything beyond my husband’s 401(k) contributions.

Do You Really Expect People Not To Have Kids Unless They’re Wealthy?

Of course not. I would never tell anyone that they should not have kids simply based on their financial situation. We can’t base our most important life decisions on finances alone, but I do think it makes sense to take a close, hard look at one’s finances and at the average cost of raising kids before diving into this amazing adventure. The better prepared you are, the easier it will be.

Kids are so much more than a price tag. They are amazing. I often say that parenthood is the most intense experience of my life. But kids do come with a price tag – and it’s better to be prepared for how high it is.

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • tony says:

    I love this article. I’ve been there done that. I swear to God I will teach “my lesson” to my 3 adult kids, not to do what I’ve done. I worked 12-15 hours for 20 years just to support my family. Now, today is way different than 20 years ago. I am so grateful for the knowledge. My grown up kids has their own job that they can support themselves. God bless us.

  • Tinse says:

    Kids are as expensive as you want them to be. Our baby needed exactly four things for the first six months: diapers, a bed, a safety seat, and food. Clothes, too, if you live somewhere cool. We used cloth diapers, a one-time investment (and no, the utilities bill did not skyrocket). We got her crib and seat at a consignment shop and spent very little on new sheets and a new liner for the seat. I breastfeed, so her food is kind of free, but we do spend a little more on organics for me. We bought one package of onesies in each size and called it a day.

    I know she’ll “cost more” as she grows, but we’ve already made some big decisions. We will not go crazy with clothes, redecorate her room every year, own too many toys, go to the library for books… I hope she won’t look back and think My parents were cheap. We’re hoping for My parents really thought about it and never made it me vs. the mortgage.

  • Sue says:

    You have no idea how expensive they are until you raise them, making every effort to ensure they have good values, know right from wrong, and then have to watch them totally screw their lives up once they become “adults” at 18 and start making horrible choices….and then they have to come back and live with you because they have no place else to go. Let’s talk expensive when they go to jail for a few months because of stupid, childish prank involving several “friends”, or when they hook up with the wrong guy and get pregnant and come home to live with you and have a baby to raise – all because of making bad choices. Expensive – both financially and emotionally.

  • Stephanie says:

    This was probably the dumbest piece of writing I have ever wasted my time reading…

  • Scott Hedrick says:

    Marie, I think you meant me instead of Jeff.

    How do I know my kids will be producers? I don’t. All I can do is raise them to be producers, and leave the decision up to them. If they become producers, I’ve done my job right, and if they don’t, they will help society collapse a little sooner. If society collapses because of the weight of the non-producers, we will still be better off. I’d prefer we stop making so many leeches, but that’s up to society.

    I’ve been stocking up on canned goods 🙂

  • Marie says:

    One question Jeff: how can you bank on your children actually contributing to society? You make it sound as if children are robots that you can program to turn out a certain way.

  • Scott Hedrick says:

    Jeff, the IRS shows that more than half the US population consists of tax-sucking parasites, and the number is growing ever more rapidly. As a producer, I have a duty to create more producers. Far from being selfish, by having children who will in turn actually contribute to society, I am helping to support society.

    The Earth is fine. The problem is not with the number of people, but with corrupt governments that survive by demanding more and more from the producers (while vilifying them in the process) in order to buy votes from more and more leeches. It’s not a matter of having children- it’s a matter of having children you can care for with the resources you produce on your own.

    If my footprint on Earth is larger than that of others, it’s because I’m required to carry the burden of others.

  • Jeff says:

    There’s 7 billion people on the planet, projected to be 9.5 billion in the next 40 years. At what point does “having a baby” become mindless narcissistic selfish breeding? We’re not slaves to our biological clock…this freedom from mindless reaction to biological urges is what makes us human. Any beetle or rat can breed…humans have the ability to decide if we should breed. In light of the situation on planet earth, it’s time more of us stopped trying to fill a void in our own life with another life who’s footprint on earth has the potential to be the straw that break’s the ecosystem’s back.

  • LEB says:

    I question a parents’ decision to have kids based on their economic situation. As in, if you’re on public aid, don’t have kids. You can’t afford them. Wait until you’re back on your feet, THEN consider bringing little ones into the world, because quite frankly, I don’t want my taxes going toward housing and feeding your children when that’s YOUR job.

  • marci357 says:

    Renee – You either want them or you don’t. Money does not enter into the thought process. If you wait til you can “afford them”, you’ll probably never have them. But….They do not costs near what people say they do.

    You can get along very fine on very little, if you are a frugal person to start with, you will be able to raise your kids frugally. It’s a mindset.

    There’s also the saying, “You can have kids or money, but you can’t have both”… now that one’s probably pretty true . LOL.

    • Renee says:

      I appreciate your feedback. But I hardly believe the “you either want them or you don’t” statement is true across the board. People may try to fit sentiments like that into a nice little package, but the fact of the matter is that there is usually a gray area, to some extent, in most of life’s decisions. Not to mention the fact that all people are different.

      I do agree with your take on frugality, though. Parents these days seem to fall into a consumer tailspin after having babies. People have been successfully raising children for thousands of years without all of the gadgets available at Babies R Us. I think it would serve a lot of families well if they decided not to try to “keep up with the Jones'” and instead put their energy into keeping up with their little ones.

  • Renee says:

    I am utterly and completely torn on the subject of having kids. I’m 27, married for several years to a husband that I could easily spend the rest of my life with sans children. I love my life and am excited about our future together whether or not that includes offspring. But I think there is truth to the “biological clock” and I notice my eyes wandering to babies whenever they’re around. I wonder to myself if having babies is what life is all about or if people can genuinely be fulfilled without them. Will I hit age 45 and curse myself for never having children? Is it selfish, this day in age, to have children of our own when there are so many parent-less children out there already? Money is a huge factor in why children aren’t even on our radar yet — I’m money conscious nearly to a fault even though we have no reason at moment to worry. I guess no one but us can decide if kids are right for us, but I’d love to hear from people who were once in this decision-making boat. I don’t have “baby fever” but I’m not fully writing-off having them, either. Any anecdotes?

    • LEB says:

      Yes, people can be fulfilled without them. Although a lot of people believe that you can’t possibly be happy if you never have kids, it’s just pure nonsense. For some parents, having children DOES fulfill them, because they want them badly. Some friends of ours had trouble conceiving, went through IVF, had a miscarriage, went through IVF again, had another miscarriage, and went through IVF yet again before they got their twin boys. I remember how much pain I’d see in her eyes when she held someone else’s baby, even though she tried to hide it, and how attached he was to the kids of friends who absolutely adore him.

      I’m 30, and because of my age and also because so many people I know are having babies, I DO feel that twinge of baby lust, and even jealousy when it’s a close friend. But then I remind myself of all the reasons I don’t want to have a baby… I’m small and it will be too hard on my body, I have a history of depression and can’t risk my mental health (ie, PPD), I barely have enough energy to manage ME let alone a child, and because of that it would mean having to give up everything else (my business, my hobbies, my free time). Aside from me not wanting to alter my lifestyle that much, I honestly don’t think it’s fair to a baby to be born to parents who didn’t have a passionate need to raise a child.

      However, I do feel that if I reached my later middle-aged years, I would very much regret not raising a child. So, my husband and I plan to look into fostering or adopting an older child (or maybe two) when we’re in our mid-late 30s. By then I figure we’re both be out of our “me” mindsets, as well as quite financially established, so that we can give a child the time and attention he or she deserves. When I become a parent I want to be 100% all in… school bake sales, band boosters, PTA, scouts, the whole 9 yards. It’s just not something I would feel right about doing halfway.

    • Sev says:

      I think there is no choice in the world that will provide one with a 100% contentment and no regret. Even having children will, at some point, bring in some regret. Choosing not to have them will do the same. It’s all about being able to shake off the feelings of regret and remind yourself of your blessings. It’s easier said than done, but at the end of the day, all of us, no matter how rich or poor, will battle with recurring bouts of regret and self-doubt, and will have to crawl our way out of those feelings. Children or no children. Marriage or no marriage. Partner or no partner.

      • MKI says:

        Well said Sev – you’re so right. I need to get over my should-have/would-have thinking and just get the perspectives straight and see where my blessings are.

  • Scott Hedrick says:

    One problem is that the cost is so variable, and there is no place to go with valid numbers, that it’s hard to budget before arrival. Before my first one arrived, I was working in a convenience store. While going through old invoices, I found one that showed a package of diapers. They were 5.99 for a package of 20, making them 30 cents each. Figuring in the powder, wipes, cleanup and so forth, that comes out to 50 cents a poop. Figure up to 10 times a day for a newborn, times 30 days, means I needed to get a second job just for the output. And the cost of formula. I managed to qualify for WIC. A lot of people whined about that it didn’t cover, but I decided I would instead be grateful. Those government checks represented money taken from other people who didn’t even know me to help pay for the cost of raising some stranger’s kids, so I was thankful to those taxpayers.

    It helped that my wife worked at Target, and so she was able to buy displays and markdowns with her employee discount. We managed to outfit the nursery for under $200 that way, buying almost everything from Target, including what I called a battleship-sized stroller (all it needed was a shoelace to replace a broken strap).

    Without reliable data, it was hard to plan a budget. We got by. We have two now. I want another one, but she says I need to win the lottery first. (And here I thought I had won the lottery when I married her)

  • Marnie says:

    Yes, they are expensive – but just like the pain of childbirth, it’s all worth it.

  • kim says:

    You guys all crack me up with your uplifting observations.

    We raised three kids and the experiences were wrought with some joys, but also a lot of heartache, disappointment and major expense. We loved them all and provided for and protected them as best we could. They are all grown now but we still do not have our own lives, or freedom from worrying about how our kids will feed themselves (and in one case, our grandchildren). We were frugal parents and we saved money for their respective college educations (they had to procure some grants and loans themselves). They were always required to work at least part-time (as teenagers and in college and during summer breaks from school) and to save for their own vehicles and insurance. They had daily chores, GPA requirements and curfews. Their television time was limited and to material which we approved. But, due to galactic media influence, peer pressure and general teenager-brain osmosis, they always were always fascinated by form and not substance. As parents, we thought we had some control over and positive influence in their lives. We couldn’t have been more deluded. We were not perfect parents, but we were 24-7 parents. We were always available to meet our children’s needs and their welfare always came first.

    The downturn in the economy, prospective high inflation, and the extreme likelihood of having to care for your own elderly parents in the fullness of time (this happened to us) should be factored into any decision to bring children into the world. So, be careful what you wish for – it may come true.

    I think of us as a loving, generous couple, and we don’t share our disillusionment with the kids, but the fact is that we could have gone to the drugstore instead. We could have saved ourselves a lot of money, heartache and the rejection of our love and values. We could now be living Lotus Land where it seems always to be afternoon, drinking sublime nectars and frolicking in the waves . . . .

    • Anonymous says:

      Ouch. I hope your children don’t read this.

      • JJohnson says:

        Why? Kim’s story is very valid and often true; she is just speaking her mind…

      • Toady says:

        Anonymous;

        Not all child raising experiences are filled with joy. There are no guarantees your children will turn out as desired or that you will enjoy parenthood. I admire the honesty of the poster. He/She sure isn’t the only with disappointments.

      • Sue says:

        Anonymous – obviously YOUR kids are perfect – or are not yet born. Good luck raising your perfect offspring.

        Some parents are blessed with kids that pop out of the womb perfectly formed, with no physical, mental or emotional defects, who proceed through life meeting all their parents’ expectations, both educationally and financially – they grow to adulthood having never made a major mistake or bad choice, never caused their parents disappointment or sadness, and went to college, pursued the high-dollar career of their choice, and are successful members of society.

        Now let’s talk reality. Many of us have children who were born with either physical, mental or emotional issues or learning disorders that made the possibility of them becoming perfectly functioning members of society an unattainable dream. These kids started out great, but somewhere along the line, something went wrong – and it wasn’t the fault of the parents. They developed incorrectly in the womb, some chemical imbalance in their brain or body caused damage or defects, and now, their parents have spent years dealing with the heartache, pain, sadness and financial burden of children who cannot or will not abide by the rules, laws and moral values laid before them. Even the most perfect of children can grow into a rebellious, unruly, disrespectful teen and young adult – and if you don’t realize that, you’re kidding yourself.

        Do we love the unruly, rebellious, trouble-making kids any less than the perfect ones ? No, of course not. They just make our lives and their own a lot more difficult and make it more difficult to “like” them. I’ve told my own kids more than once – I am your mother. It is my job to love you and take care of you, and I will always do so – but I don’t have to like who you are or the choices you make.

  • Josiah says:

    Hey, man, my wife and I won’t even get a DOG because it’s too much money, and we are barely making ourselves. Our decision to be childless is largely financial.

  • kat says:

    My 6 year old said the other day, “Are we rich?”
    “No.”
    “Are we poor?”
    “No, we can afford 6 kids, but just barely.”

    I think both opinions, that kids are really expensive and that they aren’t, do a disservice to parents. Yes, we homeschool, so we have to pay for books and such so it costs more than public school, but it is much cheaper than private tuition. But you still have to pay more for utilities, more for housing, more for clothes, more for food, more for lessons/sports the more children you have. However, some folks with 1 trophy kid spend more than those with 8. Every parent sacrifices financially for their children, but in the long run it is likely worth it.

  • Lucas says:

    Just joined the “club” myself. Our daughter is 3 weeks old, and the reality of expenses is just starting to sink in. I feel like we did the right things before the baby came–debt free except the mortgage, started a 529, etc. Still, it’s a bit daunting.

  • Philip says:

    We have one and another on the way (March). We were one of those couples who were financially prepared for our kids. I can see how someone in their early twenties, at the beginning stages of their earning lives would be financially overwhelmed by kids. But kids don’t really “need” that much. We choose to make them expensive, I think. Regardless of the price though, they are worth it. Nice post.

  • Life Compass says:

    My wife and I have 5 kids ages 4-14. We do not find them to be “expensive.” We just remind ourselves often that everything is a choice. We choose the kind of lifestyle we want for our family, and we have no desire to compare ourselves to others or to fall into a consumeristic trap.

    I think we do ourselves, our nation (speaking for America), and our kids a huge disservice by seeing our children as just consumers instead of valuable producers in our family economy.

    Imagine the self-worth and discipline that is created in a young person’s life when they realize they are needed…that what they do makes a difference in the life of their family.

  • Farnoosh says:

    Hi Vered, as I scanned the Daily Brainstorm top posts, I had to click through here and read this. I have linked up under my name the post I wrote that received (with my replies) about 260 comments and conversations (and still is getting some). It was titled the path to fulfillment: to have or not to have children and I heard a million unique things but funny enough, no one brought the money issues – which is another of my serious hesitations to have a child and my budget can still handle a dozen children comfortably but I just don’t want to spend that much on a child. Why are we expected to send them to private schools and colleges? No one paid for me to go to college except me :). Do it on your own terms. Don’t buy as much stuff for them but instead give them the gift of experience and great parenting which many children lack…and if I were you, I’d let them figure out college funding – it was the most growth inducing experience my father put me through :). Great post…

    • Cristina Argudo says:

      Agreed. My parents used to have a very comfortable life style when my siblings and I were young children but they only minimally indulged us, they could afford to buy everything we wanted, but only bought what we needed, while showing us the value money. It’s truly one of the most important lessons they’ve given me. Things happened and they lost most of their wealth before any of us even made it out of high school but we never missed it. I am living on my own, putting myself through college and staying debt free and it is HARD. A lot of times I feel like quiting but at the same time it is very rewarding to know that I’m doing this for myself and I have grown so much in the last few years. I love my independence and I don’t think I’d appreciate my education as much as I do if I didn’t have to work so hard for it 🙂

  • Wenchypoo says:

    According to Dr. Phil, having babies is just an emotional reflex response to marriage. Got control of your emotions and reflex responses, then you likely won’t have kids–you don’t feel you need them.

    I am one of those who doesn’t have kids, and I’m just fine. There are about 33% of the child-bearing-aged population who doesn’t have kids, so I’m far from alone. I chose cats instead—no college worries, no issues with borrowing the car, no sassy back-talk, no whining for the latest and greatest.

    Basically, you won’t die and go to hell because you didn’t have any kids. If you DO die and go to hell, you’ll finally get to meet me in person–I’ll be the one closest to the fire (with marshmallows and long sticks).

    • KM says:

      That’s a pretty retarded statement. I was never married, but I wanted kids. Not only did I want someone to take care of and teach and bring up, I also wanted to have a larger purpose in life than just go to work and make a difference in my industry. I never had a drive for biological kids and adopted are just fine with me as long as I have kids (I want 2). And kids behave how you raise them. If you raise them to be sassy backtalkers that whine and wreck your car, then that’s what you will have.

      • Charlie says:

        Wow, I hope you aren’t going to raise your children to think that calling things “retarded” is in any way acceptable.

      • Ted Nannariello says:

        “And kids behave how you raise them.”

        *Way* false. Kids are *people* with their own personalities, not little clones of yourself that you get to program like computers. Jeffrey Dahmer had loving parents who raised him well. He still killed people and ate their organs. Sometimes, shit just happens. If you think the quality of your parenting directly correlates to the type of kid you’re going to have, well, you’re really thinking about baking a cake, not raising a *person*.

        You’re precisely the type of person who should not raise children, at least not without lots and lots of reading.

    • Sev says:

      At least you’ve made a responsible choice. I don’t know why people think it is irresponsible to decide not to have kids because you don’t think you can afford them or really raise them. That, to me, is responsible behaviour. Knowing your limitations and acting accordingly. You can make a difference in the world through your job, through volunteering, taking in stray, abused animals etc. If you think raising kids is the only way to live a purposeful life, you’ll soon end up with a population crisis at your hands like in my home country. I wish the world at large was more supportive of people who chose not to build a traditional family. I wish we’d expand our definition of what is “normal” and “well adjusted”.

  • KM says:

    I agree that kids don’t have to be expensive. Perhaps I was lucky, but besides the major investments like car seat and crib with bedding, most of the things were given to us as gifts or donations. We have a ton of new and second hand from friends clothes, shoes, games, books, and toys, as well as several unused gift cards that can be used for bigger clothes. We bought the stroller and high chair used, I knit a lot of clothes and blankets, breast milk is free (the pump was bought on sale, although still a tad pricey), and we are using mostly cloth washable diapers and training in elimination communication that does not even get diapers dirty. I know there are more expenses to come, but there are ways of being frugal without depriving your child. He just doesn’t need to have every toy out there or 20 pairs of jeans (even adults don’t).

    And I am a single parent and still managing to save for my retirement, investment, and his future college expenses. However, I don’t think college savings are a requirement – my parents didn’t save for my college and I managed just fine (they helped pay for it).

  • The high cost of raising kids is one of the reasons I love handmedowns. I have bought very few clothes for my kids. Birthday and Christmas presents handle the majority of our needs for kids’ clothes beyond what handmedowns provide. The savings are amazing.

    It helps that my oldest daughter has two close in age cousins who hand down to her, and clothes go from her to a younger cousin, back to my youngest. It’s harder getting handmedowns for my son, as the only source is a second cousin 500 miles away, but somehow they come on time or another source pops up.

    We do our best to keep costs down other ways. I work at home, which saves on daycare but has probably limited my income… although what I do earn probably makes up for not paying for daycare, which is expensive in my area.

  • marci says:

    the table link takes one to the calculator – not the cost table…

    Kids don’t cost that much to raise – unless you want it to cost that much.
    There are a LOT of things one does not have to spend money on – and as long as one can remain true to their frugal roots, raising kids is not expensive.

    And remember, there are still a lot of things kids can do to earn money – including
    working for family – there are few labor laws involved if you are working for family, or on the family farm.

    • MoneyNing says:

      The link is fixed.

      I also agree that raising kids will cost as much as you want it to cost. Other than fixed expenses like tuition and the like, everything else is probably just a function of “how much you want your kids to have” growing up.

  • Jenna says:

    My mom always jokes, “Even if you think you are going to have kids, start putting away money for their college education.”

  • Miranda says:

    You make a good point about being prepared for the costs of children — even though you don’t need to be wealthy to succeed. Although it is important to note that (I think) you are never truly “ready” for raising children. I two of the most important things are: 1. that you want to have them and that you are ready to provide a loving environment for them and 2. you can supply them with their basic needs of food, clothing, access to health care and shelter.

    • Lynn says:

      Yes, I agree. If you wait until you’re financially ready, you’ll almost never be ready. There’s always “what if” and “one more thing”. 🙂

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