Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Breaking the bank

Children cost money. There's no getting round the fact; they do. They cost a lot of other things as well of course, like time and energy, a social life, your dignity. But they're worth it, that's for sure. But how much are they worth, exactly? I mean, how much cash does having children cost?

Research published on Tuesday (and reported in The Guardian) suggests that the cost of bringing up a child to age 21 now tops £200,000. That's not all. In the first year alone, according to the study by Friendly Society LV, the total cost of having kids comes to almost £10,000. Cheap at twice the price, I'm sure. What parent wouldn't make the most enormous sacrifices for their children? What are belts for if not for tightening?

But 200 grand? Really? Everyone knows that nappies - disposable or not - cost money. Cots aren't cheap, and nice baby clothes and bedding costs a fortune to say nothing of the pram (or stroller). But that's a mere bagatelle compared to childcare, the cost of which has risen most rapidly in recent years. School fees? Maybe, depending on your circumstances (although private school fees where excluded from the study) but whatever you choose there's likely to be school uniform to buy, as well as sports kit to be paid for and maybe school trips to save up to go on. And once school's over, there's three years of serious debt-making at university. Would we think twice - as the article suggests - if we knew the true cost of having kids?

Personally, the answer is 'no'. Of course it is. You can't put a value on the life-enhancing joy of having children. It might not be for everyone. But for those who choose to do so (and who can) then having children changes everything. And for the better.

But do children really have to cost as much as the average house?

I suspect that, for most people, the true cost of childcare is a lot less than the headline figure in this report. For working parents, paid childcare will inevitably eat into a large proportion of household income. And although some government help is available, it's never going to be enough. So whether on two salaries or one, most households have to watch what they spend.

When I gave up work to look after Charlie our household income halved. We're fortunate; we can survive on one salary, but it isn't easy. And we're certainly not budgeting to spend £10,000 a year on Charlie. We've had to cut our cloth according to our means along with the vast majority of parents. Being time-rich (and having a keen nose for a bargain) I hunt down all sorts of special offers at a range of shops. I buy fresh fruit and veg at the local market; I cook as far as possible from scratch; I browse in charity shops; I wait until the sales before buying clothes. And I'm sure many parents do the same.

But I'd like to know what other people think. How do you keep costs down? What are your favourite money-saving tips? And do you expect to have paid out in excess of £200,000 by the time your child is 21?

Is bringing up Charlie going to break the bank?

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