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.

Interesting child cost calculator

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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.