Despite the reputation Mrs. M and I are cultivating as extreme nonspenders, we do indulge in the ultimate luxury: being parents. Our lovely little boy brings us happiness and learning every day and as with all parents, we feel the experience of parenthood is worth the cost. Whatever that cost might be. Hey.. what exactly is that cost anyway?
The interesting thing about the answer is that there IS no fixed answer. When you research this topic, the cost is usually listed as a percentage of income. And whenever you see anything listed as a percentage of income, you should start getting excited, because it means there is wasted money in the air. Hundred dollar bills swirling this way and that, which you can catch for yourself in your own Money Mustache.
The cost of raising a child can range all the way from less than zero (if you live in a rural environment and can get your kids to help out on the farm as they did in the olden days) to millions of dollars if you own the Hilton chain of hotels and your children run wild over the world on your credit card. Middle and high income people tend to say that taking care of their children is very expensive, but when you dig right down into it, these people are mostly just being suckered into Consumertown by the amazing amount of marketing that tries to sell products to desperate parents. Or even worse, using their children as an excuse to buy things.
To figure out the true answer, you have to go to a quiet room or a forest, close your eyes, and take a few deep breaths. You have to imagine what a child really needs when growing up. What is truly the ultimate upbringing we can provide for our kids? Only with your eyes closed, with none of the noise or images of the Consumer World leaking in, can you truly start to realize what is real in parenting and what is a distraction. As the answer comes to you, you might start to shed a few tears.
Kids need to really know their parents, and live in a warm and loving environment. And not just furnace-warm, I’m talking about skin, soil, and sunshine-warm. Kids will thrive when they live in a forest of the arms and legs of their parents and siblings, and when their most prized playthings include dirt, water, rocks, and plants. They grow when they learn by observing the laughs and singing and patiently resolved disputes of the family and friends around them.
They will suck up the advanced knowledge of modern human civilization – things like literature, science, music, art, and math – if their parents live and share these principles as part of daily life right at home – in that chaotic forest of warm skin and human voices.
Humans are just smart animals, we’re part of the Earth and we have evolved to be one with the planet that made us. We, and our kids, will thrive when we embrace the natural world, and our bodies and minds are at their best when we use the Earth for our education instead of trying to pave it over and overpower it with plastic substitutes to meet the same needs.
The Treehugging words above are there to convince you that giving your TIME to your kids is actually worth putting some effort into. And keeping your time is the opposite of spending your money. So every time you spend money buying THINGS under the pretense of doing what’s best for your children, you must weigh that against the guaranteed cost of your young children getting less of their parents. I’m serious, you have to weigh every…single…thing and think about it. It should hurt at least a bit.
For example: does your baby benefit from being left to fend for herself at a day-care when she is still too young to even speak? Do your diaper-clad toddlers really benefit from the early-dropoff and late-pickup options offered by the preschool so the parents can work extra? Do your kids really care whether they ride around in a thirty thousand dollar car instead of a five thousand dollar one? Is that worth saying goodbye to mommy for an extra year of their childhood?
Let’s imagine that I have convinced you, and you are ready for a change – you are a young parent ready to do a complete 180 – to try to strike a balance between having time to actually parent, and having the material things needed to do so. So given that, how can you start?
1 – Start with the assumption that it is NEVER necessary to have two full-time jobs to pay for raising kids. Many people make the wrong assumption because they have been sold the consumer myth that “times are harder now”. They are not harder. Plenty of families with kids, including mine, live a perfectly good life on the equivalent less than one average salary. Instead of two full-time salaries, plan for one, or even better, two part-time ones if both parents want to have time to be real pillars in their kids’ lives.
2 – Think about every kid-related purchase logically instead of emotionally. Instead of browsing through Target looking for things that might be nice, stay home with your kids and only plan for purchases once you realize definite needs, like outgrown shoes or socks with holes in them.
3 – Realize that you are not the first person on Earth to have a kid. Thus, almost every possible product you need is already out there, waiting to be handed down for free or sold used. View “Used” as the normal way to get everything for your child, and “New from the Store” to be the exception – something you only do with regret when the used option fails.
4 – New and Expecting Parents – don’t fall for the disposable diaper myth! This deserves an article all in itself, but in summary, disposable diapers are not any easier than modern cloth diapers. When you have a baby, you buy a Dozen Fuzzi Bunz cloth diapers or a competing brand, new or used if you can find them, and you wash them in a high-efficiency washing machine and hang them on clothes hangers to dry. You save way over a thousand dollars per child, and prevent a huge dumptruck load of crap-laden toxic waste from pouring over your child’s world. When all your children are done with the Fuzzi Bunz, you can even sell them used for a good portion of what you paid.
5 – Drive less. You are endangering your kids when you drive them around town unnecessarily, and you are burning up the very money you could be using to spend time with them. There is no need for a child to ever be part of a fender-bender in a shopping mall parking lot, because there is no real reason for anyone, parent or young child, to ever visit a dedicated shopping mall.
Having said all of this, the final answer to the question is that as a family who does a moderate job at being natural and nonconsumer parents to our child, we find that it cost less than $300 a month to have a very young child from age 0-2. Cloth diapers, food, the odd piece of clothing we couldn’t get from hand-me-downs, the occasional stroller, car seat or baby toy, doctor visit, etc.
Then we started some one-day-per week preschool at age three which ramped up to three days per week by age 5, to get him ready for the routine of kindergarten. This has by far been the biggest expense, at several hundred dollars per month.
As he grows older, the average cost will drop again since public school is free and doctor visits are now very rare. But if we round up the spending estimate to assume a continued $300 per month until he reaches age 21, that yields a total childraising cost of about $75,000. Not bad at all, less than a year’s salary for an engineer, and you get a whole lovable and productive adult out of it!
As for paying for University tuition – there’s enough fat in that $300 number to give our son a nearly-free education if that is desired, but that topic deserves its own article, like this one.
We will still provide whatever it takes to give him the best upbringing we can possibly give. It’s just that by thinking carefully before buying products in the name of being better parents, we are giving ourselves more time to actually work at being better parents.