My Year in Parenting Expenses

Sometimes I read things—like in The New York Times—that say children cost millions of dollars. I have two kids, and I always think, that can’t be right. This is for people that live in Manhattan. But I’ve never taken a hard look at the numbers. So I thought I’d celebrate the holidays with a cold, hard-hearted look at the cash flow.

Last year my husband wrote an app for us to track our expenses. (This is what he does for fun. I go out to eat for fun. We are like the odd couple over here.) I decided to sit down and try and crunch some numbers and figure out just how much dough these two little whippersnappers cost me. (Just for a frame of reference, we live in the holy-moly-expensive Bay Area and I’m sure it would be cheaper elsewhere.)

But the kids are three and eight years old, so how much can they really run through? I mean, nobody got a BMW for their sweet sixteen or anything. It won’t be much, said I, sanguinely. But immediately I ran into some uncomfortable numbers.

First off, clothes. $265. This seems like a lot! And it’s almost all for the big one, because the little one just gets hand-me-downs. Except for socks, because you know how it’s so hard to keep both of a regular pair of socks? It’s really, really hard to keep track of those dinky ones. But I think this must be mostly shoes for the eight-year-old. When they get that age you can’t really get used shoes from your friends because big kids thrash their shoes in, like, a minute. And then grow out of them in 10 minutes.

The eight-year-old goes to public school, but we pitch in (like everyone else does) to pay for what are laughably called “enrichments” but I call “normal things that every child should be entitled to,” like P.E., art, music and a freakin’ school library. She also goes to gymnastics once a week and has a weekly language class. Total: $1,480. The smaller one only started preschool in September, which means this is a cheap year—although I’ll include the deposit, which is sort of like a “last month’s rent.” She goes three mornings a week. There’s a little babysitting money in there too from before that, for a total of $3,200. As a journalist, I’m stuck in the income trap where spending more on child care so I can work more would not net us any profit and would just make me sad, so I work during those mornings and around the edges of my childrens’ lifestyles, which has a maybe not a monetary cost, but certainly a mental health one!

I wanted to charge them rent, too. I thought that 2/5 would be fair, but my husband pointed out that as we already live in a one-bedroom apartment, we wouldn’t spend less if we didn’t have kids. On the other hand, they seem to take up a hell of a lot of physical space—more than is possible without a new theory of physics. But it’s true, we haven’t yet needed to get a bigger place because of them so I’ll class them as moochers but not rent owers.

Toys and books $410? I don’t even know. This is like a life lesson in how lots of tiny things add up to one big thing. I look at the list and I see “rocks” for $12. This was from the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles. She likes minerals. I guess if it covers Christmas and birthdays it’s not so terrible? Or maybe it is.

I’m just not going to say anything about all the birthday parties we get invited to except I’m just glad the kid has friends. And teachers. Tip the teachers! Gifts given, $252.

Insurance is a hard one to break down. The girls and I pay for our own insurance (so guess what website I’ve just spent a lot of time on, and I am a citizen, why don’t you think my passport is real, why do I have to send it again, why?). But they are cheap and I am old, so I can’t blame too much on them. Our insurance is a total of $2,582 each year. I’ll stick with their share at 25 percent, which makes them $645. But I should add in a further $351 in health and dental expenses.

I saved the most embarrassing one for last. It’s embarrassing because the amount of money we spend on food is, frankly, ridiculous. Partly it’s the aforementioned restaurant habit, partly it’s trying to buy healthy and local, and part of it is just bad budgeting. I tried to calculate a percentage of the food budget for the kids based on their weight—together they’re about 25 percent of the total weight of the house, so they’re going to be accounting for 25 percent of the food. It’s true that they did not drink 25 percent of the beer, or the coffee, but they probably ate 75 percent of the croissants, so … $3,790.

And there are so many other things. The car—how much gas is spent on taking them places? I have no idea. Car insurance, public transportation tickets, utilities (they leave lamps on all the time, as children do), airplane tickets to visit my mom. Not to mention the time we spend with them—can I charge by the hour? The total just from this rough list I came up with is $14,893. Which is…a lot? Not a lot? I don’t really care, honestly. But maybe not so many croissants next year. We’ve got some saving for college to do.


Maya Mirsky is a reporter covering local news in Oakland, Calif. Photo: Richard Heaven


15 Comments / Post A Comment

EmilyStarr (#4,035)

We pay $3,049/month in daycare for two kids. So I’m not going to parse out the rest of it at the moment, as that number alone is sufficiently dumbfounding. We’re counting the days until the older one starts public school, even though we’ll still be paying for before and after care.

honey cowl (#1,510)

@EmilyStarr Oh my god. Please tell me where you live. This is an enormous amount of money, more than any salary I have ever made!

sea ermine (#122)

@EmilyStarr Oh my god. Is this in the bay area? That’s more than any amount of money I could dream of having. I know that childcare is a difficult job and thus should be paid fairly but is there a chance that there is somewhere cheaper, or if you qualify for some sort of assistance? My cousins live in NYC, and I know their childcare was cheaper than that (only one kid, but it’s a baby and they had a nanny come to their apartment). There has to be somewhere you can get it cheaper.

Are there any public daycares or something? I don’t mean to imply that you haven’t researched this as I’m sure you have, I’m just so shocked by that number that I think there must be a better option somewhere.

WayDownSouth (#3,431)

@EmilyStarr indeed. Currently we’re in the happy period of post-daycare and pre-private school. Our daughter will start private school soon, with tuition in year 5 being $25k. That doesn’t include uniforms, trips, chocolates which we’ll buy as part of fund-raising activities, etc.

I went to public schools throughout, so there weren’t any school fees until I paid my university tuition. However, the facilities and teachers at our daughter’s school will be far, far better than what I had. At the end of the day, it’s just money. That’s what we work for.

WayDownSouth (#3,431)

@sea ermine there can be quite dramatic differences in the quality of daycare facilities. When our daughter initially went to daycare, she was in an inexpensive public daycare. On a very warm day (>105f), I stopped by unexpectedly to pick her up. The room for her class had only a single small fan and the poor kids were stripped down to their underwear and lying on mats to try to stay as cool as possible. The room was really warm and all the kids were affected by the heat. I was appalled.

We immediately enrolled her in a $1,500/month daycare and considered it money well spent. The daycare workers were better, the rooms had central air conditioning and it was only a block from my office building. We paid an extra $1,000/month and were very happy to do so. I’d therefore be reluctant to make daycare choices based primarily on cost. Sometimes it’s worth it, sometimes it’s not.

EmilyStarr (#4,035)

@WayDownSouth @sea ermine @honey cowl We’re in the Maryland part of the DC area. The area’s notoriously hard for daycare. We originally had our older daughter at an in-home daycare, which was around $1,000/month. Certainly less expensive, but there were several red flags for us (running into the only licensed provider at the grocery when our daughter was at daycare, e.g. – who’s looking after our child?), so as soon as a spot opened at a center, we took it. In addition to the center having more stringent standards for care, both of the girls are pretty social, and we find that their being around more kids has been really beneficial for their development. I changed jobs before the second was born, so we both make more now, but we have to watch our wallets VERY carefully to make it work. It is a choice, though, and there are some less expensive options (not that $1,000/month/kid is particularly cheap, though, really).

honey cowl (#1,510)

@EmilyStarr Wow! I’m glad your kids are safe and socialized and happy, and that you guys are making it work. I had a dream I got pregnant the other night, which at the time was a happy dream, and is now looking slightly scarier :)

littleoaks (#1,801)

I am interested to know how you make two adults and two kids work in a one-bedroom apartment!

LookUponMyWorks (#2,616)

@littleoaks Me too!

sea ermine (#122)

@littleoaks I’m guessing that the living room is one bedroom and the bedroom is the other. With kids you can do bunkbeads and divide things up creatively. I’ve seem some examples of this on apartment therapy.

mayam (#5,523)

@littleoaks Hey, Maya here. To answer your question, that room is just full of beds: two twins and a queen. Not much else. It’s really just a room for sleeping and laundry folding. At some point we’ll do bunkbeds and that’ll free up some space.

mayam (#5,523)

@LookUponMyWorks People always look a little nonplussed when I say we have a one-bedroom, but it’s pretty spacious, actually. What I really want, more than another bedroom, is a home office!

andnowlights (#2,902)

Oh heavens. These numbers.

I’m sticking with my “unless someone else (read: the people who are bugging me to HAVE them) pays for them, that is not happening” stance that I told my grandmother (see: people who were bugging me about having children) over Christmas.

Not Beehive (#5,663)

$265 for clothes for 2 kids doesn’t seem extravagant at all. When mine were that age I spent close to $1000 but I had a boy and a girl so the hand-me-downs weren’t happening too often.

I’m most suprised at the food expenses. You’re really spending $15K per year on food for 4 people?

In 16 years I have spent $75K on kids’ clothes, gifts, preschool/school, lessons, and toys. That doesn’t include food, utilities, doctor visits, health insurance, and the general destruction of my house.

WriteBikeBobbi (#3,938)

We are about to have our first kid. Already, looking at the baby stuff everyone says you NEED is making my head hurt! I think it will be our only kid. And I’m not surprised at the food budget, really — ours is $800 to $1000 a month just for two.

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