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Government estimate says you can raise a kid for just under a quarter-million, on average

Published: Thursday, Aug. 21 2014 4:35 a.m. MDT

Feverpitched, Getty Images/iStockphoto

If parents over time amassed a quarter-million dollars, they could afford outright the cost of raising a child born in 2013 — with enough left over to throw in a fairly decent used car in which said child could drive into adulthood.

The annual reckoning by the U.S. Department of Agriculture sets the average cost to raise a child, birth to age 18, at $245,340. That includes housing, food, transportation, clothing, health care, child care, education and miscellaneous. It's calculated in 2013 dollars and assumes a two-parent, middle-income family.

College is not included in that figure. Neither is the cost of giving birth.

If that seems like a lot, hang on to your wallet. When it is adjusted for future inflation of a projected 2.4 percent a year, the estimate rises to $304,480.

The Agriculture folks have been publishing their estimate since 1960, when the cost was only $25,230 ($198,560 when converted to 2013 dollars). It's an increase of 1.8 percent from last year's report.

Heart string, shoe string

If you don't have that kind of money sitting around, take heart, parenting coach and Washington Post columnist Meghan Leahy told the Deseret News. "Thereness" is every bit as important to a child as some of the things a parent pays for. And it doesn't have to cost a penny.

It boils down to showing up, to being there. "The way kids attach to parents is purely experiential," said Leahy. "The thereness has to be there and parents have a lot of choices as to what that looks like."

Moreover, she notes, the special classes and other extras that parents try to provide their kids to give them a special childhood can actually take away from the bonding and togetherness that are so important for a child. When parents do those things "we are not attaching to them and we're spending money we may or may not have. Some of those things are needed and some aren't," Leahy says. "Go fishing, sit down and give each other manicures and pedicures instead of buying them. If parents focus on experience and less on searching for ways to make kids happy, they will save money and attach to their kids in the way I hope they want."

She also notes that American culture suggests children and parents must have the same experiences. "When we were kids, you and I didn't get manicures or frappuccinos," she said.

Carrie Krawiec believes parents sometimes spend too much and also make a mistake by promising "big rewards for big goals — or even worse, giving big rewards when goals aren't actually met."

Instead of a big family vacation or new iPhone for straight As, Krawiec, a marriage and family therapist from the Birmingham Maple Clinic in Troy, Michigan, said parents should consider "smaller rewards for smaller behaviors, such as extra screen time each time they bring their planner or books home, or weekly or monthly rewards like getting nails done with mom for getting chores done after a month.

"The prizes in these cases are cheaper or even free, easier for the parents to follow through, easier for the kids to stay motivated and most importantly linked to adaptive behavior change."

It also teaches kids to be ready for life events like school and that even small indulgences must be earned, she said.

Breakdown of numbers

The report is not released just for its shock-and-awe value. It is used each year by state governments and others to determine such things as child support guidelines and foster care payments, department Under Secretary Kevin Concannon said in background material.

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