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The Cost of Raising Children

Pre-College Cost Estimates

Children are one of the most expensive parts of life, but they are also among the most rewarding. Your children are most likely going to cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars before they are old enough to go to college, and this can be expanded upon even further if you make certain additional decisions that some parents make. What you buy your children says a great deal about the areas of life in which you most want them to succeed.

Everyone notices spending hundreds of dollars on sports gear or a musical instrument, but these are only some of the many places you invest money into your children. Incidental costs add up over time. Adding a growing body with special nutritional requirements may double your existing food costs. Going out requires hiring a baby sitter, which may set you back $50 or more each time. If you go out once a week, that cost could add up to $2,500 a year, or roughly the cost of a decent car in a decade. Children tend to be much harder on their clothes than adults are, so clothing costs alone can rack up several hundred dollars a year.

On the whole, a child’s annual costs can vary wildly. You can try to estimate how much will be spent on children using a calculator provided by The United States Department of Agriculture. This calculator provides estimates based on just a few inputs that are generated from the findings of its 2011 report. For example, living in the Midwest in a two-parent household with an income under $59,000 (which is commonplace in the Midwest), you can expect to spend roughly $3,600 per year on just the child’s share of the housing. Your child will most likely require $1,375 worth of food each year, and another $1,375 each year in transportation. The child will also need about $775 in clothing each year, $750 in medical and dental care, and education will tack on an extra $2,713 in annual expenses. As a general rule, children have about $600 more per year in miscellaneous costs, which takes the total up to $11,188.

If we use this estimate for the first 17 years, the total pre-college expense for one child is just over $190,000. Keep in mind that this is a very conservative figure for a family that lives in one of the less expensive parts of the U.S. For families in other parts of the country, particularly those with several children, the cost of raising children–before college is even considered–becomes far greater than this is.

Money Saving Strategies

Your children are going to require a lot of money. For most parents, simply trying to get the children what they need and avoid breaking the bank is the real challenge.

While it may be tempting to think that you can raise your children within a budget, in practice this is far easier said than done. Can you predict illness or a child’s need for tutoring services a dozen years into the future? If you try to confine your spending to a budget, you are likely going to end up completely ignoring it.

A better strategy than budgeting is to shop around and learn strategies to reduce costs. This is very different than budgeting. Budgeting sets an upper limit on what you are willing to spend and often comes down to spending as little as you can on things that do not particularly matter to you. Since your children matter a great deal, budgets often go out the window.

In contrast, being frugal and shopping for deals means you look for the most value you can get for the least money. There are lots of ways to find cheaper ways to obtain higher-quality goods and services.

A lot of families find very creative ways to lower their monthly expenses and save money for their children’s futures. The following are some strategies that you can use to maximize value from the money spent on raising your children:

One great way to save money is to use coupons. You can save a tremendous amount of money on going out to eat and on your groceries if you coupon, plus it is a good family activity to do together. Couponing can be particularly effective if you follow the sales cycle of your grocery store.

Another way that your family can save a lot of money is to shop for your clothing at second hand stores. While a lot of families like to wear the most current styles, if your priorities are not to be as fashionable, then this is a great way to ease your spending. In some cases, you can buy great looking clothes that simply have small and barely detectable flaws, or clothes that a very fashion-conscious person donated early in the outfit’s fashion cycle.

Still another strategy you can take to save money is to plan your vacations so that they are inexpensive. Instead of flying somewhere, you can simply drive to a fun place. Instead of staying at an expensive hotel, you can stay in a motel or arrange to stay with family or friends. You can even take day trips to locations that are only an hour or two of driving away, so you can come home in time to sleep. Some people even go so far as to hold “staycations,” which do not require them to leave the house at all.

You can even save money by consciously deciding to live in a smaller home. While most middle class families like to give each of their children a separate bedroom, you do not have to follow this trend. If you have two children in a room, they will get used to it in time and will learn how to share space more effectively.

Still another way that you can also save money is by adjusting your utilities. You can do this by turning down your heat and by not cooling your home as much. Every additional degree you turn your thermostat toward the outside temperature can save you several dollars a month, and those savings can quickly begin to stack up. You can also replace all of your light bulbs with compact fluorescent ones that will allow you to keep your home bright at nighttime without driving up your electric bill. Still another utility fix you can use immediately is to install new aerators on your faucets to save water usage.

Eat at home. Restaurants require gas to get there and back, and you have to tip your server if it’s a sit down place. There is also always a surcharge for the restaurant’s overhead. Cook in large batches, and freeze most of each batch in small, meal-sized containers for future use.

Shopping for secondhand clothing is naturally a good idea, but sometimes you can do even better than that. Hand-me-downs are a great way for younger siblings to benefit from older ones, as well as for your pocketbook to get some relief. The major growth spurts tend to happen between 8 to13 for girls and 10 to 15 for boys, but otherwise growth tends to be slow and steady. Avoid spending top dollar for durable clothes during these ages: cheaper is better since they will be outgrown. While little kids tend to be hard on their clothes, they usually end up outgrowing the clothes before they wear them out.

Make your own baby food by mixing up fruits, veggies or meats and blending them into a light mush. This way you can monitor your baby’s diet while saving money.

Utilize free educational resources. Free websites and after school tutoring programs are always cheaper than personal tutors.

Have your teenager work a part-time job. As long as the job is related to an industry your teen is interested in as a career, this can be a source of income and experience. Work experience is becoming more valuable in a world where education is increasingly common.

Always shop around. Make sure you compare options from different vendors before buying.