Let’s Analyze the Cost of Raising Children

Eric and April Scheidler and family
[Photo by Sam Scheidler]

Last week the US Department of Agriculture released its 2009 report on the cost of raising children. Not surprisingly, the cost is higher than it used to be—22% higher than in 1960.

According to the report the average cost of raising a child to the age of 18 is $222,360, the biggest increase being in child care and education, and most of that is child care. The nation’s media is quick to emphasize the fact that children don’t come cheap. But you need to take all these number with a grain of salt ($2.99 per pound).

If you read the entire USDA report [PDF] you learn that many factors are at play in trying to figure out what it actually costs to have a child—or two children, or three. Or—to take my son Eric’s family as our example—eight children.

Children in Big Families Less Expensive

Eric and his wife April choose to homeschool, so their education costs are lower than the average family surveyed in the USDA report. They also choose to do their own child care. According to the USDA education and child care accounts for 17% of the cost of raising children. So right there Eric and April have saved a bundle.

The numbers in the report are based on a family comprising a married couple with two children. A third child and any subsequent children reduce the overall cost by 22% per child. So there again Eric and April save. In fact, they’ve brought the cost of raising each of their children down to a mere $184,559. Who knew it could be such a savings to have a large family!

Some Historical Perspective

For a little more perspective on this, let’s backtrack just a bit to my own family of seven children. The cost of raising a child to 18 in 1966 when Eric was born was about $24,000. Once you adjust that number for inflation to reflect 2009 dollars it’s about $190,000.

Joe and I didn’t have any child care expenses because I relished taking care of my own children. But we did have Catholic school tuition costs, which were significant. So we didn’t save quite as much as Eric and April, but we did get the cost benefit of having more than two children.

But I’d like to look at this whole “cost of children” thing from a different angle—a cost/benefit analysis. As an investment—whether it’s $222,360 or anything more or less—the return on investment is priceless.

Costs of Children versus Benefits

Last weekend, we attended a family wedding in Indianapolis. Most of my family was there—everyone but Annie who is expecting a new baby any minute. So that was my four sons and two of my daughters, with three in-laws and 17 of my grandchildren. Besides them, were the dozens of cousins, aunts and uncles. On Sunday, my brother-in-law hosted a barbecue for our families, with a grand total of 40 children and grandchildren!

Those children—our children—make us better people. They make us evaluate what is important to us. They make us more honest and more responsible. They help us become more selfless and more sensitive to the needs of others. They make us better members of our larger society and better citizens.

No matter what they cost, what children bring to their families, and to society, far outweighs the financial outlay. So thank you, USDA, for bringing to our attention what we are investing in our future. Parents and the entire nation will reap the benefits.

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