Michelle Teheux: Kids aren’t as expensive as you think

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Every year about this time the U.S. Department of Agriculture makes me laugh my head off by estimating the cost of raising a child to the age of 18.

This year, that number (for a baby born last year to middle-income parents) is solemnly declared to be $245,000.


That’s ridiculous. You do not need to devote around a quarter of a million dollars to raising a child.

Undoubtedly some people do spend such sums raising their children, and if they have it and want to spend it that way, that’s their prerogative.

However, a better number to throw out there would be as estimate of how much you really need to spend in order to raise a child responsibly. That number would be much lower.

In the meantime, plenty of people who would like to have children are not having them — and since the falling birthrate correlates with what’s going on economically, a big part of the child-free trend probably has to do with would-be parents concluding they can’t afford to have a family.

They’re often getting dogs instead, reasoning that they can afford to care for pets but not children.

I’m not urging everyone to do their part and have kids. People who truly don’t want to have children ought to be careful not to bring any into the world.

I am, however, suggesting that people of modest means who would like to have a baby or two not take this number seriously.

The only reason it supposedly costs so much to have children is that people have been convinced they need to spend lots of money that, in reality, is completely unnecessary.

As a newish grandma, I have been revisiting the baby world, and I see that there are more businesses than ever seeking to make a buck by convincing parents they need more and more and more gizmos.

You know what you really need for the first year? Basic clothing, much of which you can probably get on a hand-me-down basis. A car seat. Some blankets and cloth diapers, which people will give you at your baby shower if you ask for them. A safe place for the baby to sleep. A cloth sling for carrying the baby around, as opposed to a stroller which is a pain in the butt to take anywhere. A few very simple toys, which you can pick up second-hand or, again, see what you get as gifts.

That’s pretty much it, and it’s all I would buy if I were a new mom on a budget. Depending on how generous the people attending your baby shower are, and how many friends and relatives are willing to give you bags of clothes their baby outgrew, you could bankroll all your baby stuff for the first couple of years for less than a thousand bucks.

I realize I lost some of you at cloth diapers. But contrary to popular belief, cloth diapers work great. I saved a ton by using them. My granddaughter is as I write no doubt wetting one. The future siblings my daughter and son-in-law plan to give my granddaughter will all use the same diapers someday.

No need to use formula if you nurse, which saves not only the truly outrageous cost of the formula but is likely to save some medical bills as well, since babies who aren’t breastfed tend to have more illnesses.

As kids grow up you sometimes do have to spend some bigger bucks. When kids no longer outgrow their clothes quickly, they actually wear them out, and the hand-me-down option disappears.

Kid activities can cost an outrageous amount, and you’ll no doubt decide some of them are worth the money, but your child will not suffer if you do not keep his or her schedule packed with endless pricey sports teams, dance classes, special camps, clubs, etc. There is something to be said for unstructured time, too.

The quality of your parenting is more important than the amount of money you spend. Far, far more important.

Sure, get your financial life in order before you start a family, but don’t forgo having a family because you conclude you’re never going to be able to come up with a quarter of a million bucks per kid.

Kids take a lot to raise. They take a lot of love, time, ingenuity, patience and effort. But money? Not so much as you’ve been told.

Michelle Teheux may be reached at Follow her at