Monday, July 30, 2012

Cost of a Child

I've had conversations recently with friends who are reasonably wealthy. They are making mortgage payments, own pets, and eat out regularly, so I assume they aren't scraping by. (I suppose they could just be lousy at managing their money, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.) They're also well-educated, having at least a bachelor's degree. So why do they buy into the myth that children are prohibitively expensive?

For these friends, and others who may want children but feel unable to afford them, let me set the record straight. In general, if you can afford a dog, you can afford a child.

Start-Up Costs
Depending on your health insurance, the biggest investment will be hospital bills. Once you cross that hurdle, though, the rest seems easy.
Cloth diapers ($500) That's a high estimate, but about how much we spent. You can easily spend a lot less by getting less fancy diapers and/or shopping Craigslist and consignment sales. Of course, $500 is a lot of money, but with cloth, that investment will cover your little one all the way through toilet training. And many times you can sell your diapers to get some of that money back!
Pack-n-play ($50-100) Your baby doesn't need a crib. Peter slept in our room in a travel-size pack-n-play for his first year quite happily. He then graduated to a crib mattress on the floor in his room (add another $50).
Car seat ($60) A convertible car seat will likely last your child through preschool years.

Ongoing Costs
Clothes ($10/mo) We shop almost exclusively at thrift and consignment stores for Peter. He hasn't seemed to mind. :-)
Food ($20/mo) For the first six months, the only increase in our food budget was keeping me fed. Peter was exclusively breast-fed. I know not everyone is medically able to breastfeed, but most women are with enough support. Saves a LOT of money on formula! And "baby food" is a scam. We've never bought baby food. Peter just eats what we eat, cut into little pieces.
Toys ($10/mo) Really, this is optional, but we like to give stuff to our kids. Just be reasonable about it. Go to the library for books. Again, look for used items. If you have any friends or relatives, be ready for birthdays and Christmas!

"Hidden" Costs
Health insurance This is entirely dependent on your coverage. In some places, there are only two levels (individual and family), so having a child won't impact your payments at all. From conversation with friends and family, I can confidently say we're on a lousy plan; still, Peter 'only' costs us about $1K/year. The next child won't significantly change that amount.
Utilities Our electric jumped about 1 kwh/mo, which is pretty negligible. With the extra laundry for cloth diapers, our water bill doubled... but we live in the northeast, so that was about $10 extra per month.

Lost Wages or Child Care?
It's impossible for me to set a ballpark of what this would mean for your family. To do what we've done (breastfeeding, cloth diapers) is possible while both parents work full-time, but difficult. To us, it was very important that one parent stay home and practicality dictated that person be me. (My husband just never got very good at breastfeeding...) I love being a stay-at-home mom, but not every woman would. My lost wages were negligible, since I was making less than $14/hr, but for other families this would be a bigger adjustment. Do the math to figure out how big of an impact this would really have on your finances.

The Future
What we spend on food and clothing will continue to increase as Peter grows, but I don't anticipate either of these breaking the bank. (I may regret these words when he hits a growth spurt in puberty...) He'll survive without a car of his own in high school. We would love to be able to pay his college tuition, but worst case, many students work themselves through college with scholarships and grants and live to tell the tale.

There may be many good reasons not to have children. If money is one of them, though, I hope this gave you an idea of what you need to spend versus what Babies'R'Us wants you to spend.


  1. This is great! For a while now I've been meaning to look up some articles on what "really" makes babies so "expensive" in people's minds. All I ever find is stuff on diapers, formula, and childcare of which none of those are really necessary.
    Well-written! - I may borrow this sometime with your permission to show some "naysayers" on my side just how inexpensive babying can really be. And perhaps you should get this in the paper somehow.

    1. Borrow away! :-) It's too long to be a letter to the editor; I'm not sure what other avenues are available. I suppose I could try the Catholic Courier... they're all about having kids. ;-)