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.
Divorced dad, with two kids and full custody: Girl A, age 12, and Boy B, age 9
Dad’s job: Educator
Home: Torrington, Wyoming
Total projected family income before taxes, 2019: $60,000
Mortgage/rent, including property taxes and insurance: $950 a month for a five-bedroom house with a garage, storage shed, and big fenced backyard
Annual child care cost: $2,000 to $3,000 in summer camps (kids go to public school, no day care)
Sunday, Jan. 20
Snacks, entry ticket at wrestling meet
My son, a second-grader, had a wrestling meet in a town about 70 miles down the road. It was $3 for me to get in. I packed us food and snacks for the day but I’m a sucker for breakfast burritos, so I bought a couple for three bucks each at the concession stand. Then a bottle of Gatorade and a sack of cotton candy to reward the boy (second place!) brought the total to $15.
On the way home we stopped at a Walmart. I do as much local shopping as I can, but you simply can’t beat Walton’s Five and Dime for many household essentials. This was my “stock-up” trip for the week, which included filling the drawer I pull from when making the kids’ lunches for school. Total for what the kids will use came to $88.17.
I didn’t have to fill up with gas, but I estimate all the running around cost me at least $15, and we’re not even counting indirect costs here, like wear and tear on the vehicle, and insurance.
Sunday total: $118.17
Monday, Jan. 21
Sports registration fee
Uniforms and tournament fees
More sports expenses. I registered my son for Little League Baseball this spring into summer, and paid for my daughter’s traveling club basketball team uniform and upcoming tournament registration fees. I’m told by friends in urban areas that these types of fees for such sporting activities can run into the thousands of dollars (!) for their kids, so I feel I’m getting off pretty cheap. The local rec board sponsors a lot of youth activities around here as well, so that keeps the costs down.
Other thing to note is that while the kids’ mama is not very involved in their day-to-day lives, she is pretty good at paying her share for their activities. I’m assuming she’ll pay for her share of this (oh believe me, I let her know exactly how much things cost) so I’m just going to put it down at a cost to me of $72.50, even though I’m writing the checks for twice that.
Things did not end well. We don’t have any formal [agreement]—there’s no alimony or child support arrangement. We didn’t want any of that. But she’s pretty good about paying her half, I’ll give her that. I don’t send her a bill for things like utilities for the house.
MLK Day today, so I was home with the kids. We didn’t do too much that cost money, so $0 there.
Monday total: $72.50
Tuesday, Jan. 22
Owing to an electrical outage, today was a late start to the school day, meaning I spent at least $5 running around town getting the kids to school, going back to get forgotten backpacks, etc. Breaks in routine just crash the system. My son normally rides the school bus and my daughter walks to her school. I also make their lunches every day, so that cost would be reflected in that Walmart trip the other day.
I am not very creative about lunch. I don’t do any of that stuff you see on HuffPost, or whatever—cute notes and stuff. They get sandwiches and fruit and potato chips and maybe a cookie. They get a choice of what lunchmeat, and then on Fridays, if they want peanut butter with Nutella or peanut butter with jelly, they can have that.
Then there are practices in the evening—basketball and wrestling, this time of year—which require a lot of to-and-froing. I made dinner at home—casserole. My kids are big fans of the gloppy Midwestern-style casseroles I grew up eating myself and that have like four ingredients (meat and tater tots and cheese and cream of mushroom soup and canned corn … OK, five!).
I get all my meat and pork and eggs from local producers, often folks I grew up with. Buying meat or eggs at the store was sacrilege on the farm where I grew up. Since we don’t live on a farm now, what I do is order “a quarter of beef” or “half a hog” from farmers I know. It costs hundreds of dollars a pop when you go pick that meat up, but a quarter of beef will last the three of us for months. As long as you have a deep freeze and know a farmer, you never have to pay retail for meat or eggs at the store!
All of which is to say that dinners like the casserole don’t “cost” anything, in the moment. So today’s direct cost is about $5 in gas, from running the kids around.
Tuesday total: $5
Wednesday, Jan. 23
My ex took the kids for their once-a-week stay at her place, so the kids cost me nada today.
Thursday, Jan. 24
Gas station groceries
Same routine as Monday—packed lunches, home-cooked meal, practice. My kids do do other things besides sports—including playing on their own, really!—but writing about this week really made me realize just how big a part of their lives sports are. That’s how I grew up and I guess it just feels natural to me. Nothing quite like the feeling of walking into the hometown gym on a Saturday night, the scent of popcorn and shoes squeaking on the gym floor. I won’t ever make my kids do sports, but I’m not sure they ever knew they had a choice!
Anyway, we ran out of milk today, so there’s a quick trip between practices to the gas station where it’s two gallons of 2 percent. My kids drink a lot of milk—I was just here buying two gallons a few days ago, it seems.
And ever since I was a kid, I’ve been a sucker for those so-called fruit pies gas stations sell—you know, banana cream and cherry and so on. Realized I hadn’t had one in months, so I got one for myself, and my son who’s with me, and I can’t leave out my daughter, so …
Thursday total: $9.19
Friday, Jan. 25
My son takes private piano lessons once a week. This is another one of those expenses urban-living friends tell me is very, very costly, but for us it’s 10 bucks a pop. It’s the end of the month, so I pony up 30 bucks.
I’m pretty tired after a long work week and am sorely tempted to just slip down to McDonald’s or Subway for dinner, but no. I consider fast food to be a very occasional treat or an emergency, and today is neither. I do make something easy, though—eggs-in-the-middle with a side of (local) sausage and hash browns. Food that sticks to your ribs is the name of the game! No practices on a Friday night, so the night’s entertainment is Netflix with the kids.
Friday total: $30
Saturday, Jan. 26
My daughter was off to the District Science Fair, so I slipped a 20 in her pocket along with a sack of snacks and a water bottle. Later that day, my son and I hit the hardware store because the discovery of a leaky faucet led to the further discovery that I need an entirely new faucet. Not sure I can blame this one on the kids. We also ran to the local grocery store for a stock-up, where I caved and bought boxes of sweet cereal—Reese’s Peanut Butter Puffs!!—because they were on sale. When we’re grocery shopping together, the kids beg for sweet cereal and Fruit Roll-Ups and Pop-Tarts and all that crap. I usually don’t give in, but he knows me! If it’s cheap I find it hard to resist.
Glancing at the fuel gauge, it’s been about $15 in gas running the kids around all week.
My son has been begging, absolutely begging, for the paid Minecraft download for months now. I gave him a list of chores he needed to complete [to earn it], and today’s the day he finished, the persistent little beggar! I didn’t think he would follow through—I thought he’d forget about it. But he didn’t, so.
My daughter returned home from the Science Fair with a ribbon … and my 20 bucks back. No chance to spend it, she said—they got us pizza! That night we went down to the movie theater. As it happens, I had two free tickets from the last time we were there and there was a problem with the projector and we couldn’t finish the movie. So there was the one movie ticket I had to buy, plus snacks for the kids and myself.
Saturday total: $85.06
How much did I spend on my kids this week? $319.92.
This was a fairly standard week for us, well within our budget range. Little League and basketball registrations aren’t something that happen every week, but it seems like every week there is something that “doesn’t happen every week.” For instance, in the near future, some of those wrestling and basketball tournaments will involve a lot of travel, hotel rooms, and fast food.
Believe me, I watch every single penny that flows in or out of this house. I used to use spreadsheets to do the family budget, but I’ve doing it long enough now that I can pretty much keep it in my head. I’ve never been poor, but I’ve been broke as hell. And I learned that I didn’t want to do it again. So I’ve been a budgeter since then. I really had to re-finagle the budget last year when I got divorced; losing my ex’s income meant the ranges got a lot tighter, and there was essentially no room for loosey-goosey spending of any kind.
I grew up pretty frugal on the farm. My mom made a lot of our clothes, for example. And I never had store-bought bread until I was, like, a middle schooler; my mom always made bread because she thought store-bought was too expensive. So I kind of come by it naturally.
There’s a whole bunch of shit I wish I could buy for the kids that I don’t. I wish I would buy them more entertainment-type stuff—which, they read a lot, so I guess I should be glad about that. But like that Minecraft thing, for months my son had been like, “I’m the only kid who’s never played it … ” He’s also the only kid in his class who hasn’t played Fortnite. But I don’t want to buy all that tech stuff. We don’t have any iPads. My cellphone is 3 years old because I don’t want to buy another one; it’s a real pain because the battery lasts like five minutes. I think the kids are properly clothed, but they don’t have designer stuff, and if I had more disposable income I’d buy them nicer stuff, just because—why not?
A lot of people around here have big fancy campers and four-wheelers and motorcycles and expensive hunting rifles. That’s something people do with their kids a lot, a lot of hunting and outdoors activities. I don’t have most of that stuff—I just don’t buy it because I’m not going to go into debt for it. So I do think a lot of people around me spend a lot more on their kids, but it’s not necessarily money that they have. People go into consumer debt to do it, and I don’t want to do that.
There are so many more opportunities in bigger places [than small-town Wyoming]; there’s no doubt about it. Academically, athletically. But we have a really nice house that’s really affordable, and I work three blocks away and get lots of vacation, and have really good benefits.
I do think about [moving to a bigger city] because they are absolutely missing opportunities, there’s no question about it. But I hope that the opportunities they have around here make up for that in the long run. I guess we’ll see!