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.
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."
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/TheInvestmentPod.com. "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 MoneySavingMom.com 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 ©iStock.com/wragg & Angela Hawkins