From the Cradle to College: What Does it Actually Cost to Raise A Child in Today’s Economy?

Since 1960, the United States Department of Agriculture has generated baseline expenditures for the costs of raising a child from birth through their 18th birthday – it doesn’t include the costs of sending the child on to college, or expenses incurred if a child returns to the home in their 20s.

Those reports showcase just how stark the current economy is. From 2003 to 2013 – the most recent year that the abstract has been published, the cost of raising a child in constant dollars has gone up by 40%, while household income has risen by 5%.

Raising a child has several co-factors that alter the cost: Living in cities tends to make the cost of raising a child rise, though less so than the typical increase in income; in terms of family financial stress, it’s slightly less economically disadvantageous to raise a child in the city even though the total expense is higher.

The second cheapest place to raise your child is in rural America, where the costs of the most expensive factors, notably housing (roughly 31% of the total) is less. Children are also cheaper to raise in batches – hand-me-down clothes help a lot, and having multiple children reduces the per-cost surcharge for housing costs.

Categorical Comparisons

Compared to the 1960s, housing as a percentage of the total expenditure has remained roughly constant. The cost of food has dropped by 50% – it was 24% of the total tally in 1960, and is 16% now; likewise clothing has gotten much less expensive — which will come as a surprise to anyone who’s tried to buy clothes for a teenager. The difference is 11% in 1960 and 6% now. Both of these are signs of increasing agricultural efficiency and industrial automation.

Where costs have gone up are health care — we aggressively treat more diseases and conditions in children now — and in the cost of child care and education, which has exploded with the rise of the two-income family compared to 1960. Once inflation-adjusted dollars are used, the overall cost of raising a child has risen from $192,000 in 1960 to a median value of $234,000 in 2014.

Cost-Cutting Measures

While nobody is advocating massive cost reducing strategies when it comes to raising a child, there are some places where things can be trimmed. If you’re about to move, look for a balance between a good school district and home prices; higher priced homes, past a certain point, don’t correlate to a substantially better educational experience.

Look at having your children work outside the home for pocket-money. Mowing lawns for the neighbors isn’t demeaning; it’s a way for your children to appreciate the value of hard work and doing a job to the satisfaction of someone else, while they earn their own pocket money.

While food as a percentage of total expenses has shrunk, eating habits have gotten noticeably worse. Pack lunches for your children – take the time on Sundays to pack a week’s worth of lunches and freeze them; they’ll be less expensive than eating out and will generally be healthier.

Conclusions

A large part of childcare costs stem from out-of-home daycare, which is nearly unavoidable in two-income or single-parent families – and the added features that come from raising a child in the 21st century, like cell phones, data plans, and laptops for schoolwork. Medical costs have also gone through the roof, largely as school districts try to protect themselves from lawsuits stemming from injuries and treat everything involving a child as an ER visit.