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The high cost of child-rearing: Is it worth it?

Posted 8/1/2012

Extension experts say parents shouldn’t be afraid to seek help

Couples who bring a baby into the world this year can expect to spend nearly $300,000 raising the child, but a University of Nevada Cooperative Extension expert says there are steps parents can take to raise a smart, happy and healthy child without going bankrupt in the process.

“You can have more by spending less,” says Jeanne Hilton, an Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at UNR and an Aging Program Specialist with Cooperative Extension. “When people become parents, they join an important club: parenthood! Parents can help each other out. Organize play dates to save money on child care. Trade favors like haircuts or lasagnas. Exchange outgrown clothes.

“Lifestyles have changed—both parents usually work now, so kids are involved in more after-school activities. There are hidden costs tied to a second income, and all those activities and day care are a big hit on the family budget.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently released a new report, “Expenditures on Children by Families,” that found families with children born this year will spend $234,900 providing the child with food, shelter and other necessities for the next 17 years. When inflation is factored in, that amount increases to $295,000.

The report, based on the federal government’s Consumer Expenditure Survey—which accounts for average national spending on consumer goods—considers the cost of transportation, child care, education and other expenses related to having children. Costs are climbing 3.5 percent a year, the report found.

“The cost of living is going up,” Hilton, a mother of three and an expert in all aspects of the human life cycle, said. “People are taking a hit with the recession. It’s not too surprising that the cost of raising a child has increased as well.”

YaeBin Kim, an Extension Specialist in Early Childhood and Parenting Education for Cooperative Extension in Clark County, said the high cost of raising a child adds to what is already a stressful job. She encourages parents to seek help—such as through the many programs Cooperative Extension has developed to help parents in Nevada.

“It’s OK to think that parenting is hard,” said Kim, who has run a number of parent education programs in Clark County, including Family Storyteller and Fun to Play. Cooperative Extension parenting education classes are available through a variety of agencies and programs and many are free.

“There is no reason to be embarrassed to talk about how hard parenting is. And if you think parenting is hard, you are already a good parent. Because parenting is a learned skill, all parents need a little support, advice and encouragement.”

Hilton said parents’ expectations of what a happy childhood should be are also contributing to increasing child-rearing costs. Children do more after-school activities, like soccer and swim team, and they take music lessons and join clubs and groups.

“My kids used to go out after school and build forts or catch tadpoles,” Hilton said. “Their kids definitely don’t do that.”

And having both parents working doesn’t necessarily double a family’s net income.

“When Mom stayed home, she provided unpaid labor,” Hilton said. “That unpaid labor was worth a lot. As soon as both parents joined the workforce, that meant two cars instead of one, convenience foods instead of homemade meals, babysitters and child care instead of mom at home with the kids.”

Hilton has a few tips that can help Nevadans meet the increased demands of raising a child in the 21st century.

Cement your relationship with your partner—parenthood brings all sorts of challenges. If a couple is on solid ground, a challenge will bring them closer together. If a relationship is fragile, things can fall apart during a crisis.

Establish your priorities—ask yourself, why do you want to have a child? It’s great if you want to leave a legacy — if you want the next generation to be socially honorable and good citizens. Becoming parents is a challenge, but it’s also an honor. Do it because you love children, but don’t do it if you feel (the very real) societal pressure from parents, family, friends or acquaintances.

Buy or rent a home you can afford. Many parents want their kids to grow up in a nice neighborhood, but lack the means to sustain the cost. Find a happy medium, and don’t take out a mortgage that is beyond your means.

Be realistic about sacrificing—money is not the only thing you’ll be giving up. You give up a lot of personal freedom when you have a child. Got the urge to go out for pizza at 10 o’clock at night? It won’t happen with a sleeping newborn.

Be open to learning — many people think they learned everything they need to know about parenting from their parents. They’re wrong. Times have changed. Take a parenting class—there’s an awful lot to learn and it will help you have realistic expectations.

Position yourself to become a parent—having a stable income with good benefits is a BIG deal. Plan for a career that offers good pay and benefits over the long term.

Protect your family from real and financial hardships—major disasters, death or disability can cripple an unprepared family. Good credit, savings and disability insurance will help protect you and your family and help you get through a crisis.

Know your community—find stuff to do for fun that doesn’t cost a ton of money. Theater tickets are expensive — have a movie night at home. Play in the park or by the river. The library is free!

Recycle and repair—we’ve been trained to throw away many things we deem useless. Maybe a neighbor could use the tool you’re getting rid of and you could find a good replacement at a yard sale. Raising a child is a huge, life changing commitment, but Hilton said it’s worth it.

“If you choose not to have children, you’re going to be an old person with no immediate family,” Hilton said. “Old people with adult children and grandchildren are, in general, healthier and happier. Children tie you to the community and to strong networks of fellow parents—that means friendship and companionship into the later years.”

Child rearing also is a next step in growing up, she said.

“As a parent, you change and develop along with your children,” Hilton said. “Parents grow and change in ways you can’t even imagine until you become a parent.” Lastly, Hilton said new parents shouldn’t be frightened by the financial and personal commitment to child rearing.

“Thirty years down the road, are you going to remember the first apartment or the car you drove?” She asked. “Maybe; but what if 30 years from now, your children have children, and you’re a grandparent? What’s that worth to you?”


University of Nevada offers a variety of programs, publications and classes aimed at helping parents throughout Nevada. Go to the UNCE website and search publications under "parenting" or look for programs under the Children, Youth and Families heading on the home page. Some of the useful information you’ll find:

Keys of Successful Parenting series

This is a series of publications that explore many aspects of parenting, from motivating your children to nurturing, guiding and understanding your children.

Little Lives-A Parent’s Guide to Development

The Little Lives-A Parent’s Guide to Development is a series of publications that provide insight into child development through the early years.

Just in Time Parenting

A team of Extension professionals from over 30 land-grant universities, including University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, have transformed research-based age-paced newsletters into a national interactive Internet resource on parenting.

Partners in Parenting

Partners in Parenting provides support, advice and encouragement to parents of young children in Clark County. Currently, PIP provides the Family Storyteller Program, Fun to Play, Life Skills and Child Safety and Welfare(Shaken Baby Syndrome, Child Abuse and Neglect and Anger Management) in several community programs throughout Clark County. Two new programs are on the way (Little Books and Little Cooks and Raising Socially Emotionally Competent Children). For more information, contact YaeBin or call 702-257-5521.

Together for a Better Education

Together for a Better Education/Juntos Para Una Mejor Educación (Juntos) (pronounced: Who-n-tos) provides Latino and other underrepresented parents and youth with knowledge and resources to prevent 8-12th grade students from dropping out and to encourage families to work together to gain access to college. For more information, contact Elisabet Romero or call 702-257-5537.

Fun to Play

Fun To Play targets families where, due to the young age, inexperience or limited resources of parents, young children are placed at risk for developmental delays and later school difficulties. Fun To Play is a series of weekly infant and child sessions aimed at improving the parenting skills of young parents by increasing the amount of learning activities and interaction they provide their children. For more information, contact Dan Weigel, or call 775-784-4848.

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