Determining Whether You Can Afford Parenting

Before deciding to parent as a result of an unplanned pregnancy, there is one huge factor to consider: the cost of raising a child.

Because the average cost of raising a child in the U.S. is so high, there’s a reason why many expectant parents take steps to prepare financially before becoming pregnant. However, if you are facing an unplanned pregnancy, you likely do not have that luxury of preparation.

Still, just because you have not anticipated the cost to raise a child before getting pregnant does not mean that parenting is not an option for you. On the contrary, if you are prepared to accept the financial responsibility of a child and take steps to afford the lifetime cost of raising a child, parenting can still be a rewarding path to take.

How Much Does it Cost to Raise a Child?

If you are considering parenting as your unplanned pregnancy choice, it was probably one of the first questions you had: What does it cost to raise a child?

Because every woman’s situation is different, the answer to this question will vary based on your individual circumstances. In order to assess how much it will cost to raise a child yourself, you will need to evaluate what resources are available to you and what financial investments you will need to make.

The average cost to raise a child in the United States has steadily increased over the years, and it’s reasonable to assume that it will continue to do so in years to come. The U.S. Department of Agriculture most recently reported that, for a child born in 2015, a family can expect to pay an average of $233,610 to raise him or her through the age 17.

To understand exactly where your expenses will go, the USDA has created a cost-of-raising-a-child chart that breaks down the approximate cost of raising a child to 18. Here is a general overview of where your child-rearing expenses will go:

  • Housing: 29 percent of total cost
  • Food: 18 percent
  • Child care and education: 16 percent
  • Transportation: 15 percent
  • Health care: 9 percent
  • Clothing: 6 percent
  • Miscellaneous: 7 percent

It’s most expensive for parents to raise a child in the urban Northeast, while it’s cheapest for parents who live in the urban Midwest. However, families who live in rural areas pay even less, with an average cost of raising a child sitting around $193,000.

Keep in mind, this nationwide average cost to raise a child to age 18 does not include the costs of a college education (more on that below).

Of course, your actual total cost to raise a child will depend upon your situation. For example, if you live at home with your parents, you may pay less in housing and childcare than a woman who is a single parent, pays her own rent and must find childcare while she works. Before choosing to parent, it’s a good idea to speak with other parents for a better understanding of child-related costs in your local area. You may also consider working with a financial planner to prepare for these costs and understand what steps you’ll need to take to give your child the opportunities you want them to have.

Cost to Raise a Child Per Year

As you learn more about what the cost is to raise a child, it may help you to consider the cost to raise a child per year. Trying to understand how $233,000 figures into your annual salary can be difficult, but looking at the average cost of raising a child per year can help you evaluate whether you can afford to be a parent.

The USDA reports that it costs about $13,000 per year for middle-income ($59,200-$107,400) families to raise a single child. That number will vary if you are low-income or a single parent, as you may not be able to afford the costs that a middle-income family can incur. Parents in those kinds of situations often spend seven percent less on child expenses than two-parent families.

Keep in mind that the average yearly cost to raise a child grows as the child does. For example, the older a child is, the more they eat, the more activities they are involved in and the more overall expenses they incur. The cost of raising a child in the first year will not be the same as the cost of raising a 13-year-old down the line.

If you know the base annual cost of raising a child, you can evaluate how it will affect your finances by comparing it to your annual salary and current budget.

Cost to Raise a Child Per Month

To go even further, you might also consider the average cost of raising a child per month. Breaking down the USDA’s statistics, it costs about $1,080 per month to parent a child. This number does vary; holiday months can be more expensive, considering any gifts and any necessary childcare for when a child is on school vacation.

Before choosing to become a parent, look at your monthly budget. Are you struggling to make ends meet to support yourself? If so, the monthly cost to raise a child should be considered. You may need to pick up extra shifts to raise a child — or parenting may not be right for you at this time in your life.

College Funds: An Important Consideration

There is another important aspect not included in the USDA’s estimated cost of raising a child: a college education.

Many parents wish for their children to achieve their higher education degrees. However, college costs rose more than 3 percent in 2017, outpacing inflation — and can be expected to rise over the years to come. A college fund for your child is truly an investment, and it will require a great deal of financial planning.

Before becoming a parent, consider whether you will have the funds to aid your child through a college education. While there is always the option of having your child pay their own way through school, know that affording a college education while in school is nearly impossible today — and your child will need to take on loans to obtain their degree.

Today, one year of tuition at a private college costs an average of $45,000, while a year at a public college costs $20,000. Keep in mind that not all students complete their degrees in a traditional four-year track, either.

To prepare, many parents start a 529 plan after their child is born, and many ask family and friends to contribute to that fund rather than buy new toys or clothes. Still, it’s important to speak with a financial advisor to determine how much you should be willing to save each month for your child’s education.

There will never be a single answer to the question, “How much does it cost to raise a child?” However, by researching and speaking with other parents, you can better understand the costs of raising a child you may experience — and how you can prepare for them to give your child the best life possible.