Amanda Amezcua Profile Picture
Staff Writer at Debt Reduction Services

How much does it cost to raise a child?

Dealing with the Expenses of Raising a Child

As a spin-off of our infamous blog on the cost of groceries, I thought it would be helpful to take a closer look at the cost of raising kids, both as research measures it and as it translates into personal realities.

Your Perception of the Cost of Raising Kids

This is a topic our agency often addresses when families come to us for credit counseling services. As romantic or exciting as it may seem to start a family, predicting the future expenses is difficult and may amount to more than anticipated. Without proper information and resources, parents can be overwhelmed with the costs.

If you are joining me today, you might find yourself in one of several categories. You may be in the midst of raising children and feel like you are getting the hang of it. You may be nervously expecting a child you wished you could have prepared more for. Perhaps you are dreaming of the day you will hold your precious bundle in your arms and are getting a head start researching the life changes that will come with it. Or maybe you are a couple kids in and are wondering what you got yourself into (don’t worry; we’ve all had those moments!)

No matter the phase you fall into, I’m sure you’ve contemplated, “what exactly is this going to cost me and can I really afford it? It’s a topic widely discussed among my generation (yes, I’m a millennial. Please don’t hold it against me.) In my social circles, friends chat about how they are delaying life plans so they feel more emotionally and financially prepared. Those friends without children have pointed out all the stories they’ve heard about how difficult it can be to afford children and question if having less isn’t the only way to have the best of both worlds: family AND financial stability.

It wouldn’t surprise me if this very debate were contributing to the declining general fertility rate (the number of live births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 49 years in a population per year). The downward trend is most apparent in the 20 to 29-year-old age group which historically has been expected to show healthy numbers yet in the past few years has seen a continuous decrease. Interestingly, the same set of data shows that women in age brackets over 30 and even up to 44 years old have become more likely to have babies in those later stages of their life.

Considering this, it’s apparent that the parental price tag has left many in sticker shock.

What Raising a Child May Actually Cost

According to the most recent report by the USDA, child-related expenses amount to over $233,000, only including the costs of a child until the age of 17 (sorry, college not accounted for). It is easy to see why so many are fixated and even delaying child-rearing as a result. It is important to realize that this number is calculated in order to determine child support needs and that it is based on averages. Location and lifestyle of a family have a huge impact on the final number. The report confirms that families with lower incomes spend less ($174,690) while families with higher incomes spend more ($372,210) per child. In what universe does one child cost more than another? The difference is all in choices.

Couples can raise children on a tight budget

I might consider my family’s income to sit somewhere in the middle of the scale. When I read the estimate I couldn’t believe that I would spend that much on my two kids. The changes we made to accommodate the expenses of our first child were so minor and gradual that I have hardly noticed them.

Realize that the $233,000 is not an upfront lump sum. Children, in most cases, start out being pretty inexpensive. A few packs of onesies every three months and a box of diapers here or there (along with a crib, car seat, formula, and medical insurance) can just about get you by. As kids grow and require more food, transportation, and recreational and educational supplies, you will probably start to feel the costs add up.

Even then, to borrow some phrasing, whether you believe child raising will or will not be expensive you are right. It’s all about conscientiousness and effort.

I didn’t want you to have to take my word for it so I searched out qualified individuals to weigh in. I asked them five questions that I had hoped would reveal how to afford children and scored some great financial hacks.

For the sake of keeping this digestible, today we’ll look at only two of the questions and fill you in on the rest a little later. Some excerpts edited for clarity.

Q1: How have you managed to afford raising children?


Jessi Fearon, Financial Coach & Blogger

We’ve made affording kids possible by deciding together what we will and will not pay for for our children. The truth is, kids really are only as expensive as we (the parents) make them. When you’re intentional about living life and raising kids, it naturally drives the cost down because you start making better or different choices than you would if you were living life with no plan.

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Debbi King, Personal Finance Expert & Motivational Speaker, The ABC’s of Personal Finance

Buying second-hand children's clothing can save moneyHaving raised 5 children, I find the numbers for raising children a little exaggerated, especially when you are of the mindset of saving money and not spending when you don’t need to.  When your children are babies, there is the cost of diapers.  When they get to where they can eat, most things they eat can be the food you eat.  And when it comes to clothes, I would never spend a lot of money there.  They outgrow clothes so fast, many times before you even get the tags off.  I bought all of my kid’s play clothes at yard sales and thrift stores.  I just bought 10 items of clothes for my grandchildren for a quarter each and they were in excellent condition…

Just because your kids want new clothes each year doesn’t mean they get them.  You should make their clothing and stuff last as long as possible just like yours.

I am not sure of everything that makes up the $233,000 per child number, but I can assure you that we raised all of our 5 children on that total. I know people who live on $40,000 a year as a family of 3 or 4 and I also know people who can’t make it on $100,000 for just 2 of them.  This is all about the choices they make.

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David Bakke, Personal Finance Expert at Money Crashers

The best way to manage affording children is to get yourself on a budget using an online resource like Mint, which is free. Then, use the Internet to find ways to reduce all monthly bills. Cut back on entertainment or look for the free variety, and then you should have a surplus in your bank account that can help with the extra expenses. A few of the bigger expenses seem to be clothing and sporting equipment. When starting a family, be sure to have a line in your budget to begin saving for college expenses.

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Jenny, Parent & Owner of Pale Ink Memories

In answer to your query about the cost of raising children, yes, I do think $233,000 to raise a child is a little steep…

In order to afford our brood, my husband and I have learned how to cut corners. Used clothes in good shape save a ton of money, buying generic food items like cereal, cookies, and peanut butter etc. has also helped our food budget. And focusing on outings and time spent together and fewer vacations helps with costs. And while I’d love my girls to become Olympic athletes, I’m not sure that’s going to be their destiny. We encourage them to develop their talents but to stick to one sport or instrument at a time. This helps them really learn the sport and is easier on the pocket as well.

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Geneva Pugh, CEO of Tenlis Education

My approach to financial hacks for raising my children and help with bearing the financial costs of raising them was to enroll my children in a S.T.E.M. program which focused on the “M” in S.T.E.M.  The program taught the children the vocabulary of money, economics, and entrepreneurship.  In the program, they started a business and sold products.  When children understand what things cost and the need to eliminate unnecessary things that are not feasible in the family budget, it helped when explaining to my children why we could not purchase things or go places.  This also helped when it came to unforeseen expenses because money was “set aside” and the children understood why things had to be eliminated.

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Krystal Rogers, Parenting & Child Safety Expert at A Secure Life

My husband works four 10-hour shifts so that we only have to pay for 4 days of daycare instead of 5. When my son was younger, I used to work from home one day a week (or take him to work with me), so we only had to pay for 3 days of daycare.

We buy most of our son’s clothing second hand (or get them free from friends/family who have had kids), sell/exchange clothes, and some of his toys too. We borrowed a lot of baby gear from friends (especially baby gear that you only need for a few months like a baby bath or co-sleeper).

We often are able to rely on family who will babysit for free rather than paying a sitter. Or we do a babysitting trade with neighbors who have kids.

We don’t buy packaged baby food (make your own: squish up a banana, avocado, etc. Bake some sweet potatoes and puree them, make applesauce). If you go out to eat, share your meal or get a side dish for your child rather than their own kid’s meal.

Buy store brand children’s medicine (no name brands). It’s the same product and a lot cheaper.

Q2: What financial advice would you give to individuals who are considering starting a family?

My best advice for any parent would be to build up a solid emergency fund – of at least 3-6 months of “bare bones” expenses in a savings account. This is such a blessing and will bring so much peace to your family. Jessi

Open a kid’s savings account for your child and have an automatic deposit go in every month so that they can have an education fund when they turn 18. Krystal

The best advice I can give to those considering starting a family? Focus on the necessities and a few fun things too but remember your kids need you the most. – Jenny

Drawing on my own experiences, my advice to fellow parents in the midst of it and struggling or prospective and planning would be to trust yourself to handle this responsibility. You are capable. Live smarter and creatively, and you can have the family life you’ve wanted within your budget. And when money seems tight despite your efforts, take comfort in this bit of wisdom from the iconic Abigail Van Buren, “If you want your children to turn out well, spend twice as much time with them, and half as much money.”


As always, wishing you a successful journey toward achieving your financial goals!

Amanda Amezcua

Staff Writer at Debt Reduction Services

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Do You Have Questions About or Suggestions on How to Raise Children in an Affordable Way?

We check our articles and blog posts for new comments and make it a priority to respond quickly.

If you’d like more information on financial hacks for raising a family, or have tips to share with others, please feel free to comment below and we’ll answer right away!

  1. Scott W Johnson

    Great Piece Amanda!

  2. Sara B.

    I like the idea of having a savings of 3-6 months of ‘bare bones” type costs covered. Do you have an idea of what they consider “bare bones?” Is it items like rent and utilities? Does it cover food expenses as well or other budget expenses like transportation, insurances and stuff like that? Also, what has really helped us with what we spend with our children is taking care of stuff. What I mean is if I can fix a piece of clothing I will. We ask our children to take care of their things so they will last longer and be in better shape and I enjoy thrift shopping, but I always go with a set spending limit in mind and it seems to help. I’ve found many items over the years that I can sew up a bit or clean up and bring back to nearly new and it only costs a fraction of what they would cost new at the store. I know it doesn’t sound great, using hand me down items, but I really get a satisfaction of knowing that we’re saving money and I look at it as a hobby of sorts now. Anyways, I’m curious about the bare bones items. I have an idea of what they are but I’m wondering if I’m missing anything.

    • Amanda Amezcua

      Hi Sara!
      First, thank you for your comment and suggestions. I love that you thrift and salvage things. I am such a fan of that. I totally understand the stigma of hand me downs that you mentioned, but I think that everyone needs to change their mindset on it. If the clothes look new, where’s the shame? Besides saving a TON of money that can be repurposed for expenses a child might appreciate more like a college fund, thrifting and giving clothes and toys a second home keeps them out of the landfill for a while longer and lessens the demand for more to be produced. I feel proud (and you should too) knowing that these frugal practices are also more earth friendly. Keep up the good work!

      For an answer to your question about the “bare bones” expenses, feel free to email Jessi directly: [email protected]. My educated guess would be that “bare bones” means anything you can’t survive without. For me this would include:
      Rent/mortgage – $875
      Gas/power services – $60
      Trash/water/sewage services – $110
      Phone services – $70
      Reduced transportation costs (reducing trips across town if the errand can be accomplished closer to home, maybe even only using a vehicle for work transportation or whole family activities and trying to walk everywhere else) – $200
      Reduced food costs (cutting out treats or items you know you don’t really need) $320
      Car and medical insurance payments – $800
      Student Loan payments – $150
      2,585 x 3 = $7,755
      2,585 x 4 = $10,340
      2,585 x 5 = $12,925
      2,585 x 6 = $15,510

      Depending on the situation you find yourself in when you need your “bare bones” fund, you many look into scaling back your phone or car insurance plan and contacting your student loan servicer to lower your payments or defer them for a certain amount of time.

      I would think a “bare bones” budget does not include: entertainment (cable, monthly subscriptions, movies at the theater), recreation (bowling/mini-golf/jump centers, instrument lessons or sports activities), unnecessary food expenses (dining or snacking out, trips to the coffee shop, “fun” groceries that you don’t have a plan or purpose for), an unlimited amount of gas, shopping trips for clothes or goods.

      Obviously, needs can arise unexpectedly. Car, home, or appliance repairs should be drawn from a separate “emergency” fund and not from your “bare bones” expenses fund. I also live in a place that experiences all four seasons and know I can’t avoid buying my kids clothes altogether. For this reason, I would consider adding a buffer of $50 or so per month to my “bare bones” fund so I know I’ll have the money for essentials like winter coats even when times are hard.

      I hope this information was helpful! Please let me know if you have any more questions.
      In the meantime,
      Happy thrifting and saving!

      Amanda Amezcua

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