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Are Kids REALLY Unaffordable?

by Miranda Marquit

I just read, on CNN Money, that the cost of raising a child from birth to age 18, for a middle-income, two-parent family, is now at $226,920. That’s $60,000 more than it cost 10 years ago to raise a child. (There’s inflation at work for you.) This sort of statistic is what makes many take a step back and wonder if having children is unaffordable.

Are kids too expensive?

Are kids too expensive?

However, do children really need to cost $13,830 a year? (Last year, I used a government calculator and discovered that, for my income, I should be spending $26,000 a year on my son. I’m not.) I’ve done the math, and my son really isn’t that unaffordable. My husband and I would probably have the same size house and pay the same utilities without him, and he really doesn’t add a whole lot to the food budget. And, since I switched to a high deductible health plan and HSA, his share of health care expenses are much lower, too. Taking all that into account, and considering what I spend in clothing, toys, activities/camps, music lessons, and college fund contributions, I see that I am on track to spend closer to $10,000 on my son in 2011.

It’s true that infants cost more than my son does right now (what with diapers and formula), and I’m sure he’ll be a little more costly as he ages, and I have to take into account extracurricular activities, and the increased amounts of food consumed by a growing teenager. However, I really don’t see any reason that my son needs to cost more than $14,000 a year — much less $26,000. And I can see several ways that I could save money on what I spend on my son right now, as a way to bring down what he costs me.

Saving Money When You Have Kids

There are a number of ways that you can save money when you have kids, even if you aren’t using food assistance. Indeed, I know families in my neighborhood with three to five children who are managing to raise happy, healthy kids on much less than $13,830 per child per year. Some of the strategies employed by these mostly one-income families include:

  • Homecooked meals from scratch, including meals made from ingredients grown in a garden, rather than prepackaged foods and restaurant dining.
  • The use of cloth diapers rather than disposable diapers.
  • A focus on quality family time and frugal activities, such as family baseball games, bike riding, camping, and game nights, rather then expensive trips to the movies.
  • Saving up for a great road trip every two or three years, rather than taking an expensive family vacation.
  • Hand me downs and second-hand clothing.
  • Understanding the difference between needs and wants.
  • Renting sports and music equipment, rather than buying.

You might be surprised at what you can save, if that’s your lifestyle decision. Does this mean that children are for everyone? Of course not. Some of the changes that come with children aren’t for everyone. However, if you want kids, and you are willing to make some lifestyle changes so that you can afford them, there are ways to raise a family on a wide range of incomes.

What do you think? Have kids become too expensive?

Photo credit: hoyasmeg.


Published or updated December 30, 2011.
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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jon | Free Money Wisdom

Maybe those statistics come from people that don’t have any kids :) I don’t see how that is possible either unless you actually do get everything your kiddie wants while running through the grocery store…

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2 Ryan

Jon, the numbers also represent the expenses for a family where both parents work, so I think they are assuming there are child care expenses to consider. Then you have to take into account the expenses of the Average American, which includes metropolitan areas as well as rural areas – rural is generally much cheaper, but the heavy populations plus high costs in the metropolitan and even suburban areas can skew the data. I’m sure the methodology used makes a huge difference in the final numbers. And I definitely agree about the grocery store! :)

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3 Sarah

I agree with many of your money saving tips above. However, overall I can’t agree with the cost assessment. Daycare alone costs us over $20,000 per kid, per year. I have no choice but to work full time, so staying home with kids is not an option. There are cheaper care options, but even they would be at least $15,000. I guess this may be an SF bay area price issue.

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4 Briana @ 20 and Engaged

I think it comes from people who change every single aspect of their life when they have a kid: buying a new house, getting a new car, changes in their diet, and borrowing NOTHING. You can shave off much of those expenses by sticking with your current accommodations, borrowing or buying used, and just thinking a bit more frugally.

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5 Laura @MotherWouldKnow

The suggestion about eating home-cooked meals is so true. Whether you are going out with a child (or children) or on a “date”, eating out is expensive. There are times to splurge, when restaurant meals make sense. But when it’s take-out or a quick restaurant meal because you’re too tired to cook, it’s often a waste of money – the food isn’t very good and costs way more than something healthier that wouldn’t really have taken so long to make.

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6 cashflowmantra

Nah, kids aren’t really that expensive. The wonderful thing about us humans is that we can adapt to our situations. Having kids and adapting happens every day.

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7 Dave

A kid actually costs well over half a million dollars. Instead of spending $600/month on the kid, you can use that same money and invest it @12% compounded monthly then after 20 years you will have $ 599,488.75

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8 Ryan

I would love to find an investment that returned 12% interest compounded on a monthly basis. The decision shouldn’t be taken down to just dollars and cents, unless you *truly* can’t afford a child and having a child would put you and/or the child’s life in danger, or put everyone out on the street. Otherwise, it should be a personal decision.

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9 Anon

Thanks for the article–I’ve been enjoying this blog (discovered today).

I work from home and bring my kids to school and pick them up when school is done. I am with them in the summer. To pay for after school care and summer care for 2 kids (if I worked in an office) would likely cost around 20K per year.

My income is only a little over 20K per year, but I also own and manage a rental property, adding about 11K onto my salary, so 31K per year. If I add in the childcare I personally provide, my income would be over 50K.

When I add in my coupon savings and other lifestyle savings (by being able to pay attention to my costs and lower them) I add a savings of 3-4K per year. That makes me worth up to 54K per year.

Unless I could find a job that netted me (after taxes and commuting costs) 54K, I wouldn’t take it.

Anyway…I’m getting off topic. I think what I’m trying to say is that I think my kids cost 11-13K per year in childcare, healthcare and food. That’s not so bad.

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