The Cost of Raising a Child from Cradle to Adulthood

Cradle Adulthood

Raising a child takes patience, understanding — and about $245,340, based on the latest estimates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

That’s the average cost to care for a child from birth to age 18 for a middle-income family, as calculated by the USDA in a recent report on family expenditures. The estimate excludes prenatal health care and college costs. If you’re getting ready to have your first child, your life and your spending will change drastically. Here’s a closer look at how the cost breaks down.

Housing

Child-rearing expenses typically cost couples with two children between just over $9,000 and nearly $26,000 a year per child, depending on household income and the age of the children, according to the USDA.

The incremental cost of housing is the largest expenditure, accounting for about 30% of the cost of raising a child to adulthood, the report says. That estimate is based on the expectation that a family with children will need at least one extra bedroom. And the estimate of housing costs is conservative, the USDA says, because it does not take into consideration the desire of many parents to live in areas with better schools, for example, which tend to be more expensive.

To prepare for buying a home, you will want to have at least 20% of the purchase price saved up for a down payment, although lenders do make exceptions. If you’re a first-time homebuyer and you have an individual retirement. Consult your banker for help with mortgage qualification.

Child Care and Education

The cost burden of child care and education has ballooned since 1960, when it accounted for only 2% of the typical costs of raising a child, to 18% today, according to the USDA report. That is largely due to women’s increased participation in the workforce.

To offset the cost, look into benefits such as the federal Child and Dependent Care Credit, which can reduce your taxes by up to $1,050 a year for a single child and $2,100 for two or more. Also look into alternatives to day care centers such as sharing a nanny with another family or hiring a live-in “au pair.”

If your child goes the private school route, be prepared. The average cost for private elementary school nationwide in 2014-15 was $7,331, and the average cost for private high school was almost twice that, according to PrivateSchoolReview.

For higher education, open a 529 account for your child, which allows you to save for college costs with tax-free earnings and virtually no contribution limits. A Coverdell account can help you build savings for private school or college, although the benefits are more limited.

Food

As your child gets older, grocery bills will increase. Food accounts for 16% of child-rearing expenses, the USDA report says. This includes grocery shopping, dining out and school meals. To save money on food, eat as many homemade meals as you can; it’s considerably cheaper than dining out.

Health Care

Your child inevitably will get sick, and even if you have insurance, it won’t cover all the costs. Out-of-pocket expenses for medical and dental services tend to rise as your children grow. Out-of-pocket health care expenses account for about 8% of the cost of raising a child in a typical household, the USDA figures. To save money, look into a health savings account or flexible spending plan, which allow you to pay for qualified health care expenses with pretax income.

Bringing a new life into the world comes with a spectrum of challenges and expenses, so be prepared with new strategies for saving money and building assets. As exciting as parenthood can be, it helps to be ready for it financially, too.

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