how much does it really cost?

Have you seen these articles about how much it costs to raise a child today?

Usually the total is astronomical, and usually the article comes with some kind of finger-wagging (either right there in the text, or down below in the comments) about how people shouldn’t have kids they “can’t afford.”  In other words, poor people shouldn’t breed, and all those kids on TANF and Medicaid just have irresponsible parents who are dragging down the responsible folks who can afford to pay for their own hobbies children.  </sneer>

This makes my blood boil.  First of all, these high estimates always include things like private school, which, frankly, is just not an option for most of us plebeians.

So I was happy to see this post over at Family Inequality.  Apparently the cost of raising a child depends on . . . wait for it . . . the amount of money available within the family.  Philip Cohen writes:

Kids cost more for parents who have more.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has released its annual report on the cost of raising children. Using data from the Consumer Expenditure Survey, they estimate the costs for one year, then extrapolate out to 17 years with inflation (thus not including college and beyond). The methods are complicated, involving the costs of an extra room, economies of scale, food needs, and so on. It’s not just an exercise — the numbers are meant to be used as a guide for child support, foster care and education program budgets.

But the costs depend on how much money the parents have. That’s natural in a descriptive sense, but should it also apply prescriptively? In other words, are the needs of children really determined by the wealth of the adults who care for them, so their wellbeing is relative? In further words, who is children’s wellbeing for?

What I’d like to add to that is, who defines “well-being?”  Who is to say that the kids on whom more money is spent are actually doing better?  I know that certain things (educational opportunities, high-quality food including organic produce and without GMOs, adequate shelter) are non-negotiable, but I also know that these high estimates of the cost of a child seem to be designed to discourage people with low and middle incomes from having children.

My hypothetical children will go to public school and will likely wear hand-me-downs and thrift store clothes.  Just like I did, and just like I do.  They will go to the park, not a vacation home.  They will probably not know why most mommies and daddies have two cars, not one.  We will not spend anything close to these “estimates.”

But my children will be loved.  Fiercely.  And they will have what they need.  And on a global scale they will be materially rich, rich, rich.  I will teach them compassion, and gratitude, and charity.

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5 responses to “how much does it really cost?

  1. It’s outrageous how much people spend on kids – believe it or not, they don’t actually require that much. We all wore hand-me-downs or my mom made our clothes, we didn’t have cable tv and fancy toys. We played outside, read books, and were pretty happy! My mom bought in bulk and made food from scratch (lots cheaper than buying ready-made), and we all contributed around the house (which my parents bought cheap and then renovated). We knew not to ask for things – we didn’t go out to dinner. My parents made our education a priority, though – we went to a small, private school and my mom worked there to get us a tuition discount.
    I’m pretty sure my parents spent less on us 6 kids than my best friend’s parents spent on her and her two brothers. Believe it or not, we turned out happier and more well-rounded.
    Children don’t need money – they need their parents, consistent discipline, and LOVE.

  2. This one hits home for me, as I grew up super poor and feel it made me really self-reliant. But my husband makes buckets of money so now I’m upper middle class. (Sorry! It’s not my fault! You can’t help who you fall in love with!) So I’m contemplating raising the children I’ll never have in a very different environment, and it’s weird. So I’m hoping children can still turn out well even if there IS money around.

  3. The amount of money people spend on their children is ridiculous. We struggle with giving presents to the nieces and nephews on my side b/c they have an unbelievable amount of things and they don’t seem to care about the new things for more than 5 minutes. It is really sickening.
    I do not think that well-being or happiness equates to spending money. Yes, some things are non-negotiable. Providing a safe, love-filled environment is what is important, not teaching our children to consume, consume, consume.

  4. Lovely lovely lovely post. And so many truths in it. xx

  5. The Barreness

    Yep, the cost of a raising a child soon puts the cost of the IVF to get them into perspective! Like you, I’d like to try to raise them to live with restraint, and to find less value in things, rather than experiences and people. Unfortunately I also live somewhere where going to a good secondary school is important, and that’s going to cost us. Maybe that’s not a bad thing – she’ll grow up with (hopefully) a good example of the importance of saving and restraint, which is in itself a great lesson to learn. Happy ICLW!

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