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Oddball costs of having kids

By one dad's account, the government's calculation of the cost to raise a child is absurdly low.

By MSN Money Partner Jul 27, 2012 10:56AM

This post by Len Penzo originally appeared as a guest post at Budgets are Sexy.


Image: Naughty Child (© desuza.communications/Vetta/Getty Images)I usually hate writing guest posts for famous, bloggers because being a guest writer on somebody else's blog is the Internet equivalent of being a substitute teacher -- in junior high school. Even so, I wanted to make sure J. Money had plenty of time to enjoy that new baby of his. So here I am.


A while back, I noticed that J. began tracking every single expense his baby has cost him since conception.


Well, now that J. has finally become a dad -- and as the father of a 15-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter -- I want to make sure he knows what he's really in for, financially speaking.


Like a lot of you, I saw the latest government study that claims it now costs an average of $235,000 in today's dollars to raise one child to age 18. However, for a lot of folks, this number is absurdly low.


For example, while the study included food, shelter, child care, health care, clothing and K-12 education expenses, it failed to include college -- that is, assuming you're the type who thinks parents are responsible for that. The study also inexplicably failed to consider other key cost drivers that most parents have to deal with.

Post continues below.

Off the top of my head, here are just a few examples, some arguably more expensive than others:


Unexpected home maintenance

When my son Matthew was about 7, I made the mistake of giving him a kid-sized tool box with kid-sized tools. You know, a little saw, a small screwdriver or two, tiny pliers, a mini hammer -- stuff like that. One day I came home to find that Matthew had decided to use his tool set to do a little home remodeling. The renovations included making large gouges in his bedroom walls, and chipping off parts of the window frames and base boards.


Then there was the time he flushed his underwear down the toilet. Of course, we only discovered that little surprise after we spent a couple hundred bucks for a plumber to clear the hopelessly clogged line.


Good times. I've got about 100 other examples from the last 10 years I could share, but I think you get the point.


Extracurricular activities

This year alone, I've easily shelled out at least a few thousand bucks to cover the fees and other costs for Matthew's travel baseball team and Nina's color guard team and weekly singing lessons.


Wasted electricity

Kids seem to have no trouble flipping on the light switch when they enter a room. In fact, I can't remember the last time my kids walked into a room and forgot to turn the lights on. But when it comes to turning them off, well . . . fuggedaboutit. I wish I had a nickel for every time I've walked into an empty room with a 100-watt light bulb or two burning, or a television set blaring, or a stereo playing. God knows, it would certainly help cover the money I've spent over the past 10 years in extra electricity.


And don't get me started about them standing in front of the open refrigerator for six minutes at a time while they debate what they want to eat or drink.



Think about it: Over the course of 18 years, the number of gifts we give our kids can really add up: Christmas, birthdays, graduation. I'm sure there are other occasions I'm missing.



Let's face it: Parents have to get away from their kids every once in a while if they want to keep their marriage healthy and vibrant. With few exceptions, the Honeybee and I have been fortunate enough to have two sets of grandparents available to watch our kids. Not everyone is so fortunate, though. And over time, let me tell you, those baby-sitter rates can really add up.

I'm sure you can think of scores of other examples of why kids can be so expensive to raise. That being said, it's an undeniable fact that having children makes our lives richer -- and that makes kids a bargain at any price.


The important thing to keep in mind is that the cost of raising our kids is largely dependent on us as parents: As long as we understand the concept of wants vs. needs -- and faithfully live within our means -- then everything is going to be just fine.


More from Budgets are Sexy and MSN Money

Jul 27, 2012 3:53PM

The greatest costs aren't monetary... the stress, the lack of sleep, the loss of freedeom. Best bet is not to have them in the first place. It's not like there is a shortage of people anyway nor are things looking that great for the not too distant future of our nation or even the world.

Jul 27, 2012 3:57PM
This is why I chose not to have kids.
Jul 27, 2012 3:27PM
Kids are expensive.  I stopped at one.  I often wonder to myself, is the pull of biology so strong that logic just flies out of the window? In my opinion, you should have as many children as you can afford.  For my husband and I, that's one, and we are able to provide for our son very well on two modest incomes. Another child would mean someone, probably me, would have to quit and stay home because the cost of childcare and other expenses would be more expensive than just staying at home.  That means my husband would shoulder the cost for everything including three mouths to feed.  I don't think that's fair.  But maybe that's just me.
Jul 27, 2012 12:58PM

When I was a new parent so many years ago I wasn't surprised at the cost of diapers -- it was the amount of money I spent on film developing for all those pictures.  Now that three kids are in college (and of course living in three states!) what I didn't figure in for the cost of their education was the amount I spend on care packages!

Jul 30, 2012 10:06AM
The way my 5 year old son is eating, he will go through $235,000 just in food alone. No, he isn't fat. He is just a growing weed that doesn't stop eating.
Jul 28, 2012 10:32AM
I think most of the posters who claim kids are way more expensive than what was said in the article fail to realize is gifts don't have to cost $600 and kids don't need to go to Disney, most would have just as much fun with their parents spraying each other with a water hose and playing in the yard. And who in their right mind would give a 7 year old real tools, small or not? As for extracurricular activities you tell them they can participate in one and not 15 that keep them so busy they don't have any down time at all. You teach them to turn lights off or punish them for it, I find sitting in their room without electronics and writing lines works pretty well most of the time. Kids don't require the most expensive things you can give them, even though most people who don't live nearly paycheck to paycheck don't understand this.
Jul 27, 2012 6:29PM
I have no children by choice, and though I may regret that decision someday, it hasn't happened yet.  The ONLY reason to have kids is because you truly want them and can love and support them.  I know I am largely a product of my own childhood, but I grew up on a farm, and was largely free farm labor and a punching bag.  Worked like a dog.  Never paid anything.  Never was bought anything but basic food and clothing; not a junk car, not even a bike.  Never encouraged to be anything.  There is no child that is born unexpectedly; children don't just happen.  I like sex as much as the next guy, but there is no reason to produce a child with every coupling.  Birth control is easy.  If I poured my heart and soul into properly raising a child, not to mention my money, only to have him dump on me, I'd throw the little jerk out and never think twice about it.
Jul 28, 2012 10:05AM
They cost just as much as you can afford to give owe them this.    They were not involved in the choice to be born.        They don't owe you.
Jul 27, 2012 11:15PM
It costs whatever it costs.  I raised my daughter and son as a single father (before it was fashionable) from '79 to '93 when my son (youngest) graduated high school.  My daughter works for Binney & Smith and is raising her son as a single mom and doing a very good job of it, and my son is working with AR MEDCOM for the last 4 years after 15 years active duty in armor and 3 tours to the sand.  I never even stopped to think about what it cost, because it didn't, and doesn't matter.  You do what you have to do to raise your children to be responsible, upstanding and contributing members of whatever community they eventually choose to live in.  I'm satisfied with the results, and have no regrets.  This article is old hat and may be trying to make people shy away from having children, but having and raising them goes way beyond the financial aspect of it.  Guys, when you have that gleem in your eyes, and gals when you have that feeling between your thighs,  remember it cost's a lot, not just financialy.
Jul 27, 2012 11:27PM

Parents spend uneccessary money catering to their children's every whim. Also there is this obsessive need to involve children in every dance class, voice lesson and sport under the sun. You can create opportunities for your children but at some point you need to realize that the MAJORITY of children are not highly gifted and talented in athletics, the arts or intellectually. Biology may tell you otherwise but that is the truth...and you would be better served letting your children engage in FREE play.

Jul 28, 2012 9:27AM

$235,000? Most of us wish we had that much to spend on each kid. My two girls were involved in sports, band, choir, etc. We did the Disney thing twice.


They both made it through college on scholarships, grants, small student loans plus working part-time jobs.


Considering that our household income was around $40,000.00 a year when my first was born and hovered around that until they both graduated college,


 I know for a fact that what I spent raising my kids came nowhere near $235,000.00.

Jul 28, 2012 10:29AM
This is a cute story, but I remember reading that blog, and I thought the number was high.  Kids need love and attention - not stuff and activities that cost a fortune.  I would have the same size home if I didn't have any kids.  And I have had times with several kids in the home, and times with none.  And my electricity bill didn't seem any different.  I buy food that is on sale and stay away from junk.  They take lunch from home that is bought in large packaging - not the individual packaged stuff.  Milk in a thermos.  The bottom line is that you don't really need to spend that much money.
Jul 27, 2012 7:07PM
Yes kids cost alot....but when I grew up....don't get mean....I am the youngest of 8 children....I graduated college in 84 so there....we all had to work....clean house.....pick fruits.......and we were middle classs. So If I had a kid ....they would be out there earning there keep.....our laws have stopped a lot of kids who would love to have a summer job from 12 yrs. on... that would help the family......and teach the kids accountability, responsibility.....where did we go wrong......neccessity is the greatest catalyst to move forward to when American was Great......test your child....spoiling does no one any good.
Jul 28, 2012 10:19AM
Children cost a tremendous amount of money and are worth every penney and then some
Jul 27, 2012 4:02PM

Kids are expensive. What about private schools? What about the neighbor kid giving your kid a hammer and both of them knocking down her cement block wall. Clothes, medical, dental and your time off time. What about blue birds, campfire girls, drill teams, cheer leading, vacations, football and the sitters. What about emotional time. I worked two jobs to raise my three. Bigger house, higher utilities, food, larger cars bills - it goes on and on. Kids are not grown up at 18. I spent more than the government amount and after 18 it goes on some more. If you gave kids the bare minimum you could do it but with inflation today it would costs more. I agree with the author Len Penzo on expenses. Rearing kids is like going to high school. You only get to do it once, you can't go back and redo it after their grown.


Jul 27, 2012 7:04PM
just this summer alone... 2 summer camps, baseball uniform +league, soccer uniform + league.  Time lost from work for taking/watching. Swimming league/Suit. Food/supplies for their random pets (hermit crabs/snails/cats/dog).  Gas money, water park passes, panic attack therapy (not covered by health insurance), river rafting trip.  AP exam fee.  16th birthday party.  Wow, now that I think about it... the list goes on and I didn't even realize how much I have been spending.  No wonder we are broke!
Jul 27, 2012 7:32PM
You forgot braces, trips to the ER, cell phones, driver's licenses, and car insurance, plus the extra car that the kids think they absolutely have to have.
Jul 27, 2012 6:03PM

Surprise.   Do you actually expect the government to accurately evaluate the financial cost of children?

How naive.

Jul 28, 2012 7:19AM
The question is, how much do those kids on welfare cost the tax payers?
Jul 28, 2012 12:26AM

Parents  do not mind or abhor the costs of children,anymore than they mind or abhor helping needier relatives or friends.

But, they do mind paying  if the child,relative,or friends turns out to be ungrateful,worthless,and even more needy after the expenditures and sacrifices in time have been made.

However, parents make foolish investments in homes,cars,stocks,bonds,country club memberships,LasVegas trips,restaurants,churches,and beauty treatments.All you can say is this:

    It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Those who have lost jobs,spouses,or homes accept their fate.

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