Here we go again! Yet another report has been circulating recently claiming that it costs a quarter of a million dollars to raise a child to age 18. And this, the report ominously warns us, does not even count the crushing cost of college!
This type of article comes along regularly, but this one is particularly annoying because it comes from the United States Department of Agriculture, giving the impression that it is governmental, official, and can't be challenged.
But it has to be challenged. First, because it is nonsense — the assumptions made in what a family must spend on a child are way off; and secondly because it is dangerous and damaging to families — since it scares potential parents and stops many couples from having children that they are actually fully capable of supporting and raising. Bottom line: estimates like this are a myth and they discourage parents.
So, lets debunk the myth. Of the quarter million the department of agriculture says it costs to raise a child to age eighteen, 30 percent or nearly $75,000.00 is for housing — probably based on the assumption that couples will have to add a bedroom on to their home for each child, or buy a bigger house with an extra bedroom. This usually does not happen, particularly with a second or a third or a fourth child.
Another 18 percent of the estimate, close to $50,000.00, is for childcare and education — which certainly is not that much for most families who use childcare minimally and do not send their children to private schools. And another 16 percent, more than 35,000.00, is for food, and while it certainly costs money to feed a child, most families simply stretch the food they are already buying a little further.
So, at least 64 percent of the total estimate is highly questionable. In fact, these estimates are illogical and obnoxious and even a little bit insulting to the intelligence and resourcefulness of parents. Most annoying of all, these estimates assume that teenagers can't do any work or earn any money at all themselves.
As practical, real-world parents, we should be offended by these reports and estimates — because it is the very kind of thinking that causes young couples to decide not to have children, or to delay having a child until they are much older and have much more money. And in doing so, it robs potential mid to late twenties couples of what we call the "magnificent struggle."
As we travel the world speaking to and working with parents, here are a few of the cost-cutting tips that we share (and that we see in action from so many great and courageous families):
1. Set up a "family economy"
where, instead of an entitlement-teaching allowance system, kids have household jobs and get paid for doing them. Start this at age 8, have a "family bank" that pays interest, and teach kids to budget, to save, to give, and to economize as the buy their own toys and clothes. Once they are 12 or so, help them get jobs outside of the home from mowing lawns to babysitting. Teach them the joy and independence and confidence of helping pay their own way.
2. Don't go overboard on a big house
and make yourself house-poor. Kids do fine sharing rooms and sharing one bathroom. Part of the learning of living together in a growing family is learning to share and to help eachother.
3. Have a do-it-yourself preschool
where moms rotate as the teacher rather than putting kids in expensive commercial preschools (www.JoySchools.com is one good alternative).
4. Economize on food!
Rice and beans are nourishing, and soups and seasonal produce are better than expensively processed and packaged food.
Let's reject the whole notion that it has to be prohibitively expensive to raise a child and lets understand that a child is always worth infinitely more than the cost!