Scared Parenting: What if I can’t afford it?

It seems like every few months another news outlet discusses how expensive it is to raise children. Articles like this present the rising national average cost of raising children as a terrifying prospect. However, I would argue that the rising American lifestyle is also to blame. There is nothing wrong with parents who chose to spend $12,000-$13,000 per year, but don’t let those numbers be a barrier to having your own children. The article only briefly touched on a few specific areas of child raising. But as we all know there are ways to save in all of those areas.

Gas prices

The price of gas affects everyone, not just parents, but families do tend to drive larger cars. I guess I would argue, seriously consider how important fuel efficiency and the price of gasoline are when choosing your car. We inherited a 2000 Buick century which gets decent but not great gas mileage. With the imminent arrival of baby #2 everyone is asking when we are getting a minivan. The answer is, when we can afford one. We can fit two car seats in the back and I try to minimize the amount of child stuff I haul around. So for now we’ll manage. Combine errands, or try to walk or bike more. Consider that today’s child is more sedentary than ever, it wouldn’t hurt to take a family walk to the store instead of getting in the car to drive. Given how long it takes to give everyone in and out of car seats, I might not even take that much longer.

Food prices

The article specifically mentions the cost of box cereal. So don’t buy box cereal, or at least not name brand ones. Sugary cereals have been traced to the rising rate of child obesity. In our house it’s mostly my husband who eats box cereal (aside from my random pregnancy craving for Lucky Charms) and I’ve been trying to encourage him to switch to oatmeal in the winter months; much cheaper and healthier. I’ve taken to making a large batch of baked oatmeal at the beginning of the week and then he cuts and reheats a square each morning, which saves quite a bit of time. My daughter likes it too, though she calls I oatmeal cake. Making simpler meal choices made from real ingredients, assembled from scratch whenever possible is almost always cheaper than buying the packed “kid friendly” items most stores feature.  Yes, the cost of basic ingredients is going up, but it is still cheaper to buy flour and sugar than boxes of cereal.

Cost of Child Care

We all know that child care can be extremely expensive. The above article notes that the cost of two or more kids in child care may actually cost more than rent or mortgage payments for many families. There is no easy answer to this dilemma. Finding low cost but safe childcare accommodations is a struggle for many. Suggestions include extended family care, home care and kid-swap/shared childcare. I know several families where a grandparent, aunt or uncle does the primary daytime care giving. There are various ways of handling this. In some cases no money changes hands. Many retired grandparents love being with their grandchildren and can’t imagine taking money for caring for them. Other families make some kind of set financial arrangement that is affordable, but hardly market level compensation. The extended family household is another option. Unemployeed or retired relatives live in the home and contribute to the household by providing childcare.

Homecare can be another good option that tends to be less expensive than a larger daycare center. I know several moms who care for one or two additional children, close to the age of their own. The children enjoy being together, thus giving the overseeing parent more time on his or her hands, which makes the lower compensation worth it. Other options include working part-time and sharing childcare with someone who works a different shift. This kind of kid-swap can work well as though as the details are well worked out in advance. In some cases, this may work within the same household. Some couples specifically find jobs with opposite shifts so that one of them will be home at all times to care for the children. This can be rough on the relationship, but does save on the cost of childcare.

The biggest suggestion given in this article is to save money in anticipation of having children. This is obviously always good advice. But there are so many other things that can help families bring down the cost of raising children. I honestly don’t know if these articles are designed to scare would-be parents and discourage having children or to make poorer families decide to have fewer. I dislike articles that give only raw averages without breaking down the numbers better. There is no mention of the fact that breastfeeding or cloth diapering could save thousands a year or discussion of the fact that every item sold at Babiesrus is not a life necessity. If you really want children, look objectively at your finances and see if there is a way to make it work. It may mean making big sacrifices, like one parent delaying career advancement by staying at home full or part-time, or making life style alterations like cutting back on cable, cell phone and eating out bills. Try not to let the sticker shock keep you from your dreams of a family.

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