Children are NOT Cheap

My parents always laughed when people suggested that children were expensive. They said this wasn’t true. They said children were only expensive if you thought kids had to have personal computers, brand new cars for their 16th birthdays, and college tuition paid by their parents. In contrast, if your kids wore hand-me-downs and you bought food in bulk and didn’t eat out or spoil your children with the newest gizmos, kids hardly cost anything at all!

I cannot tell you how many years I spent repeating this argument. I used to laugh at people who acted like kids were expensive, or deliberated over whether to have another child for financial reasons. It all seemed so ridiculous to me. Kids were only expensive if you made them expensive!

And then I had a child of my own, and I realized that that whole “kids are cheap” thing is completely false. Let me explain.

If my husband and I had a second child, we would have to pay $4,000 a year to add that child to our health insurance. Then, we would have to pay $10,000 a year for daycare, because we both work. That’s $14,000 per year for a second child. This does not count any additional diapers, clothing, or food we would need to buy, though admittedly frugality could keep this figure low (cloth diapers, hand me downs and thrift stores, cheap food in bulk, etc.).

If we tried for a second child and it ended up being twins, we would be out an additional $14,000 a year for that third child. Additionally, city housing regulations would require us to move to a larger apartment, which would cost an extra $300 a month, for a yearly total of almost $4,000.

Thus while a second child would cost us $14,000 a year, a third child would cost us an additional $18,000 a year.  In other words, to go from a one-child family to a three-child family would cost us an extra $32,000 a year. Remember that that’s a yearly cost. That means that over five years it would add up to $160,000. And remember, this does not count any money spent on diapers, food, or clothes.

Are you starting to get the point? Kids are expensive. They are not cheap.

Oh, but the happy Quiverfuller would point out that it wouldn’t be so expensive if I quit working and stayed at home like God intended me to! Then we wouldn’t have to pay anything in daycare costs at all! It’s daycare that makes people see children as expensive, and if women would just fulfill their God-given role, this wouldn’t be so!

Except that I can’t stay at home. If I stayed at home, we would lose my income. We can’t survive on my husband’s income at this time. If I stayed at home, we wouldn’t have enough money to pay our expenses. We would be lining up at soup kitchens. Furthermore, if I stayed home I would lose my health insurance, which is attached to my work, and I would therefore have to be added to my husband’s health insurance for, you guessed it, another $4,000.

So if we had two additional children and I stayed at home, we would lose my entire income (which we can’t afford to lose) and still be out an additional $16,000 a year ($4,000 each for health care for those two children and myself, and $4,000 for a larger apartment).

Quiverfullers seem to forget that for every stay-at-home-mom there is a sacrifice of potential income. Staying at home isn’t free – it’s an opportunity cost. For every family that finds it can afford that loss of a potential second income, there are others who can’t. Furthermore, the mother who stays at home not only loses her potential income but also potential career advancement. It is true that once a mother makes the choice to stay at home and sacrifice her income, her income is sacrificed whether she has one child or five. However, Quiverfullers simply fail to add the loss of the mother’s income to their calculations at all.

Take my parents, for example. My mother had a career before I was born. By the time she graduates her last child, she will have been a stay-at-home-mother for between 30 and 40 years, and that’s 30 or 40 years of income she will have sacrificed. If she made an average of $50,000 per year during that time (conservative for her field), we’re talking between $1,500,000 and $2,000,000 of lost income. Yes, you heard that right: two million dollars of lost potential income.

Furthermore, when my parents spoke of how cheap kids were, they never stopped and added up the amount of money they spent over the years on diapers, food (even in bulk, food costs money), health insurance and doctors visits, clothes (because occasionally, shoes or dresses had to be bought new), music lessons, homeschool co-ops, and summer camps at Patrick Henry College. I think if they had, they might have been surprised.

When deciding to have children, parents must make the decision between sacrificing years of maternal income on the one hand or paying big bucks for daycare on the other hand. Different families decide this differently depending on their circumstances. However, either way you take a hit in the pocket. In addition, most parents today place value on having their children participate in music lessons, sports teams, and summer camps, all of which cost money. There is also the cost of health insurance and doctors visits, which varies by job and insurance package.

The simple truth is, children are not cheap. They just aren’t. This is why most people deliberate long and hard over how many children they want, if any, and well they should. Committing to raising children is a big responsibility, both financially and emotionally, and should never be undertaken lightly. I no longer laugh when I read New York Times stories about the high costs of having children, with profiles of families trying to decide if they can afford that second or third child. Instead, I am simply grateful that those families are taking seriously what they are signing up for. And well they should.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Tanit-Isis

    I grew up thinking of large families (say, four or five kids) as immoral—the world is already overpopulated, we shouldn't be adding to it, etc. But I really, really wanted a third child. When my second-born was two, it seemed like all my friends were having babies, and I was ready, so ready.And then I did the math. We were already paying about 4/5 of my monthly income in childcare. It might not have been worth it for a regular job, but I was working on my master's. Three children would make that impossible. Not only that, but the extra couple hundred a month that was all I actually brought home after paying for childcare was still what paid for the groceries. Having a third child at that point would have been unforgivably irresponsible. And this is in Canada, where we don't have to worry about health-care insurance costs.I am a big fan of having an inexpensive baby—breastfeeding, hand-me-downs and second hand clothes, minimal baby gadgets. But the fact remains that there is a cost, and you shouldn't be having more children than you can afford.

  • Erika Martin – Stampin’ Mama

    ANd then you have the ass-hats who make it even cheaper to have children by NOT having health insurance or even going to the doctor, which is just neglect, in my opinion.

  • Disillusioned Ex-Homeschooler

    This is so true. My parents always scoffed at the "children are expensive" line too, which is baffling given that we lived below the poverty line and in a constant state of stress over money for my entire growing up years. Even food was in short supply much of the time. We never starved, but what we could eat was strictly limited. And my parents have no retirement savings to speak of, nor could they afford to help the first few of their children who went to college (they solved that by changing their mind about their kids going to college altogether). We never had insurance, with the result that many times deep cuts went unstitched and infections were left to be battled over a long period of time w/o antibiotics. My brother once broke a bone and went a week without seeing a doctor until his immobility and constant crying forced my parents to take him to an urgent care center.It really annoys me how unrealistically Quiverfull families view finances. Certainly some families are fortunate to have a father who has a good job with good insurance and a modicum of job stability such that the family is well provided for. But this isn't the case with most people, nor has it ever been throughout human history. Also, having grown up around this kind of thing, I've started to see a pattern. Often the first generation of quiverfull parents manage all right, financially. They come from backgrounds where they were given an education that landed them a good, secure, job (and having started their career in an economic boom rather than a recession helped). And often they didn't embrace the quiverfull philosophy until their career and financial ducks were more or less in a row.But the quiverfull children aren't raised in ways that give them the skills and education to land the kind of job needed to provide for a large family on one income (and fewer of those jobs exist). They're groomed to marry young and have child after child, and then they're somehow expected to provide for their families even though they lack the resources and education to do so. Men are supposed to be "providers" but lack the ability to be, and heaven forbid the women work.I know lots of people of my generation who now have half a dozen kids and struggle to feed and clothe them, let alone insure them or secure any kind of future. The fathers work multiple jobs just trying to put food on the table, while the mothers are overwhelmed by trying to keep things together at home.But keep on popping out the kids, people, because that's what God wants you to do.

  • Disillusioned Ex-Homeschooler

    I thought I should clarify: when I said "heaven forbid the women work," of course I meant "work outside the home." I definitely know that being a SAHM to multiple children involves a LOT of work. I'm currently a full time student who works and juggles two children more or less alone, and it's still nowhere near as hard of work as my adolescence caring for younger siblings was.And I don't have any problem with women (or men) staying at home if that is their desire and they're fortunate enough to be able to live on one income. My husband and I have both spend seasons staying at home or working at home over the 5-6 year span our children were babies/toddlers, because we were able to swing it financially and we thought it was a good situation for our family. So my problem isn't with stay-at-home parents. It's with people who think that there's some mandate from God that women stay at home with their children, ignoring the fact that it isn't a possibility for many people. And not because they're buying their kids ipads and new cars. (Plus, throughout history women have played a significant role in financial/material provision for their families).

  • Maria

    Kids are a BLESSING, not a requirement for life or a happy marriage. That's why richer people can be blessed with more kids if they want. At least that's how I see it.Somehow Fundies turned "blessing" into "required or you are going to burn in the flames of hell".

  • Cluisanna

    I live in Germany and here you have the right to a daycare place for your children and the fees are adjusted to your income and can be as low as 70€ per month, which is still around 1000$ a year – but only a tenth of what you are paying! Well, we also have mandatory health insurance and at least in the city decent public transport, so you don't necessarily need a car… Um, yeah, my point is I fear that whole thing about being the land of opportunities doesn't work out if tax money goes to fund huge corporations instead of a social security net, but I guess you knew that already. :-/

  • shadowspring

    Great comment Cluisanna! I liked this post, Libby. I think Disillusiond and Erika make good points about how self-deceptive QF parents are about things like health care, holidays that traditionally have presents, and college. I think the real reason Qfers find scripture to deny birthdays, Christmas, etc. is because they can't afford it. Next thing you know, college is also of the devil for the same reason, and why pay for health care when prayer works just as well? And don't even think about orthodontics…

  • Disillusioned Ex-Homeschooler

    Speaking of Christmas and birthdays, one family we knew celebrated Christmas by making each kid give away his/her favorite toy (and it's not like they had all that many to start with). So they'd spend the months leading up to the holiday pretending one toy was their favorite so that they didn't lose the special dolly or lego set or whatever else.Because that's what Christmas should be about. Taking *away* your kid's favorite toy.Ah, memories.

  • Anonymous

    You also can't forget to add in the costs of the births themselves, plus any additional health care needed if the mom doesn't recover her health after the birth. We've spent about $20,000 trying to fix problems that I never had until I had kids. A friend has had seven c-sections, totaling over $100,000. Fortunately, they earn a decent income.

  • Libby Anne

    Clusianna – Amen to that! I mean, while at least six weeks of maternity leave is mandated, it's not required that it be paid, so I've seen friends faced with losing six or twelve weeks pay if they have a child. Then daycare – and I actually live in an area where daycare is relatively inexpensive, I have a cousin who pays $1500 a MONTH (or $18,000 per year) for daycare because she lives in a larger, more expensive city. I mean, you can send your kid to college for way less than that! And then the hassle of health care, the necessity of a car if you have kids, and on and on. It's insane. Anonymous – Good point! This was actually something my husband and I had to think long and hard about with our daughter, because our insurance only paid a certain percentage and if we ended up needing a C-section we could be out a lot of money. In fact, the money was actually part of the reason I didn't get an epidural – a good chunk of it would have come out of our pocket. But – *drumroll please* – you don't have to worry about the expenses of childbirth if you have a home birth! Hm…I'm starting to think Shadowspring just may be onto something here!

  • Anonymous

    Same anonymous here. I had two homebirths. Yes, they were cheaper than a birth center or hospital, but that was a nice bonus, not the reason I picked them. Before I had the first, I read the study in the British Medical Journal about the safety of them in low-risk moms.I can't imagine how much more stressful everything would've been in a hospital. But I realize that only a limited percent of the population will be interested in one. And I know some women need to be in a hospital or birth center. And anybody that tries to promote a home birth as a morally superior choice is a legalist.

  • africaturtle

    ….OR you could quit your job and move to the country (where there are no regulations on the size of your house), "live off the land", cut your insurance, treat every sickness with herbs and oils and have all your babies at home….(wait, i think that's already been done. a few times.)okay, that was my sarcastic reaction…in all seriousness, apart from religious belief, one thing i really like about americans is the creative ingenuity that we are taught to cultivate. The spirit that if you try hard enough you will succeed…it's a sort of eternal optimism. There are many things about life and budgets that don't always work out "on paper" but if we are really determined to "make it work" somehow it does. Sometimes is doesn't but there are just SO many factors you can't foresee everything (like twins, for instance!…but it could be a handicap or accident or anything) If you wait until you are always 100% sure every detail is in place to have kids (or to try numerous other adventures in life) I think most people would never do it! I see your point. I was raised with the same "sermons" as you. I do though still think big families are a great thing (no sorry, i still haven't "accepted" the overpopulation argument) I just think humans are full of SO much potential…creativity, ingenuity, invention. I think it's important in reacting to one extreme not to block yourself in by running to the other. (that said, i do still appreciate the point made in this article)

  • Libby Anne

    Africaturtule – I'm not "running to the other extreme," I do intend to have more children, at least two and maybe as many as four (because there were many things I did love about growing up in a big family). My point here is not that people shouldn't have big families but rather that children are expensive, contrary to what I was taught as a child. Are they worth it? I clearly think so, or I wouldn't have any. But are children cheap, like I was told? NO.

  • MrPopularSentiment

    Anonymous – It really depends on the hospital. I've heard horror stories about hospital births in the US, but it doesn't have to be that way. When I gave birth, I had my own room and I was alone with my husband most of the time. We had a midwife, and she took a back seat whenever she could. At one point, we had a complication and the OB and the respiratory specialist both had to get involved, but they were very respectful. They were nice, did what they had to do, and left. Other than the normal stress of giving birth for the first time, I didn't find it stressful at all. I think that instead of setting up a false dichotomy between cold/clinical hospital births and warm/family-friendly homebirths, we should instead work towards making all hospitals as amazing as mine.As to the price of kids, I'm in the middle. I totally agree with Libby Anne that they can be expensive and that families really need to take a hard look at themselves and their situation before getting pregnant. You can't un-have a child, and kids are individuals who deserve a share of both you resources and your time.That being said, kids can be pretty cheap, too. I lucked out, no question there. I live in a country where everyone has health insurance, so that's never factored. My son and I were also the recipients of tons of hand-me-down clothes and toys. While not cheap, having kids doesn't have to be as expensive as many people make it, and in many ways I think that frugality can actually be better for kids (so long as it doesn't cross over into stinginess).But we probably won't have a second. I grew up as an only child and I loved it, while my husband had siblings and hated it. He felt that his parents' time was too divided and that he didn't get enough of their help to cope with his special needs. He has a learning disability, but his parents were always just trying to crowd control their kids. It wasn't until he met me as an adult that he got the help he needed (it took us a few years, but he's now a very good reader and, better yet, he actually enjoys reading!).So both of us feel that it's better to have only one child and give him all the time and help he needs to have the best start in life, than to satisfy our own desire for babies and end up spreading ourselves too thin.

  • Colleen

    "Oh, but the happy Quiverfuller would point out that it wouldn't be so expensive if I quit working and stayed at home like God intended me to!" Oh and don't forget, forgo health insurance like many Quiverfull do.

  • Elspeth

    Kids are expensive, but if you have one, it doesn't necessarily mean that a second one is twice as expensive as the first one.Like you said, there are things you can and would re-use (strollers, some clothes, cribs perhaps, not car seats, sadly).There are the non-negotiable costs of health insurance that you mentioned. (Depending on where you live, that's not as much of a problem. I'm from Canada, so you take away the $4000 right off the bat.)The child care costs are a little bit misleading, though. For example, if you had 3 young children, it might make sense to hire a nanny instead of paying the child care costs. (I don't know the going rate for a nanny, but $20,000 – 30,000 might come close)It's a bit simplistic to say that kid #2 would cost twice as much as kid #1, as there are SOME savings when you have bulk children. But, your point is well taken. Just because on a per-child basis having 10 kids is cheaper than having 1 kid doesn't mean that it is not expensive to have 10 kids.

  • Libby Anne

    Elsbeth – I already have kid #2, I was comparing kid #2 and kid #3. You're right that the costs of thinks like strollers can be reused, and as you saw, I didn't factor those costs into my calculations because of that. However, as it happens, kid #3 would be MORE expensive thank kid #2 because we would have to move to a bigger apartment. That said, you're right about the possibility of getting a nanny for three kids. I just looked it up online and found that nannies cost between $350 and $700 a week. I know a woman who gets a babysitter all day every day to watch her two kids, and we compared how much we pay for childcare and the babysitter for her two costs twice what I spend on daycare for my one. So I suppose once you get to three, it might be cost effective to get a nanny, but then again, if the nanny costs are at the higher end of that estimate (my acquaintance's sitter costs at the low end), that might not be the case. It's important to bear in mind, too, that some people are more comfortable with the idea of daycare than the idea of a nanny (there's more accountability that way), and daycare has a lot of benefits (such as socialization). Also, as I did say, if you choose to be a stay at home mom, you sacrifice your income entirely regardless of whether you have one, three, or five. So I'm not saying that every kid is necessarily as expensive as the last one.

  • Meggie

    Slightly off topic but ….. I agree that children are expensive but it seems that American children are far more expensive than Australian children. Hospital births are covered by medicare regardless of your income or whether you have private insurance. Medications, such as antibiotics, are subsidised by the government. My daughter's medication has a shelf price of $70 per month but I pay $6/month. Daycare/preschool fees are adjusted according to income – I paid $9/day/child. There are no rules about house size. I suspect school uniforms work out cheaper than casual clothes too. Five days a week my children wear uniforms, mostly hand-me-downs from older siblings/friends. I suspect that if they were wearing casual clothes to school, changes in fashion would mean younger children demanding new clothes. University fees – I currently pay $1750 per year to attend one of the best universities in the country. I can choose to pay this when I enrol or I can defer the fee until after I graduate. (Interest free government loan which does not have to be paid back until I reach a certain income level. This means that parents can pay their childrens uni fees or children can pay the fees themselves after they graduate.)When considering how many children I would have my concerns were 1) How much time did I have to give each child? 2) Could I afford the extras I wanted for my children – music lessons, sport?

  • Libby Anne

    Meggie – I absolutely agree with you. It boggles my mind that a country that claims to be so child-friendly (unlike those crazy European places where children are going extinct – or at least so I was raised to think) does almost nothing to help out with the costs of raising a child. I would LOVE to pay $9 a day for daycare instead of $40 a day! And my word – the PUBLIC university I currently attend costs over $10,000 a year for tuition alone, how the heck do you have such low university costs? And you're right on about thinking about how much time you have to give each child. That's one of the biggest reasons I don't want a huge number of kids – I want the time to really invest in and enjoy each one.

  • Meggie

    Libby AnneHow do we have such low uni fees? Government subsidies. There is an idea here that everybody, no matter what their family income, should be able to attend university.Low uni fees – low child care fees – low health care costs – whatever – everything is government subsidised. We have fairly high tax rates, particularly for those who earn high incomes, but it is given back to us as subsidies on essential services. It means that children don't suffer too much for having parents on low income. The system isn't perfect and we all complain but overall, I think we have it pretty good.