Cost of raising a child? Try $1800 a year, not $13,393

Costs of raising a child per year: Government’s estimates– $13,393/year.
My actual estimates— $1,800/year.
Something’s amiss, and naturally it’s Washington that’s missing it.

You’ve likely seen the terrifying infographic below claiming that it costs a crotch-kicking-romance-killing $241,000 over 18 years to raise a child.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s  (USDA) annual report on the Expenditures on Children by Families has found that a middle-income family with a child born in 2012 can expect to spend about $241,080 for food, shelter, and other necessities associated with child rearing expenses over the next 17 years.

That amounts to $13,393/year.
That’s also amounts to a lot of hogwash.

How do I know? My husband and I have six children at home (a total of nine, with three out of the house) which would mean we’re spending $80,358 for our children alone.
But we earn less than $60,000 year combined, so something obviously is not adding up. That’s because we don’t budget like the government (no rational person ever would).

Even Canada has caught on that these numbers are unrealistic. According to Frasier Institute, the cost is closer to $3,000-$4500/year. But even that’s too high.

Just don’t believe the government’s numbers.
The $241,000 “average” comes from the USDA. “Average” means “not really applying to anyone.”
Actually, it means that while some families may actually spend far more than this staggering sum (and just how often did the USDA figure in the Kardashians?) many other families spend far, far less.
Still, I’m amazed that normally thoughtful people who’d never believe government numbers (remember, these are the same people we trusted with home mortgages) suddenly and wholeheartedly embrace this figure which terrifies them from ever having a family, or justifies their reasons to becoming a parent only to a goldendoodle (just don’t look at the estimates as to how much it costs to own a pet per year. Hint: over $1,000).

This figure of $241,000, or $13,393/year, is misleading, because “averages” serve no one well. I know of no one who actually spends this amount, but I can show you over one hundred families who choose—choose: key word here—to raise a family on much less. Now, this is NOT to say that everyone can raise their children on the amounts I demonstrate below, but my math shows that taking the government’s advice on how much should be spent is probably the worst idea since the government decided to get a handle on health insurance.

So here it is, the government vs. the Mercer household.

Housing: Housing a child purportedly costs 30% of the $13,393, or $335/month. This rate suggests that each time a child is born, you must purchase a house that’s bigger to accommodate said child.
If that were the case, our mortgage would be nearly $3,000 more a month. Granted, if we were just starting out and living in a studio apartment, we likely would need to eventually move to something bigger, accounting for the $335 increase. But adding a child to a household doesn’t mean adding on another wing.
My husband and I deliberately chose (there’s that key word again) to live in a rural area where we could buy a 2200 sq. ft. house with nearly 1/3 acre of land for a mortgage of about $1,000/month. While I grew up near a big city, and my husband was raised on the east coast near the ocean, we both decided to relocate to a less expensive area, purposely choosing a rural environment that we could afford on one income. True, this puts us at quite a distance from extended family, but it allows us to raise our children how we choose to, without outrageous expenses. Even so, for a time our family of 10 once existed in a three bedroom townhome for nine months. Several sets of bunkbeds were utilized, stuff was stacked creatively, and while the situation was far from ideal, we actually found ways to be happy.
Families can make do with much less than a private bedroom for each child (and all the unnecessities that some think need to go with it, such as one’s own TV, computer, and Xbox), and still be happy.
Actual cost of housing: nothing. Just shove the new kid into an existing bedroom. We call it “sharing.”

Education/Childcare: 18% or $2,410/year. This is another figure subject to choice. Because we chose to live in a lovely-yet-less-popular community, we don’t need me to work full time to afford that $3,000/month mortgage, so the cost of childcare is one we can happily ignore.
Still, there are school fees, but they’re not this high.
And high school sports can be costly, but not this much.
The real budget killer here is childcare. I realize that for some, such as single parents, there’s simply no getting around it. But perhaps there are some parents who worry that the government may come around and demand a check for that $13,393 a year to ensure their child(ren) are being raised according to the USDA’s expectations, so some couples may believe this amount must be paid out for childcare.
It doesn’t. We’re living proof. And I can show you another one hundred families as proof as well. 030
Actual cost: $200, because all of us know “free” education isn’t really free.
(Interestingly, the years that I’ve homeschooled my kids, I’ve found that the costs of books and supplies were actually far less than $200/per child. Go figure.)

Health Care: taking 8% of the $13,393 means that a healthy child costs $1,071/ year. Really? Why? Insurance rates that cover families generally don’t increase depending on the number of children. I admit that we currently rely on CHIP for our children, and pay a modest premium every three months, but it’s not $1,071.
If, heavens forbid, a child has a chronic illness—which is rare but does occur—the costs will naturally be higher. But I’ve calculated the cost of injuries (trips to the ER for stitches and broken bones) and doctor visits for illnesses for our family over the past 20 years, and found it to be much lower than $1,071.
Actual costs for a healthy child: $200/year.

Transportation: $1,875/year is what one little darling will supposedly cost you. But here’s the thing—driving around with six children in my van (and yes, I’d still have a van even if I didn’t have kids because I love the space) costs the same as just driving myself around. They go to the same places I do, and as for the claim that mothers must be a taxi service for their children? I just don’t taxi them around. If they want to do an activity, they can walk, bike, or scooter there. Again, we chose our home location to make that a viable possibility. 2013 Yellowstone 297
And no, your child does not need to be given a car for the 16th birthday. If your children thinks it’s a necessity, then let them earn the money for the car, the gas, and the insurance premiums. It’s amazing how suddenly faced with being responsible for those expenses, a car just isn’t that important anymore.
Actual costs: nothing added.

Clothing: at 6% is $803/year.  I don’t even spend that much on myself!  This is an easy place to be frugal: jeans from Wal-Mart, T-shirts from Target, and shoes from Payless. Name brands are simply foolishness, especially when kids stain, tear, and outgrow overpriced bits of cloth. 005
We also believe in hand-me-downs. My closet is filled with bins of gently (and roughly) used clothes. Each season I sort through them to find older sisters’ clothes that fit younger sister, and bigger brothers’ jeans that can be cut into shorts for littler brother. Garage sales are also great deals, and word has gotten around my neighborhood that I’ll take anyone’s cast-offs off their hands. This year, because two moms cleaned out their closets, I haven’t needed to buy my toddler any clothes for the winter.
Actual cost: $300/year

Food: $2,142 or $178/month. At this rate, my family of 8 would require $1,428/month in groceries. But I spend about $750/month, including diapers, shampoo, cleaning supplies, etc. We rarely eat out, cook nearly everything from scratch (tastes better, is healthier, and takes only about 15-30 minutes more per night—I know, I’ve timed myself) and we are mindful of portion control. I honestly couldn’t imagine how to spend $1400 a month; if I did, I suspect we’d have some obesity problems, which would likely demand an increase in our health budget and clothing allowance.
I admit that my teenage son eats far more than my toddler son, but it balances out; my toddler subsists on what most toddlers do—a daily cup of milk, three grapes, two crackers, and oxygen. His appetite will match his brother’s in a few years, but a bit of planning ensures that it won’t be an extreme shock to our budget when that happens. I’ve kept to this budget for over a decade now.
Actual cost per child: about $93/month or $1125/year.


Miscellaneous: 8% or $1071/year or $89/month. This assumes karate lessons, soccer and baseball teams, and piano/sousaphone lessons.
Some will argue these extras are necessary. I’ll argue that what a kid really needs is some time to be creative, so I raise free-range children.
They wander the neighborhood in search of other children who they then “play” with. It’s an odd concept, but one I remember from my childhood in the ‘70s. Fortunately in our chosen rural community, “playing” is still allowed. They throw and kick balls to each other, do tea parties, play board games, make weapons out of foam and pvc pipe, and do night games. Sometimes my kids want piano lessons, so they swap babysitting for lessons. There’s always a way for a child to earn the costs to cover an “extra,” and learn a bit about the value of a dollar as well.
(Incidentally, don’t believe the line that sports will earn your child a scholarship to college. Add up the costs of the sports, gas for travel, and uniforms each year, then realize that the average student receives a sports scholarship of only about $500/year, and the math is easy. If it isn’t, maybe your child isn’t really college material.)
Actual cost per child: $0

So my grand, penny-pinching, free-ranging, fashion-ignoring, home-cooking, actual total cost per child per year?
times 6 
$10,800/year for my current family of 6 children. And no, we’re not supplementing our income with food stamps or any other assistance beyond CHIP.

You CAN have a family, without enormous costs. Come by my modest home and I’ll show you. And so will my neighbors, and their friends, and their families . . .
Don’t let the supposed costs of raising a family scare you away from experiencing a fantastic adventure. Remember—the cost of a year’s upkeep on a goldendoodle is about $1,000/year, after the initial investment of $500-1,000 for what is, essentially, just a mutt.

Kids last longer, are far more entertaining, and far more rewarding. You really want to learn about the world and about life? Have a baby. You’ll be astounded, because everything—every last little thing—that you thought you knew about the world will change profoundly. It’s supposed to. You’ll become wiser, braver, and utterly amazed.

And besides, kids are ultimately a much better investment than anything else you can think of. I promise.

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