My Year in Parenting Expenses

Sometimes I read things—like in The New York Times—that say children cost millions of dollars. I have two kids, and I always think, that can’t be right. This is for people that live in Manhattan. But I’ve never taken a hard look at the numbers. So I thought I’d celebrate the holidays with a cold, hard-hearted look at the cash flow.

Last year my husband wrote an app for us to track our expenses. (This is what he does for fun. I go out to eat for fun. We are like the odd couple over here.) I decided to sit down and try and crunch some numbers and figure out just how much dough these two little whippersnappers cost me. (Just for a frame of reference, we live in the holy-moly-expensive Bay Area and I’m sure it would be cheaper elsewhere.)

But the kids are three and eight years old, so how much can they really run through? I mean, nobody got a BMW for their sweet sixteen or anything. It won’t be much, said I, sanguinely. But immediately I ran into some uncomfortable numbers.

First off, clothes. $265. This seems like a lot! And it’s almost all for the big one, because the little one just gets hand-me-downs. Except for socks, because you know how it’s so hard to keep both of a regular pair of socks? It’s really, really hard to keep track of those dinky ones. But I think this must be mostly shoes for the eight-year-old. When they get that age you can’t really get used shoes from your friends because big kids thrash their shoes in, like, a minute. And then grow out of them in 10 minutes.

The eight-year-old goes to public school, but we pitch in (like everyone else does) to pay for what are laughably called “enrichments” but I call “normal things that every child should be entitled to,” like P.E., art, music and a freakin’ school library. She also goes to gymnastics once a week and has a weekly language class. Total: $1,480. The smaller one only started preschool in September, which means this is a cheap year—although I’ll include the deposit, which is sort of like a “last month’s rent.” She goes three mornings a week. There’s a little babysitting money in there too from before that, for a total of $3,200. As a journalist, I’m stuck in the income trap where spending more on child care so I can work more would not net us any profit and would just make me sad, so I work during those mornings and around the edges of my childrens’ lifestyles, which has a maybe not a monetary cost, but certainly a mental health one!

I wanted to charge them rent, too. I thought that 2/5 would be fair, but my husband pointed out that as we already live in a one-bedroom apartment, we wouldn’t spend less if we didn’t have kids. On the other hand, they seem to take up a hell of a lot of physical space—more than is possible without a new theory of physics. But it’s true, we haven’t yet needed to get a bigger place because of them so I’ll class them as moochers but not rent owers.

Toys and books $410? I don’t even know. This is like a life lesson in how lots of tiny things add up to one big thing. I look at the list and I see “rocks” for $12. This was from the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles. She likes minerals. I guess if it covers Christmas and birthdays it’s not so terrible? Or maybe it is.

I’m just not going to say anything about all the birthday parties we get invited to except I’m just glad the kid has friends. And teachers. Tip the teachers! Gifts given, $252.

Insurance is a hard one to break down. The girls and I pay for our own insurance (so guess what website I’ve just spent a lot of time on, and I am a citizen, why don’t you think my passport is real, why do I have to send it again, why?). But they are cheap and I am old, so I can’t blame too much on them. Our insurance is a total of $2,582 each year. I’ll stick with their share at 25 percent, which makes them $645. But I should add in a further $351 in health and dental expenses.

I saved the most embarrassing one for last. It’s embarrassing because the amount of money we spend on food is, frankly, ridiculous. Partly it’s the aforementioned restaurant habit, partly it’s trying to buy healthy and local, and part of it is just bad budgeting. I tried to calculate a percentage of the food budget for the kids based on their weight—together they’re about 25 percent of the total weight of the house, so they’re going to be accounting for 25 percent of the food. It’s true that they did not drink 25 percent of the beer, or the coffee, but they probably ate 75 percent of the croissants, so … $3,790.

And there are so many other things. The car—how much gas is spent on taking them places? I have no idea. Car insurance, public transportation tickets, utilities (they leave lamps on all the time, as children do), airplane tickets to visit my mom. Not to mention the time we spend with them—can I charge by the hour? The total just from this rough list I came up with is $14,893. Which is…a lot? Not a lot? I don’t really care, honestly. But maybe not so many croissants next year. We’ve got some saving for college to do.


Maya Mirsky is a reporter covering local news in Oakland, Calif. Photo: Richard Heaven



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