Monday, September 8, 2008

The Cost of Having Kids

Rob wrote an excellent post today on the costs of having a child. He did a great job summing up the costs of Abby's life (so far) but asked for alternate experiences/opinions, so here I am (again, I was going to bake a pie, but it isn't cold enough to run the oven for an hour, so...)

I have read that it costs $1,000,000 to raise a child from birth to age 18 (and don't forget to add college on there, too). Personally, I think that's a really old figure. It's probably more like $2 or $3 by now.

With each child, our co-pay for all of the prenatal appointments (including bloodwork, ultrasounds, etc.) and the birth has been $500 flat. I went to the hospital when I was pregnant with Mary Grace a week before I gave birth, for preeclampsia, and that was also covered under the $500. Of course, this will depend largely on your insurance plan (or lack thereof).

They have well-baby visits every eleven seconds. Ok, seriously, I think our doctor's schedule was 1) in the hospital, 2) at 2 weeks, 3) at 1 month, 4) at 3 monhts, 5) at 6 months, 6) at 9 months, 7) at 12 months, 8) at 15 months, 9) at 18 months, 10) at 24 months, 11) at 30 months, 12) at age 3 and yearly after that. So, assuming you have an uber-healthy child and he never gets sick "off schedule," that's 27 co-pays by the time the child is 18. Our co-pay is $20, so that's $540. (She says, as if the co-pay isn't going to go up in the next 17 years. Hahaha...)

Unfortunately, kids get sick off-schedule all the time. There have been months when we were at the doctor for one family member or another every week. There have been weeks when we had multiple visits in a week. It gets ugly. I would never, ever want to have a child without health insurance, but I know that people do it and make it work somehow. I think health insurance is essential, though. Did I mention that ours costs over $12,000 a year for our family of four. OUCH.

As long as we're talking about health, you also have to factor in the cost of missed work if they get sick. Depending on what you make, and whether or not you can take paid time off, that could get expensive, too.

Oh, and be prepared to spend a fortune on medications for your kids, too. I don't know why I can't just crumble up a tylenol and give them a little, rather than having to buy the really expensive infant's liquid (yes I do, don't worry, I'm being facetious). I think we spent the national debt on Mylicon drops for Mary Grace. Over the course of a childhood, medications can really add up. And you don't get to choose whether or not you have a child who has a chronic illness, and unfortunately some kids do, and then you have even more costs. We are blessed with two healthy kids, but not everyone is so lucky.

Of course, when your baby is sick you would gladly sell everything you own for just a chance at making her feel better, so those costs don't really "count."

Rob is right, breastfeeding is free. I breastfed MG to 28 months and Claire is still nursing at 18 months, and I have never owned a pump. I've borrowed one (to clear a plugged duct, there went another co-pay), and I had a hand pump, but pumping just wasn't my forte, so I never bothered. It doesn't make sense to buy or rent a pump until you need one, so don't. Wait and see how it goes, first, and then decide what you need to make breastfeeding fit into your lifestyle.

My kids never took bottles, either, the punks, so anything I did pump was either mixed with cereal (when they were 4 months or older) or pitched.

Breastfeeding also burns mega calories, by the way, so think of what you'll save, not needing a gym membership! Although, with the amount of nursing I've done in the past 3 years, I should be a size 2, so don't count on that...

Where was I? Oh, feeding... We saved a hell of a lot of money on food by refusing to buy baby food as much as possible. I had a Magic Bullet blender, and I would just puree whatever we were eating for supper. It worked great. I looked at jarred baby food as "convenience food" and only used it when we were out and about. Seriously, they market a lot of stuff to parents that simply isn't necessary, so cavaet emptor. That goes for food, clothes, and gear. Especially gear.

So, from the beginning, our kids were eating what I would normally be cooking, and the additional food cost has been negligible, or absorbed so gradually that we didn't really feel the impact on our budget. It wasn't like we started paying $400 a month on groceries the day they were born.

You could get a kid like my cousin, though, who played every sport under the sun, was extremely tall, burned a lot of calories, and would eat two foot long sandwiches from Subway as a snack. If that's the case, you're going to want to get a second job.

As far as diapers, I wish we'd done cloth from the beginning, but I suck at laundry so I was scared. We've always used Pampers, because the off brands just don't work as well. Mary Grace FINALLY potty trained the day after her 3rd birthday (but she wears Pull Ups at night, still). 36 months of diapers at roughly $50 to $75 a month (we buy in bulk) is $1800 - $2700. You can save a lot by using coupons, using the cheapest brand that works for your family, using cheapies by day and expensive ones at night, or using cloth.

We've been blessed to get a lot of clothes from friends and relatives, both as gifts and as hand me downs. Really, the same goes for toys. We have spent very little of our own money on clothes and toys. Now that the kids are bigger, though, they're getting more toys and fewer clothes. So, I'd say that we're going to have to go out and drop $100 - $200 on clothes every 3 - 6 months to keep things fitting and in season. Winter is more expensive than summer, with coats and boots and sturdier shoes, and whatnot. I need to buy fall clothes for the kids, actually, so I'll let you know how much I end up dropping. Thank God for my Kohl's charge. You can save money by buying at the end of the season for next year. I got the girls' Christmas dresses last January for about 1/6 of what I would've paid if I'd waited until November, and assuming that your kid is developing normally, her growth will be fairly predictable. I wish I were better about doing this, but we have very little storage in our house, so I tend not to do it as much as I should. Hand me downs rock. Get good at stain removal (another thing I wish I could be more proficient at) and you'll save even more. With girls it's easy to stretch the useful life of clothes, too. Last years ankle length pants are this year's capris. Last years dress is this year's cute top that you can pair with capris. MG can still wear lots of the pieces in Claire's wardrobe. I also do a lot of shopping at resale stores (Merry Go Round, Once Upon a Child). I don't pay huge money for the kids' clothes, because, let's face it, that's why God invented grandparents. Gramma loves to buy fancy clothes, and she keeps them in style while I keep them in clothes that they can destory without making me cry. It all works out.

One area that Rob didn't touch on is activities. Now that MG is bigger, she's going to gymnastics. Her classes (2 per week) are about $80 for 8 weeks. Admission to zoos and museums is often free for the under 3 set, but you still have to pay for yourself. I'd say in the average month, I probably spend between $100 and $250 on activities and consumables (bubbles, art supplies) and getting us there (gas) and feeding us when we get there (pack a lunch!). The kids' sitter (part time, which can be hard to find!) is $75 every week. She's here for 10 - 15 hours a week (that's the cost for 2 kids). And I live in the midwest, so that's CHEAP compared to the costs on the coasts.

Once they get into school (pre-school is $70 a month for us, 2 days a week for 2.5 hours a day), the costs start to really climb. A lot of people think babies are expensive, but it seems to me that the costs continue to increase as the kid gets older. Supply fees, book rental, field trips, lunch money, Girl Scout cookies, prom... It just keeps going and going. Unless you're going to put your kid in an acrylic box and look at him for 18 years, he's going to want to, you know, do stuff, and you can easily drop hundreds of dollars a month on various stuff.

The real question, though, isn't "How much does it cost?" it's "How do you know when you can afford to have a kid?" There are two answers to that question - the first is, "If you wait until you're sure you can afford them, you will never have them." That's not really helpful, though, when you're in the actual process of planning your family. I'd say that if you are able to pay all of your bills every month, if you are able to put a little away for emergencies or for travel or whatever, if you've started your retirement savings, you're fully insured, and you have a stable job, you're ready, financially.

You're going to want to have some very long and realistic discussions with your spouse about a ton of serious decisions prior to making the decision to have a child, ideally. What are your thoughts on daycare? Full time, part time, or no time? How closely do you want to space your children? What are your values, as a family, when it comes to activities (for example, I insist that my children learn to play an instrument when they're school aged. BJ really wants to encourage both of them to try martial arts...)? Where are you going to live? How are the schools there? Can you afford to live somewhere else in order to get into a better school district/neighborhood? How close is your family? (Families are GREAT for free babysitting - Hi Grandpa!) Can you make it on one salary, half a salary, or will you need two salaries? Can you work opposite shifts so someone is always home? Is job sharing an option with your company (just heard about this - two people split a full time job, and two spouses split jobs, so someone's always home with the kid). What are you going to have to give up if you have a child (travel, for a little while, sports - I know several golf widows, sleeping in, sleeping in general?). Can you hire someone to do some of the mundane things that life requires (cleaning, lawn mowing, etc.) so that you'll have more time with your kids? The discussions you could and should have are endless. And you'll discuss all the wrong things before you have a kid, because you honestly have no idea what you're getting into.

Talk to your friends who have already reproduced and see what they think about whether or not you're ready to have a kid. Ask them what they wish they'd known, and what they wish they'd discussed. Ask lots of questions.

And, in the end, you really should just go ahead and do it anyway. No one, and I really mean no one, is ever fully prepared for what parenthood entails. You don't even know what you don't know, before you do it. But oh, it's worth it. You will be astounded at how much you love your kids. They will bowl you over with their cuteness and their humor and their joy for living. Having kids means getting to be a kid, yourself, all over again. You get to do everything for the first time through their experiences. It's a lot of work, it's a huge responsibility, but there's nothing in the world like hearing, "Mommeeeeeee!" and having little arms thrown around you and little heads rested on your shoulders when you come home. There's nothing like seeing little pieces of yourself in this little person who was created by you, by your love for each other. It's truly the greatest thing I have ever done in my entire life.

And how can you put a price tag on that?


RobMonroe said...

Thanks Amy! You're right that I haven't gotten to the point of spending much on supplies for crafts and such. I'm totally looking forward to it!

dieMutti said...

I loved this post. I was getting a little depressed at first, thinking about all those costs that add up that I don't pay a tone of attention to. But I realized, that my hubby and I just find a way. That's really what it comes down to. We love our three kids, and we just scrimp and save and give what we can but not too much and no matter the cost (which it's true - we'll never be able to afford them) we LOVE them & wouldn't have it any other way!

strwberrryjoy said...

This was really insightful. You could totally submit this to a Parenting-type magazine!

Brandi said...

LOOOVVVEEE ITTTTT! As a family of 6 I could add a few things to your list, lol. Kids are priceless as is raising them, but then you know when it comes to our kids $$ signs seem to fall low on the priority list. I will say they are by far my best "investment" yet and every day they make me feel like a million bucks!

Gus said...

Good idea about the Magic Bullet. I've always used it for protein shakes. You just gave me a great idea to use it to mash up vegetables for my 9 month old son. Thanks!