Monday, June 18, 2012

Math. It's a helluva concept.

So according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average cost of having and raising a kid is around a quarter million dollars, give or take ten thousand dollars.

To cut to the chase, I find this number less-than-credible. Why? Aside from the fact that it just so happens to trigger my B.S. meter, I know for a fact that my parents did not shell out a million dollars raising four kids, let alone a quarter million. (Yes, I am aware of economies of scale. The people who came up the 234K number, however, are not.)

Let's take a look at these numbers, shall we?

The average, middle-income American family spends $234,900 per kid. Make over $100,000 a year? You can expect to shall out $389,670. Less than $60,000? $169,080.

"But wait!" you say. "Those numbers are all different. Do you mean to tell me that children of richer parents are more expensive?"

"Why no," says I. "But apparently everyone who has reported on this figures doesn't understand the difference between COST and SPEND. Because rich people SPEND more money raising their children--it does not COST that much. And presumably, it therefore does not COST a quarter million to raise a middle class kid, or even $170,000 to raise a lower income kid. This study, as it so happens, tells us VERY LITTLE about the cost of raising kids, and a lot about how much people tend to SPEND raising their kids."

Let's look at some other numbers, shall we?

The estimated "cost" of housing a kid for 18 years is $70,000.

"But wait!" you say. "Don't most people also have homes if they provide homes for their children?"

Indeed. In fact, you might even say that somewhere upwards of 99% of people who choose to procreate do so in a non-homeless state. So if people choose to "upgrade" their house or apartment upon having a kid, well, is that really a "cost" of having a kid?

The reports also show that 24 percent of the "cost" of raising a kid goes to feeding that kid. Again, I'd suggest it's likely lower, since most people who feed their kids probably would have also fed themselves, and what's the price difference between buying yourself some lettuce and chicken (already a necessity), buying your partner some lettuce and chicken (likely a necessity), and then buying a little more lettuce and chicken for a pre-adult who will probably not eat much of it anyway and then demand a cookie (the actual "cost" of feeding a kid)?

It's not huge, as you might suspect, even extrapolated over 18 years while (you guessed it) you were also continuing to feed yourself.

Then there's the puzzling 16 percent of the "cost" spent on things "used" on food for the child. I can only assume this means plates, spoons, Kitchenaids, spatulas, mixing bowls, pasta presses, and soda streams -- again, all things you probably bought FOR YOURSELF.  (Or if you were really lucky, received as a wedding gift. Cha-ching!) The only TRUE cost of "stuff used to feed a kid" is bottles and sippy cups -- things you bought for the sole purpose of feeding the kid for a few years because you would never buy yourself a sippy cup. (We hope.)
What is my point? It's simply this:

Kids cost a boatload. But if you choose to spend a whopping $14,000 a year on your kid, don't pretend that was the "cost" of having your kid.

We will now resume our regular programming.   


  1. I agree with you on your overall point. I hate studies like that, it's like gimmick data that doesn't mean anything.

    While it's certainly more comfortable to upgrade to a bigger house, it's a choice, not a necessity. I'm amazed how many of my friends who have kids think it's a big deal if their kids have to share a bedroom. Growing up, most of my friends with siblings shared a room at some point. One of my friends shared a bed with her sister until about 5th grade. We were middle class, not poor.

    I think there's temptation to give kids so much opportunity, and if you have the money, then why not spend it on your kids? In my area, school sports is so competitive that parents often feel it's necessary to pay for traveling teams and summer sports camps to get their kids conditioned enough to make the school team. Is it necessary? If they want their kid to make the school team, maybe so. But again, their choice.

    One of my friends has five kids that she homeschools. People have commented, rather rudely, how will they ever put them all through college? Again, is this an expectation that every child is handed a college education? If you have the money, again, then by all means. But some of us had to earn scholarships and work to pay for college!

  2. You've made my Econ-loving and Accounting-thinking brain so happy today with this post.