If you’d asked me four or five years ago whether having kids changed my financial situation – and perspective – I’d have told you no. At that time, I was just a few months into being a mother myself, and paying for kids’-related expenses – everything from child care to food – didn’t seem that overwhelming. In what was apparently the miracle of the century, my husband and I found a reliable nanny who worked at a ridiculously low price; I was breastfeeding my daughter, so it cost nothing to feed her; and, just about everything in her nursery had been purchased as a gift by a family member or friend. Having kids, I thought at the time, was cheap.
And then shit got real.
The thing is, paying for kids clothing, food, and child care is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the expenses parents take on when they start a family. And that first year can be really misleading, especially if you have a routine childbirth (FYI, we didn’t). When I talk about the rising price of child care, I’m not really talking about daycare, which generally tends to get less expensive as a child gets older; after all, most state laws require lower student-to-teacher ratios for infant classrooms than preschool classrooms. Rather, I’m talking about caring for your child in the big picture sense, which gets monumentally more expensive as they age. For example…
This was a big goose egg for the first three years of my daughter’s life; then she started preschool. Even then, her school tuition was only a couple hundred dollars a month, hardly enough to lose sleep over. The more days she attended preschool, the more we paid, which was to be expected.
But then she reached school age, and my husband and I decided to pay to enroll her in full-day kindergarten in our public school system; basically, it’s like paying for a year of private school tuition, at least from a financial point of view.
Even though we won’t have to pay this added tuition once she moves on to first grade, I know that the real expensive part of educating her is still to come: college. My financial adviser predicts that by the time my daughter is a freshman in the fall of 2026, an average year of tuition, room, and board at private colleges will be into six-digit territory. Ouch.
Mouths to Feed
My daughter nursed for the first 14 months of her life, and for the first six months, she ate nothing but my milk. Let me tell you, that was cheap. At that point, my husband and I were still comfortably getting by on a $250/month grocery budget. As soon as my daughter starting eating real food, that quickly grew to $300. When my son was born, and started eating “real” food too, the budget ballooned to $400. These days, it’s not uncommon for us to spend $500 a month on food.
But that, according to my mother-in-law, is nothing. When she and my father-in-law were raising my husband and his three siblings – back in the 1980s, when food prices were low compared to today – they often spent $1,000 on groceries! Double ouch.
Between the two baby showers my friends, family members, and co-workers threw for me, my daughter’s entire first-year wardrobe was basically covered. The only things I bought for her to wear those first twelve months were special occasion outfits, things I just couldn’t resist purchasing. Same goes, more or less, for my son’s layette.
As my daughter gets older, she is becoming very aware of her self-image and what other people think of her, and a lot of that involves what she wears. Although she doesn’t insist on certain brands like some of my friends’ (admittedly older) children do, she does insist on certain styles and colors for her clothes. The more of an opinion she has in the process, the more we ultimately end up spending. I try to keep costs under control by shopping consignment sales, but she’s getting to an age where kids wear through their clothing to the point that it can’t always be resold or reused.
When my daughter was a baby, my idea of “activity” was watching her roll across the living room floor. Now that she’s a soon-to-be elementary school student, she’s got an entire life full of extra-curricular activities, just about all of which cost money.
Whether it’s weekly ballet classes ($50/month), swim lessons twice a week ($80/month) or violin lessons ($20 for a 30-minute class), her “activities” budget is growing as quickly as she is. My son, blessedly, is still able to take advantage of community freebies (“Mommy and Me” classes at the health club, free story time at the public library, etc.), but I know the day is coming when he’ll want to join a T-ball or soccer team, and I’ll have to pony up the cash to pay for it.
When my kids were babies, they had frequent well-child check-ups. These appointments kept me going in and out of the pediatrician’s office on a regular basis, which was a good thing, considering my kids almost always came away with antibiotics for yet another ear infection. Now that my kids only go to the doctor once a year, we’re making more sick trips to the doctor’s office than ever before; it also doesn’t hurt that my oldest is constantly bringing home illnesses from school and infecting her little brother. That means paying the co-pay more often than ever before, as well as a whole string of prescriptions.
We’ve also had more emergency room visits for our kids as they’ve gotten older. As soon as my kids started running, they started running into things: furniture, concrete sidewalks, corners, etc. A few of these bumps and bruises have required trips to the ER for stitches, and a couple hundred dollar out of pocket co-pay to boot.
Have your kids become more expensive to care for as they’ve gotten older? At what age does the “darn, my kids are expensive” sentiment peak? Please, tell me it’s now!