The Mental Gymnastics of Family Planning

What expenses can you actually anticipate?

Image: Tania Ho

I make a lot of larger purchases by comparison shopping — lazily, whenever I find time, but still by finding the exact costs at different points of sale. For instance, we’ve been wanting to find a semi-portable projector with a resolution that’s high enough to project movies up on a wall of our living room. They vary wildly in price, so we’ve given it months and months to simmer and figure out what we want.

People also wait around for a while before having kids. The Department of Agriculture has given us a mid-range figure of how much kids cost in the United States. For middle income families, $245,000 is the magic number for raising a kid to age 18.

What that number doesn’t tell us is that most people don’t magically make $15,000 extra a year in order to pay for the kid — they trim, they save, and they budget. What makes that extra difficult though, is that a child doesn’t literally cost $15,000, paid out in installments. Instead, you have to wrap your head around a wide range of expenses.

I talked to a couple of my friends about their expected and unexpected expenditures after having kids. They mentioned the endless purchases of diapers and the medical bills as things they anticipated, but there were other things they didn’t know were coming. One friend expected to breastfeed but when she needed supplemental milk she had to purchase formula, which has been estimated at costing a little over $2000 for just one year.

Another friend mentioned that there were a lot of expenses to bring children into their lives — things that were actually for the comfort and sanity of the parents, not for the children. These things were aspects I hadn’t really thought of: clothes that fit Mom between maternity and her regular size; babysitting costs; meals that are a little more convenient and fast. These things add up, just like the extra expenses you make for managing the demands of a crazy schedule as the result of a high-powered job.

One friend said she couldn’t think of a totally unexpected expense, but she did ask, “What about sleep? Is sleep an expense?” While I cannot quantify an hour of sleep, the consequences of sleep deprivation can cost a lot — coffee cost money, and cold medicine costs money when your immune system is compromised.

I was glad my friends were willing to share these expenses, because I have no idea how to comparison-shop my way to a child or how to wrap my head around the changes in my life that would happen. I know we want kids someday, but I don’t know how to plan other than just to sock dollar bills away in hopes that I can afford to buy all the child-related paraphernalia expected of me. Once in a while, I’ll see a kid in a cute outfit and I’ll realize with a jolt that parents have to buy kids clothes — practically all the time because they grow so much. A friend had a baby shower recently, and just scrolling through the pages and pages of options for how to add new, baby-proof devices to her life made me shut down a little.

So I turn to the Billfold readers — how did you “plan” for the expense of having a family? What expenses were you expecting, and which turned out to be way more than you thought or were way outside the typical “range” of costs? How did you deal with the “bigness” of the choices before you?

As for me, I’m trying to slowly build an imaginary budget that would make sense with kids in it for the future, but I’m not ready to have them yet. I’ve mostly just come around to the idea that rather than letting the expense frighten or overwhelm me, I should take each new thing I consider (I have to buy the little person clothes!??!) and add it to my planning. It’s making each new expense I notice in the lives of my friends with kids feel more manageable, and making me feel just that tiny bit more prepared for the future.

Laura Marie is a writer and teacher in Ohio. She blogs about family recipes among other things at Recipe in a Bottle.

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