Are kids worth the money?

Marketplace Staff May 28, 2010

Are kids worth the money?

Marketplace Staff May 28, 2010


Steve Chiotakis No matter where you live, if you have kids, you’re gonna have to feed them, clothe them and, of course, send them to school. And none of it’s cheap. Some people think you never really get your money’s worth.

But Marketplace Money’s personal finance editor Chris Farrell thinks those claims are a little over the top.

Chris Farrell: Those who really know me know that I’m a big fan of Guns N’ Roses.


And as my youngest child graduates from high school in June, and I look back on his life so far, I find their lyrics color my memories.

“Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns ‘N Roses

Every time I opened his bedroom door, “Welcome to the Jungle” played in my head. And, yes, his appetite for destruction cost us a few pennies over the years.

Like a lot of parents, I’ve felt a bit of sticker shock. We have spent a lot of money getting to this point — more than we expected. And it’s become popular to groan about how expensive it is to raise a child in modern America. The government estimates that by age 17, a kid’s price tag is about a quarter of a million dollars. That’s before we even consider the cost of college.

Ben Stein, the economic commentator, recoils at the dollars spent on kids. While cleaning my desk the other day, I stumbled on a Stein commentary I’d kept on the cost of child rearing. In essence, his jaundiced conclusion was, “Too much cost, too little reward.”

Parents spend years acting as maid, chauffeur and ATM, but most wouldn’t say there’s too little reward. Too much cost? Well, that they might agree on that. I don’t.

Sure, the dollar amount looks huge, but are you adjust for inflation, spending on kids has risen very little over the past 40 years — about 20 percent. But over that same period of time, we’ve become a much wealthier society.

Ben Stein lives in LA and he complains that the “private school parent also has to pony up for every kind of lesson — ballet, horse riding, music lessons, math tutoring. But that doesn’t have to be you or me — you can be frugal.

You don’t have to buy the a bigger home, and you don’t have to buy your child a car. True, we do spend more on their health and education than before. But being frugal with housing, food and transportation — three big expenses involving children — still saves a lot of money over the years.

When my son walks up and gets his diploma, for once I won’t be thinking about money. Instead, I’ll be playing scenes from his childhood in my head, all set to a Guns N’ Roses soundtrack.

“Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns ‘N Roses

The next day I’ll get back to hoping that the money we’ve socked over the years is enough to get him through college — now that’s expensive.

We’re here to help you navigate this changed world and economy.

Our mission at Marketplace is to raise the economic intelligence of the country. It’s a tough task, but it’s never been more important.

In the past year, we’ve seen record unemployment, stimulus bills, and reddit users influencing the stock market. Marketplace helps you understand it all, will fact-based, approachable, and unbiased reporting.

Generous support from listeners and readers is what powers our nonprofit news—and your donation today will help provide this essential service. For just $5/month, you can sustain independent journalism that keeps you and thousands of others informed.