The Costs – and Rewards – of Having Children

Erika writes:

My husband and I are weighing the pros and cons of having a baby. We have seen articles that estimate that the cost of raising a child from birth to adulthood is around $250,000 which seems incredible. If you have three kids that would mean you’re putting up $750,000 just to raise them, which makes us wonder how you’re not bankrupt.

While I can’t yet comment on what the financial experience of raising older children is like, I can certainly comment on what it’s like to raise three younger children. Right now, our children are aged eight, six, and three years old. We’ve gone through the infant and toddler phases with all of them.

The reality is that children are expensive. They require food, clothing, shelter, hygiene, medical care, supervision, and education. There are a lot of ways to reduce those costs – and some of them are simply absorbed into your normal routine, like shelter costs – but the costs never really disappear.

We buy more food at the grocery store than we would if we didn’t have children. Although we do have quite a few useful tactics for shopping for children’s clothes, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s an added expense. We would likely live in a smaller house if we didn’t have children, too, though we don’t exactly live in a giant home. Our insurance has handled most medical expenses, but we do have a co-pay for their appointments and checkups. We won’t even discuss the enormous expense that is child care if you’re both working outside the home.

Like it or not, it adds up. I would estimate that the total expenses for our children thus far is probably reaching toward the six figures. It would be very hard to give an exact figure because some of the expenses are nebulous, but I think $100,000 is a completely realistic number.

Of course, there are ways that children reduce your expenses. They provide a nice deduction on your income tax, for starters. Some of the expenses you incur, like child care, also have a positive impact on your taxes. Although these things help quite a bit, they don’t change the full picture. (Here’s a humorous take on how children save money for a household.)

No matter how you slice it, children cost money.

However, parenthood will change how you live and it will likely reduce your expenses in other ways. Before having children, Sarah and I would go out for dinner and a movie at least once a week. We’d spend afternoons wandering around bookstores together. We had time to engage in hobbies where the expenses really added up.

When our first child arrived, much of that changed. It’s a lot harder to go out to an expensive restaurant and then out to a movie when you have an infant and while you might hire a babysitter sometimes, it still requires you to plan ahead a fair amount in order to just have a simple date. They just become less frequent. We started eating at home more and finding things to do there. Your time for hobbies falls as well, so your expenses in that area fall.

You have a child to care for all the time and that responsibility limits your options. A lot of the options that disappear, though, are options that involve spending money. The “cheap” evening of staying at home and watching a movie becomes a lot more appealing simply because it’s easier to care for the child, although the movies do tend to switch from things like The Shawshank Redemption to things like Toy Story.

This doesn’t mean your life is devoid of “fun” at that point. Children provide limitless enjoyment for some people (myself and Sarah included), even if they are challenging at times. Not only that, once you add the constraint of children to your choices, you begin to see options that you never really looked at before, like enjoying the parks and recreation services that your town offers.

Many, many families figure this all out as children join their lives. Your required expenses definitely go up, but many of your optional expenses go down. Children add a constraint to your life and your choices, but they often point you toward options that you never looked at before. It just happens naturally.

Assuming we found financial responsibility anyway, Sarah and I would almost assuredly have more money in the bank if we never had children. However, there is no amount of money I would accept in exchange for the experience of parenting over the last eight years.

If you’re not on the edge of financial disaster and you feel a strong desire to have a child, don’t let a fear of what it will cost hold you back from making that decision. As long as you have some breathing room right now, you will find ways to adapt and make the changes in your life work out for the best.

The real question on your mind is whether or not you truly want to be a parent, because that is the strongest test as to whether you will make it work. If you’re not deeply feeling that commitment, you should strongly consider waiting.

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