It costs $233,610 to raise a child from birth through age 17, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest estimate. In What Kids Cost, parents unpack a week’s worth of child-related expenditures. If you would like to nominate yourself or someone you know to be interviewed, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This interview, conducted by Rebecca Onion, has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Married with two kids: R, age 13, and J, age 11 (Initials changed to protect kids’ privacy)
Parents’ jobs: Journalist and lawyer
Home: Arlington, Virginia
Total family income before taxes, 2018: $180,000
Mortgage/rent: $3,300 a month for 4 bedrooms
Annual child care cost: $2,500 for various summer camps (kids go to public school)
Monday, Oct. 15
Stash, Nashville, Tennessee
A nameplate that says “PUNCH TODAY IN THE FACE” (gift for R)
Five Daughters Bakery, Nashville, Tennessee
T-shirt and cookies (gift for J)
Now that my daughters are a bit older, probably the hugest transformation is that I’m not paying for day care anymore—when they get into school you no longer have that enormous expense. Which, then, you can justify turning into a bunch of little other expenses.
For example, on the rare occasion that my wife and I go on a trip somewhere without them, which we did last month, we definitely bring back gifts. I remember my parents doing that when I was a kid, and it seems like that really eased the annoyance or pain of them being gone—knowing that some treat would be waiting for me when they came back.
School lunch account for R
It’s easy for these small expenses to pile up. This one was a case of: Oh whatever, I guess I’ll just put some more money in their lunch accounts because they don’t make their lunches as often as they are supposed to, because we don’t want to get up in the morning with them and make them prepare in the morning by themselves.
Monday total: $97
Tuesday, Oct. 16
Kneepads and “toe undies” (????) for J’s hip-hop dance class
So J wanted to do a hip-hop dance class. It seems great, it’s fun, she’s doing it with her neighbor. It’s fairly affordable as after-school activities go. So we sent her to it, and then she comes home like, “Well the teacher says we all need knee pads and special hip hop dancing shoes,” which are literally just high tops and which we have so far resisted purchasing. And “toe undies.” And we were like “What are toe undies?” And she looked at us like we were the biggest idiots in the world. … And so we had to Google toe undies and find them and purchase them. … They are like little pads you wear on the balls of your feet to help cushion your feet when you spin. It was clear that if we sent her back to this hip-hop dance class and she was the only one who did not have toe undies, that would be the lead in Chapter 4 of her memoir. So we bought the toe undies.
Obviously, that’s an insane expense for a small piece of fabric. On its own it feels like, whatever, I’m going to spend $12.99 on this stupid thing. But almost every day it turns out there is something like that.
Two new Robyn songs for R
My older daughter has been on a Robyn kick for about a year, and when she heard there was a new album she got very excited. (I was also excited, for the record!) We preordered the album and got the first two songs. She’s not sure how she feels about Sad, Slow Robyn. A good welcome to music fandom to struggle with a beloved artist’s evolution!
Harris Teeter, Arlington, Virginia
Groceries! I guess my wife and I ate some of them, but it’s safe to say more than half of our grocery expenses are to fill the ravening maws of our children. The total was $88.50, so let’s say the kids ate 60 percent, hence $53.10.
Tuesday total: $90.47
Wednesday, Oct. 17
I guess we needed more groceries.
South Mountain Creamery
These are the people who deliver our milk and eggs at like 3 in the morning each Wednesday. I recently started doing this milk and egg delivery, and I don’t know if I’ll keep doing it because it definitely is more expensive than just buying milk at Harris Teeter. But there’s a farm in Maryland that has done a really good job of getting into the D.C. suburbs market for dairy and produce delivery. You place an order online, put a cooler on your front porch on Tuesday night with a bunch of cold packs in it and all your old milk bottles, and they come and take the old one and give you new milk bottles. I’m willing to keep doing it because I find it delightful, and we are getting organic milk, and the kids drink a shit-ton of milk right now. And so it seems worth it.
Wednesday total: $24.55
Thursday, Oct. 18
Harris Teeter, again
This was the day that my wife and I went to the Harris Teeter and bought the exact same stuff because of a miscommunication. Cataloging these expenses, it’s definitely embarrassing how many times we went grocery shopping.
Arena Stage, Washington
Tickets for Anything Goes in December. We can buy tickets for this show at a “pay-your-age” rate because the kids went to Arena Stage Camp this summer.
What we end up spending a surprising amount of money on is activities and experiences. We don’t buy a ton of stuff—that sounds stupid to say, as I stand in the living room looking at the Halloween decorations—but we drive two Hondas and we don’t have a lot of crap other than books around, and we don’t have particularly nice furniture. We definitely spend less on stuff than the people who live behind us in a seven-bedroom, 7,500-square-foot house. Quick! Guess how many children they have! [Slate: One.] Yeah. It’s a baby.
But if the kid expresses interest in a class we always say sure, do it, that sounds great. If a kid really wants to do a camp, we find a way to scrape together the money. If we really want to go on a trip, we save up and make it happen.
Thursday total: $93.47
Friday, Oct. 19
Domino’s Pizza, Arlington, Virginia
My wife and I went out to a movie, and this pizza was our babysitter.
Friday total: $27.31
Saturday, Oct. 20
Somehow we spent 0 dollars today?!
We’ve made a real concerted effort in the past year or so to cut down on spending on kids’ clothes. Last year we did a big rummage sale, and we spent a lot of that time being like “How did we have so much crap?” And a lot of crap was kids’ clothes. And the last few years when they’ve been growing like monsters, they grow out of stuff so fast and the number of clothes they actually like is so limited that we really have tried to focus that. And instead of buying seven pairs of cheap shoes at Old Navy, we’ve started telling each kid to find a pair of shoes they love, and that’ll be the shoes they wear for the next six months. … That has been the biggest move we have made that we are happy with, and I do think that shows up in our finances.
Saturday total: $0
Sunday, Oct. 21
Local elementary school’s “Pumpkin Fest”
We gave J $9 to spend at her former elementary school’s fall festival; she bought a bunch of Rice Krispie treats and gave us $6 change.
Trader Joe’s, Falls Church, Virginia
We go to Trader Joe’s like once a month to stock up on frozen Indian food and fruit bars. Family total was $219.99.
Missed my good pals at Harris Teeter. Family total was $97.16.
Peking Pavilion, Arlington, Virginia
Despite having a fridge full of groceries, we all wanted Chinese. We ordered four entrees for the four of us. Family total was $60.70.
We rented The Hunchback of Notre Dame for family movie night.
We’ve tried to make them understand how money works, but nevertheless they persist in just not having any sense of what things cost or how much we are spending on them on a regular basis. The difference between a five-dollar thing, a 30-dollar thing, and a 60-dollar thing is invisible to them.
They certainly know that there are certain things in our family lives that are big expenses. When we bought a car that was a big expense, and they understood that was a big deal. But then they’d say “How much was the car?” and we would say, “We paid $8,000 for it,” and we might as well have said “We paid 75 Smurfs!”
Sunday total: $227.63
How much did we spend on our kids this week? $560.43.
This was a very average week for us. We spent more on groceries than usual, in part because we were restocking the fridge after a week away, and in part because of the snafu when we both went to the grocery store on the same day. So the next week we ate our way through a lot of that food and spent a lot less on groceries. But we spent less than usual on activities, because somehow we just had a lazy Saturday and didn’t purchase anything. (Like, the next weekend, haunted house tickets and post-cold-rainy-soccer hot chocolate and a play added up to a LOT more than this weekend.)
All of this is to say that we don’t really budget. It seems kind of pointless because our whole life is unforeseen expenses. The number of things that we don’t expect to spend money on is so much higher than the number of things we expect to spend money on that the idea of a budget seems like it wouldn’t work. We could budget out food, which is always the same. We could budget out gas, and budget out our mortgage. And then everything else would be unforeseen expenses mostly having to do with children. We just try to live within our means, and so far we’ve pulled it off by virtue of working all the goddamn time.