The High Cost of Having Children
And, I admit, though the high-cost of raising American children was always lodged in the back of my mind, I avoid vocalizing it when confronted with the inevitable question: "So, why don't you have any kids?" It's not really a conscious decision to avoid a conversation about children and finances, but more of a gradual learned-avoidance of admitting to a consideration that's widely considered politically incorrect.
Why is remaining child free solely because of financial considerations distasteful to many? Kids, at least in western cultures, are connected with consumerism, and consumerism is devouring natural resources at an alarmingly rapid rate. So, like the GINKs (Green Inclinations, No Kids) shouldn't we applaud people who consider childbearing in terms of money?
Still, when I get involved in a conversation about the reasons to have or not have kids, many people seem to opt for a sort of magical thinking strategy when considering the cost of having children-if the issue arises at all. I've heard thoughtful, intelligent people say things like, "Oh, I know it's expensive to raise kids, but I believe if the love is there everything else just kind of falls into place. We'll find the money one way or another because we have to."
Interestingly, I hear almost the same 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.
So, how much does it actually cost to raise a child in America? I never looking into actual numbers before, so I used the Cost of Raising Your Child calculator at babycenter.com to calculate how much it would cost my husband and I to raise a child for one year. These are the results: Housing: $6667, Food $2428, Transportation $1982, Clothing $757, Healthcare $965, Childcare/Education $1837, Miscellaneous $1867, College $12796 (per year for four years at a public university) for a grand total of $348, 418 for the lifetime of each child. The cost is very similar in the U.K.
That's about what I expected, except I have to question some of these numbers: $12,796 for year at a public university? If this calculation includes room and board, I don't know any school offering an accredited education at this price - it's at least double unless kids are sharing college expenses.
If I opt for a private college education for my imaginary child, and keep all other variables the same, the total lifetime cost is $418,702 - not as much change as I expected. Yet, interestingly, when I enter widely differing lifestyle selections into the calculator the final number is quite different. For example, having an income under $38,000 a year, being single, living in a rural area, and not opting for any college education results in a lifetime cost of $136,224. The results seem to indicate that the inventors of this calculator equate lowered expectations with lower costs of bringing up baby.
Anyway, the obvious point here is that, any way 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.
Finally, how would my life be different if I had children and to take that $348, 418 average yearly cost into consideration? (By the way, that number - for ONE child - is about equal to what two average earners can expect to save for retirement.)
Well,let's see - my husband and I wouldn't be able to spend large parts of our summers at our cabin. I doubt we'd have one. Also, we'd probably be paying for summer camp to keep the kids busy, so we'd probably opt for two or three week camping summer trips like my parents.
I wouldn't have returned to school for a degree in my old age. I'd probably have funneled that money (and time) into building college funds for the kids. I'd be more gainfully employed - probably making those daily two-hour commutes to Boston that I can, thankfully, opt out of in recent years. I doubt I'd be able to afford my studio space either. That is a definite luxury when saving for multiple college educations, as is the time I spend working in it.
We wouldn't have opted to renovate an older house in the city. We'd have opted for a smaller suburban school system. Since housing prices in this area skyrocket outside of city boundaries, we'd be living in a much smaller space - with more people in it. We certainly wouldn't be able to afford veterinary care for several dogs.
I could go on and on, imagining life with kids, but if we'd had them we'd have absorbed the all the related expenses organically, over the course of eighteen years. We wouldn't be aware of drastic lifestyle changes, as the Baby Center calculator disclaimer states over and over again. Still, if I had a fairy godmother appear and offer me the opportunity to immediately switch to a parenthood version of my life would I take the option? No, I wouldn't. The baby calculator helped me reaffirm my choice to remain happily child free.
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