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How Much Does it Cost to Raise a Child to 18?

By Kim Franke-Folstad · March 23, 2023 · 9 minute read

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How Much Does it Cost to Raise a Child to 18?

Have you ever wondered how much it costs to raise a child from birth to 18?

Are you sitting down?

Based on consumer surveys and other data, most estimates these days put the price of parenting just one child at $300,000 or more.

Your costs may vary significantly, of course, depending on where you live, your income, your marital status, and other factors. But it’s probably safe to say that raising a child to college age — and beyond — can deal a real wallop to the budget.

Read on for a breakdown of some of the costs prospective parents can expect.

How Much is the Cost of Raising a Child?

It’s hard to find an “official” calculation for the cost of raising a child.

For many years, parents and prospective parents could get an idea of the costs they faced from the Expenditures on Children by Families report published annually by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But the USDA stopped updating the report in 2017, so the most recent information is for a child born in 2015.

Back then, the USDA estimated the cost of raising the younger of two children in a middle-income home with married parents would be approximately $233,610 in 2015 dollars.

Today, that number is a bit higher. A 2022 analysis conducted by the Brookings Institution found that parents can expect to spend at least $310,000 raising a child who was born in 2015. That’s for food, shelter, and other necessities, but not college, which for most students starts at age 18 or older.

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What Are Some Average Costs for Raising a Child to 18?

In 2015, the USDA divided the major infant-through-high-school expenses into the following categories:

•   Housing 29% of income

•   Food 18% of income

•   Child care and education 16% of income

•   Transportation 15% of income

•   Health care 9% of income

•   Miscellaneous 7% of income

•   Clothing 6% of income

But remember, those are the USDA’s numbers for one child in an average household with two kids, and those percentages have likely shifted in the past few years. You might end up with a similar allocation, or, based on your own circumstances and priorities, one that’s far different.

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Factors That Can Influence the Cost of Raising a Child in 2023

How much you pay to raise your family may be largely influenced by where you decide to live. In 2022, a mortgage payment was 31% of the typical American household’s income, based on data gathered by Black Knight. But that percentage may look different if you reside in a city or town where housing costs are much cheaper or far more expensive than average.

Child-care costs may vary widely as well, depending on the age of your child and the type of care you choose. Unless you can get Nana and Grandpa involved, be prepared for a hefty bill: 51% of parents who responded to Care.com’s 2022 Cost of Care Survey said they spent more than 20% of their household income on child care every year.

And those costs may not go down when a child reaches school age if he or she attends private school. According to the Education Data Initiative, the average annual tuition among the nation’s 22,440 private K-12 schools was $12,350 in 2021.

Your miscellaneous costs may also be different if your child is involved in sports or other activities that require expensive equipment, camps, or lessons.

Add to that potential healthcare costs, which could depend on the type of insurance you have and your child’s individual needs.

How to Budget for Baby

Considering all the costs involved, it may make sense to start transitioning your budget long before a baby actually arrives. Here are some things to consider if you decide to adjust your household budget categories to fit your growing family:

Stick to Your Savings Goals

You’ve probably heard it a thousand times: A baby will change your life — and your priorities. Still, your own financial security can help determine your child’s future, so it can help to stick with your savings goals, like building an emergency fund (you may need that money more than ever once you have a child), putting money away for a mortgage down payment, and investing for retirement. Then, if you still have room in your budget, you might consider including a 529 education savings account or some other type of investment plan for your child.

Pay Down Debt

The last thing you’ll want to worry about when you have a new baby is old debt. Paying interest on credit cards and other debt can eat away at any extra money you’re hoping to save for or spend on your child. A debt reduction plan like the popular snowball and avalanche strategies can help you focus on methodically dumping your debt and getting it done ASAP.

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Be Ready for First-Born Expenses

Just having a baby can be expensive. In 2022, the Peterson-KFF Health System Tracker estimated that the health costs associated with pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum care for women enrolled in large group insurance plans came to almost $19,000 on average, and average out-of-pocket payments were almost $3,000. Then there’s the crib, car seat, clothes, formula, diapers, and other things you’ll need when you bring your baby home.

If you can adjust your budget to get ready for those upfront and monthly costs, you may have a better shot at keeping up with expected and unexpected bills later on.

Preparing for Changing Costs

Your budget is bound to evolve as your child gets older. The money you spend on diapers and formula in the first years will go toward buying new shoes, clothes, toys, team uniforms, and other expenses later on. (Maybe buying a car? Putting multiple kids through college? Paying for a wedding? Who knows?)

The good news is, these days, you can use a spending app to track exactly where your money is going and decide where you want it to go. So if your kiddo comes home from school one day and wants to switch from playing soccer to playing the piano, you can quickly rework your budget categories and see where you stand.

Can You Afford to Be a Parent?

Of course your beautiful baby will be worth every penny of the $300,000 (give or take) you’ll be spending over the next 18 years. Still, you may want to keep your financial readiness in mind as you think about when to have a baby.

Besides the basic costs, raising a child also can affect your finances if you decide to do in vitro fertilization (IVF), take an unpaid maternity leave, buy a more “reliable” car or a bigger home, or go part-time at work so you can be home after school.

Any planning you can do in advance and as you go to minimize the financial blow can benefit you and your child. (Not to mention the example it will set down the road, when you’re teaching your child about money management.)

Potential Opportunities to Save

Figuring out how to save money while raising kids isn’t easy. But there are some spending categories over which you can have some control, including:

Purchase Goods Secondhand

Kids grow out of everything so quickly. Borrowing some items from friends and family, or buying things secondhand, could be a big money-saver. If your sister wants to lend you her perfectly good (and safe) crib or car seat, let her! And don’t underestimate the quality and cuteness of the clothes you can find for little ones at yard sales, consignment shops, or online. There also may be bargains to be had when shopping for secondhand sports equipment and musical instruments.

Get Help with Child Care

There may be several ways you can save on child-care costs, including forming a co-op with other parents and taking turns watching each other’s children, or asking nearby family members to help out on a full- or part-time basis.

Embrace Meal Planning

When your kids get older, it may be tempting to stop for fast food on busy nights, especially if you don’t have any idea what you’re going to serve for dinner. By planning ahead, you may be able to reduce your grocery costs, the number of trips to the grocery store, and unplanned visits to the closest hamburger joint.

Cut Household Expenses

While you’re adjusting your budget for baby, think about little things you can do to cut down on spending and expenses. Could you adjust your thermostat to save a few bucks every winter and summer? Will you have time to watch all those cable channels and streaming services with a child in the house? Or can you clean the pool yourself, cut the grass, or wash your own car?

Find Free and Cheap Family Activities

Every activity you plan for your child doesn’t have to come with a big price tag. Going around the block with your kid in a stroller, wagon, or on the back of a bike can be the best kind of free fun. Want to see a movie? Check out the price of a matinee or other discounted screenings. Or buy a bottle of bubbles or a small swimming pool for a good time in the backyard.

The Takeaway

At $310,000, the estimated cost of raising a child from birth to 18 may be daunting. But if you plan in advance for those first major costs — and adjust your budget for changing priorities as your child grows — it may be easier to manage your finances during this exciting, expensive time in your life.

Using a money tracker app can be a good place to start. SoFi lets you know right where you stand, including what you spend and how to reach your financial goals.

Get the information and tools you need to make the most of your money.

FAQ

How much does it cost to raise a child in 2023?

Parents could expect to spend around $310,000 or more raising a child who was born in 2015, according to a 2022 analysis conducted by the Brookings Institution. Note that the cost of raising a child can vary significantly depending on where you live, your household income, your child’s health, and other factors — including if you’ll be paying for college, a wedding, or other big-ticket items.

How much do you spend on a child before they turn 18?

The cost of raising a child can vary from one household to the next, based on many factors. But it’s been estimated that the bill for an average U.S. family raising a child to 18 (without college) could be $310,000 or more.

How much money should you save for a baby?

The more you can put away before you have a baby, the better prepared you can be. Some things to focus on might include setting up or adding to your emergency fund, continuing to make contributions to your retirement plan, and, if you hope to move to a bigger home, coming up with the necessary down payment.


Photo credit: iStock/JohnnyGreig

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