This past May, I wrote my last check for $1,470 made payable -- about a week overdue as usual -- to my daughter's very capable but extremely expensive day care center/preschool.
In two weeks, my 5-year-old baby girl, my youngest and last child, starts kindergarten at our public school, which means ... you know what's coming ... you've been counting the days for this, too ... NO MORE DAY CARE PAYMENTS. EVER! As I scribbled my signature on that last check, I felt what I imagine folks feel after they finally pay off their 30-year mortgage. Euphoria! Celebration! The will to buy new shoes and not feel guilty about it!
Stop. Before I let you feed off this same false hope any further, let me cut to the chase right now: You will not have "all that extra money" after your kids get out of day care. That is all a myth -- a big, cruel, stupid fairy tale of a myth. If you haven't figured it out already, kids are freakin' expensive. And the older they get, the more they bleed you dry.
You know how they say parents spend an average of $11,000 the first year of a baby's life? Well, cherish that. That's a bargain.
Because it only gets worse, ending with the grand finale -- college -- and taking out a second mortgage to pay for it and wishing like anything you could go back to the days of making those measly day care payments again.
Unless you plan on homeschooling your kids exclusively with material you print off the Internet, keep them out of organized sports, ban them from birthday parties and other social events, limit them to free activities at the library, basically turn them into social outcasts, that huge day care windfall will simply be allocated somewhere else.
No, you won't be writing that one big obvious check each month, but you will be making lots of smaller, sneaky debits on older kid-related things throughout the month. That's why it's deceptive. It doesn't seem like your kids are costing you more until you sit down and add it all up, before you grab a glass of wine, put your head in your hands, and mutter over and over to yourself, "How can this happen?" "Where did it all go wrong?"
I actually got my first clue about this financial reality a couple of years ago, when my oldest child left day care and entered kindergarten, though I still chose to live in denial for a short time. Before that time, we were paying close to $2,600 a month in day care. I know! Totally insane. But take a look in our savings account and you'll understand how we did it. Oh, wait, we don't have a savings account anymore!
Back then, now with only one child in day care, we didn't seem to be any better off financially. I was still transferring money between accounts to pay bills and my wardrobe remained dismal. I chalked it up to bad financial management, promising to consult a financial planner. Turns out, the extra money was never there to manage. It disappeared the minute my son entered public school, when we needed to pay for an after-school program. And all those school supplies and field trips. And there are always registration fees on top of the regular fees.
He wanted to play soccer with his friends, so we signed him up for that. But you just don't send him into the field with any old sneakers. No, you have to buy him shin guards and $40 cleats, and these are the cheapie non-leather kind.
Then, in first grade, came registration for CCD and summer camp because he's no longer in day care. Then for the babysitters for several weeks over the summer when camp was not in session.
Add to that swimming lessons (small fortune), which requires a wet suit because he refuses to get into the water in the middle of winter without one. Followed by piano lessons, which have to be private because you really can't learn piano in a group, and then ... a piano! And let me tell you, pianos cost a lot more than one month of day care. A LOT more.
Think the birthday parties are crazy in preschool? Just wait to your kid gets to elementary school. We have at least two a month, at the going rate of about $20 per gift.
Skeptical? We are not tightwads, but we are not spendthrifts, either. We budget and save, or at least try to. We don't push our kids into activities unless they ask to do them, and we feel it's important to nurture these interests. So let me show you. I finally sat down and added up all those big as well as little hidden costs up for just my daughter. This tally includes only her first month of school. Some of these costs are start-ups that you don't pay every month, which would be fine if kids aren't always starting, damaging, or losing something:
Cost per month:
After-school program: $350
Irish dance lessons: $50
Irish dance shoes: $50
Skating lessons and sharpening: $85
Skates and skating gear: $100
School supplies: $30
New backpack and lunch bag: $40
Swimming lessons: $121
Birthday party gifts: $40
Soccer uniform: $30
School lunch (2 times a week): $20
Bag lunch and snack for the rest of the month: $40
That's a savings over day care of $474 -- even though I know there's even more I'm missing. Before you start wailing about $500 for two kids, know that a significant part of this amount has to go back into the savings account that I drained over the last five years to help pay for day care. So, as long as taxes don't go up (fat chance) and they don't invent any new ones (fat chance) and the cost of living stays the same (fatter chance), I should have at least a couple of hundred extra -- per child -- to buy myself those shoes or do whatever else I want with it.
So what am I going to do with all this "extra" cash? I'm going to put it toward my kids' college educations, of course, because at this rate, I need these children out of the house and into a job as soon as possible.
Are you planning to be "rich" after day care is over -- or has the reality struck you already?
Image via Nina Matthews Photography/Flickr