Family

What a Mom of One Spends on Her Son During a Week in Mattapan, Massachusetts

On an annual income of $31,680.

A young girl happy holding a stack of books over her head.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Klaus Vedfelt/DigitalVision via Getty Images Plus.

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 humaninterest@slate.com.

This interview, conducted by Rebecca Onion, has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Mom and dad, with one child: A boy, 7 years old
Mom’s job: Customer service representative
Dad’s job: Currently unemployed
Home: Mattapan, Massachusetts
Total annual family income before taxes, 2019: $31,680 from Mom’s salary. Dad made $3,600/month “under the table” until May 2019, when he lost that job. Mom: “We have savings, but are pretty much down to what I deem the red line.”
Mortgage/rent: “I was paying $1,000/month for a two-bedroom, which was way below market rate, living in a family’s house. But staying at this house isn’t an option anymore. We’re moving out right now, so that’s a whole new world I’m going to be entering—looking for a new place, coming up with money for a deposit. I can’t afford the market rate [which is very high in Boston]. I do not have Section 8 and the waiting list to get it is years to come; same goes for income-based housing. So as of Jan. 31, I will technically be homeless.”
Annual child care cost: After-school care is $75 a week—the household qualifies for a reduced rate. Last summer, son went to a YMCA camp for free.

Saturday, Dec. 7

$120
Christmas shopping

My son gives us a list, and this year he actually wrote a letter to Santa with some specific things. We might not get everything on the list—he doesn’t understand prices! He wanted anything that’s Avengers stuff, Transformers—and the big ones are expensive. All the things that are popular now—Spiderman, Bumblebee. We try to have a set budget for presents. We got two smaller Transformers, little Fortnite toys.* It’s really just a lot of little men! We do give him some books and educational stuff, as well.

To shop for gifts, I go to Target, and sometimes Big Lots; you’d be surprised, Big Lots has a lot of little stuff too, that you can find half-off sometimes. I also go to Hobby Lobby sometimes.

Saturday total: $120

Monday, Dec. 9

$60
Gas

I don’t really go anywhere by myself, so this is mostly related to my son. I’m taking my son here and there. If we just stick to the routine, I’m going to work, dropping him off and picking him up, going right home—when we do that, I can save gas.

Monday total: $60

Tuesday, Dec. 10

$150 (about $50 for kid’s share)
Groceries

I spend about $300 on groceries per month. I go for sales. I definitely try not to shop at big-name places. I stopped shopping at Star Market; they’re just like really ridiculous prices. I shop at the little mom and pop grocery stores if I can find it. I was going to the food bank, but the food bank is not close near me, so that sort of wasn’t working.

My kid doesn’t like a lot of junk food, so it saves me in the end because I don’t have to buy a lot of it. He likes fruits, he likes raisin bread. For a snack to send to school, I might do dry cereal, and a fruit, an apple juice, some water, some chocolate milk; he’s really simple. I cook at home, and try to buy things in bulk or family packs so I don’t have to feel like I’m running out to the store constantly.

Tuesday total: $50

Thursday, Dec. 12

$20
School book fair

We sent him with money to get books. I sent a $20 bill and didn’t get any change. Those books are expensive!

He loves to read. It’s just whatever catches his interest, so far, no series in particular or anything. He’s relatively new to it, but he reads pretty well. He gets extra help with reading in school, and because of that he probably reads more than most of the kids do, at this point. When he gets home from school, he’ll read or play games; it depends on his mood. I call him an old man in a kid’s body.

Thursday total: $20

Friday, Dec. 13

$50 (about $16 for son’s share)
Laundry

I spend about $80 a month on laundry.

$100
Rental deposit, for car to fill in for mine while it’s being repaired

I can’t really get around without a car in Boston. The public transportation is not that great, you’re not guaranteed to be on time, so it’s hard to depend on it when you have a job and need to get your kid to school.

Someone rear-ended me, and it was their fault, so I’ll get this deposit back, but it had to go out. And it just so happened that it’s just at the time I could really use the money!

Friday total: $116

Saturday, Dec. 14

$100
Mom weekend break

This was money for travel, my eating, everything, to go to a family member’s birthday. My boyfriend took care of my son and I got a break, for my peace of mind.

Saturday total: $100

How much did we spend on our kid this week?: $346.

2019 has been more of a struggle, financial-wise, than any other year. Every paycheck is spoken for, before I get it. I try to account for everything. I do say I’m blessed around Christmas because I get a little December bonus from my job, which helps.

I think about living outside of Boston sometimes, but I worry about finding a school that’s as good as ours. As much as we complain about Boston Public, it’s not as bad as you think. You have pretty good stuff going on, especially with the school my son goes to, where he has a bit more resources than other schools. I hear from people who have high schools where they don’t even have computers, for example, and his school has a whole computer lab. That’s my biggest thing, and I don’t want to have to start all over and hope that things are going to be the same.

My situation—I’m close to homeless now—is actually a very common one here in Boston. So much so that my son’s school budget actually includes homelessness due to the high rate of parental displacement. I am not the only parent who has been displaced this school year. It’s a sad reality that not even two-income households can survive. I do have a job interview lined up that would mean an increase in income, but the location is not close; hopefully in the end, it works out.

I do not qualify for a lot of resources because according to them, I make too much money. The housing waiting list in Boston for low-income people is anywhere from 5–10 years. All in all, each day I pray and put a smile on my face and remind myself that nothing is permanent.

Correction, Jan. 24, 2020: An earlier version of this article misspelled Fortnite.