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Considering the cost of kids

Updated: Sep 26, 2023

Many people ask me how much they need to save for the future. The answer hinges on what you want to do in your life. So my first task with new clients is learning their hopes and dreams.

Sometimes, a client will be ambivalent about having children in the future. If the question is whether you can afford to buy a boat, it would be easy to compare your financial scenario with and without the cost.

But can cost comparison address the question of having kids or not? I’m not so sure. Having kids is a fundamental life question.

If you are called to have kids, I say act as if you already have them. Let the rest fall around it. I don’t consider rehoming my kids if the budget is tight, so why should you?

A bird's eye view of a traffic intersection in a city, with dozens of cars and taxis.

A planner's journey to parenthood

As a child and in my emerging adulthood, I was certain that I didn’t want kids. I think it had more to do with negative perceptions of myself rather than a desire for freedom or a dislike of kids. As trust with myself as a person grew, I uncovered a desire to be a father. By 25, I wanted kids so much it felt like homesickness.

So I left pre-med and pursued a stable profession that would have me home in time for dinner. I searched for a healthy relationship with someone who shared my dreams. I worked on myself. I read parenting books every year so I wouldn’t have to “cram”. I asked my parent-friends about their parenting styles and baby holds.

Then I got my wish, and the rest is history. I am grateful that I did so much to prepare and that I have so many supportive blessings.

But it still isn’t easy. I often hear Olivia Colman’s voice from The Lost Daughter saying, “Children are a crushing responsibility.”

A baby laying in bed, eyes closed, stretching both arms out with a smile on their face.

Growing to meet the mounting challenge

I have this art of a balloon being squeezed by my bedside, which is actually kind of stressful to look at. Once upon a time I was a little rubber balloon that might pop if I didn’t get 8 hours of sleep. I was full.

So why now, with a thrashing baby under each arm, haven’t I popped?

Parenting feels impossible, and yet, like some sort of thick, silicone water balloon incapable of bursting, I expand with the pressure.

Witnessing my children unfurl into themselves and being bound to their lives is like nothing else I’ve known.

Parenting is not a more taxing version of a child-free life; it’s an entirely different path. Is it yours?

A red balloon, full with water, sits on the concrete, with a brick wall in the background.

It's so expensive

Financial planning is sketching out your life’s path through the lens of money.

If you’ve set out to have kids, I might use a $2,000/month additional expense per child from 0-17 as a placeholder in financial plans, not including college costs. The cost of raising kids is going to depend a lot on your location, your work, and your preferences.

I won't lie, it's so expensive. About half of our money now goes to raising these silly little babies. And that's once you actually obtain the babes!

The fertility process for my first child was about $3,500 (intrauterine insemination and associated costs, pregnant on the first try), and the doctor and hospital costs for pregnancy and birth came to about $5,000 after insurance's portion. With our second kid, we had better insurance and most of it was covered - so again, it's specific to your situation.

If you have to do many rounds of in vitro fertilization, surrogacy, or private adoption, you could spend tens or even hundreds of thousands to start a family.

Calculating these costs in detail can make sense if you're in a position to actually cover them. But please don't despair! If it's far off and you're just starting out, I say bite off as much as you can chew.

Small changes today towards financial stability can build momentum over time.

A duffle bag filled with cash sits on the hardwood floor, surrounded by loose money on the ground and in other canvas bags. There are gold bricks nearby on the floor and in the background. An anonymous person stands near the money, showing only their black boots and part of their leg.

You figure it out

But listen, it’s not like you have to rob a bank in order to have kids; often the astronomical expenses force certain tradeoffs in your allocation of resources.

I’ve read that it costs $284,594 to raise a child, but if your income is high compared to the national average, this figure might be low for you. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report on consumer expenses in 2021 wrote that in the $100,000 to $250,000 household income bracket, a household of 2 (statistically zero children) spent only $8,000 less than a household of 4 (1.5 people under 18). I read that as a 10% point child premium.

And while 10% is a lot, it's not everything. With a little help, you figure it out.

Eleven hot air balloons float through a mountainside during sunrise. They vary in color, pattern, and distance to the camera.

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