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.
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"It's $220 a week for jazz piano and guitar lessons, almost a thousand a month," says Mrs. Cattelona. It's not just about the music, though. "We also see it as a way to build character around commitment. They can play any instrument they want – we will financially support that. But if they make a commitment to it, they stick with it. They can't just give it up because it got boring or difficult and then try something else."Skip to next paragraph
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For birthdays the children get tickets to a Broadway show with one parent and can also invite a friend or get a small gift – which means each birthday costs between $200 and $300. "Bottom line is, we want them to value the arts and experience the arts over material things," says Mr. Cattelona. "I want them to grow up and spend their money on experiencing the world, rather than new gadgets."
Parents also funnel cash into competitive sports, academic tutoring, private school, and brand-label clothing – all of it to ensure their kids are successful in school and life, and that they fit in with peers.
Some estimates put the number of kids playing in organized sports in the US at 40 million, because parents believe playing sports is both important for character development and looks good on a college application. Those fees, however, add up. If you want to play basketball at Arlington High School in Arlington, Mass., for instance, it will cost you $480 a child just to be there (not including the cost of equipment and uniforms); to be a part of the cheerleading squad, it's $408. A mother who lives in the next town over from the Cattelonas in New Jersey says she pays about $5,000 a year for fees, equipment, and travel for her 17-year-old daughter to play on two basketball teams and a soccer team.
Wealthier parents spend money just to ensure their kids do their homework, hiring tutors that really function as homework monitors for about $100 an hour, reported The New York Times recently.
Mrs. Gianulis, in San Diego, says she feels social pressure to encourage every interest in her children or risk cutting off a future opportunity for them: "There is this belief that if you don't nurture whatever potential you think could exist within them, if you don't let them try everything, they will never find their calling."
Although clothing is a status marker for kids, its real cost hasn't increased much over the years, says Daniel Cook, associate professor of childhood studies at Rutgers University in New Jersey and the author of "The Commodification of Childhood." Styles have become so nuanced it's difficult to pass clothes down from one child to another: The difference between clothing styles for a 3-year-old and a 6-year-old is far more pronounced today than it was 30 years ago, he says.