There's other bad news, according to the USDA blog discussing the cost: "This next generation faces a unique challenge that threatens their future health and well being: a growing health crisis, in the form of diet- and obesity-related diseases. And despite encouraging recent reports on declining rates of early childhood obesity, nearly a third of our nation’s young people are at risk for preventable diseases like type-2 diabetes and heart disease. Preventable diseases have serious consequences — which is why health experts tell us that our current generation of children may well have a shorter lifespan than their parents."
Then the USDA adds some good news: Resources abound, on its site and elsewhere, that provide practical advice, cost-cutting ideas and tips to improve health. Something as simple as making sure children have a healthy diet packed with fruits and vegetables, whole grains and other nutrients they need can help counter the bad news.
Food is one of the biggest expenses for middle-income families, and the USDA offers tips on how to save money while preparing nutritious meals. The advice includes a 10-Tips Nutrition Series and "The Thrifty Food Plan." The USDA also emphasizes its "My Plate," which replaced the food pyramid of old as a guide to healthy eating. A "SuperTracker" lets one keep track of calories and exercise.
In breaking down the cost estimate, housing was singled out as the largest expenditure, accounting for about 30 percent of the total over the 17 years. Child care and education (not college) came in at about 18 percent, while food was 16 percent.
There are geographic variations, with higher costs in the Northeast, then the urban West and urban Midwest. Families living in the urban South and in rural areas have lower costs, driven primarily by lower housing costs, according to the study's author, economist Mark Lino: "Families in rural areas also saw lower child-care and education expenses."
Blast from the past
According to the new report, in 1960 a middle-income family could have expected to spend $25,230 (that would be $195,690 in 2012 dollars). Housing was the big expense then, too. Health care expenses have doubled compared to back then. And some current costs, like child care, were "negligible" in 1960.
Overall, the cost of raising a child, adjusted for inflation, has shot up 23 percent since that first 1960 report.
Joe Burgo, a psychologist in Chapel Hill, N.C., and author of "Why Do I Do That?”, told USA Today he's not surprised by the higher cost of raising kids. It's partly driven, he said, by the "more" mentality — more sports, more extracurricular activities, more musical instruments, more educational summer camps. "Musical instruction, tutors, private sports club leagues — all cost a lot of money."
He suggested that parents shouldn't focus on what they can buy their children. Instead, "allowing a child to discover his passions and then helping him to pursue them will go much further toward building genuine self-confidence," he said.
"Sharing quality time doing things you enjoy with your children — preferably activities that don't involve spending a lot money — will help them grow up happy and well-adjusted much more than footing the bill for them to be one of the cool kids."
For new parents or people thinking of expanding their families, the USDA's Cost of Raising a Child calculator lets someone plug in variables like household size, income and geographic region to get a more accurate estimate of expected costs.
EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: Loisco
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