The Cost of Raising a Child: One Mom Shares the Real Story

family budget

Before even becoming a mom, one of the most common warnings you'll hear from other parents is how expensive it can be to raise children. As it turns out, they're right.

Families who had a baby in 2013 can expect to spend on average $245,340 until the child is 18, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's just-released annual report, Expenditures on Children by Families. That's between $12,800 and $14,970 a year for a middle-income family with two parents, depending on the kids' ages.

Angela Hawkins, 33, a mom of three in the suburbs of Houston, is living proof that the numbers don't lie.

She shared her household budget with The Stir and estimated that she and her husband Shane will spend about $270,000 per child by the time they turn 18.

"The figures can be overwhelming," Angela admits.

So where exactly does all that money go?

From food and housing to child care and education, the USDA report broke down just how much of the grand total (which is actually more than $304K when you adjust for inflation) each expense is laying claim to.

The Cost of Raising a Child Born in 2013 to Age 18

Angela and her husband, of Missouri City, Texas are parents to daughters Arabella and Amaya, 5 and 4, and 1-year-old son Deacon. Both work -- she as an account manager for a business products firm and he as a distribution manager for a refrigerated salads company.

Here's how her own family's budget is broken down.

Housing: The Hawkins' mortgage payment is roughly $1,200 a month, or $14,400 a year, Angela says.

Child care and education: For the Hawkins family, these expenses are right on par with their housing costs.

"We spend $500 per month per child, or $1,500 for all three," Angela explains. And even though Arabella just started kindergarten, which reduces the total to $1,000, they're still spending $250 a month for after-school care.

Food: "Food is insane," Angela shares. "I’d say we spend between $100-$150 each week -- not counting necessities like toilet paper, paper towels, etc."

That said, she tries to cut costs a few different ways. "We began saving on groceries by shopping at Aldi’s or paying attention to coupons and sales," she says. "We buy store brand instead of brand name, and if we’re going to eat out, we pay attention to what restaurants are 'Kids Eat Free' or have specials for children. "

Transportation: While it may come in fourth in the USDA's report, this is a major piece of the pie for the Hawkins family.

"[My husband and I] work in two separate directions, so we need two cars, and because the kids are so young, those cars need to fit three car seats in them," Angela explains. "We went from having two cars with one car payment for $300 a month to two cars with a combined car payment of close to $1,200 a month."

What's more, the family's gas bills have gone up since Arabella started school. "I had to change jobs in order to support her education, which adds to the gas cost," she explains.

Health care: That's $700 a month for the Hawkins, but it only covers the children and Angela. Her husband is covered through the VA.

Clothing: "Aside from the $400 we just spent on school uniforms (Arabella attends a charter school), I’d say clothing runs somewhere around $1,500 each year," says Angela. But she has a few tricks up her sleeve: "I shop on Facebook and at consignment shops, and I sell a lot of [the kids'] outgrown clothing in order to offset the cost."

Angela Shane Hawkins and family

Put that all together and you get the $270K a child Angela estimated she and her husband will ultimately spend. But that doesn't take into account their age differences or changes in child care as they get older.

Her figure also didn't factor in any increase in costs for clothing, gas, and extracurricular activities. But as every parent knows, there will always be spending curve balls you anticipate -- and others you don't.

That said, here's what experts suggest families like the Hawkins can do to get the most bang for their buck on the cost of raising kids:

1.) Invest in your home. "I recommend that a family buys the biggest home they can afford in the best zip code they can afford," says finance and investment professional Jacqueline Ko Matthews, founder and CEO of PJMint/ "It’s the best investment for your family that helps you save on housing, education, and childcare."

Access to the best public schools means you can avoid the cost of tuition at a private school, Matthews says. "Furthermore, your house will appreciate in value faster, building equity in your home, and the resale time is quicker."

2.) Lean on your parents for cost-effective child care help. "If your parents are retired and able to relocate, you might consider renting an apartment for them or letting them live with you in exchange for help with child care," advises certified financial planner Lauren Lyons Cole. "It would guarantee your children are being cared for by people you trust."

3.) Plan ahead to par your food costs. "Simple measures like planning a menu based upon what’s on sale at the store and what you have on hand, setting a budget and sticking with it, and making some of your food yourself can be a way to lower your grocery bills," says Crystal Paine, founder of and author of Say Goodbye to Survival Mode.

4.) Network for transportation solutions. "When your child starts school or an activity, make an effort to get to know the other moms," advises Clare Levison, CPA, member of the National CPA Financial Literacy Commission and author of Frugal Isn't Cheap. "That way, you can team up for carpooling and that can go for a long way to freeing up gas money and time!"

Aiming to strike just the right balance of saving vs. spending need is a perpetual work in progress for all parents. "We tend to want to give our kids everything," says Levison. "It IS okay to say no and to teach them that budgeting is about making choices."

That's exactly what Angela Hawkins is already doing with her own little ones.

"As my children grow, I stop feeling the need to buy them the latest and greatest toys, and start encouraging them to use their imagination," she says.

What do you think about the average cost of raising a child? Is it more or less than you spend?


Images via © & Angela Hawkins

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nonmember avatar Ella

This is very on-par with what our family pays in Florida. I graduated 10 years ago from college and inflation and costs go up, but pay stays the same. So we just get worse and worse off...pretty sad.

nonmember avatar Katie

It is absolutely absurd what this family has budgeted for costs! Clearly this is financially irresponsible household who lives beyond their means, what car payments total $1200/month, 2 cars they can't afford. Stop spending money on unnecessary suv's because you don't want to look "not cool" and buy 2 cars you can afford.

the4m... the4mutts

Nuh-uh. Nope. I don't agree with this at all.

1. Housing costs: you would have some cost anyway. Adults have to live somewhere too. Only a portion of the cost should be contributed to children.

2. NOBODY forced these people, or anyone else, into having a car payment. They could have been more responsible, saved, and paid cash, and bought less expensive vehicles.

3. How are the clothing costs not higher? Especially for little kids. They tear through/outgrow clothes left and right. I spend hundreds of dollars every 4-6 months clothing my kids.

Food, I get. Kids eat a lot. Child care, I get. Not everyone has family to rely on. But placing the total cost of these things at the feet of children is absurd. What? If you didn't have kids you would be homeless, and only take a bus? No.

nonmember avatar Rachel LeAnn

So is she saying her kids put her in debt?? Im sorry but two people working and their bills amount to this? Someone is living beyond their means! Their best bet is cash vehicles, extreme couponing and budgeting better. Imo

nonmember avatar anon

This is poor planning. At 25, my husband and I have lived in our 4 bedroom $80,000 house for 5 years paying less on our mortgage than a nice 1 bedroom apartment. I know I want children so I'm finishing school to be an educator, partially to have a schedule similar to schools and minimize childcare needs and costs. We have a car payment mainly because my job requires a newer, safer 4 door. I buy most of our clothes and fun stuff on tax free weekend's or near the holidays when its marked down and probably will for kids. If you can't afford childcare, insurance, formula, and the random carseats/medicine/school supplies/sports fees don't have kids.

nonmember avatar Michael

the4mutts hit it for 1 and 2. They also forgot to figure in the tax benifits of having kids. Over 18 years 3 kids adds up in a very good way there.

bugaem bugaem

Biggest expense is child care, we pay around $800 on average for our oldest right now. Thankfully he starts school in Septemebr and will only have to go to after care which is only $200, but still! We are having another baby and are looking at close to $250-$300 per WEEK for child care now, on top of the cost for our oldest.It's crazy expensive. Everything else is easier to live with, and even car payments. I gladly pay to have a better and safer car for my kids.

Denise Marsh

Yea I would definitely take those number with a grain of salt, except for childcare and schooling. I am living in the same 3-4 bedroom house with the same mortgage as when I didn't have kids. And it's kind of hard to buy a house smaller and cheaper than mine, at least where I live. Even my friends with houses that never plan on having kids live in 3-4 bedroom houses (much bigger/newer/nicer than mine). And food....I assume that cost is for the whole family, not just the three kids so only a fraction should be used. And transportation? Again, unless you're sending your kids to a school that's not in your town I'm not sure where that cost comes from. I guess everyone without kids drives a sweet little 2-seat roadster? I bought a new Honda Civic while I was in college and I still drive it while fitting 2 kids in car seats in the back. Obviously I would need to upgrade if I had three kids in car seats though. Hopefully that never happens. And as for insurance, only a portion should be considered. The adult has to be covered anyway and the cost differential between a family plan and an individual plan should be used for these reports....OK rant over.

alika... alikay1986

Wow...I'm in Southern California and you couldn't rent a one bedroom apartment for $1200 per month. 

the4m... the4mutts

Alikay- wrong. 100% wrong. I am in southern Cali, and my whole mortgage is 1,100$ a month. We have a 3bedroom, 1,400sq ft home. There are great apts for 6-800$ a month. It depends on your neighborhood, not your state. I don't live in an upscale, white collar type neighborhood. I also don't live in the ghetto. We are in a median income area, because we have a median income.

It's an older neighborhood, relatively safe, and relatively clean.

Just don't live above your means, and you can very easily survive, even in SoCal

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