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The cost of raising a child prodigy

Dina Gachman Nov 20, 2015

You might be elated that your 3-year-old can solve complex math problems or play a concerto on the baby grand, but training your kid to become the next Mozart or Fibonacci could cost you a pretty penny if you’re not careful.

“For parents of truly gifted children, it’s often a financial struggle to balance a limited budget with private lessons, pricey coaches, and travel to national and international events,” writes Kate Ashford at the BBC.

If you’re raising a baby programmer who likes to code after T-Ball practice, buying the hardware and equipment they need could add hundreds (or thousands) of dollars to your budget. If your child has a gift for music or dance or sports and they’re accepted into competitions or recitals all over the country, chances are you’ll be the one footing the bill. Then there are private coaches and the time that parents or guardians may need to take off of work to cart the kid around to all those competitions and recitals.

If you’re lucky, your child prodigy could actually be making money for their talent if they win prizes or become a YouTube sensation. Chances are, though, parents of gifted kids will be withdrawing funds, not depositing them. At least at first.

The National Association of Gifted Children (NAGC) found that between the 2012-13 and 2014-15 school years, 14 states upped their funding for gifted and talented programs. Still, in-school programs might not be enough for a true child prodigy, and the programs may not offer lessons in coding or tap dancing or whatever their rare gift may be.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s annual Expenditures on Children by Families report shows that a middle-income family with a child born in 2013 could spend approximately $245,340 for food, housing, childcare and education. And that’s just for the basics. Violin lessons and ballet coaches aren’t included.

“Once you make the decision to go public and have your children win competitions, there’s even more motivation to hire these kinds of special coaches and tutors,” Ellen Winner, author of “Gifted Children: Myths and Realities,” told the BBC. “It is expensive to have a child prodigy.”

Being a stage parent doesn’t start and end with the arts. Look at Venus and Serena Williams, or Andre Agassi, who was whacking a tennis ball across a net and wowing coaches by the age of four. A 2015 poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health looked at sports and health in the U.S. and found that 26 percent of parents with high school kids in sports dream that their kid will become the next Venus or Serena. The study also found that among families with household incomes of less than $50,000 per year, that number jumped to 39 percent.

And the reality of your child actually becoming a pro athlete? Less than one percent.

That’s not to say that parents should stifle their children’s talent if they truly show signs of becoming the next Mozart (who was playing the piano at 2 years old) or mathematician Shakuntala Devi (whose gift earned her the nicknames “Human Computer” and “Hindu Mathematical Wizardess”). If you are going to schedule those lessons and recitals, it’s important to set a budget before things get out of hand and you find your retirement savings wiped clean.

“Yes, it’s important to encourage your virtuoso to develop his violin skills,” writes the BBC’s Ashford. “But don’t do so at the expense of your golden years.”

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