Can You Afford Your Kids?
Originally posted on the Christian Post on January 27.
My husband and I are talking about starting a family, and to be honest, I’m afraid to do it. We have the usual bills and some credit card debt, and whenever I see stories about how expensive kids can be, I feel so intimidated. I saw a story recently that said it cost “between $12,350 and nearly $14,000 a year, on average, to raise a child.” What do you think we should do?
Preparing to be Parents
Your question raises a truly important conflict that we as Christians face: the tension between a worldly perspective and a Biblical perspective, and children are a perfect case in point. The Bible clearly teaches us that children are a blessing. Psalm 127:3-5 put it like this: “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.”
But so many of the messages of our culture run counter to that as children are portrayed as an expensive burden, a career-killer, or a “choice” that can be easily discarded through abortion. As you pray about the possibility of becoming a parent, be inspired by stories of women like Sonya Carson, who was raised in foster care and only received an education up to 3rd grade. But she didn’t let those difficulties stop her. She worked two and three jobs, trusted in the Lord, and raised two outstanding sons – one of whom is Dr. Ben Carson, famed neurosurgeon who ran for the Republican Presidential nomination in this year’s election.
But it’s understandable that the data released from the U.S. Department of Agriculture can sound daunting, especially since they estimated that “a middle-income, married couple with two children is estimated to spend $233,610 to raise a child born in 2015.” Put like that, it sounds like an 18-year mortgage!
To understand this math, you have to take into account short-term versus long-term thinking.
Many of these cost estimates are overstated. For example, in the data about the costs the U.S. Department of Agriculture figure includes housing costs, as though your child is a renter, and 26 to 33 percent of the total expense comes from a calculation about the cost of an extra room, with the cost varying based on the part of the country you live in. This calculation assumes that you set up each child with their own space…so if you don’t move to a new or bigger house with each child, if you borrow things or reuse them, or if your kids shared a room, you just saved a lot of money.
In fact, that same data showed that bigger families could be cheaper.
Fox News noted that “Families with three or more children spend an average of 24 percent less per child. USDA says that’s because children often share bedrooms in bigger families, clothing and toys are handed down and food can be purchased in larger and more economical packages. Also, private schools and child care providers may offer sibling discounts.”
Other big ticket items, food and childcare, are about 18 percent and 16 percent respectively. And while my wife Ann and I have raised four boys and paid for a lot of meals, food costs can be offset with all kinds of choices and childcare can be managed by a number of less expensive options.
Left out of the math of raising a child is the joy they bring you, the economic power of what they will contribute later in life, and even the savings to you as children become caretakers as their parents age. The sum total value of a child goes beyond the cost of diapers and daycare. John 16:21 observes, “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.”
You have the opportunity to teach your children extremely valuable lessons about work and money from a young age. Allow them to be creative and make do with what they have, do their own chores, work outside the home for extra income, and improvise when they cannot afford the latest entertainment. These are all activities that prepare them for becoming well adjusted adults.
Still, it is wise to count the costs to prepare for a blessing that does carry significant responsibility. So let’s get started:
Step One: Make a functional budget. It would be a major challenge to prepare for anything new in your life if you don’t know the status of your finances. Crown has some excellent free resources that can help. A great place to start would be with the Money Map. It’s a simple guide that will help you no matter what your financial state is. And if you’re dealing with credit card debt, get in touch with Christian Credit Counselors. They are our trusted partners in ministry and can get you started with a free debt analysis.
Step Two: Learn to save money. Like all new adventures, there will be a price to pay so you should save money with great joy knowing you are preparing for a new life.
Step Three: Evaluate your two-income status. Once you have a child, someone will need to watch your baby. Perhaps you have family in the area who can watch your baby at no cost to you or perhaps you can work part-time to lower the cost of childcare and spend more time at home. I have friends who arranged their work in a flexible schedule so that husband and wife could each take some hours in the day and care for their children themselves. I have another friend who opened a home-based business when she could not get any flexibility from her employer and 20 years later her business is still thriving. You and your spouse can look at your budget to determine whether staying at home during your children’s early years will work for you. There is no one right answer. But with your budget in front of you, it will be possible to see how the math works out for your family.
Step Four: Borrow, don’t buy. New parents can be overwhelmed by the huge amount of gear required for a baby. While it serves a purpose, most times all the stuff is only necessary short term. Talk to people around you about whether they have some items you can borrow or buy used. This kind of sharing is a great project for the local church, which can set up a “Baby Library” of items to be borrowed by members. Strollers are a great example, as you need them to grow in size along with your baby. “Hand-me-down” clothes are also a great way to save by finding friends who will pass along items their children have outgrown.
Step Five: Get wise counsel. Adam and Eve had to raise their children without the benefit of grandparents…but the rest of us are surrounded by resources in parents, friends with children, and other new parents. There are a number of wonderful ministries, Bible studies in local churches, or groups like MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) ready to lend a hand, a listening ear, and a much-needed break. You don’t have to figure this out alone. And you won’t be the first parents to find it all overwhelming.
But I can tell you from firsthand experience, when you hold your children in your arms and as you watch them grow through the years, you won’t be thinking about how much they deduct from your bottom line, but about how much they add to your life.
Step Six: Get involved in a Crown Bible study on personal finances. It will help you reduce fear, make a plan, and begin saving for your future children.
If you’re looking for a little encouragement in the year ahead, please accept this gift from Crown. You can receive practical principles and daily encouragement from God’s Word in the God is Faithful devotional, sent straight to your inbox to consider what God has to say about our daily life.