Mom, Dad, Sorry I Was So Expensive
I've recently started rolling my eyes a lot less and realizing just how grateful I am for my parents. (Mom, if you're reading, this is not because it's your birthday.) Your early 20s can do that to you. The take-out containers create nostalgia for home-cooked meals. The first trickle of engagement announcements from friends makes you wonder if you'll ever be as competent as your parents. And the bills make you realize how expensive it was (and in some cases still is) to raise you; and how costly it will potentially be to one day raise a mini-you, or even a few of them.
Here's some bad, if unsurprising, news for all young adults: Child rearing is continuing to get more expensive. The annual report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, released yesterday, reveals that a middle-income family with a baby born last year can look forward to spending about $241,080 ($301,970 when adjusted for predicted inflation) to raise the little one over the next 17 years. That's a 2.6 percent increase from 2011, higher than the broader inflation rate. The study, which does not include payments for college, puts yearly spending on each child for a two-parent middle-income family at $12,600 to $14,700 in 2012. Not surprisingly, there's variation based on geography (the urban Northeast is the most expensive) and income (earn more spend more; earn less spend less) -- and the price per child decreases as more are added to the family.
Of course, it's impossible to predict exactly how much raising your child will cost, not to mention the unfeasibility of quantifying the joy the little bundle of joy will exude. That doesn't stop everyone from trying. The USDA offers ahandy calculator on its site. Babycenter.com has another snazzy one, which allows you to include college. Nadia Taha, writing for the New York Times last year, ran her own calculations to establish that if she and her spouse "were to have a child and do what most other parents do by trying to give this new little life the very best start possible, it would probably cost us $1.8 million."
In 2007, the Wall Street Journal also did some math, focusing on the most wealthy, even spoiled, children. Starting off from the government's top-third income bracket estimate -- and including expenses such as a college-savings plan, as well as a spectrum of costs verging into the more extravagant realm -- the article established: "At the lowest end, our estimates came in at about $800,000 (in 2007 dollars) through the age of 17. Add in extras like private school, a nanny and a flat-screen TV set in a kid's bedroom, and that figure climbs to $1.6 million."
My favorite bit from the Journal article, though, comes in the discussion of how demographic trends, including people having one child when they are older and wealthier, have led to increased pampering: "It is often older parents, say parents, who feel the most guilty about the world they are bequeathing their kids, from the war in Iraq and global warming to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. As a valve of relief, they pull out their wallets and go for the PlayStation 3." I knew the unrest in Syria must have something to do with the preponderance of pre-teens with iPhones.
Keeping all this in mind, it's no wonder that the U.S. birth rate is the lowest in the country's recorded history. Time magazine recentlysplashed "The Childfree Life: When having it all means not having children" across its cover. The corresponding article cites an economist who explains that the opportunity costs in foregone salary, promotions, etc. for a woman in the U.S. who diverges from her career track could average up to $1 million.
Give up your kid and become a millionaire? Doesn't sound too bad. Right? But in an interview Mark Lino, the researcher who wrote the USDA report put it particularly profoundly, "Children are expensive, though they have many benefits."
So, mom and dad, I want to remind you of how my youthful charm, wit and utter presence lit up your every day. Of how hard I worked in school, how proud you were after my ballet performances and how I sometimes took the dogs out for walks. I want to say I'm sorry for making you buy me all those Beanie Babies. And happy birthday, mom -- I'm honored you didn't trade me in for a pile of cash.
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Zara Kessler at email@example.com