September 08, 2008

Question from a Reader: The Cost of a Child

Okay, really I got a question from a friend after reading THIS post a while back.  Technically it was a question from a friend, but since it relates to the blog, and Amy does this from time to time, I'm responding to my first...

Question from a Reader!

I actually have a question for you.  I  don't normally read your other blog but I was having trouble motivating myself to work this morning and so followed more links than I should have.  Anyway, in your most recent entry you said something that I've now heard about 3 times in as many weeks--that having a child was more expensive than you'd expected.  Can you quantify this at all?  I know it is a personal question and you can feel free to ignore it, but we've been doing some of the "when will we be able to afford to have a child" math recently and I'm beginning to fear that our math may bear little resemblance to reality.

In an effort to be transparent, I neglected this email for over three months before responding.  I can be a bad friend without much effort, it turns out.

Here goes:

The answer to "how expensive is it to have a child" is such a hard one to answer.  There are way too many things to factor in: bottle feeding or breastfeeding? stay-at-home parent or day care?  Are your parents/in-laws going to spoil you or do you have to pretty much figure things out on your own, financially?

The reality is that the costs begin to pile up from the moment you say "let's have a kid!" 

Our journey began on March 20, 2003.  (yes, do the math and you'll see that Abby is a very special girl and her parents love her enough to fight for her for years)  That's the weekend that we were visiting family and they told us that they were expecting!  Great news.  Flying home two days later made for some interesting conversation, naturally.  We shared excitement for them, and conversation turned to our future.  It was decided that we would begin "trying" shortly thereafter.

Only we experienced some unforseen health issues and ended up going through several (years of) intentional, professional infertility services. (if you're local and have a need, we highly recommend the facility we used. Drop me a note and I'll give that to you.)  Bottom line for us, expense wise: $5,000-$7,000.

Now that you've got the smudge/peanut/bean inside of you, there are doctor appointments, which can be few if everything goes perfectly, or plentiful if there is some sort of concern.  We had 15 or so visits, at $35 per shot we paid a bit.  Bottom line, expense wise: $100-$500

The cost of the actual birth will vary based on what sort of services you want/need.  I can't even begin to put a price on this because there are WAY too many variables.

Okay, that covers all of the stuff from "let's have a kid!" to "congratulations!" but costs do not stop then, obviously.

Some other categories:
Food: if you breastfeed your child the milk is free!  Score one in the win column.  If you're going to work, though, you will need a pump and bottles.  Believe it or not, you can rent a breast pump!  Please, if this option is available at your hospital and you only plan to breastfeed for a year, do it!  It costs about the same as buying a middle-of-the-road pump, but it's a better pump and will not sit in your house for the rest of your life.  (Guess this is different if you plan on having more than one)  A pump can range from about $100 to $500.

Formula: If you choose formula it is more expensive on a recurring basis.  I think we used about one big can of powder every three weeks for a year, when they will switch to regular, whole milk.  Each can was $25, but you can easily find coupons.  If you don't notice them show up before your delivery date, go onto the formula providers website and sign up for them.  Coupons are generally $4-5 each, which is a fortune in the long run!  Formula for a year: $350

Diapers: Here is another big dilemna.  Cloth diapers are costly to get going, but save you money in the long run.  Disposables require less work (washing machine every other day versus taking the trash out once a week) but are more costly as you go along.  We switched to cloth partly for the money reasons, but mostly for the good of the environment.  Oh yeah, and they're easy.  Based purely on my preference for cloth, I will only quote you that cost: about $300 total for diapers that will last from day 1 until potty training.  Tack on another $100 spread out for your water and soap bringing it to a whopping: $400.

Clothes: Purely based on how much you buy.  Realistically your child does not know what they are wearing for a very long time.  It is easiest for friends and family to fill in this portion of your budget, because shopping for baby clothes is REALLY fun!  Try to ask family or really close friends (folks you can be blunt and honest with) to buy clothes for the later stages, because a lot of acquaintances are going to buy you 0-3 month clothes.  Those are only good for like two months!  We have spent a small bit of money on clothes because we have a large extended family that likes to buy clothes.  I can not put a price on this one, sorry.

Equipment*: There are some essential things for baby (i.e. some place to sleep) and things that you can buy, but are not necessary to development (floor mat).  Cribs are pricey, and you can not buy these used.  Don't do it.  High chairs vary based on how nice you want to get.  We bought one of these used for $50 on a whim, but in retrospect I would probably have gone with more of a booster seat, which will last longer.  Car seats vary in price, too.  You also have too many choices in this area - convertable, carry-able and bassinet style are all available.  We bought two and have spent (or been gifted) with about $250 in car seats, but we'll be set for a long while.  You can only buy car seats used if they have not expired.  On equipment, of which there is more than I can account for, we have spent between $1,000 and $2000. 
Ahh the pricey one: Childcare.  If a parent is going to stay home that has been working it will not "cost" you anything in the sense that you will be "saving" money, but really you are losing out on one income.  This is not feasible in our house.  While neither of us makes a ton of money, both salaries are relied upon for essential things like food and shelter.  If a parent stays home the real cost is: Whatever that parent makes in the job market.

If you go with the daycare option there is good news and bad news.  The good news is that after the age of 2 the price goes down.  Really, though, that was just to soften the blow of this large number.  Now, we realize that there are different options that fit different price ranges.  You can find a local family-run operation, or a more institutional version, just be sure that they are licensed and have all of the training needed (CPR and such) and that you are comfortable.  We chose to put Abby into a program run by the school system.  We know that they have background checks for all of their staff, that they are licensed and that they have educational program planned for the children every day.  (I also realize that at 3 months Abby did not grasp colors and shapes, but they were sure being taught!)  For us, the childcare cost is $13,500/year. (holy crap that hurt to actually put in writing.)

I'm not going to total that up, because I know that the total is more than I have made in two years, so I dont' want to cry. 
Please know that those numbers are both round and generic.  You can find ways to save on some of these things, or ways to spend a lot more on things.  For example, we have friends who are expecting in the spring and we are passing down a lot of equipment that is short term, like a bouncy seat, so that they can save some cash on that stuff.  There are lists online everywhere that tell you what things you can buy used and what things you should always buy new.

Having a child is not all about cash, of course, but I'm glad to know that people can think practically about such an emotional process.  We love being parents and wouldn't trade it for any amount of money.  Which is good, since we can't go back now!

(Other parents out there - please let me know if there is something I missed, or feel free to blog about this on your blog and let me know you did so that I can link over to you.  Consider it a really twisted Meme!)

*I think that the next parenting post I tackle will be about products that are available and we have bought that in retrospect were a bunch of money wasted...


  1. My reply at


    Great subject, great post!

  2. I thought it would be longer before I had to start factoring in a third serving at mealtimes. The girl is eating us out of house and home.