What Is The REAL Cost of Raising a Kid If Done Frugally?

prudhomme-family
My husband’s grandparents. They had 8 kids! @_@ This is them with 1/12 of their grandchildren haha. This was taken either in Walnut Creek or Napa, California, almost 3 decades ago.

Jared and I were having the kid talk and decided to put it off until we were less stressed and financially freeOh boy, did I get sticker shock when I saw how much it would cost to raise a child. A quarter of a million! Not including college! That price just goes up as you move on up the social economic ladder. For the average middle-class to upper-middle family, the costs of raising a child topple over an estimated $250,000 going from birth to 17.1 That’s not including higher education!

You’re lucky to be out $15,000 a year for 17 years!

Mother flips what in the hell, I’m still in sticker shock. But given that there are about 7 billion people in the world and 300 million of those people are in the United States alone, I don’t think sticker shock has stopped or prevented anyone from raising mini human beings.

We’re a frugal loving family. What if we raised a kid as frugally as possible? Neither Jared nor I grew up with anything fancy. We both went to public school. My school lunches were reduced lunches. I paid 25 cents for cafeteria food of one mystery meat taco pocket, milk, apple and green beans. And I have never known any kid who ate the cafeteria green bean…

How does one afford kids given the family median income in the U.S. is $50K a year?

If it costs $16,000 to raise a kid and the median household wage in the United States is $52,2502 then that means 30% of expenditures are going towards the little one alone! Plus, that’s post-tax! So 20% to taxes, 30% to housing, 30% to the kid and 20% that needs to include everything else from transportation to food…oh, it just occurred to me why a lot of Americans are in debt.

I could raise 200 dogs from puppyhood to a ripe doggy age with that kaching!3

I broke down the large numbers reported since I figured they were elevated, it’s clickbait material, right?

Upon closer inspection, these figures include possible opportunity cost. If you could have rented out the baby room for $500 a month then it would technically cost $500 a month for baby boarding. In our case, we would be out $1,000 a month because that’s how much our upstairs spare room brings in on Airbnb. Parents living out in the metropolitan part of the United States are in for a higher bill for raising children in comparison to the Midwest. In essence, knocking one right out of the ballpark – we’re down $12,000 every year right off the bat.

But that’s opportunity cost of income coming in. It’s not exactly money out of your pockets. A lot of people are uncomfortable living and renting out to other people so that single bedroom would be worthless.

What’s the real cost if we raised a kid as frugal as possible?

Categories0-17 Years
Total Cost$87,250
Food (no special dietary restrictions)$25,000
Housing$0
Health insurance (vaccinations, preventive care etc.)$15,300
Toys & fun$1,700
Sunk-cost furniture (car seats, mattresses etc.)$4,250
Clothing (diapers, gym shoes etc.)$5,500
Child care & non-higher ed.$8,500
Transportation$17,000
Vacations0
Misc.$10,000
Yes! I made this! I figured out how to use the table thingy plug-in called TablePress. Hallejuah, I’m learning!!! Ouuuuu, it’s glorious!

In the table above, I give my best estimates for raising a child one notch above bare bone circumstances. Jared and I don’t have any children so we’re giving rough ballpark estimates, we’re novices ok.

Food

Food is the largest expense. If I included housing, food would be the second highest expense. I’ve seen Jared’s nieces and nephews eat. It’s hilariously cute how 3 chicken nuggets and a scoop of Annie’s mac & cheese fills them up. Yet it takes them over 1 hour to consume it because they’re goofing off constantly. $25,000 for 17 years results in less than $1,500 per year. With breastfeeding and home cooking every meal, it seems like a doable feat, especially when kids are young. They would get about $4 a day for their food budget which is just about how much the current food stamp recipients receives.

Housing

I put down a very inaccurate $0. I’m planning to have our kid sleep in the same bed as us until he/she goes off to college. It can’t get any more cost-effective than that. think of the compounding! 🙃Since we own our home we have enough square footage. There are more rooms than there are humans in the house so a space to encase a small human doesn’t sound too difficult with the amount of closet space we have. 😉

Health Insurance

This number was a relatively realistic one if you and your family have an employer health plan. It currently costs each of us $900 a year to be insured so I simply multiplied $900 x 17. Obviously, these figures don’t include inflation or price increases. It’s costing us $900 this year and a little more next year.

I could have cut health insurance but I thought…raising a kid frugally, not destitute and without coverage. My family went without health insurance for the majority of my life. Thankfully I was a healthy and robust child. No leg sprains, no appendicitis, didn’t participate sports (school required proof of insurance) etc. The worst thing for me was just an ear infection and a few fevers.

Toys & Fun

I almost put $0. I’ve seen kids live on rocks and basic TV as entertainment so it’ll be OK. Spongebob isn’t everything.

My parents never brought me anything (they did in China but not in America) and we never celebrated holidays or birthdays. I was happy to have 3 working TV channels from the television we found on the street. It was an utmost boring childhood but doable and I turned out semi-normal.

I would give an extra $1k in the estimates for a used laptop. Any school expenses like field trips are split between child care and misc, not in toys & fun.

Sunk-cost Furniture

My parents found all of our furniture on the street. They never purchased anything furniture related, not even a stool, because they would wait on their luck or go without. If they needed anything, they ask the neighbors or just look around on the street after dark. They found some pretty great stuff too. Mattresses are super expensive for what it is: a block of foam and springs. 

We found all of our mattresses on the street and used it for 10+ years! I’m not even sure what’s the total age of the mattresses we found but they were lumpy when we got them. I woke up every morning from age 13 to 17 with back and neck pain but it was doable and it saved us money.

Car seats and cribs are likely sunk cost items. Regulatory safety change and improvements regarding baby furniture happen all the time so buying old cribs and car seats may not be the best idea. These items are sunk costs. Other than that, for side tables and lamps, head to your local thrift store 🙂 I didn’t leave much for furniture because there’s resale value in a lot of them and people are always giving out great stuff. You can check out the older income reports for all our random thrift and roadside finds!

Clothing

To an extent, $5,500 for 17 years is an exaggeration. If you don’t care how your child looks, there are pieces of clothing going for $1 at the thrift store. My annual expense for clothing as a teenager was probably $200 per year. I heard cloth diapers and hand-me-downs from family are cost effective. If done frugally, we will likely inherit toys and clothing from friends and family who has already stepped into parenthood.

Related: I Hate My Clothes & What I’m Going To Do About It

Childcare & non-higher ed.

Childcare is a heated topic. (Edit: I’m thinking optimal frugality is finding grandma and having her sit for us. That’s why I marked it so low.) Or in our preferred case, Jared would be FIRE’d already and stay at home.

I was left alone after we immigrated to the U.S. so I didn’t give childcare much of a budget. It is illegal in the United States to leave a child alone but…haha…who in the world follows that!

When I see my nieces and nephews go to daycare I think…why…? I didn’t set the house on fire when I was left alone. It’s not like I was going to do anything stupid like steal someone’s car. All I felt was alone and afraid for the first year in the U.S. then I got used to it. A kid is malleable. I learned to get over it and I learned to be resourceful over my fear and loneliness. I sat quietly and read a ton of good books while waiting for my parents to come home.

Kids probably need a laptop for school these days. There are now government subsidies for low-income children and sometimes they can get free laptops as donations.

My mother told me the greatest thing about the western world was the free education. In China, you had to pay for everything and all supplies too. Lots of poor children are already off to a disadvantaged start if their family can’t afford basic education.

That’s why I scoff whenever the media reports how inequality in America is rampant and ruining all that’s holy.

Honestly, if you think about it, being born in the westernized world is as pretty privileged already. If test scores stink then ask little Susie to try harder. Tell her at least someone cared enough to make and put a test in front of her face.

This is an awesome country.

My parents paid for school supplies. I was left to my own devices for the rest of it, sink or swim.

Fun fact: I don’t know how to swim…hahaha…guess I’m sinking.

Whoops, I’ve moved into rant territory…

Anyway, public school is free. School buses are free. Tutoring is free if you can get it after school or with a sponsor. Doesn’t cost anything to fake “well-roundedness” to the fatuous college board by doing the deed like picking up trash or volunteering.

Transportation

Depending on the location, there should be locally subsidized buses. Children under the age of 5 rides for free. Not everyone lives in a region with a robust transportation system so I gave child transportation a healthy $1,000 a year budget. See how expensive it is to give a teenager a car.

What Is The REAL Cost Of Raising A Kid If Done Frugally

In my case, my parents adored the fact that I was able to buy them youth priced fares if they ever needed to go anywhere. I helped them shave off 50 cents per trip so I was saving them money by robbing city government! I bet our transportation cost for a family of 3 in San Francisco cost less than $1,000. Plus, I was a kid. I didn’t have anywhere to go besides home.

Vacations

Goose egg! Vacations are not necessary.

Misc.

I mentioned before we don’t have children so this category will fit whatever I haven’t even fathomed yet. Breast pumps? (What are those?) Tampons for girls? A suit to prom for boys? I don’t know but the total comes for 17 years comes out to my estimate of $87,250 in 2017 dollars.

That’s not bad!

My parents probably spent $30,000-$40,000 raising me since they managed it pretty bare-boned obtaining second-hand/free furniture, free school lunches, buses and very low to no medical coverage.

With the changing landscape of health care, this number now swings wildly from 10-15 years ago.4

I was a very healthy child with no allergies, learning disabilities or physical care needs.

College costs was another thing though…

Conclusion

It makes me question if creation is worth it in a family that is constantly worried about balancing the budget line. It seems like an unnecessary pain to the children who were dropped into that situation where they have to live on the razor’s edge too. I was sort of miserable while writing parts of this post thinking back to my kid years but I feel blessed now.

However, $87,250 is way less than 30% of the $250,000 quoted to raise a kid so I am questioning the validity the number they spat out. Raising a child frugally from age 0-17 cost around $5,132 a year out of pocket. Even if you added back housing at $60,000 for 17 years the total still comes out to be only 50% of that $250,000. I’m getting over the sticker shock for now…but for a more accurate analysis with someone who has experience with children, read Joe’s analysis.

This is where the commentators need to make up for my slop. Does anyone (dialing experienced frugal parents) care to give their estimates on how much it costs to raise a child?

 

  1. https://www.usnews.com/news/business/articles/2017-01-09/parents-save-up-cost-of-raising-a-child-is-more-than-233k
  2. http://money.cnn.com/2016/09/13/news/economy/median-income-census/index.html
  3. https://www.gobankingrates.com/saving-money/buying-dog-vs-having-kid-cost-breakdown/
  4. http://www.healthcostinstitute.org/press-release-childrens-health-care-spending-report-2007-2010/


58 thoughts on “What Is The REAL Cost of Raising a Kid If Done Frugally?”

  • The biggest child-related expenses for us by far are going to be child care, housing, and college. Where we’re at, child care starts at $1k/month for pre-K and goes up to $2k/month for infants. Fiance wants to be a SAHD so we might be able to skip these costs, but then there’s the opportunity cost of his income. Building out extra bedrooms and bathroom– so fiance and I aren’t sharing with the kids who ideally get their own bedrooms– would probably be another $100-200k, which is not necessary at all but is cheaper than buying a new house. My projection is another 125k each for college. So a total of 500-600kish all-in for two kids? We’ll probably have other extracurricular activities we send them to– sports, music, language school, whatever they are particularly interested in– but they’ll be a blip compared to the big three.

    That said, there are certainly folks who raise their children on less. Live-in family members can help minimize childcare expenses. Having children share bedrooms shrinks housing needs. There are certainly ways to go about it if you are mindful of what your family’s needs are.

    • Holy moly, that’s pricey! My parents raised me for less (no extracurriculars or bedroom) but it was uncomfortable at best. $300K per child is hard to swallow though, whoof!

  • Having kids is def not cheap in America. Daycare is our second biggest monthly expenses. And I just can’t wait for Baby FAF to go to pre-K for free. It’d feel like we’ve paid off a mortgage although we have no house to show. We’ll have a grown kid instead hehe.

    Before I had Baby FAF, we did have to move to a two bedroom apartment so that my in-laws could come to stay with us. It was a huge expense at the time given that both Mr. FAF and I were living with a bunch of roommates. This time, Mr. FAF and I want to plan better for our next baby, at least financially. My mom has agreed to come help us with the second baby, so I’m somewhat relieved ^.^
    Ms. Frugal Asian Finance recently posted…Real Estate Scam, Overpriced Stock Seminar & Investment Lessons

  • While economic reasons aren’t why we decided to not have kids, they definitely made the decision easier! Thing is I am pretty sure you can raise a kid for dirt cheap. They don’t REALLY eat that much food – and even if they do, so what…we’d double our food budget? Okay $2500ish a year for that. You CAN get a ton of things second-hand and inexpensively, but many people CHOOSE not to – that’s a huge contributing factor IMO to why there are studies that say it takes a quarter million dollars to raise a kid.

    Daycare on the other hand seems to be ridiculously expensive from what I’ve heard…
    Dave @ Married with Money recently posted…Life Lessons from Monopoly

  • Daycare is a pretty big cost. I am a little lucky in this area because I take my child to the tribe’s daycare. I am Native American and the tribes in Oklahoma have daycares at a lower rate. I pay 91.50 per week for full-time. Normally it is 150 to 175 per week around my area. We try not to over do it on the toys, but we buy more clothes because the boy is growing fast. Only three years old, but he looks like he is 5. We are having another kid, but my son will be out of daycare, so I will start over with the second kid.
    okiepennypincher recently posted…Edwardo’s Famous Spicy Pretzels: Affordable Snack for the Holidays

    • I think my parents didn’t want to spend the money in fear of bigger issues. They also found a better mattress than mine. I never told them because I knew they couldn’t do anything about it 🙂

  • For us, daycare was the biggest expense. We used to pay $1,800 a month for daycare in DC (and that was the subsidized price through my employer). Looking back, I wish I had discovered FI/ER sooner. I would have saved more to retire before I had my child. With your age and current net worth, you guys are in the position that I wish I had been in.
    Dimes and Dollars recently posted…How to Tackle Your Debt

  • No kids yet for me but many of my friends have become parents over the last five years. From what I’ve been told, all expenses are doable and daycare is truly the only one which will likely blow apart any budget. My BFF pays $8,000 a year for one child. Yikes!

  • I haven’t ran the numbers myself because of the unknowns between now and the next 17 years. However, I think $150,000 is close to the minimum. We pay $1100 per month for daycare. It does get cheaper as you get older but it is still a big expense.

    Extra curricular activities are also quiet expensive for kids. Soccer, gymnastics, karate, etc.

    As I’m thinking I’m getting curious. I might do my on breakdown and see where my numbers come in at.
    Grant @ Life Prep Couple recently posted…Don’t Trust The Spreadsheet: How We Paid Off $34K Of Debt In Five Months

    • I was thinking frugally would be $150k adjusted. You can do it under $50k like my parents but I definitely didn’t have daycare or extracurriculars. Oof, I’m thinking the sticker shock’s coming back. It just might be $250k when done :O

  • It is about time someone wrote this! Great job. My wife and I raised three kids with six degrees among them. Business, Adult Ed, three engineering degrees and one Medical Doctor. I suspect the entire cost for all 3 from birth to adulthood was less than $100k. We used Walmart and borrowed hand me down clothes until they got older then gave them a monthly clothing allowance so they could learn from their own money mistakes early and harmlessly. We cooked at home. They had after school jobs. Now they are all self supporting, debt avoiding millennials. Oh, and those six college and grad school degrees cost zero. They all had free rides, earned spending money tutoring lazier or less gifted students and worked and paid their own way for the advanced degrees.

    • Holy moly that’s rockstar status!! Congratulations of a successful life led Steve! It reminds me so much of my husband’s grandparents! 8 kids = 2 engineers, 1 pastor, 1 MD, 2 PhDs, 1 mom and 1 writer. I can only wish our kids someday would be successful adults.

  • I’m like you where I was left home alone when I was very young with my sister. I’m convinced that it made us extremely independent, proactive, adaptable, and confident in our skills. But that’s also due to our personalities. We also didn’t need any of the stuff that the other kids had. And we didn’t care, either.

    I think I would do daycare if I have a kid. One thing you didn’t account for is all the paid enrichment activities–the tutoring, art classes, swim lessons. Everyone does them these days so it’s hard to deny your kid without feeling a a bad parent…For college, I think my kid would need some skin in the game–I’m not paying for all of it 🙂

    • Haha yes!! Skin in the game, abbbbbsolutely. It’s not a money thing, it’s a “teach ya a good lesson” thing. The one thing I learned from my parents is that I don’t need to coddle my kids. It doesn’t do any good. I want resourceful children.

      You’ve alwayssssss been independent Luxe, it shows in just like…*every* post you write. It could be a personality thing and then environment.

  • We have a 2 year old and a 6 month old and we do it on $35,000 a year. We don’t pay childcare which is a huge savings and we have hearty meals that we pay for without government assistance. The most expensive years will be their teen years and we’ll cross that bridge later.

    Having children means my wife and I can’t spend as much money on ourselves or take a couples-only weekend, but, we don’t worry about money. Thrift stores and family hand-me-downs are crucial to saving money. We only take vacations we can drive to and our longest destination is 12 hours away, but, honestly, flying with two small children is not our idea of a vacation. When you’re still in diapers, long road trips get put on the backburner in our case as you leave at 3am or drive through the night while the children sleep so you can go more than two hours between stops.

    I wouldn’t have a child because you don’t think you can afford it. If you’re responsible with your money, you will make parenting work. My wife and I didn’t wait to have children once we had a certain amount of dollars in the bank. We did wait until we established a career and moved into a bigger house, but, we would have made do if we had found out we were expecting sooner.
    Josh recently posted…The Best Ways We Buy Organic Pantry Items and Save Money

    • Wow, Josh that was an amazing addition and peep into your life. Both you and your wife sound like such balanced people! This is all terrific advice, especially the career tip. It isn’t always about money, it’s also stability.

  • Childcare is HUGE if you have to pay for it…often $1k/mo or more in metro areas (per child). I was a latchkey kid, but these days in the US you’ll get a visit from CPS for kids home alone younger than whatever your state deems an appropriate age thanks to nosy neighbors (here it’s about age 11).

    And a lot of the free tutoring, subsidized ___ stuff you mention often requires you to submit proof that you can’t afford to pay. If you don’t qualify for subsidies, well, tutoring is easily $50+/hr. A teenage boy can double your grocery bill (in the midst of that right now)

    • Childcare is very expensive! My parents left me alone since there wasn’t many options as immigrants. Tutoring can be expensive but it’s also optional. Not all kids need tutoring. I never needed any. My example was based in cost cutting and sometimes being frugal means sacrifices.

  • What is the real cost if you don’t have kids? Say you break your legs. Who will walk the dog? Who will cook, clean, help you bathe, shop for groceries, pick up medication? Drive you to physical therapy? There are a lot of years between working and moving into a nursing home. Who will comfort you when you lose your parents? Or spouse? Some things are more important than the money.
    Pamela recently posted…“2017 Thanksgiving Home Tour”

  • In FIRE, you won’t have company subsidized health insurance. I am FIRE, my kid’s health insurance is about $5k a year. That’s $85k right there up to but not including college.

    Median daycare in my area is about $18k a year. You could save a ton here if you do all the childcare up to public school. You’d have to give up a lot of outside pursuits though.

    So we’re up to $175k just for two basic items. Could easily spend many times more if the kid has any issues at all.

    I pretty much raised myself from the age of 7, so parents probably spent less than $10k on me (they both passed away when I was a kid). Times have changed though. The Catholic grade school I went to that used to cost a few hundred a year costs over $18k a year now.

    I dealt with a lot of crap as a kid (drugs, perverts, etc) but I think society has gotten even more messed up – I wouldn’t leave a kid on their own at home.

    • Oh Joe, that’s sad. $10k is lowwwww 🙁 Glad you made it through!!! I think society has gotten better because we’ve exposed a lot of the crap when it was swept under the rug before. The media has a way of fear mongering. That’s what I *like to believe* I have no evidence though 🙂

  • I’ve laughed at the quarter million estimate many times before. If you calculate our annual income of 52,000 twenty years ago until now at 105,000, we’ve only made like 1.5 million. We did not spend 500,000 or a third of all our pre-tax money on our 2 kids.
    They are expensive though.
    They’ll want $6500 braces, $2000/year sport teams, cars, iphones and raise your car insurance by a grand each year. As soon as they’re adults, they’ll want 100 grand for college.
    Mr. JumpStart recently posted…My Favorite Dangerous Things:

  • I also looked into this before I had my kid, and I think the numbers are a bit inflated. The majority of it is housing, but practically speaking, our housing costs are the same regardless of if little me was here or not. Another high cost is daycare, but we’re fortunate enough to have grandparents who watch him every day. I think it’s absurd that daycare is just about as expensive as college though…with poor family leave laws and the atrocious rate of daycare, I think it’s actually a conspiracy…anyway, moving on, I think the baby industry also pushes parents to buy a ton of stuff, most of which is not needed. Baby doesn’t need $1,000 in developmental toys because he’s going to end up playing with the plastic cup or piece of paper more than all that other stuff (doesn’t mean we didn’t buy him a few — or maybe 10 — of those gadgets though).

  • I was shocked to see how high your number was considering the level of frugalness you used for your assumptions. It makes me think that the $250K number is actually pretty accurate for a traditional American kid. The line item of yours that left me shaking my head a bit was the $8,500 for child care. Even if one of you or a grandparent watch your kids, there is an opportunity cost to that. For example, we used to pay $1,700 a month for my son’s daycare. We decided it was crazy and ended up having my wife leave her job to stay with him. Now the childcare may be $0 but we are missing out on my wife’s previous salary. That opportunity cost is real!
    Jason@WinningPersonalFinance recently posted…Stop Giving Interest Free Loans

    • My parents had no healthcare (not a cheap option any longer) and they just hoped for the best. Playing the dangerous gamble, when my mom needed surgery, she flew back to China to do it for cheap.

  • I want to comment on @pamelas comment about the cost of not having kids. People shouldn’t be having kids in hopes of being taken care of later in life- a lot of the time kids don’t take care of their parents later in life because they are too busy with their own, or their parents were terrible so they don’t want to be involved….

    I think the main cost is daycare, if you can get a grandparent to help that saves a ton of money. We’ve spent less than $1000 so far but we are less than a year in lol.

    I wouldn’t recommend getting used mattresses in this current time because there are bed bugs everywhere! 🙁 they can live for 6 months without feeding.
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    • Haha remember that scene from Family Guy? He’s like “but there’s more chance they grow up to be Hollywood kids! Then look who is paying the bills. HOLLYWOOD!” Oh dear, it’s so funny 🙂

      Oh jeez…I never even thought of the bed bug situation. Holy..yeah, yeah. I think my family lucked out. O_O oh geez, I run airbnbs, don’t scare me!

  • I’m glad to see you say that number is wrong. Bc I firmly think that you can easily raise a kid for less. We don’t spend a ton on our kids, and they are incredibly happy. We do secondhand for alot of things, and we still enjoy life. We live in a much cheaper area than you, but I don’t think that changes the fact. Kids don’t need the expensive piles of presents. You being present with them, focusing on and loving them, and finding ways for have fun where you are… That’s what makes a good childhood.
    We were poor, but hubs swears we had a perfect childhood bc I only really remember the good. Bc my parents were Intentional with us and speaking love and joy into our lives.

  • As a new parent as of 11 days ago, I can definitely appreciate this post. I have to admit i’ve had a lump in my throat thinking about the huge estimated expenses of having a child. But it’s definitely refreshing to read that the actuality of it is not THAT bad.

  • Thanks for the mention!
    You should totally save this post and compare it to real life situation later.
    It sounds okay in theory, but I think you’re underestimating the cost a bit.
    Housing and childcare are the big expenses. For example, you’re doing Airbnb and plan to leave the child alone sometime. Is that really compatible?
    Our level of paranoia increased drastically once we had a kid.
    Putting off having a kid until you’re more comfortable is a great move. We did that and never regret it.
    Joe @ Retire by 40 recently posted…How to Avoid Overspending this Holiday Season

  • I think that parents who work all the time to afford what they think is a great childhood for their kid are mistaken. It is not the things that a kid needs. Basic costs need to be covered of course but time spent with your child will give both you and them the best ROI possible. I am a firm believer in this, a private school can give your kid the best education possible but it is up to the parents to make sure they have character.
    Damn Millennial recently posted…Market Monday: Multi Family Construction To Cool In 2018

  • This post is timely as my wife and I are expecting our first child in April! We’re both very frugal and are nervous about the upcoming costs for our little one, but we feel more than financially ready – or at least will be, as we are currently maxing out our HSA in preparation for the hospital bill (which we expect to be over $2.5k) and putting money in a special savings account for any unexpected & expected expenses.
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