If parents over time amassed a quarter-million dollars, they could afford outright the cost of raising a child born in 2013 — with enough left over to throw in a fairly decent used car in which said child could drive into adulthood.
The annual reckoning by the U.S. Department of Agriculture sets the average cost to raise a child, birth to age 18, at $245,340. That includes housing, food, transportation, clothing, health care, child care, education and miscellaneous. It's calculated in 2013 dollars and assumes a two-parent, middle-income family.
College is not included in that figure. Neither is the cost of giving birth.
If that seems like a lot, hang on to your wallet. When it is adjusted for future inflation of a projected 2.4 percent a year, the estimate rises to $304,480.
The Agriculture folks have been publishing their estimate since 1960, when the cost was only $25,230 ($198,560 when converted to 2013 dollars). It's an increase of 1.8 percent from last year's report.
Heart string, shoe string
If you don't have that kind of money sitting around, take heart, parenting coach and Washington Post columnist Meghan Leahy told the Deseret News. "Thereness" is every bit as important to a child as some of the things a parent pays for. And it doesn't have to cost a penny.
It boils down to showing up, to being there. "The way kids attach to parents is purely experiential," said Leahy. "The thereness has to be there and parents have a lot of choices as to what that looks like."
Moreover, she notes, the special classes and other extras that parents try to provide their kids to give them a special childhood can actually take away from the bonding and togetherness that are so important for a child. When parents do those things "we are not attaching to them and we're spending money we may or may not have. Some of those things are needed and some aren't," Leahy says. "Go fishing, sit down and give each other manicures and pedicures instead of buying them. If parents focus on experience and less on searching for ways to make kids happy, they will save money and attach to their kids in the way I hope they want."
She also notes that American culture suggests children and parents must have the same experiences.
"When we were kids, you and I didn't get manicures or frappuccinos," she said.
Carrie Krawiec believes parents sometimes spend too much and also make a mistake by promising "big rewards for big goals — or even worse, giving big rewards when goals aren't actually met."
Instead of a big family vacation or new iPhone for straight As, Krawiec, a marriage and family therapist from the Birmingham Maple Clinic in Troy, Michigan, said parents should consider "smaller rewards for smaller behaviors, such as extra screen time each time they bring their planner or books home, or weekly or monthly rewards like getting nails done with mom for getting chores done after a month.
"The prizes in these cases are cheaper or even free, easier for the parents to follow through, easier for the kids to stay motivated and most importantly linked to adaptive behavior change."
It also teaches kids to be ready for life events like school and that even small indulgences must be earned, she said.
Breakdown of numbers
The report is not released just for its shock-and-awe value. It is used each year by state governments and others to determine such things as child support guidelines and foster care payments, department Under Secretary Kevin Concannon said in background material.
Using data from the Consumer Expenditure Survey, the report lists annual child-rearing expenses, which it said range from $12,800 to $14,970. Whether it's at the high-end or the low-end of that estimate depends on a child's age: Teenagers are more expensive, the cost rising with age.
Big differences in the average cost of raising a child exist based on where one lives, too. The rural folks average $195,590 over the course of a childhood, while city folk rack up a bill ranging from the urban Northwest's roughly $282,000 average to $230,610 in the urban South.
There are also brackets for families in different income categories: Families with incomes below $61,530 a year will only spend an average of $176,550 over the course of a childhood, while those earning more than $106,540 will spend an estimated $407,820.
It's not a per-child figure, exactly, since economies of scale come into play. Families with multiple children tend to pass down items like clothing, have children share rooms and buy food in bulk. All of those things lower the per-child cost, the report says.
Housing costs are the biggest expense, taking close to a third of the total, followed by child care and education (18 percent), food (16 percent), transportation (14 percent), health care and miscellaneous (8 percent each) and clothing (6 percent).
For a more personalized estimate, families can check out the USDA Calculator and plug in their own information, including the age of children, household income (those who have more tend to spend more), whether it's a two-parent or single-parent family and where they live.