The day your first child first enters into the world, you look into the innocent eyes of that sweet bundle of joy and realize your life is forever changed. You know instantly that you would give absolutely anything for your precious newborn baby: unconditional love, all of your time and energy, the moon and the stars, even a million bucks. And it's a good thing you feel that way because that's probably how much your child is going to cost you over the next couple of decades. (Use Filing Your Child's First Income Tax Return to help your child learn this process and establish good habits.)
Recent estimates show that a single child costs the typical middle-class family around $1.1 million from birth through college. You may have thought that fancy five-bedroom house in the suburbs was the most expensive item you'd buy in your lifetime. Well, you were wrong. You're looking at your most expensive purchase: she's right there, squirming and drooling in your arms, sipping expensive baby formula from an overpriced "anti-colic" bottle, all swaddled up in her pricey pink embroidered Pottery Barn blanket. She's a beauty, but boy does she cost a pretty penny - and she's still only a few weeks old.
Money Doesn't Grow on Trees
From the time their little tot is old enough to say "I want," most parents resort to that age-old saying they heard from the mouths of their own parents: "Money doesn't grow on trees, you know!" Of course, kids don't really understand (or care to understand) how money works, and the world revolves around them anyway, right? So, they keep on asking for candy bars in the checkout aisle, begging for super-cool monster trucks in the toy store window, and pleading for front-row tickets to the Miley Cyrus concert.
Of course, if you were to cave to their every request, you'd probably have to file for bankruptcy before they even made it to middle school. Shoot, even if you ignore their pleas for Easy Bake ovens, Abercrombie jeans and the latest iPhone, you'll still pay a fortune just keep the little rugrats sheltered, clothed, healthy and well-fed.
According to a 2009 U.S. Department of Agriculture report, the typical family will spend about $221,000 raising a child through the age of 17. (To put that in perspective, the average price of a U.S. home in 2008 was $180,100.) Fortunately, the more kids you have, the less each one costs. Parents with two children spend 25% less on each child than parents of just one kid. Families with three or more kids spend 22% less on each one.
If that's the case, parents with two children will spend a grand total of $331,500 on their kids from birth until high school graduation. Not quite the two-for-one bargain shopping you had in mind, is it?
You Can't Put a Price on Education… or Can You?
The day your child proudly tosses his high school graduation cap in the air, it's time to cut the cord, right? Some parents can (and will) do just that, without feeling even the slightest pang of guilt. However, most of us cannot imagine sending our naïve 18-year-old child out into the cruel world, penniless and alone. Consequently, we're the sorry saps who will end up supporting our kids through college.
The average cost of tuition for a state university, including room and board, is up to a whopping $14,333 these days. If state university isn't good enough for your little genius, you can plan to pay about $34,132 for a private college.
Of course, that amount will probably be much higher by the time your little one heads off to Harvard. After all, college tuition shoots up each and every year. In the past 35 years, the cost of college has increased by 1,000%.
By now you may be thinking, "Hmm…maybe junior could survive out in the world on his own." (Professional maintenance can be a chore. Learn how to streamline the process, in Keeping Up With Your Continuing Education.)
Money Can't Buy Time - or Sanity
However, all these research numbers, statistics and estimates fail to calculate the hidden costs of parenting. What about the countless hours of sleep you lose, the days of work you miss, the privacy you relinquish and the loss of sanity you experience? And don't forget about the gray hairs your children cause, and the constant worrying you must endure, not to mention all the carpet-scrubbing, window-repairing and wall re-painting you must handle after their little messes and mishaps.
Of course, there are plenty of positive parenthood factors that are difficult to quantify, as well. Like the warm feeling you get the first time your baby utters, "Mama" or "Dada," the sound of your toddler's infectious laughter, or the look on your daughter's face the first time a butterfly lands on her arm. And how do you measure those Saturday mornings spent baking cookies together or snuggling on the couch giggling at Tom and Jerry, or the swell of pride you feel when your child kicks her first soccer goal, catches his first fish, brings home a straight "A" report card or gets accepted into medical school? You can't put a price on those types of moments. Maybe that kid is worth is a million bucks after all.