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The High Cost of Having Children

The birth rate in the United States is now the lowest since the 1920s, when they began keeping this statistic.  Experts are worried about the dire consequences of negative population growth, which is already occurring in parts of Europe and Asia.  In many rural areas of America, it is causing schools to close, depressing real estate prices and affecting public services.  Some municipalities are even giving away free land in order to attract young couples to the area.  One obvious reason couples are having fewer children or skipping it entirely is because of the high cost.  It is now estimated to cost $235,000 to raise a child to age 18.

How Times have Changed

Toddler with a Cell Phone

Image by Jenny Downing

Whenever I wanted something expensive as a child, I was quickly told, “We can’t afford it.”  This wasn’t something that I could argue with, because it was an honest and accurate answer.  There was no whining, begging or tantrums.  We accepted the reality of a family of seven, living on a single income.  It was more important for us to eat and have a roof over our heads, than to get a new baseball glove.  Now days, parents are too ashamed and embarrassed to admit when they can’t afford something.  And, they feel guilty about depriving their children of the smallest item or experience.  So, they often go into debt in order to provide the things their income won’t allow.  When I was a kid, parents didn’t feel obligated to entertain us or to buy us things they couldn’t afford.  My allowance barely bought a couple of candy bars and my clothes came out of  Sears catalog.  We washed cars, mowed lawns or got paper routes to earn our own money.

Children are a Choice

When we started our own family, we chose to stop at two children.  Mrs. Prosper and I are both younger children from very large families and we both wanted to give more time, attention and resources to fewer children.  Having a son and a daughter made the decision easy.  Little did we know or care that it takes 2.1 children per couple in order to sustain the population.  Two kids was enough and three would have been one too many.

Extending Childhood

For most parents, the cost of raising a child doesn’t end when they turn 18.  Children are staying at home longer and expecting more support as young adults.  It’s very common for parents to be paying most of the expenses for their kids well into their twenties, whether they are working or not.  Parents who help their children attend college are facing huge tuition costs.  Others are helping to raise their grandchildren.  It never seems to end.

The Trade Off

Millions of couples are skipping children altogether.  They have nice cars and go out to dinner often, without hiring a baby-sitter.  They have nice houses and furnishings, which don’t get destroyed by curious children with sticky fingers.  They get to sleep in on weekends and go away on vacations.  From a time and money standpoint, remaining childless is definitely the way to go.

The trade off comes from all of the little things childless couples miss out on.  They will never drop their kids off at school or coach their sports teams.  They will never recognize their children’s cry from a half mile away or see their own face smiling back at them.  There are no kids to celebrate birthdays and holidays with.  They have no one to carry their name and legacy.  They will have no one to look after them in their old age.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that having children is priceless.  The cost, hassles and sleepless nights are weighed against thousands of small moments of pleasure.  As with anything priceless, be prepared to pay a lot more than you expect.

“I take a very practical view of raising children. I put a sign in each of their rooms: Checkout Time is 18 years.”

Erma Bombeck - Humor Columnist

Recommended Reading

Len Penzo - How to Tell if you are Dating a Deadbeat
Out of Your Rut - 5 Reasons to buy Less House than you can Afford
Squirrelers – If you Plan to Work until Old Age Change your Plan

11 comments to The High Cost of Having Children

  • PK

    Getting completely off the payroll is hard, especially with the new ‘essentials’ like cell phones and the like. I was still on the family contract for a few years post-college, embarrassingly enough. Still – it helped us both due to the discount, haha.
    PK recently posted..Lifestyle Creep and YouMy Profile

    • I have never paid for my kid’s cell plans. I bought them Net 10 phones and made them pay for their own minutes. They weren’t happy about it, but they were old enough to handle it. My daughter worked me pretty hard to start a family plan. But, there was no way I was going to pay a huge bill, once they went over on texts or minutes. I already pay enough bills and didn’t need an open-ended liability.

      Honestly, I think it helped them both to start acting like adults. Kids rarely appreciate the things they are given, but they certainly do appreciate the things they earn themselves.
      Bret recently posted..Neither a Borrower nor a Lender BeMy Profile

  • Paul N

    “Trade off” ???

    Your trade off is assuming that you have a good child and you actually have the type of kid that for many people is simply a fantasy now.

    In a world laden with divorce, drug addicted or self entitled kids (that stay home past 30 now draining your retirement savings) and the high probability of having many differnt types of other life draining issues it’s easy to see why people just say NO to kids.

    We have created a society that makes raising a kid very difficult when you sit down and weigh it all out.

    There is this movie from 2006 called “Idiocracy”. There is a good parody about who and who’s not having kids in the first 10 minutes of the movie. It’s really funny but sadly there is some truth to it as well.

    • Thanks for stopping by Paul.

      I am very fortunate to have two great kids. But, they have definitely disappointed me in many ways. Unfortunately for them, my wife and I stayed married and we held them accountable. Also, playtime is over and they are now legally adults. That changes the parenting dynamic considerably. I wouldn’t change my decision, that’s for sure.

      As for many of the problems you identified in your comment, I have seen them and I agree. My first thought is, having a 30 year-old living at home is a parenting failure. Unless they have a serious problem or disability, somebody needs to get out the boot. The fall-out from drug problems is especially sad. I have seen families devastated by their kid’s drug use, including a number of couples who have been bankrupted by rehab and lost their homes.

      Society has definitely shifted responsibility from kids themselves onto parents. I would argue that society has shifted blame and responsibility from the irresponsible to the responsible. I don’t know if we should blame the media, lawyers or society itself. But, it’s a big step backwards from the rugged individualism that made this country great.
      Bret recently posted..Neither a Borrower nor a Lender BeMy Profile

  • Wenie Langacre

    I was expecting a higher cost to raise a child.
    I would say that $235,000 is not that enough because of the developing technologies and of course college fees are so expensive this time.
    Wenie Langacre recently posted..A Brief Guide to Building and Renovating in QueenslandMy Profile

    • Hi Wenie,

      Judging from the flower, it looks like you may be a Pacific Islander, like my wife. Thanks for stopping by.

      The $235,000 doesn’t include college; it only includes raising the child to age 18. The costs to help your child after they become adults is quite an additional expense, which I know all about.
      Bret recently posted..How to Get a Free Car in 5 Easy StepsMy Profile

  • Paulette Noonan

    Absolutely! Anyway, the obvious point here is that, if you look at it, having kids is expensive. Since the calculator site is called the Baby Center, they have a disclaimer for potential parents feeling a little faint after viewing such stark numbers: “Before you despair, remember that your income is likely to increase over time!” Many people blindly accepted assurances of increasing income in 1997 when this site was launched. In 2010, we are not as likely to take upward mobility for granted.

  • Moreover I would like to add on one more thing in here from my personal experience. Interestingly, I hear a lovely commentary from young women living at our local homeless shelter for battered women with children. It doesn’t seem to matter how tough the circumstances. Many people seem to believe that children are mystically ordained and, therefore, financial matters will fall into place magically. Perhaps, some of the students I meet who are paying their own tuitions and struggling to maintain full-time work schedules while attending public college might beg to differ.
    Paulette Noonan recently posted..Comment on The Role Of a Trading System in Forex Trading by What are the Best Electronic Trading Platforms? | The Best Financial PlatformMy Profile

    • These are some really interesting points Paulette.

      I agree that we can assume incomes aren’t going to rise as fast in the future as they have in the past, especially for lower-income employees. The financial stress of supporting children is one of the reasons I attended public college while working full-time. Thankfully, it paid off.
      Bret recently posted..How to Get a Free Car in 5 Easy StepsMy Profile

  • Ona Banerji

    True, the cost is high, but isn’t that something great to have children? to watch them grow? :)

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