Beyond the scary Christmas list: the full parenting price tag
The parenting price tag has soared to about $220,000 per child. If you think the kids' Christmas list is hefty, there's no end in sight to the add-ons Americans can think of in the cultivation of kids.
In the equation of life, few parents ever really do the math on the actual dollars-and-cents cost of a child. Sure, the holiday season rolls around and they know that Xbox or that iPod Touch on a kid's wish list is going to tax budgets; sure, the looming cost of a college education can sap some enjoyment from a family vacation. But few parents would guess that the average American child costs more than $200,000, and that's before college even starts.Skip to next paragraph
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The calculus of kids can be gauged, for example, in one recent weeknight scene in the busy life of the Gianulis family. Theirs is a very middle-class equation that involves love and a striving to give their kids healthy, enriched lives – their own version, they say, of No Child Left Behind.
The setting is their spacious three-bedroom, 2,100-square-foot suburban home in a neighborhood chosen for the good schools (median home price: $379,000). The kitchen is sizzling as Samantha Gianulis cooks up a comparatively costly meal, both in price but also in the time she devotes to it: steamed green beans (organic, $1.60 a pound, about 50 percent more than regular beans), whole wheat pasta shells ($2.50 a bag versus the 50-cent special on store-brand pasta), and tomato sauce she makes from scratch (organic tomatoes for $2.10 a pound and extra virgin olive oil, the good stuff at $12 a bottle); time invested is about 10 times that of opening a can of SpaghettiOs. Her oldest, son Alex, age 11 – just in from baseball practice (team fees: $1,000 a year) – watches TV with Dad – Pete – who is resting up from a weekend injury he got while coaching all three of his kids' soccer teams (fees for three kids: $600 a year, plus about 50 hours of Dad's time). On the floor is Alex's baseball mitt (somewhere between $30 and $150); he hopes that Christmas will bring him a much-coveted big barrel bat ($300).
Everyone knows having children ups life's financial ante, and while parents may not figure it out to the dollar, the US Department of Agriculture does: By the time Alex turns 18, Mr. and Mrs. Giulianis will have spent somewhere around $222,360. That's the cost the USDA figures for the average middle-income couple raising a child from birth through age 17. And it's 22 percent more, in real dollars, than parents spent in 1960 – in the thick of the baby boom – when the USDA started counting such things and when kids shared bedrooms, had one pair of shoes, ate TV dinners and Wonder bread sandwiches, did homework with encyclopedias, didn't go to the doctor – let alone medical specialists – for much more than vaccinations or a broken arm, and went out to play unsupervised. ("Just be home by dinner!" called stay-at-home moms who did their own housekeeping but no helicoptering).
Although the lion's share of parental spending today goes to housing and food, health care and education have both ballooned: Health care is now 8 percent of the cost of raising a child versus just 4 percent in 1960. Education – which includes child care and extracurricular activities – rose from 2 percent to 17 percent of the total childhood bill.
Some economists say that costs are higher than the USDA estimates because so many expenses aren't included, such as the cost of helicopter-parenting, high-speed Internet access, unlimited smart-phone texting, and ergonomic diaper bags, to name a few.