Last week, conservative think-tank the Fraser Institute released a paper titled “The Cost of Raising Children.”
According to author Christopher Sarlo “there is no methodology or formula that can determine how much parents need to spend to raise children or, even, how much they actually do spend. What we do know is that parents at all income levels have successfully raised children.”
That’s true. Of course it is. But parents at all income levels have also decided not to have further children because of the cost, to put off retirement, relinquish jobs to eliminate child care, spend savings and rely on family or social services to aid in the expense of raising children. Ideally, wouldn’t parents be able to raise children with the bare necessities without having to go into debt or seek outside help?
The paper’s conclusion is that: Examining the basic marginal costs necessary for the healthy development of a child, this paper finds that an annual outlay of $3,000 to $4,500 (depending on the community or region and the age of the child) would be sufficient. These cost estimates exclude any savings strategies such as home gardens, sewing and knitting clothing, couponing and taking advantage of sales, own repair and maintenance work in the home, etc.
Of course, in the “basic marginal costs,” they didn’t include child care, because according to the Fraser Institute, the majority of parents don’t pay for child care. I wish I knew where they found their magical child care fairies, because that alone would make a huge difference to our family’s finances.
Being the type of parent who lives frugally, cuts coupons, buys secondhand and doesn’t have a maid or hire a plumber every time the kids flush one of their thrift store toys down the toilet, I thought I’d take a look at the Fraser Insitute’s numbers and compare it to my numbers.
I’d like to tell you that I sew or knit all the kid’s clothes, but I actually live in the 21st century, when it’s cheaper to buy secondhand clothes than it is to buy the basic materials to sew and knit. For me, sewing is an expensive luxury. But according to the Fraser Institute, we can weave cloth and coax seeds from concrete for free.
However, despite my inability to save on sewing, between getting free hand-me-downs from friends and family and purchasing most items secondhand I estimate that I spend about $300 a year per child on clothing.
Some years a bit more, some less, but that’s a decent average. I refuse to buy secondhand shoes, socks or underwear and I find it hard getting coats and pajamas secondhand when I need them.
I don’t have a home garden, mostly because I don’t have a home, except for a rental that has completely inadequate space for gardening. However, I do take advantage of the local community garden. Of course, that only really serves me in the summer months. And vegetables are some of the least expensive items we buy. Fruit and milk are the big items for us. I’m particular about making sure my children eat healthy and I’m sure the Fraser Institute would not recommend making our children live off noodles and water. Looking at the difference in grocery bills from before I had children, and with the addition of each child, I estimate that the cost of food per child is zero dollars in the first year (I breastfed), $35 a week in the second year as solids are started (equal to $1,820 per year), $2,600 a year for ages three to five, $3,380 a year for ages six-12, and in talking to friends and family with older children, $3900 a year for ages 12-18.
Sarlo used estimates of $1,638.60 for a four-year-old and $2,517.12 for a 12-year-old child. These numbers are based on the cost of food in Montreal and Manitoba. Those, of course, are two of the cheapest provinces for groceries. Apparently, the Atlantic provinces don’t deserve representation. According to Statistics Canada, the average household expense for food in Newfoundland and Labrador is almost $8,000 a year. Considering single person and couple only households are included in that average, I imagine my estimates are closer to representing the reality for most families.
Now the children are clothed and fed, they need shelter. Well, not really according to Sarlo. Apparently, all children in Canada are born into families that already own three-bedroom houses. And if the parents decide to buy a larger house to fit their growing family, then they have a potentially higher equity return — because as we all know, the real estate market is a wonderfully stable thing and no one ever loses money on a home.
Sarlo acknowledges that some families may rent, but insists that most two-bedroom apartments cost about the same as one-bedroom apartments. Sarlo obviously doesn’t live in reality. My estimates? On average, for each child/bedroom you add, you add another $200 a month to your shelter costs.
Sarlo also believes that children don’t require transportation, or if they do, it’s because of the parents change in lifestyle and can’t be attributed to the children.
Also, any car you buy will fit up to three children. Sarlo apparently is not aware of the utter inability of most standard-size cars to accommodate three carseats in the back. Or, for that matter, the cost of carseats themselves. Sarlo’s transportation estimates per child? Zero dollars.
That’s because, apparently, even if you didn’t have kids, you’d still be driving to the local school every day, leaving work to pick up a child at kindergarten halfway through the day and transport to child care, driving to the doctor’s office, dentist and hospital for multiple medical appointments, and still able to walk home from the grocery store with all that food.
It is hard to define the actual transportation costs for a child, so let’s pretend we don’t have a car and are using public transit. On most systems, kids ride free until age five. After that, it’s about $50 a month for a bus pass — or $600 a year.
Already, I’ve reached totals of $4,520 for an infant to $7,200 for a 13-year-old. And we haven’t yet included furniture, heat and electricity costs, school supplies for the older children, diapers for the younger children or the all-important child care.
I won’t bore you with the exact numbers, but I calculated all of those into my totals and came up with a range of $5,170 for an infant (that’s if you get the majority of infant furniture secondhand and only buy a new crib mattress and car seat as well as breastfeed so there’s no formula expense and take a full year maternity leave so there’s no child care expense) to $16,140 for a 6-12-year-old. The price goes down for a 12-18-year-old because child care is not legally necessary after age 12.
Even my most conservative estimates couldn’t come close to Sarlo’s. And there’s a good reason for that.
Sarlo believes that children don’t add to housing, transportation or electricity costs, nor do they need child care or their own beds (he made no allowance for furniture).
So basically, he’s determined that food, clothing and school supplies are all a child needs. They can sleep on the floor in the living room, have cold baths and wear dirty clothes and walk everywhere. And they don’t need child care. So feel free to leave them home alone while you work or attend appointments.
Of course, if you made your child live the way Sarlo seems to recommend, you’d be charged with endangerment or neglect and your children would be taken. Then they’d be free. That appears to be what this conservative think tank recommends.
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