I always hear how expensive kids supposedly are. We have four now, and each baby does add to the overall cost of living for the household, but the assertion that more kids shouldn’t be had due to their cost is a sad reflection of the materialism of society.
To put it another way, if your main concern in life is to travel, dine at upscale restaurants and wear fancy threads, I can see how you might think kids are expensive. You have kids and change nothing and keep doing what you’ve always done. But that’s not how it works! You find joy in your children instead. It’s not hard. And it’s only for a season.
How much does a kid actually cost?
There is no real way to figure this out. I’ve seen families of six living on under $40,000/ year. I’ve seen families of four with two working parents struggle to pay bills on $80,000+. What is causing this disparity? The answer is not as cut and dried as you might believe.
The most major lifestyle choice you make that affects your budget, aside from shelter and transportation, is what food you eat. Do you eat all organic, just a few things, or not at all? Do you cook from scratch or from a box? Do you eat out a lot, and where are you going? Do you buy ingredients just to throw them away because you didn’t use it in time? Do you cook too much and throw out the leftovers?
All these are good questions to ask yourself. I think it’s obvious which of the choices are most expensive. Sure, another child is another mouth to feed, and some diets can be a lot more expensive to maintain, but overall, cooking from scratch is the most healthy and cost-effective way to feed your family.
Tip: If you do go out to eat, ask if the place has a day where they discount or give a free kid’s meal with the purchase of an adult meal. Moe’s, Applebee’s, On the Border, Olive Garden, Ikea, Denny’s and Buffalo’s Cafe offer this, just off the top of my head (here is a list with more!). Some restaurants even offer two free kid’s meals per adult entree. And if they don’t offer this, let the younger kids split an adult portion…kid’s meals are often not a good value. Some restaurants and other places have a birthday club that gives you a free appetizer or treat for your birthday also.
Activities In and Out of the Home
Hobbies and extracurricular activities can add up quickly! That said, there are many options available for free or reduced cost. You can shop sales for supplies for almost anything. You could barter with the piano teacher. Have your teens work to pay for sports fees, or get them into an apprenticeship if they’re serious about taking a hobby to the next level.
More importantly, picking only one or two activities to focus on at any given time will be less expensive and also allows the child to master these tasks. Don’t forget that the simple things are usually free and the most fun for them! Buy a bike and helmet once and you get endless evenings riding the neighborhood. Playgrounds. Hikes. Board games and popcorn. Building blanket forts. Cooking together once the kids are a little older.
Vacations and special events like Disney trips…these do add up as you have more kids, but smart moms ask for group rates (pairing up with another family if necessary) or research discounted admission days. For example, the Milwaukee Zoo has one free day each month during the colder months. Art museums and attractions like Stone Mountain have homeschool days. Our library has a video you can watch for a zoo pass or park pass, and some states have a program for you to borrow fishing gear or bicycles for a week.
Consider this: If you are always doing fun stuff and taking trips, it loses its special quality. Meanwhile, families who save up for a big vacation once every few years, their kids appreciate it more. They don’t take it for granted.
Clothes and Diapers
I think most families with more than one child of that gender will use hand-me-downs at some point. But I can say with positivity that I went WAY overboard buying clothes for our first! Not just in price but in quantity! Kids truly don’t need a ton of clothes, especially babies. You can get good deals at consignment sales (these go by many names these days but each franchise hosts a sale twice a year, with the last day being half off select items. You can get a great deal on clothes, toys and a ton of other items for kids of all ages). You can buy more expensive good quality clothes that will hold up and pass them down to the next kid. You could also buy clothing from Walmart for a few bucks each and pass on what you can and purchase new again to fill in the gaps. And any frugal mom will tell you to shop sales and clearance racks. Kids do not need $15 t-shirts, $40 dresses or $20 pants! Feel free to spend what you want, but don’t say kids are expensive because your choice in clothing leads you to spend a lot.
Now let’s talk diapers. We know disposables add up. We also know there are extremely expensive custom cloth diapers ($50+ for one). There are cloth diaper systems that are very inexpensive, though, like flats or prefolds with covers. Nothing has to be expensive!
Either way, unless you do elimination communication, diapers are a fact of life for a couple years for each child. This is a good item to coupon for if you can.
I remember when we bought a whole bunch of pink baby gear after finding out our first was a girl! Swing, bouncer, jumper, play mat, travel system, mini pack ‘n play, regular pack ‘n play, Boppy, Bumbo, crib skirt, diaper stacker, curtains (and the million clothes and over $100 worth of scrapbook supplies that I literally never used, even years later!). THERE IS NO NEED FOR THIS! She hated almost all of it, used the crib only a handful of times, and preferred us to hold her more than anything!
I’m not saying not to buy any of it, but this was overboard and I’m the first to admit it. If I could go back, I’d buy gender neutral baby gear and not nearly so much of it! Babies need boobs (or 3 bottles with disposable liners and formula, no need for a million bottles with a million parts, and get rid of those mouth-deforming sippy cups as well!), diapers of your choice, a carseat (they all pass the same safety standards), and a few outfits for both hot and cold weather. The rest is truly optional. We like to use a swing, play mat, jumper when they get bigger and need containing while I do dishes or whatever, a high chair, and I babywear (I use a ring sling then move to a SSC). This baby has a pack ‘n play to sleep in and goes between that and with me when she wakes up to eat.
But by all means, if you have the space and money for all that, be my guest. But babies do not NEED a bunch of junk.
If you have one or two kids, whatever you were driving before you had kids probably works just fine. Adding a third, depending on your vehicle and the age gaps (since this affects carseat usage), might mean you’re buying a van or other vehicle with a third row. Adding number 5 or 6 or 7 often means another upgrade, again depending on age gaps. These larger vehicles don’t necessarily mean a huge extra monthly payment, though, and I know many larger families search long and hard for a good used vehicle they can pay cash for, and they keep money saved for repairs. These vehicles also cost less to insure, in many cases. We pay only slightly more for our van than we did for my small SUV. The Ford Transit is a low cost option for bigger families, and my one friend likes her used Chevy Express.
Of course, you might choose a $60,000 brand new Suburban…but that’s on you. Not your kids. If you want something flashy or trendy, it will cost more no matter how many kids you’re hauling.
Cost of Education
You might send your child off to public school but if not, you either homeschool or go with private school. Even here, there is a huge range of costs. For private school, costs can be what I think is ridiculous at tens of thousands of dollars a year per child, or maybe you have a scholarship or voucher and it’s free for you. Intermediate options are still usually a couple thousand per year.
You can homeschool for free, but usually even the most frugal of us will buy some books, craft supplies and items for science projects. There is no need for an expensive pre-made curriculum, but if that’s your choice, go for it. I’ve seen some parents spend $2000 per child on this, then send their kids to sports or private music lessons. Others like me spend around $100 for everyone and then add in field trips (many are free) and community classes through the local Parks and Rec or YMCA (cheap). As time goes on and the kids develop more clear interests, we might do those other things, but my point here is that nobody HAS to, so no, even with schooling, kids don’t have to be expensive.
Lastly, are your debt payments eating up a good portion of your budget? Everything feels tighter when those debt payments creep in. This is almost entirely related to your lifestyle. I don’t agree with everything Dave Ramsey says but the envelope system and zero-based budgeting can help you stay on top of it all. But…kids are not expensive just because you feel in over your head with debt. Reconsider what you are spending on and try to make sure you’re doing it with cash.
Overall, if you feel kids are expensive, your lifestyle needs some careful consideration. What is really important in the grand scheme of things? Do your kids NEED a ton of toys, the latest name brand fashions or expensive trips to Disney? No, they really don’t. I’m not knocking anyone who does value those things, and if you can afford it, go right ahead! But don’t look down on the frugal moms who value family togetherness, home cooked meals and the little things in life, like a good library book or nature walk at a park.
It’s only for a season.