How much does it REALLY cost to raise a child?

How much does it REALLY cost to raise a child? If you listen to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it’s over $200,000.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture calculates that it will cost $233,610 for a middle-income, two-child family to raise a child in 2015. That’s a little less than the $245,340 it predicted using 2013 data.

That figure doesn’t even include college expenses.

USDA infographic on the cost of raising a child
This graphic shows the estimated cost to raise a child until age 17, using data from 2013. The estimated cost decreased slightly from the 2013 to 2015 data sets. Photo courtesy of the USDA.

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Seriously, for the 2013 numbers that’s between $12,940 and almost $15,000 per year. We don’t spend anywhere close to that thanks to minimal shopping, generous friends and family, and taking advantage of free or cheap recreation.

I’m not sure how to even get to $12,940 for the first two years. By being less of a consumer and carefully curating what you buy, your cost to raise a child can go way down while your environmental friendliness goes up.

In honor of April being National Financial Literacy Month, I wanted to look into that number a bit more. (I did my first post on National Financial Literacy Month last week.)

Housing cost

The biggest cost the USDA cites is housing, with it making up 30 percent of the estimated $245,340.

When we had our baby, we already rented a two-bedroom apartment for a very reasonable cost. It was close to both of our jobs and I maintained a porch container garden that gave us a few herbs and veggies.

It’s recommended that a newborn sleep in the same room as it’s parents for the first year, so you don’t need to give Baby its own room unless you’re setting up a dresser and toys or decide to let Baby sleep in its own crib there. We kept our daughter in our room for a year before moving her to her own room.

Even when it was her own room, it doubled as our little library, since we had three stuffed bookshelves in there.

It was a tight fit, but we made it work. We fit her crib, dresser with a changing pad on top, small bookshelf, and our two large bookshelves in the room.

Now in a new house we have the same items plus more of her toys and a few storage cubes to help her easily organize her stuffed animals and other small toys.

Technically, she didn’t cost us any extra in housing since we already had two bedrooms (one was the library/office, but the desk was moved to a spot in the hall in our apartment when we rearranged her room). We worked with what we had, even if a larger space would have been nice.

Even if you do only have one bedroom, you can get away with avoiding a second room for at least a year. Pinterest is full of ideas, and Apartment Therapy has a collection of tiny-space nurseries tucked into closets with the door removed, the end of a hallway, or even near the parents’ bed. Keep a countdown if you need to, but imagine how much you’ll save in rent each month you can make it work.

If you do rent a house or apartment with an extra room, consider making it multi-purpose. Our toddler doesn’t need to have a full bedroom to herself. She shares with us since our bookshelves are in there and hold the bulk of our books. We’re securely anchoring them with Quakehold! straps and making sure the books are packed in firmly so it’s harder for her to rip them all out. We also made her bookshelf look enticing with her favorite books and little toys so she’d hopefully leave ours alone.

Try to work with the space you have and that takes care of a big chunk of that 30 percent estimate of the cost to raise a child!

Childcare

Daycare and pre-school are expensive. There was no way were were going to be able to afford it.

I negotiated with my employers and was able to bring my daughter to work with me for her first year. During that time, I had one time where my co-worker watched her for about 20 minutes and another time where we hired a teen from our church to watch her briefly so we could go on a date.

Baby sits at a desk in front of a computer
Taking my baby to work for a year required a lot of hard work from me, plus good rapport with my co-workers and supervisors. This wouldn’t work in every job situation, but we were able to work it out. She went to the office part-time, and I arranged my hours so I could work some of the rest from home while she slept or in the evenings when my husband had her.

The rest of the time, we had her with no childcare. Taking a baby to work is HARD, and it doesn’t work in all circumstances. But if it’s possible, check with your employer to see if they’ll consider it, or look at switching to a location that will allow it.

You could also ask about working from home. If you can reduce the cost of childcare by even two or three days a week, you could save a ton of money. If you only need childcare for part of the day, see if there’s a Mother’s Day Out program in your town. Sometimes churches offer them at a great rate. I have friends at church who spend a ridiculously low amount on childcare through those programs. The Spruce has advice for parents looking for a Mother’s Day Out program.

Nanny-sharing is another option. Families split the cost of a nanny who is willing to watch multiple children.

You could also consider freelancing. After a year of bringing my daughter to the office, I left my job to freelance. I work while she plays or reads alone, naps and at night when she’s asleep.

Getting a job teaching or tutoring online may be another option. Some let you work at night or very early in the morning. If you need a couple of hours during the day to work or nap, a you could try the Mother’s Day Out program or a local teen might be able to babysit inexpensively.

Factoring childcare in the cost to raise a child can be tricky since there’s so much variance in how families manage it, from asking grandma to watch the baby for free to paying for an au pair. Look at what’s right for your family and budget.

Clothing and toys

A baby doesn’t need many toys. And if you choose and are able to breastfeed, you won’t even have to pay for food for months.

Our baby was gifted a lot of clothes even before she was born, but didn’t fit most of them for weeks since she was born very tiny. The temperature was outrageously hot, and she had jaundice, so our doctor recommended keeping her in a bassinet in a sunny window with little clothing or taking her on our shaded porch to absorb sunlight. We carefully monitored her temperature and dressed her in more clothing or at least swaddled her when necessary. When we did fully dress her, we used a few hats, infant gowns, socks, rolled-up newborn pants, Gerber shirts to avoid irritating her cord stub, and some newborn onesies that were pretty large on her for a few weeks.

We had to put her in the tiniest newborn clothing, sometimes rolled up, and made sure that it wasn’t a suffocation hazard. We couldn’t find any preemie clothes in our area and had to make do with what we had since it would have cost a lot to order in a bunch of preemie clothes she’d only fit for a few weeks. Even when you’re being frugal, the cost to raise a child is high enough without paying extra for something they’ll barely wear.

From newborn items onwards, we shopped largely at consignment sales. We did get several items for even less than we could have at consignment during a Black Friday weekend sale at Target (we went when there wasn’t a crowd). Awhile back, I got her a few items during a J.C. Penney closing sale.

Cloth pocket diapers and inserts dry on a clothesline
I love seeing cloth diapers hanging on our laundry line! They’re adorable AND a great way to save money when raising a baby and young toddler.

We get a lot of her books and toys at consignment sales. We scored this awesome rocking dragon at a consignment store for her first birthday, and it’s one of her favorite toys.

When you purchase used toys, just make sure that there aren’t any recalls for them and that they meet modern safety standards. You wouldn’t want to give your child something with lead paint or unlabeled choking hazards.

If you consign your baby’s lesser-used or outgrown clothes and toys, you can recoup some of your money and use it to buy new items as the child grows.

Buying used clothes is also better for the environment. It’s a win-win!

Between 2000 and 2015, global clothing production doubled, while the average number of times that a garment was worn before disposal declined by 36 percent. In China, it declined by 70 percent. — Bloomberg, “No One Wants Your Used Clothes Anymore”

Food

When considering, “How much does it really cost to raise a child?” the USDA said that the second-largest cost is food at 16 percent.

If you breastfeed, you automatically can save a lot of money on formula. KellyMom calculated that it would cost between $816.48 and $3,163.86 to purchase formula for 12 months, depending on the brand.

Of course, not everyone can or wants to breastfeed. I’m simply pointing out possible savings.

If you use formula, you can often find sales and coupons, both from the store and the manufacturer. Even though we never used formula we often received coupons at the register or in the mail.

Baby pouches filled with pureed food have become really popular in the last several years for both babies and toddlers.

I’ll admit we sometimes buy them. They’re good to have on the go, and I can find them for $0.50 to $0.60 cents apiece at Big Lots (much cheaper than ones that run $2+ at other stores). With all of the medical appointments we’ve been to lately, they’ve been easy to toss in the diaper bag, so we’ve bought more than usual.

Even still, we try to reduce our consumption for three reasons:

1) It’s still expensive. We can– and do– buy real food cheaper and puree it.

2) They’re terrible for the environment. Often, they can’t be recycled, and the ones that can are often tossed in the trash, similar to K-cups.

3) I want my baby/toddler to eat homemade food and get used to eating what we eat.

If you really want to save, try mashing food yourself with a fork. Even getting a little baby food masher would save money. You can also toss it in a blender or food processor. When my toddler was a baby, I’d roast the veggies, then mash them and store them in giant silicone ice cube trays to create individual portions. I popped them in a Zip-lock freezer bag, labeled it and thawed them as needed.

You can also blend food and store it in reusable glass baby food jars and bring them with you as long as the food is fresh and chilled. Try storing it in a small cooler with the whole family’s lunch and going on a picnic instead of making fast food stops on your next trip.

My toddler is old enough that she doesn’t need pureed foods, but she still likes them. And since she only has four tiny teeth, it lets her eat foods that would otherwise be harder for her. It doesn’t take long at all to make cheap, healthy baby food.

How much does it REALLY cost to raise a child?

Honestly, I’m not a mathematician. And I haven’t kept my receipts for everything.

But when you barely buy baby food, use cloth diapers instead of disposables and dry them on a laundry line or drying rack, integrate your nursery into an existing space and don’t go crazy buying your baby insane amounts of stuff…

You save a lot of money.

  • We’ve only spent about $204.61 so far for our cloth diapers, not counting the cost of utilities and extra laundry detergent (but we line dry when possible). I’m not sure how much we’ve spent on disposable diapers, wipes and diaper cream, but it’s more than we want! Thankfully, that number is significantly reduced by the amount of time she spends in cloth diapers and from working on potty training her early.

 

 

  • We’re potty-training our daughter a little earlier than normal for the U.S. Since toddler panties in her tiny size are a bit expensive, I’ve been making her some myself with an Etsy pattern and soft, upcycled t-shirts or clearance knit fabrics.This lets us save money, customize her panties to prints she likes, and be friendlier to the environment by upcycling fabric and purchasing fewer new items.
    We rarely buy her new clothes. We’re not trying to be mean: she just doesn’t need them. (Don’t worry– we rarely buy new clothes for ourselves, either!) As we packed up her last two batches of too-small clothes, we realized we had a lot more than we want to store. We’re keeping most of them in case we have another baby, but we don’t want to have so many clothes that she doesn’t get to wear them all. When we do buy clothes, we get them nice, but used (unless we find a really cheap deal on clearance).

    When I go to the consignment store, I tend to spend about $30 getting her several clothing items and maybe a $1 book or special toy. I only go every few months as she outgrows what we have. I also buy cheap Simplicity and Etsy patterns and look for inexpensive fabric and notions at Hobby Lobby to sew her clothing and headbands.

    Again, this is better for our wallets and the environment!

 

  • We also rarely buy her toys, unless it’s a special find at a huge discount or from a consignment store (like her superbly-priced Megablocks wagon and this amazing rocking dragon she received for her birthday). Several of her items are gifts from family and friends, reasonably-priced used items (we found this chair for $5). Some relatives ask for a wish list for holidays and her birthday, so we try to select a few items we think she needs and/or will enjoy for a long time, like her inexpensive but well-loved baby doll.Carefully curating what we buy– for us and for her– means that we have less clutter. That’s also less stuff that will eventually end up in the landfill.

 

  • At the moment, transportation is cheap. She goes where I go. We use a bike and bicycle trailer (you can purchase one like this) and walk a lot, often using my Ergo 360.We are a little extravagant in the stroller department. Somehow, we ended up with three (all gifts!). But they’re all good in different situations: her Cosco monster umbrella stroller pops out quickly and easily. We keep it by the door for walks down our road. Her Graco ClickConnect stroller (similar to this) is almost always in the back of our car.

    I love that her carseat fits in it and that she can sit like a big girl in the front of the stroller with her own little tray. We also have an old jogging stroller that my parents gave us. It’s one they used for my youngest siblings, but they kept it in excellent condition. It’s bulky, but has has thick rubber tires that are perfect for hiking trails and beaches– places our other two strollers wouldn’t have a chance.

    A bike trailer, Ergo and strollers aren’t cheap, but they have good re-sale value if you take care of them, can be used for future kids and you can get a lot of use out of all of them.

    I don’t use a lot of extra car miles for my daughter. She has had a lot medically, but it’s not too bad. Unless it’s a specialist, we keep her pediatrician and dentist local. I take her to the library a lot, but I went frequently before I had her, so that’s not her “fault.” She’s only had about two play dates out somewhere, and they were just a few minutes from our house, so that barely cost any in gas.

    One thing we didn’t go cheap on was her car seat. We bought this one new since you never know if a used seat has been compromised in an accident.

    Like other other things I noted, traveling on a bike (whether alone or with a kid) helps the planet since it reduces the harmful fumes your car puts into the air.

 

  • We plan on homeschooling her for several reasons, and will get quality but inexpensive books for her to use. My mom has a lot of her homeschool books in great condition. Some, like science, will be outdated by the time my daughter is ready for them. But I’m sure I can borrow early writing, literature and other books. I also know of a great school store near my parents that carries both homeschool and public educational tools very inexpensively. My mom was a wizard when it came to saving money on school supplies while getting great books at the same time.
Three pairs of homemade baby and toddler underwear
I made three pairs of underwear for my toddler using clearance gray knit from Hobby Lobby and a pair of pajama pants, and still have enough fabric to make a few more pairs. My mother-in-law just gifted us some soft, stretchy Minnie Mouse fabric, so we can make even more!

Individual choices

If you ask 10 people the cost to raise a child, I suspect you’ll get 10 different answers. Some parents spend a lot of money on their kids, buying expensive holiday outfits, fast food, sporting supplies, club dues, transportation to events, extravagant birthday parties, etc. Other parents spend way less either by design or necessity.

In 2014, Derek of the blog Life and My Finances calculated that it would cost $64,530 to raise a kid. One of my favorite personal finance and investment sites, The Motley Fool, also notes that there is a lot of flexibility in the figure.

Each family’s cost to raise a child will depend on what they already have, where they place their priorities, and, to an extent, where they live.

Entertainment doesn’t have to be expensive. Watch a movie on Amazon Prime or rent a BluRay from RedBox instead of going to the theater. Take a hike. Go fishing or rent a canoe. Play Apples to Apples or Super Mario UNO.

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My daughter doesn’t need a lot of expensive toys. She runs around picking flowers, digging with her tools in my garden, dashing from the water hose, swinging in her inexpensive Little Tikes swing and visiting the playground. As she gets older, her interests will get a little more expensive. But just like my parents did, we’ll find ways to make it as cheap as possible. Our incomes are expected to increase over the years, as well.

If your kid joins gymnastics, try to carpool with other parents to save on transportation costs. Pack a cooler instead of eating out. Fill reusable water bottles rather than using disposables. Mix your own Gatorade from powder in a large pitcher with a dispenser instead of buying them in individual packs. Look for cheap, fun recreation opportunities. Invest in high-value, long-term furniture, tools and equipment.

What do you think of the USDA’s calculations? Did having a child drastically increase your spending?

2 thoughts on “How much does it REALLY cost to raise a child?”

  1. I very much enjoyed this article. I have always believed that the figure in raising a child was too much. This article has many great ideas about how to save money.

    We too use consignment shops to purchase our kids clothing. It has been more of a challenge now that they are pre-teen, teenage. We still manage to make it work. Anytime we are in need of a church dress or my kids outgrow their current ones, we will go to a consignment shop or a mega sale at Belks. The only thing I choose to buy new are undergarments. ?

    For school, we almost always buy used. We take advantage of used Curriculum Sales or consignment stores and we use the library frequently. May I also mention there are many informative documentaries on youtube that my children and I have thoroughly enjoyed.

    For entertainment, we love board games, playdoh, art supplies and used books. We get a lot of our supplies from back to school sales. We go to many different stores and enjoy their sales. We can buy a full year of notebooks, pens, pencils, crayons and markers for anywhere between $20-30. I enjoy that.

    I have also switched babysitting wit another family so each set of parents could have a date night. No money is exchanged, and we get a night off and one to bless another family that is close to us.

    I appreciate all your suggestions. I love your blog!

    1. Thanks for sharing your ideas! I’m glad you liked the post. We get a lot of items at consignment, but mega sales are always great, too. It can be a bit difficult to guess what size a kid will wear a few seasons out sometimes, but I love end-of-season sales. We often find great items for our toddler that she can wear several months or even a year out. One consignment store near me had an end-of-season sale and sold all of their clothing for $0.50 each.

      That’s a great idea to trade babysitting with another family! I’ll have to keep that one in mind. 🙂

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