How Much It Really Costs to Have and Raise a Child

Updated on May 4, 2020
aethelthryth profile image

I managed to have and raise four kids without a million dollars of disposable income. Here's how I do it.

Does It Really Cost a Quarter Million Dollars Per Child?

People say raising a child costs $200,000 to $300,000. The sum is commonly rounded to “a quarter of a million dollars.”

I have four kids, but I don't have a million dollars. In fact, when you calculate all the tax cuts and gift cards and sacks of clothes and toys we’ve been given, I think we may have made money by having children, and that’s not because we’ve sent them to work! (They’re a bit young for that.)

Not everyone has the same resources we have, but we’re probably not too far off normal. How many people have huge reserves of disposable income to raise kids, anyway?

I have not completely monetized our assets (what’s the value of jeans with holes in the knees that are good play clothes for us but which nobody else will want?), but since I usually do our taxes, I have a good idea where our money goes. So, especially for those who haven’t had children yet, let me explain the economics of all the things you DON’T need to buy.

How much do you really need to spend on kids' clothing, and how much do they really need?
How much do you really need to spend on kids' clothing, and how much do they really need?

Costs of Conceiving a Child

We are older parents. Younger parents can save costs compared to us by not having to buy books on fertility and thermometers and vitamins and pregnancy tests and stuff like that. The main cost-saving strategy here is to protect your fertility. Don’t wait till you’re 30 or over to start having children, don’t do things that would lead to STDs (as in, don’t have sex outside marriage – and don’t laugh either, abstinence is both possible and also nicer than being naked in front of someone who doesn't like you enough to stay with you), don’t mess up your hormones with contraceptives or get scar tissue (physically or mentally) from an abortion.

Pre-Natal and Birth Costs

At the time I got married, I called a hospital to find out what the cost of an uncomplicated vaginal birth is, without insurance. It was then about $2000 (not counting the cost of the doctor, which about doubled the figure). Three years ago when I actually had a (very slightly complicated) hospital birth, it was about $3000. It’s not a fun check to write, but less than many plumbing emergencies, and you get ¾ of a year to save up for it. YOU CAN HANDLE THIS. Even without insurance.

But, twice we had a home birth, and for that we got the cost of the actual birth PLUS the cost of prenatal care (from the SAME person or team every week, who ACTUALLY GOT TO KNOW ME, and LISTENED to how I was feeling) for about the same as the cost of just the birth at the hospital. (Can you tell I think home births are great?) I can say from personal experience, though, it is a good idea to have the additional money available for a hospital birth just in case. (If you don’t end up using it, you can put it aside for a college fund, because you may not need it during the next 18 years – keep reading!)

All these shoes and boots (and probably as many more, scattered elsewhere) were given to us.  Most were hand-me-downs.  If any don't look "beat up", it's probably the ones we forgot to use while they fit!
All these shoes and boots (and probably as many more, scattered elsewhere) were given to us. Most were hand-me-downs. If any don't look "beat up", it's probably the ones we forgot to use while they fit!

How Much a New Baby Costs

Disposable diapers add up over time. (We did mostly disposable diapers with one child because of diaper rashes.) Cloth diapers sound like they cost a lot, but it’s only once (and with some cloth diapers one purchase will last for multiple children.) Cloth diapers do leak more than disposable diapers, if you don’t change them often enough. Consider it your reminder to keep the baby from having to sit in disgusting stuff!

We found you don’t have to wash all cloth diapers as many times as some guides say, to get them hygienic again. We have an outdoor clothesline, and sunlight is a good disinfectant. (Remember, you have a lot of ancestors who survived before clothes washers with disinfecting cycles!)

I mention diapers in such detail only because I can’t think of any other expenses we had during babyhood. We are older parents, so we have a lot of friends whose children are a few years on from ours, who handed down a whole lot of clothes. Also, on both sides of the family, for a lot of years there was doubt whether there would be any descendants at all, so we have grandparents, aunts, uncles, great-aunts, great-uncles, and some single or childless friends who were all waiting for babies to give gifts to. So we were given more clothes, toys, baby furniture, baby carriers, strollers, breast pumps, etc., than we could store in our house, much less use. Sure, not all of it was in perfect condition, but most of it you couldn’t tell from new, and considering that babies cause lots of stains, it’s not like it was going to look new after first use anyway.

Food – well, breastfeeding is really convenient and really cheap. Probably there was a little more cost for my own food while I was breastfeeding, but I didn’t notice it, and I did notice the pregnancy fat disappearing quicker that way.

Can You Have Too Many Stuffed Animals?Whether or not you can, we're not lacking in stuffed animals.  The fraction of them shown here is enough to hide a small child underneath!  I think they all have names, but I don't know all the names.
Can You Have Too Many Stuffed Animals?Whether or not you can, we're not lacking in stuffed animals. The fraction of them shown here is enough to hide a small child underneath! I think they all have names, but I don't know all the names.

The Transportation Costs of a Family

Unless you both have motorcycles, the only additional cost for a first child will be a car seat. (Unless you have one of those two-seater sports cars, in which case you probably aren't all that strapped for money.) For a first child, someone will likely give you a car seat, or a gift card that will cover it. Most likely, your first child will be out of that car seat by the time your second is born, so you might have to keep buying new booster seats for a while (if you believe the manufacturers that you should never use anyone's hand-me-down because it might have been in a crash and they didn't tell you).

The annoying thing is, the average car that can hold 5 (somewhat squashed) adults will probably not hold 2 adults and 3 children who are in child seats. I am waiting for someone to invent interlocking baby and booster seats for really small cars, but meanwhile, we did figure out, weeks before #3 was born, that there is a really small baby seat (by Cocorro) that fit with booster seats well enough to keep us from having to buy a new car.

After some number of children, child seat laws will pretty much force you to buy another car. But it doesn't necessarily have to be a new car, and you don't necessarily all have to travel in the same car when you go. There are ways to work it out, and in my experience, the people who worry most about whether they can afford a baby have no problem affording a new car.

Paying for Childhood

I read something urging parents to be financially prepared for parenthood that said, “I am sure you would not want to see your child be the only one with beat up shoes or hand me down clothes on the first day of school.” Huh. I would be highly surprised if my first-grader knew hand-me-down clothes from new clothes. (In fact, I’m not sure adults know the difference. I get more compliments on my thrift store clothes than any others.) I would also be highly surprised if new shoes survived the walk to school before looking “beat up”. Really, all I can say is, if my children’s self-worth is seriously dependent on their first-day-of-school clothes, then I have failed as a parent.

Due to the same factors as in babyhood, about the only clothes we have bought for our children so far (oldest is 7) is underwear, and a few socks (though we’ve actually gotten hand-me-down socks!) Oh, and 5 pairs of jeans we bought because there were holes in the boy’s other pants, but since there were holes in those jeans too after a couple weeks, we decided there was no point in buying more pants. (I am fine with shorts during the winter – not very different from pants with holes! Besides, if knees directly meet concrete enough times, the problem will tend to correct itself.)

We do pay more for food – but the changes are so incremental I don’t notice them except by comparing this year to five years ago, and inflation has had much more effect than children. I don’t think the food costs have outweighed the tax benefits under the Bush tax cuts (though probably that will change in 2013) Update: So far we're still seeing tax benefits in 2016.

We have a small house, and we had no room to put a baby in it until we had a baby. Then we discovered room. The next child, we also had no room for until the event actually happened. Same with the third. I assume at some point, there is a limit to what you can squeeze in, but also, if you have enough children, some are going to start moving out before the last ones arrive. I personally had quite a bit of space growing up, but a family next door had twice our size of family in about the same house size we have now. It appeared to me to work fine.

Costs of Teenagers

Well, we’re not there yet, so feel free to discount my thoughts here the way I discount single people’s opinions about children. I hear boys especially eat a lot. But then, about the same age they eat the most, they get old enough to have a job. Most parents I know seem to want to keep supporting their children until they are legally adults. Seems to me like a good thing to do overall, if you have the money, but you have to admit it is not a reasonable picture of the real world, and at some point before they enter it, children should learn how the real world works. Learning to support yourself is less terrifying when you know your parents are actually still there to fall back on if you fail in a job. Oh, and teenagers DO NOT NEED cars, computers, cell phones, etc., and if they think they do, there is no time like the present to define the difference between “need” and “want”.

We do like books, and we did spend money for some of these.  But most of them are gifts or on indefinite loan from relatives, who do have an interest in the children's education - they get to tell everyone how smart their family members are!
We do like books, and we did spend money for some of these. But most of them are gifts or on indefinite loan from relatives, who do have an interest in the children's education - they get to tell everyone how smart their family members are!

Costs of College

Unless it is your clearly-understood family tradition, written or unwritten, you do not owe your children a college education. It is a nice start in a career, but since children don’t tend to realize how nice a start it is, it is easy for them to waste the gift out of ignorance.

If we support our children’s college education, it’s only going to be if they see the use of the gift, and have the understanding of how to make the best use of it. Actually, we’re not likely to have the money to do so anyway, which does not worry us because (despite having some pretty good college education between us) we’re not convinced colleges today are worth the price. Online education, work experience, and the library seem like something an enterprising young person could do a lot with for very little money. As for the “social experience” of college – uh – you mean the things that happen Friday nights? Anyone who is concerned about their kid missing out on that experience should certainly send their kids to college; nothing in the real world can match the irresponsibility of that experience.

Costs of Raising a Parent

I found an article that explains the eventual economic value of children to society is somewhere around the quarter-million dollars they--supposedly--cost. Whether any of these calculations are to be believed is up to you, but it's something to make sure you include in your own calculations.

This article is about economics, so I am not discussing whether children are fun (though we think so.) But for those seriously concerned about the cost of parenthood, let me add one more thing to the equation. If you have a child, in a few decades, that child will probably be the one calculating costs – about your nursing home. That should be a sobering thought, possibly one which would tend to raise the amount which you would be willing to spend on a child.

Perhaps an even more sobering thought is, if you don’t have a child, whose child will someday calculate the costs of supporting you?

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


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    • aethelthryth profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from American Southwest

      Jeannie, "carried away" would definitely be the way to express it. There is no shortage of advertisers helping to separate parents from their money, but you haven't seen anything till you see what grandparents are told. As in, "You think you know children just because you raised some, but you have no IDEA how TODAY'S children will SUFFER without MY OVERPRICED WHATSIT!"

      I think I have known only one person who paid their own way through college, and he was one of maybe 5 I've known for whom I see college as having been a solid benefit.

    • Jeannieinabottle profile image

      Jeannie Marie 

      5 years ago from Baltimore, MD

      I've often wondered if it is really that expensive to have kids or if people are just getting carried away when I read those articles. After all, my friend insists her son needs to go to private school and needs lessons for the guitar, hockey, and martial arts. I don't think so. He is quite young, too. Plus, it is nice if parents pay for their kids to go to college, but it is not required. I paid my own way through college and appreciated it ever so much more than my other classmates. :-) Great hub and voted up.

    • aethelthryth profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from American Southwest

      Debby Bruck - yeah, well, we would actually like to send all our kids to astronaut camp. But we probably won't send any of them. And they'll probably be fine; Werner von Braun didn't go to astronaut camp.

      I think not having much money actually makes raising kids easier. Kids, and advertisers, can talk you (well, me, anyway) into lots of things if the best argument against it is "well, I think we shouldn't be going in so many different directions right now." But when you say "we don't have enough money for that - did you want to finance it?" everybody shuts up!

    • Debby Bruck profile image

      Debby Bruck 

      6 years ago

      I suppose if your children don't attend summer camp, go to lessons (instrument, dance - those costumes cost a fortune, arts), attend clubs and after-school events, even the school teachers ask for funds to support their basic needs, going to the movies and special outings, your kids are super healthy and don't see the physician or have special needs, don't want anything new, and they don't eat much you can keep them under budget. What if your kids wants to go to astronaut camp or belong to band or orchestra? And, we don't just buy a crayon box anymore, but give all the kids computers, etc. I think you are awesomely frugal and make it work. It probably did cost us a few million dollars to raise our children with all the opportunities and sending them all to college. Blessings, Debby

    • aethelthryth profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from American Southwest

      phdast7, thank you! I wrote this because of being frustrated by people (mostly younger) around me not knowing they don't actually have to do everything parenting magazines tell them to.

      Audrey Howitt, I'm sure there are many people who are extremely critical of this Hub. What you are is the one up-front enough to actually say something! I am not against college, just against paying for college without doing the critical thinking necessary to decide if college is a good deal in one's particular situation. Also, if college is the first place where critical thinking and analysis are taught, then the educational system has wasted a lot of years. I agree that college can be a great benefit to children, but in my experience the ones who got the biggest benefit are actually the ones whose parents did not pay for some or all of it. Those friends of mine worked hard for the education they got and appreciated it, while other friends who knew their education was being paid for, spent (or, in my opinion, wasted) four of their adult years being indecisive about what direction they should take in life. Meanwhile, some of the people I most respect in my life, including a space and aviation engineer, never got a college degree.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 

      6 years ago from California

      Well, I may be the only person here who has mixed feelings about your hub--and only because I really feel that college is important. Critical thinking and analysis is so very important. It leads to independent thought and problem solving skills. And critical thinking skills are taught in college. While a parent may choose to not support this endeavor for his or her child, a child really can benefit from the experience. And it is extremely difficult to do on your own.

      While a parent may not owe a child a college education, it sure helps a child to get a college education.

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 

      6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      As you know, I loved this the first time I read it, and I decided to read it again today. As someone else commented this hub is rock solid and full of wit and wisdom. How did our society ever get so silly about what things are necessary and what they should cost? Wonderful, wonderful hub. It should be required reading for all engaged and soon to be married couples. Blessings! Theresa

    • aethelthryth profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from American Southwest

      Case1Worker, thanks for the comment! Don't we all wish we all had as much money as we were "supposed" to have to afford a child!

    • CASE1WORKER profile image


      6 years ago from UNITED KINGDOM

      You are so right, we read all these surveys stating how much it is to raise a child- one said £250,000- well I have had 3 children over 24 years which means £750,000 - we have nowhere near earned that much money!

    • aethelthryth profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from American Southwest

      Lego hockey - hmm - should I mention it to our kids? If I do, I'm sure there will be a tournament in our living room within 15 minutes!

    • techygran profile image

      Cynthia Zirkwitz 

      6 years ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

      our sons (in their 40s) played road hockey for most of their childhoods & youth although we lived in the 'organized hockey' centre of the world. It suited them fine. They also played hockey with lego, etc. I don't think there was a lack of hockey because we didn't shell out tons of cash for equipment and tournaments (in far-flung places). I like your take on your own music lessons! I was all gung-ho to pay for piano lessons for my granddaughters when their inner city school offered free lessons... it gives them an opportunity to see if they actually enjoy piano lessons, in which case I am happy (as the Grandmother-- more stepping in to reduce that cost to parents, eh?) to pay for lessons. Keep up the good work!

    • aethelthryth profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from American Southwest

      Thank you so much, prairieprincess and techygran! And good point about the sports and music. We have a lot of music in our family history, so I would like our children to have lessons, but then, I have realized I did not appreciate music lessons as a child. After I was an adult, though, and got a Christmas present of singing lessons, I continued the singing lessons (with my own money) for years.

      As far as sports, I keep reading memoirs of older people lamenting the lack of "pick-up" games in neighborhoods anymore. And my father became a basketball star in high school though all he had to practice with was "balls" of worn-out clothes. We'll see - there may be pick-up games in our neighborhood in the next few years, as we seem to live on a street of energetic boys!

    • techygran profile image

      Cynthia Zirkwitz 

      6 years ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

      I enjoyed this hub very much! I agree with Prairie Princess that you did a masterful job of disproving the shocking figures usually attached to "the cost of raising a child to adulthood". Another way to save a little is by not getting your children in high-cost sports and music programs... there are so many much less expensive alternatives these days! All the best-- I think you have your heads screwed on right as parents!

    • prairieprincess profile image

      Sharilee Swaity 

      6 years ago from Canada

      I love this! You have, with great wit and wisdom, debunked one of the popular myths of our time. Well done, and shared.

    • aethelthryth profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from American Southwest

      GetitScene, thank you, but are boats and children really incompatible? I wouldn't know, but reading stories about families on houseboats, I always thought it would be a fun way to grow up.

    • GetitScene profile image

      Dale Anderson 

      7 years ago from The High Seas

      The wife and I skipped having children in favor of a boat but I come from a large family and this all sounds rock solid to me. Good content here.

    • aethelthryth profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from American Southwest

      billd01603, I actually had a hard time saying that, because I did have the benefit of my parents paying quite a bit for my college education, and it doesn't seem fair that I am not expecting to pass on that benefit to my children.

      However, I think the price of college has gone way up since then and the value has gone significantly down, and it is not the same decision for the same reasons it was a few decades ago.

    • billd01603 profile image


      7 years ago from Worcester

      Good Hub. You are right, I don't believe parents owe a child a college education. After all, they will enjoy the long term benefits. When it came time for our son to go to college, our finances were low. We did what we could, but he took out loans to get what he wanted and now he has to pay them back.

    • aethelthryth profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from American Southwest

      JayeWisdom, thank you!

      Insightful Tiger, best wishes! My brother took his own sweet time about making me an aunt, too. I don't think brothers tend to listen to sisters - but at least you can at least show excuses for what they are!

    • Insightful Tiger profile image

      Insightful Tiger 

      7 years ago

      This article is great! I'm sending it to my brother, who is making me wait to be an aunt, because he says its too expensive to have a kid with his wife right now! lol, thanks! voted up and shared!

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 

      7 years ago from Deep South, USA

      Great article, and I especially enjoyed the last two paragraphs!

      Voted Up+++


    • aethelthryth profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from American Southwest

      Pavlo, thank you for another good perspective from another part of the world. Good to know I could save money giving birth there; actually, I was quite upset about having to have a hospital birth because I felt that pregnancy is not a sickness and so should not need medicine!

      Some people here don't worry about the costs of children, but many do, or at least use it as an excuse (a couple of my relatives were more honest: they said they just didn't want the discomfort of pregnancy.)

      As far as I can see, no child is ever born at the perfect time when there is all the money for all the things they are supposed to have. However, all of us currently alive managed to survive childhood anyway and generally would rather have been born than not!

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image

      Pavlo Badovskyi 

      7 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      Interesting hub, but it shows how much thinking in different parts of the world is different... I would never even think about calculating costs of raising a child. If I did it before my 2 sons were born, I would never agree to have children :))

      Well, in my turn i would like to offer to cut costs of raising children by moving to Ukraine ! :)) Formally it is free to be in the hospital, but they say to have free medicine is to have treatment free of medicine, so you may be sure to pay in around 500USD of tips to doctors and may be 200usd for medications. I will help you to find a proper hospital :)

      Just look on the latest events - Gérard Depardieu moved to Russia! Well, he is unlikely to have children, but he is going to cut costs of living too! LOL

      (do not take it seriuos, I am joking of course)

    • aethelthryth profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from American Southwest

      Jane Grey, thank you for mentioning the Watters' book. I found that book very encouraging.

      alancaster149, I was a bit worried that some things I said only applied in the US, and I didn't know what the equivalents were elsewhere. Thank you very much for tips from the UK!

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      7 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      To start off with, the advantage of having a national health system means we don't have to cough up large sums of cash for the 'sprogs' to be born in hospital or at home. As for post-natal costs, there are less expensive and cheap options to follow.

      Assuming you've taken the happy medium, there's the business of painting the bedroom and furnishings. Easy, there are second-hand shops that sell nursery furniture and prams/pushchairs. Your offspring isn't going to notice if its surroundings belonged to someone else. It's only when they start school that their contemporaries notice labels, and that's only because their parents are imbued with one-upmanship (usually grasping mothers who brag about how expensive things were at Harrods).

      As to other costs, like toys and things, kids only sit up and gawp when they see something really chronic or really spiffing. The rest of the costs can be defrayed. My grandparents had theirs about two years or so apart (my Dad's grandmother had her youngest when the eldest ran his own farm, twenty-odd years apart - his mother had her first at 20, in 1920, the other three about two-three years apart until 1931, two girls separated by two boys over 11 years).

      Clothes and toys can be passed on. Your kids will turn fashion-conscious in their teens, which gives you over a decade to stage their development - aside from intellect, which is beyond your control. In an average family of 2+2+dog+cat+5-seater saloon car, with everyone of average intellect your outlay will be average and if you can keep it under control full Marx to you!

    • Jane Grey profile image

      Ann Leavitt 

      7 years ago from Oregon

      Well done, well said, well proven! I heartily agree with you. What an excellent article. Throughout history, children have been looked at as an asset, not a detriment to a household. It's only in recent history that we have become so strangely backward in our thinking. Another resource that I've really appreciated is a book directed at newly married couples, titled Start Your Family by Candice and Steve Watters. They lay out all the benefits vs. all the detriments and conclude that children cost you less than they give you, and that it is better to start your family early if you can, rather than later.

    • aethelthryth profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from American Southwest

      Wow, thank you, phdast7! Of course, I don't know how anyone learns to handle money if they have grandparents with money - I've decided Babies R Us exists because happy grandparents and their money are soon parted!

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 

      7 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      aethelthryth - I love this! I love this! I love this! Finally, a realistic, no nonsense, nuts and bolts look at how a family can care for and raise children...for much, much less that several hundred thousand dollars.

      My parents raised four kids on a single salary this way and we thought our lives were great. Did we learn to be careful with our money, and make do and share? Of course we did and it has benefited all four of us our whole lives. We were loved, we learned how to do things for ourselves (and for others), and we appreciated and took care of what we had.

      I raised three boys largely following the pattern you and your husband used. It is possible to get good clothes, books, furniture, dishes, shoes, toys, sports equipment, and baby furniture for a fraction of the price when it was brand new. I have money now (and three grandchildren), but I still shop at Good Will. My money gos farther and I can meet more family, friend, and community needs (and wants) that way. :)

      For those reading this who do not have large extended families - buy at Good Will, thrift shops, consignment sales, neighborhood yard sales. Trade services with someone in your neighborhood -- cut their grass, clean their windows, or rake their leaves in exchange for slightly used clothing or furniture. If your church doesn't already have one, start a mother's group and an Exchange for children's clothing and toys.

      Raising children does not have to, nor should it, cost a fortune or break the bank. I highly applaud your attitude, your efforts, your common sense, your wonderful joyous spirit and this terrific hub!!



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    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)