Growing Pains: Childhood Expense at Every Age

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Published March 08, 2013

| LearnVest

I’m torn over whether I should sign my 6-year-old up for dance. 

I know she would love it, but frankly, I find the $150 monthly price tag a tad overwhelming. Do I have an extra couple grand a year to commit, or can I just have her play at the park, for free?

It’s no surprise that the overall cost of raising kids is skyrocketing (we’ve noted this before, along with tips for easing the pain). The cost of raising a child from birth to 17 rose 25% from 2000 to 2010. According to a recent report by the United States Department of Agriculture, the average two-parent, middle-income family with a child born in 2011 is now looking at $234,900 to raise a child to 17 (not including the costs of pregnancy, childbirth or college). Factor in projected inflation, and parents are looking at $295,560.

What can you expect as Junior grows? We spoke with parents around the country to find out which costs have surprised them most.

Infancy (0-12 months): Diapers

The USDA confirms what many of us already know; the urban Northeast is the most expensive place in the country to raise a kid. Amy in Manhattan would agree. She spends almost $33,000 a year to pay for full-time daycare for her 1-year-old daughter McKenna.

Of course, the knowledge that childcare in Manhattan is expensive is hardly a revelation. Which expense took her most by surprise? “I had no idea they use as many diapers as they do!” she says. The average baby will use upward of 2,700 diapers in the first year of life. At about $0.20 a pop for disposables, you’re looking at close to $550 (although cloth diapers will cost you less than half that … and you can skip the expense entirely if you’re like this mom whose kids went diaper-free). 

Toddler (12-36 months): Daycare

More surprising than the costs of big-city daycare is the fact that it’s still expensive in less urban areas. “Daycare costs are ridiculous,” says Bridget in Laramie, WY. Most of what she spends on her 2-year-old son goes to daycare ($8,400 per year), with extracurricular activities such as Spanish and swimming lessons coming in second.

“The amount of money we spend on daycare in one year is almost enough to cover two years of tuition at the state university,” she says.

Preschool (Ages 3-5): Education and Health Care

Most of the parents we spoke to agreed that the cost of preschool itself was the most shocking. Michael in Washington, D.C., father of 5-year-old Skylar, says: “We did not expect to have to pay $15,000 per year to send our child to preschool. That was a shocker!” He warns parents that “the cost for after-school and extracurricular activities sneaks up on you very quickly.”

“Preschool costs surprised me,” agrees Simone in the San Francisco Bay Area. She’s the mom of Imogen, 6, and Tom, 3. She calculates that when all is said and done, her family will have spent $70,000 sending both kids to three years of preschool.

Patrick, father of 5-year-old John in Philadelphia, notes that health care can also get expensive. While the average child will cost about $18,000 to keep healthy until age 17, many families are faced with unexpected costs not covered by insurance. “The cost of health care was surprising,” says Patrick. He estimates his family is looking at $10,000 in out-of-pocket expenses for an occupational therapist and a speech therapist for his son.

Elementary School (Ages 5-10): Extracurriculars and Health Care

Tamara in Helena, MT has been surprised by how much she spends on extracurricular sports for her daughter Sarah (10) and son Ryan (6). Sarah plays three sports and travels for all of them. “We can spend up to $500 on a weekend trip for gas, food, hotel, etc., if we’re not careful with our planning,” says Tamara. She estimates that volleyball season alone will cost her family $1,000 this year.

Simone, mom of 6-year-old Imogen, agrees: “I think the extras are surprisingly high. I agonize over my monthly gym membership of $122 but I don’t think twice about forking over hundreds a month for ballet, swimming, gymnastics, music, chess and horseback riding lessons.”

In addition, health care costs seem to haunt parents of all ages: With three boys at home (ages 7, 11 and 15), Lee in Kensington, MD was surprised at how much she spends on health care. After her middle son began experiencing difficulties with organizing and memory, she spent close to $1,000 on psychological and educational testing. He tested as being highly gifted and was diagnosed with ADD. He now requires weekly therapy with a psychologist at $185 per session, not covered by insurance.

Middle School (Ages 10-13): Electronics and Food

Sharon in Columbia, SC, mother of two daughters (ages 13 and 7), has been surprised by the money she spends on electronics. “It is expected that the students do a significant amount of homework on the computer,” says Sharon. “I am not sure how low-income families manage.”

For Agnes, also in Columbia, the financial burden of keeping three kids in private school pushed her to move them to the public system so her family could start saving for college. The costs of education were competing with basic expenses like food, which was what surprised her most: “I find food more and more expensive,” she says.

She’s right. In 2011, grocery prices rose as much as 12%, depending on the item. Between 2000 and 2010, the cost of feeding a child to age 17 rose by $12,000, to $36,000 a year. Agnes cautions other parents not to underestimate the cost of healthy food: “It makes no sense to me that a pair of jeans costs $10 but a trip to the grocery store (mid-level, not Whole Foods) runs $100 minimum for two days.”

High School (Ages 13-17): Sports Teams

According to the USDA, the older your child gets, the more you’ll spend. 

Lee in Kensington, MD has been struck by the high cost of her 15-year-old son’s athletic pursuits. After shelling out for regular teenage expenses like driver’s ed classes ($500), she then spent over $2,500 a year to cover team fees for her son’s high school crew team. That doesn’t include uniform costs, required team spirit wear, transportation or gym membership. Meanwhile, her son wasn’t sufficiently challenged on his high school baseball team, but the next level up had a hefty $2,000 per season price tag. “It was way out of our price range,” says Lee. “We could not participate.”

Is There Anything You Can Do?

First and foremost, learn from these parents’ experiences—and also recognize that everyone’s surprised by different things. So prepare for the unexpected by beefing up your family's emergency fund. Beyond that, if you’re having trouble covering all the costs you’d like to, do what you can to either earn extra income or reduce your spending.

Read More From LearnVest:

Can Excessive Screen Time Hurt Your Kids?

My Son’s Accident Changed My Life Forever

Is There Such a Thing as Leaving Your Child Too Much Money?

 

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