Odd Ball Costs of Having Kids

(Guest Post by Len Penzo while J$ is off in La La land with his new boy…)

I know. I heard the groan the moment you didn’t see J Money’s name in the by line. That’s okay. I don’t take it personally.

I usually hate writing guest posts for famous bloggers because being a guest writer on somebody else’s blog is the Internet equivalent of being a substitute teacher — in junior high school. Even so, I wanted to make sure J had plenty of time to enjoy that new baby of his. So here I am!

Awhile back, I noticed that J began tracking every single expense his baby has cost him since conception.

Well, now that J has finally become a Dad — and as the father of a 14-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter — I want to make sure he knows what he’s really in for, financially speaking.

Like a lot of you, I saw the latest government study that claims it now costs an average of $235,000 in today’s dollars to raise one child to age 18. However, for a lot of folks, this number is absurdly low.

For example, while the study included food, shelter, child care, health care, clothing and grade school education expenses, it failed to include college — that is, assuming you’re the type that thinks parents are responsible for that. The study also inexplicably failed to consider other key cost drivers that most parents have to deal with.

Off the top of my head, here are just a few examples, some arguably more expensive than others:

Unexpected home maintenance

When my son Matthew was around seven-years-old, I made the mistake of giving him a kid-sized tool box with kid sized tools. You know, a little saw, a small screwdriver or two, tiny pliers, a mini-hammer; stuff like that. One day I came home to find out Matthew had decided to use his tool set to do a little home remodeling — the renovations included making large gouges in his bedroom walls, and chipping off parts of the window frames and base boards. Then there was the time he flushed his underwear down the toilet — of course, we only discovered that little surprise after we spent a couple hundred bucks for a plumber to clear the hopelessly clogged line. Good times. I’ve got about 100 other examples from the last ten years I could share, but I think you get the point.

Extracurricular activities

This year alone, I’ve easily shelled out at least a few thousand bucks to cover the fees and other costs for Matthew’s travel baseball team and Nina’s color guard team and weekly singing lessons.

Wasted electricity

Kids seem to have no trouble flipping on the light switch when they enter a room. In fact, I can’t remember the last time my kids walked into a room and forgot to turn the lights on. But when it comes to turning them off, well … fuggedaboutit. I wish I had a nickel for every time I walked into empty rooms with a 100-Watt light bulb or two burning, or a television set blaring, or a stereo playing. God knows it would certainly help cover the money I’ve spent over the past ten years in extra electricity. And don’t get me started about them standing in front of the open refrigerator for six minutes at a time while they debate what they want to eat or drink.


Think about it: Over the course of 18 years, the number of gifts we give our kids can really add up: Christmas, birthdays, graduations … I’m sure there are other occasions I’m missing.


Let’s face it: parents have to get away from their kids every once in awhile if they want to keep their marriage healthy and vibrant. With few exceptions, the Honeybee and I have been fortunate enough to have two sets of grandparents available to watch our kids. Not everyone is so fortunate, though! And over time, let me tell you, those babysitter rates can really add up!

I’m sure you can think of scores of other examples of why kids can be so expensive to raise. That being said, it’s an undeniable fact that having children makes our lives richer — and that makes kids a bargain at any price.

The important thing to keep in mind is that the cost of raising our kids is largely dependent on us as parents: As long as we understand the concept of wants versus needs — and faithfully live within our means — then everything is going to be just fine.

Len shamelessly airs his dirty laundry several times a week on his cleverly-named personal finance blog, Len Penzo dot Com, which has been twice-honored as a Kiplinger Best Money Blog. (No, really. Len can’t believe it either.)

(Photo by GoodNCrazy)

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  1. Lance @ Money Life and More July 18, 2012 at 7:09 AM

    Enjoyed the post Len. I’d say those home improvements and toilet issues are probably fairly common. I don’t have any kids yet but when I eventually do I won’t give them a functional mini tool set!

  2. Money Beagle July 18, 2012 at 8:33 AM

    We have free babysitting due to grandparents :) But I agree on a lot of the other costs. I’m seeing our 13 year old carpeting continue to take a beating, and there’s marks over many of the walls. I’m not going to let it get too bad but at the same time I’m going to wait a few years before I replace either as I know it would be pointless right now.

  3. Laura Brown July 18, 2012 at 8:36 AM

    There’s another cost those estimates NEVER cover: TOYS. Not just gifts, but let’s face it: most people don’t give their kids gifts solely on special occasions. Christmas and birthdays come but once a year (fortunately, as I don’t think anyone’s budget could stand them 12 times a year) but then there are those trips to the store where Johnny wants a car. Or Suzy wants bubbles. Or even the $1 stuff at the Dollar Stores add up over time. Sure, they play with it and it gets thrown out in 6 months when it finally craps out on you beyond replacing the batteries, but all that stuff adds up. You will probably spend the $235,000 in toys alone. And as they get older, the toys get more expensive!

  4. L Bee @ Money Tree July 18, 2012 at 8:51 AM

    Even though I don’t have kids I enjoyed this post-usually I just skip when a pf blog writes something about children. I think this is the hallmark of an engaging writer. Glad I got the change to know you this week!

  5. jolie July 18, 2012 at 10:14 AM

    the extra curricular are what killed us. I am a firm believer that kids need to be involved in something or a couple somethings that they love and are excited about. There are lots of activities that don’t cost a lot, but most of them do have costs.

  6. Joe @ Retire By 40 July 18, 2012 at 10:25 AM

    Our kid is only 17 months old and we are not looking forward to all the extra home repair cost. We didn’t spend much money on sports and extra curricular activities when I was a kid so that’s a bit foreign to me, but I guess we’ll see.

  7. LB July 18, 2012 at 10:41 AM


    I had a real tool set as a kid and actually was allowed to use it! Helped my dad cut open a wall with my little saw and used that hammer to build things and hang up posters. Good times. Probably explains why I love working on my house and building things to this day. I find it funny I know more about construction than my husband, but we can’t all have a father who owns a construction/floor iinstalling business.

    Do kids get away with more today? (Do you think?) Or were my parents just really strict? I never flushed anything and only once marked on the walls and got yelled at and in trouble so I never did that again.

    I loved your post, it was engaging and made me think of the other side of child care occurances/expenses.

  8. Alexis July 18, 2012 at 10:51 AM

    We try to limit the afterschool costs by signing our kids up for only one sport and one instrument, but even then the costs are astronomical: more than $2500 for just one hour of gymnastics apiece for both kids and weekly half-hour drum lessons for my older one. Ack! And you didn’t mention summer camp — my two kids are doing five weeks at a local gymnastics camp, at a cost of just over two grand.

  9. Aaron @ ThreeThriftyGuys July 18, 2012 at 11:09 AM

    Haha.. love the one about “wasted electricity”.. that was so me as a youngster – leaving lights on wherever I went. I see I have passed this trait down to the son too :)

  10. Len Penzo July 18, 2012 at 12:42 PM

    @Lance: Good idea, my friend! Or you can always fall back on the Playskool stuff made of thick plastic — that stuff is pretty harmless!
    @MoneyBeagle: One of the smartest things we did was to hold off on certain home upgrades (new flooring, fresh coats of paint, nice leather furniture … stuff like that) until our kids got out of their destructive phase. New parents and parents to be: just trust me and the Beagle on this.
    @Laura: I hear ya. Although, nine times out of ten, I’ve always been an ogre when it comes to my kids asking me for off-the-cuff stuff like that!
    @L Bee: Thank you for the nice words. I look forward to engaging you over on my humble little website sometime. On a side note … you’re not related to the Honeybee, are you?
    @Joe: Travel sports are extremely expensive, Joe. If you’re kid is in it just for the fun, stick to the formally organized sports like AYSO and Little League. Much less expensive and just as fun. (And I’m speaking as a past Little League president.)
    @LB: Glad you enjoyed the post! I had a real tool set too when I was a kid, but I never dared remodel anything in my house — my Dad would have given me a good whippin’. (Can I say that without Child Protective Services coming down on my folks? Sorry, Dad. I’ll just deny I ever wrote this.) When I was around 6 years old, a buddy and I did “borrow” some cement from his Dad’s garage though and made real “speed bumps” to ride our bicycles over. It was awesome! The city didn’t like it too much though.
    @Alexis: I didn’t mention summer camp because I’m still trying to keep that experience a secret from my kids. But now that you’ve let the cat out of the bag, Alexis … you’re absolutely right. ;-)

  11. Brent Pittman July 18, 2012 at 3:15 PM

    Don’t forget vacations and travel tix back ‘home’. Those extra kiddos above 2 cost a pretty penny to fly.

  12. Serena @ Thrift Diving July 18, 2012 at 3:40 PM

    …….Yep, and don’t forget the costs to buy your KIDS’ friends birthday presents!!! Now that my oldest one just finished Kindergarten, he’s getting lots of invites from his friends, and that’s a good $20 or more PER kid…..multipled over several years……YIKES!!!

    Thrift Diving

  13. Kay July 18, 2012 at 4:31 PM

    @Serena: $20 per kid?! When I was young, my friends and I always gave each other money equal to how old the friend turned or a gift that’s within that amount (i.e. $9 for 9th bday, $12 for 12th bday, etc). What is a 7 year old supposed to do with all that money? Assuming they have 5-10 friends come to the party, that’s $100-$200! Man, when I was young that was a lot of money and I’m only 24.

  14. Len Penzo July 18, 2012 at 4:33 PM

    @Brent and @Serena: You two are really starting to depress me.

  15. Jace76 July 18, 2012 at 4:47 PM

    You didn’t mention gifts for others, Think about how many birthday parties your kids will get invited to, and each one will require a gift for the Birthday boy or girl. Depending on how great your kid is you could be looking at a party a month (and thats if thier spread out!) Also the cost of running a birthday party, sure its once a year, but still it adds up.

  16. Serena@ThriftDiving July 18, 2012 at 4:51 PM

    One of my colleagues today said she and her husband do not want children, and the first comment out of my mouth was “Just think of all the money you will save!!” hahaha

    Thrift Diving

  17. Crystal @ Broke-Ass Mommy July 18, 2012 at 5:55 PM

    Whenever I think, hmmm, maybe having a kid wouldn’t suck, I then see posts like these. :-) I really admire great parents and cry for their wallets. :-)

  18. Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager July 18, 2012 at 6:58 PM

    Yikes. How much does it cost to take care of parents when they get old? Maybe in balances out in the long run?

  19. Len Penzo July 18, 2012 at 11:08 PM

    @Jenna: You may have a point! When I’m old and gray, I may have to do a little remodeling of my own at the old folks’ home. That should recoup a few bucks! ;-)

  20. Andrea @ Take A Smart Step July 20, 2012 at 5:56 PM

    I am with everyone else on the other kids birthday presents – I am amazed at how much I spend yearly on birthday presents for other kids. My son is also not capable of walking by a light switch that he does not believe needs to be on – even if it is the middle of a bright sunny day!

    What we do for love! :)

  21. Melissa@LittleHouseInTheValley July 20, 2012 at 7:57 PM

    This is so true! Our 8 year old is still fairly insulated from peer pressure. He doesn’t yet have a cell phone or even much care about video games. However, his extracurricular activities are starting to add up, and he has two younger siblings behind him.

  22. J. Money July 24, 2012 at 3:58 PM

    Thanks again for guest posting, Len! A lot of things to look forward to, eh? ;) I think I already need to buy a whole bunch of more shirts for myself – that little booger pees/poops all over me every day! Haha… it’s a good thing they make ’em so cute.

  23. Glen Craig July 25, 2012 at 10:24 AM

    Gifts – how about all the gifts you have to buy going to OTHER kids parties! And then you have to put together birthday parties for your own kids.

    Good to know about the mini tools. I’ve seen sets like that and considered them when my 5 yr old guy gets a little older. Now I know to keep them on lockdown. Similarly, you can expect to do some painting to cover up crayon and marker drawing somewhere in the house and some piece of furniture will need to be replaced because of the kids.

    And how’s this for extra costs – you may get to a point where you just need a bigger place to live. Where does that fit into the $235k? Add to that a bigger car (our poor little Corolla just couldn’t handle a trip to BJs with a couple of car seats in the back).

  24. J. Money July 25, 2012 at 1:23 PM

    And then all the extra doctor visits from catching colds from snotty kids at all the parties too, right? That’s what our doctor said to watch out for at our 2 week checkup yesterday, haha… gotta love it!

  25. Robin Uram @ Quizzle July 25, 2012 at 5:07 PM

    I love this article! I have always said they underestimated that total. They forget the bikes and roller blades and keeping up with the electronic trend (insane) Budgeting for college and their weddings. Perfect way to teach the kids how to budget and keep the costs down.
    Meanwhile, You just have to love the little people!

  26. Glen Craig July 25, 2012 at 7:49 PM

    Parties? Just wait until they start school or daycare. There will be some nasty bugs and viruses.

    But it’s all good. The little buggers are expensive but it’s so worth it.

  27. Len Penzo July 26, 2012 at 7:27 PM

    You’re very welcome, J! It was my pleasure. I remember the first time I got it in the eye ; boys are “special” that way. ha ha

    @Glen: Oh yes, crayon-marked walls is another “joy” us parents get to deal with! Stained carpets too due to, well … lots of stuff — some edible, some not. And as I said before,thankfully we wisely held off on getting new furniture and nice floors until after the kids outgrew their destructive phase.

    @Robin: Kids are expensive, but you definitely get your money’s worth!

  28. Paula @ Afford Anything July 30, 2012 at 1:58 PM

    My cousin’s two-year-old child just scribbled with marker all over her $1700 couch. Which, I suppose, is just another reason not to buy a $1700 couch.