The Cost of a Baby Isn’t as High as You Think (But There are Surprises)

Before my son was born, I imagined that having a kid would be insanely expensive. The US Department of Agriculture publishes an annual report on the costs of raising a child, but the costs never seemed shockingly high. (Around $250,000 over a lifetime.) I thought our own costs would be higher than estimates, and so we planned accordingly. So we saved a large chunk of money for my son’s first year. But there were some surprises about baby costs. Here they are.

Surprises about the Cost of a Baby

1. They Aren’t Expensive

Babies really aren’t that expensive. In their first year the spend most of their time eating, sleeping, and going to the bathroom. Breastfeeding and cloth diapers dramatically cut these costs. Plus, you have a lot less time to go out and spend money on dining out and entertainment. Our heating bill went up, but costs in a huge number of budget categories went down.

2. Babies’ Stuff Is Expensive

What does cost a lot of money is all of the things you think you need for your kid. Instead of playing with the all natural wooden blocks you paid $40 for, your child would play the the empty oatmeal container or the dog’s bone.The best thing to do is avoid buying overpriced plastic. Visit clothing swaps and large consignment sales and you’ll get 10 times more for your money they you would in a store.

3. Babies’ Health Care Is Expensive

If you don’t plan for health care costs, these will rack up fast. In Minneapolis, Minnesota the cost for a drug-free birth with midwives where in-hospital labor was only four hours was nearly $14,000. A portion of the cost was “room and board” for the two-day post-delivery stay. But still, this number shocked me. Our insurance paid 80%, but the remaining 20% stung a bit. Even after labor and delivery, the costs remain high. Most insurance plans cover preventive doctors’ visits, but you will have more than your fair share of non-preventive visits in your first years for fevers, colds, rashes, and more.

4. Babies Lead to Lifestyle Inflation

The real cost of children is the potential for lifestyle inflation. Suddenly your house and cars seem smaller, your neighborhood schools don’t seem good enough, and your yard isn’t large enough for both dogs and kids to run around in. Once you have a baby and the toys start overtaking every corner of your house, you’ll convince yourself that you need more room. And that is where the true costs of children comes in. If you can avoid this, you’re golden. But most people move to a larger house spending hundreds of thousands more than they otherwise would and buy cars that are tens of thousands more. And that is why children cost so much.

5. Surprises are Costly

The biggest surprise about babies and money is that you never know what you’re going to need. You can buy as much used as you can and get hand-me-down clothes, but unexpected expenses will still arise. For example, when your kid starts chewing on the crib and paint is peeling off into his mouth, you don’t have time to wait for a gently-used crib rail cover to arrive from eBay. Instead you spend $30 at the store near your house to have a cover before his morning nap. Or when your child starts getting up too early, $40 for a toddler clock seems like a small price to pay for a little more sleep. The best thing to do if budgeting for a baby is plan for $100 or so a month in surprise expenses. Most months you won’t need this much, but the months that you do need it, you’ll be thankful

Babies cost money. Not as much as you think. But raising a child is the most rewarding thing that money can buy.

Photo credit: Upsilon Andromedae

0 thoughts on “The Cost of a Baby Isn’t as High as You Think (But There are Surprises)

  • Hi Elizabeth,
    As a mom of 3 I completely agree with everything you said! You’re so right, the real cost of a baby is not the baby itself. My husband and I had no foresight when we bought our first car to plan ahead and see if a car seat would fit in the back seat. We spent her first 12 months driving with our knees in the dash in because the front seats had to be pushed so far forward to fit her rear-facing car seat. When we got pregnant with our second we bought a mini-van since we weren’t sure if we were going to decide to have a third or not. It’s a good thing we did because after deciding we were “done” I found out I was pregnant with our son. “Surprise!” 🙂

    There are also the costs of “safety” that are hard to resist. Sure, the $100 car seat is probably just as safe as the $300 one, but we felt like we’d never forgive ourselves if she got hurt in the $100 one, wondering if the $300 one would have protected her better.

    Great post!

    P.S. I’m also the proud owner of one of those $40 stop light clocks, which I bought for my son in a moment of desperation when we were in dire need of some sleep!

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