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The Cost of Raising a Family

This morning I read a facebook status that said raising one child to the age of eighteen costs an average of $220,000.  I guess if you factor in loss of wages/child care/utilities/sports/classes/etc this might be true, but I don’t think raising a child has to be as expensive as most people think.


You know those endless lists of things the baby stores provide to “help” you prepare for your new little bundle of joy?  Completely unnecessary unless you like to shop and have the means to do so.  I’ve had four kids and I’ve whittled my list down to the bare basics by this point. If I were to have another baby I would need:

Cloth diapers and wipes

A baby toiletry kit

A dozen baby gowns and/or sleepers

A dozen little tshirts

A package of socks

A couple of hats

Several packages of blankets

A sling

A good quality carseat

And that’s it.  No need for a fancy stroller or nursery furniture.  And because I save baby clothes I can strike those off the list.  Except socks.  We never have socks.  The house fairies eat them.


Clothes- I love secondhand clothing- why buy new when your kids will probably ruin it anyway?  And over the years I’ve been gifted with large bags of clothing from friends with older children often enough that I’ve only had to buy about a quarter of the stuff my kids wear.

School- The same goes for our homeschool materials and supplies.  I’ve only had to purchase a few workbooks here and there. We have bookshelves full of books from friends and boxes full of craft supplies. We purchase yearly memberships to places like the zoo and stick to free and low-cost field trips.  I average less than $40 a month on homeschool projects/field trips.

Food- I have mastered the art of frugal cooking. Up until we moved to Missouri, I spent about $50 a week to feed six and sometimes seven people.  During the summer of 2009, I managed to feed us all for $25 a week for seven weeks while my husband switched jobs and we waited for a paycheck.  Now we can afford to spend more on luxuries and we certainly do- but I know if I had to, I could strip the food budget down to $50 again.

Space- We need less than you might think.  Our babies sleep in our bed so there is no need for a nursery, and the middle littles like to share a room- even now that we live in a large house, Patrick and Willow are still sharing a room by choice.  We’ve lived in some tiny places and had to get creative with space for Hannah over the years- in several apartments she has transformed large closets into her own personal space.

Lifestyle- I stay home so we don’t have the cost of child care. We have always been a one car family, which cuts the cost of fuel/insurance/upkeep. We don’t take fancy vacations. We don’t have cable.  We actually like being together- a fun night for us is a “camp out” in the living room with a big pile of mattresses, blanket forts and bowls of popcorn. For fun we go to the park.  Patrick and Willow have been to the movie theater once, but they know where all the best playgrounds are in our area.  The huz and I occasionally splurge on going out for a nice dinner.

I love our family, and I don’t regret our decision to have four children (and perhaps one more) even during our poorest times.  We made it work and we are stronger for it.  I’m not advocating for anyone to make the same choices we have, I’m just saying that you can live without many of the things people think are “necessities”.

23 Responses to The Cost of Raising a Family

  1. Yes! I love this so much! My husband and I are not very frugal in a lot of regards, but we’ve managed our four just fine for the very most part.
    I’ve had a few people ask us how we make it work, because they’re so terrified to end up in the poor house by adding a second child, I have no answer for them. We just do, I guess. But this breaks it down nicely, and gives a lot of ideas. :)

  2. I agree completely. We go without a lot of things other people think they “need” and I realize that’s my choice. What bugs me the most is that those same people say my family and I have it “easy” because I don’t have to work. Guess what, guys- I don’t have to work because we’ve chosen to give up all those luxuries. So please don’t tell me we have it “easy.” Yes, it’s our choice to give up all those things, but it’s just as much your choice to keep them. So, if I can’t tell you you have it easy- ordering (or going out for) dinner multiple times a week, dropping the kids off at daycare or plopping them in front of the tv, not to mention dressing them in the latest fashions, owning the newest generation Iphone and two brand-new cars, then please don’t tell me I have it easy because I don’t have to go to work every day.

    Sorry if I got a little off-topic. This has been a sore subject for me lately.

  3. I completely agree! We have four kids too, it is a sacrifice, but it teaches you what’s really important in life, and it isn’t more stuff!

  4. My husband makes enough that we *can* afford all the “necessities” of raising children. We choose to be much more mindful in what we buy, like you. Are kids are going to share a room, we buy used clothes (and accept handmedowns), and the kid that eats has always eaten the same foods we do, rather then those expensive toddler meals.

  5. I have three children and we homeschooled in Nashville, TN for 7 years. While we were in Nashville we had a tiny 2 bedroom house. Once my youngest left our bed, all three kids shared one small bedroom. I am convinced that one of the reasons they are so close now is because they shared a room together when they were very small.

    I miss homeschooling terribly. Enjoy your time!

  6. I have three children and we homeschooled in Nashville for 7 years. While we were in Nashville we had a tiny 2 bedroom house. Once my youngest left our bed, all three kids shared one small bedroom. I am convinced that one of the reasons they are so close now is because they shared a room together when they were very small.

    I miss homeschooling terribly. Enjoy your time!

  7. I do have several “fancy things” but some were born out of necessity(we needed a side car crib to give him an inclined matress for his bad reflux) and the rest were gifts. I think I’ve spent….maybe $20 on clothes, and, yeah, most of that was socks, LOL. That’s with him going through 4 sizes of clothes already(4 1/2 months in 6-9 and 6-12 month clothing already). Almost all his clothes were second hand gifts or REALLY cheap consignment store finds.

    I DID have to buy a “fancy” stroller, but it was second hand, in need of minor repair, I spent $90 instead of $200 new. Being disabled, I cannot always babywear him…and this “fancy” stroller(a 10 year old Jeep Liberty Urban Terrain model) is pushable with one hand(a necessity when using a cane).

    Had I been able to babywear him, I likely wouldn’t have purchased that either, LOL.

    I LOVE baby lists like this…it is SO true(medical issues aside, LOL).

    The rest I can’t say much to, as being disabled means I have to keep thee house warmer, or my arthritis acts up something fierce…and I am spoiled rotten with some things.

  8. :) Fantastic!! I completely agree. I only have two little girls but lets face it, all children are rough on clothes, furniture, and toys. As infants we didn’t need bottles, we nursed. We didn’t buy special foods …lol we just mashed up our own. We frequent thrift stores for clothes and shoes. And in return donate to the same thrift store when we are done with the more gently used items. The children’s keep sake t-shirts we turn in to throw pillows, dolls (and one day quilts :) still waiting for the free time). The children play outside rather than going to ‘pay to play areas’. We only purchase them toys for special occasions and even then its Lincoln logs, leggos, coloring books and bubbles. these cost a lot less than electronic toys and stimulate the children better. We don’t live an extravagant life style but I feel my children are better for it. :)

  9. I have to say I got a good giggle from this post. I followed a link with a reference to “a large family”… but you only have 4 kids! I have 4 kids, too. That’s only medium! :)

  10. Have a great tip for moms who detest second-hand clothes shopping as I do. Make a real effor to shop off season in outlet stores and set a price limit for each item. I pay no more than $5 per item for brand-name clothes and normally only $0.50 to $2.00. I go straight to the clearance section and only shop out of season. It takes a year to get ahead of things but the savings is amazing!

  11. Just found your site on Twitter and I was intrigued by this post. It is so true…kids are as expensive as you make them.
    BTW, I really like the design here- I have never seen anything similar :) New follower!

  12. I SO AGREE! I’m a single mom of two. One biological and one of the heart :)) I live on a fixed income and we do great! I don’t own a car but I share one with my best friend. It can be difficult at times (mostly the car thing) but we totally rock it. I don’t like thrift stores but I LOVE FREECYCLE!! I’d LOVE to hear how you manage groceries for 50 bucks!

  13. As someone who’s only child is a married adult, I’m not going to debate what is needed or not. But I will toss in my 2 cents worth of agreement that your choices are working, and worth making the choices that you have. Since I’ve met you and your family, I know that you have already succeeded far beyond what my ex-wife and I did, and those choices you’ve made along the way must have something to do with it.

  14. Those are great recommendations for new moms who might think they need a lot, to remind them to be frugal. I think that the $220k figure is probably referencing the first child (for whom you generally need to buy some clothing, car seats, and who pushes most families into needing to purchase “family” health insurance instead of individual, getting a place that isn’t a studio or bedroom, etc.) After one, the costs go down for each kiddo added to the bunch!

    Yesterday I was on a discussion board talking about this topic when someone who was adamant it had cost her next to nothing to raise her child admitted that their health care costs were low because she had been on Medicaid and her housing costs were low because they had lived with her mother. While this isn’t true for most people, I think that it is the major underlying costs like these that people forget to factor in (housing costs us at least $5k more a year because in our area you are only allowed to rent a house that has 1 bedroom for each 2 people who will be living there). So when you add that cost alone x 18, you are at $90,000 without even starting on food, clothing, etc.

    Reminders of frugality are great! And kiddos are worth the cost. Focusing on the necessities instead of the extras always helps!

  15. If I could go back to when my kids were smaller I would have saved SO much money on “stuff” that I had bought that I thought I needed but never used. lol I cloth diapered, co-slept, wore them in a sling … but I bought lots of toys and clothes brand new. There was a point in time when my oldest was a baby, every time we went to the store I would buy him something. Either clothes or a toy. I was bad back then. lol The one thing I never skimped on was car seats.

    I would LOVE to learn how you fed your family nutritious meals on $50/wk. We are currently having financial issues and I need to learn how to make our food budget stretch for GOOD food and not cheap/convenience type foods. I know that once in a while it happens but for the most part I’d like to make good food for my kids and husband. We seem to be in a rut of eating the same things over and over cause they fit into the budget too. I’m tired of burritos and mac n cheese. lol

  16. I completely agree! Besides the fact that is can be done, I believe it -should- be done! We are a society of want, want, want, get, get, get and we’re so jaded and separated from each other…to live on less and lead a simple life is to connect to each other and the earth…I just think its a beautiful thing!

  17. “Lifestyle- I stay home so we don’t have the cost of child care. ”

    Since no one has pointed it out I just wanted to mention that this alone accounts for about a $20k-40K difference ANNUALLY compared to costs for families in my area. Here, if both parents work and one or more children is in daycare full time it easily runs in the tens of thousands of dollars. Also, people in my field often move for jobs, leaving family support networks behind.

    It’s great if one parent is happy to stay home but my partner and I are both career *and* family minded, and work in industries where taking off more than 3 months or so will actually set your career back. I believe that for us, pursuing our professional goals will make us better role models for our hypothetical children, so it’s a non negotiable that we both work. Which means we have to accept the insane cost of day care and factor that in to our family planning.

    Just my .02 as someone from maybe a different demographic swath than most of your readers ;).

  18. YES!!! My husband is being discharged from the military soon to move home and take care of his mother and I am due with our first child next month. I am so tired of people saying that we wont be able to afford to take care of our son because we won’t have a military pay check. I think my mom almost had a heart attack when I told her we aren’t going to buy a crib. THANK YOU for writing about this. It’s nice to hear someone actually come out and say how ridiculous that stupid facebook post is.

  19. Yes! I’ve been saying the exact same thing for years! My family and friends just don’t “get” our frugal, family-centered lifestyle that isn’t based on acquiring the latest and greatest stuff and living well beyond our means to give our kids “the best.” What they don’t realize is that “the best” often doesn’t have to cost a thing!

  20. I used to say all the same stuff. Then my kids got older. Now I have 5 kids and the oldest is into the teen years. Of course I don’t regret it and we still live quite frugally, but they are expensive. Not the number often quoted, but a heck of a lot more than your estimates.

    I cook from scratch, garden, can, shop CSA’s and farmers’ markets, shop at thrift stores, do without, make my own cleaning products, use Freecycle, cut my kids’ hair myself, etc. etc. etc. But my kids are old enough now that they do cost a lot more than I realized they would when they were little, period.

    Big kids eat a LOT and if I consider it important to feed my family healthy foods so that means lots of fresh fruits and vegetables (organic when possible), sustainable safe fish (my 4 y/o got an omega-3 deficiency from our largely vegetarian diet so I’ve realized the importance of fish for our family), healthy non-GMO oils, etc. I do it for a fraction of what it could cost, but it still is way more than $50 a week.

    We homeschool and make our own curricula but we are required to have annual testing, which costs. We also take part in conferences, classes and other great opportunities, which cost. My older kids have inexpensive laptops to use for school work. Some of my kids needed math programs and educational subscriptions past what I could find that was free. The educational materials add up.

    At least two of my kids need braces so far. We waited to see if their teeth would straighten out and my oldest can’t wait any longer since it’s causing her pain and harming her mouth. Braces for one kid are expensive. For four or five? It makes you a little sick to your stomach to think about it.

    They quickly outgrow shoes, snow boots, winter coats, jeans, etc. Even buying used, that adds up.

    If we’re out and about and want to eat fast food, that costs way too much with big kid appetites even with the dollar menu. Eating out at restaurants is ridiculously expensive. Those treats have to be things of the past.

    At least some of my kids will be going to college. Even with scholarships and grants, they’ll need to work to put themselves through and we will be unable to help in the ways we’d like to.

    When we go out of town, we can no longer legally all sleep in the same room and need to pay for two hotel rooms each night. That makes vacations super expensive, and travel is something we loved to do together as a family.

    Going to the movies when you have 5 kids? Ouch. Even at matinees at the cheap theaters it costs too much.

    Now we can’t even take part in a lot of the “family memberships” at places like our local children’s museum because it’s for up to 5 people per family and we have to pay additional entrance fees every time we visit.

    Even things like transportation change with a big family. We only have one vehicle but it has to be a minivan to legally fit all 7 of us, so buying a more gas efficient car is not an option.

    My kids coslept and shared rooms (some still do). We have a smallish house with one bathroom for 7 people. As kids get older they want/need more space. We are having to be very creative to make that happen, since a larger house isn’t an option for us.

    My kids are used to having to do without and live cheaply. All the same, I try to give them opportunities and let them follow their passions when possible. It all adds up — guitar lessons, art supplies, allowances, bikes, pool memberships, soccer, trips to stay with friends, even little things like vitamins, underwear, health and beauty products (teenage and preteen girls go through a lot of stuff you don’t think about! LOL)… and on and on.

    Babies are super cheap. I have one of those and she happily nurses and uses cloth diapers and wears darling clothes I got for pennies at thrift shops. But they grow up, and as they do, it is not really as cheap as we liked to believe back when they were little.

    I love my big family. I am so grateful for my children. They are worth the cost! But are they cheap? Nope! For us, the more they grow, the more they cost! :)


  21. THANK YOU! I’ve been saying this to people for years but it seems like most gals are obsessed with having that “perfect nursery” kind of experience. A neighbor of mine is pregnant and boxes are delivered to her house at least 3-4 times a week. My youngest is 2 and I’m like “I can give you all that you’ll need for FREE!!!” More love, less stuff. Great post!

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