The High Price of Raising Kids

by Katy on September 16, 2011 · 24 comments


The following is a reprint of a previously published post. Enjoy!

I have always been very skeptical of statistics that estimate the average cost of raising a child. The number are tremendously, well . . . tremendous. For a child age 12-14 (the ages of my sons) the numbers run $7560 per child, per year. Granted, this number is taking into account the larger house necessary to house children, as well as feed and clothe them, but I still scoff at this number. (Which is the number for the lowest income bracket, which we are not.)

My theory that I’ve always stood behind is that having children lowers your earning potential.

I use myself as an example.

As an experienced high risk labor and delivery nurse, my earning potential is quite good. Not only is my hourly wage quite high, but the opportunities for overtime is usually limitless. However, my husband and I have never wanted to have our sons in day care, so I’ve never worked more than part time.

My locker partner has grown children that live in another state, and she hardly ever turns down the overtime. She is famous on our unit for consistently earning six figures. That’s right, she earns more than $100,000 per year doing the same job that I do.

My husband took the kids up to Seattle for the weekend as a little Spring break treat, (don’t worry — they stayed with my sister, so it was very frugal) which left me all by my lonesome. The reason I didn’t accompany the menfolk was that I was scheduled to work both Friday and Saturday. Because I knew I had no one to come home to, I offered to stay for a full 12 hour shift both days, which ended up garnering me 6-3/4 hours of overtime. This will add hundreds of dollars to my paycheck! Had my kids been home, I would have left work when my scheduled shifts ended.

But what about men, does having children limit their earning potential as well? Yes, but differently. Because we have kids, we bought a house in Portland where our families live. (We had been living in New Mexico before kids) We wanted both the help from having our parents in town, but also to give our kids the gift of truly knowing their grandparents.

My husband’s college degree is in photography, and he ran a commercial photo studio here in Portland, which he eventually closed down. Had we been childless, we could have moved to New York City, (where we also used to live) and had a much better chance at success. Not to mention that I wouldn’t want to transfer my children out of their school unless it were an absolute necessity.

But here’s the thing, my children are more important to me than my earning potential. I don’t really think about the money I’m missing, because their presence in my life is worth more than any currency.

Do you agree with my theories on the relationship between parenting and earning potential? Please add your thoughts and insights in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Susan September 16, 2011 at 10:37 am

My son is also more important to me than my earning potential. I don’t earn a huge amount of my job, but as you know, I work term only so I have my time off with my son. In my opinion, you can not get the time back with your children so I want the time with him now.

Well put, Katy! I like this post very much!


Jude September 16, 2011 at 10:49 am

I stayed home with my son for over ten years and only recently returned to work part time for $12 an hour. Not a lot of money. But I wouldn’t give up a minute of the time I got to spend with him. Because my son, soon-to-be 15, has lived in the same town since birth, a town that has a very good school system, we plan to stay here at least until he graduates from high school. This limits my husband’s career. Should a better employment opportunity pop up out of the area, he’ll have to pass for the time being. So, definitely kids do limit earning potential of both spouses, but I agree with you: Time spent with your kids is infinitely superior to a higher income.


Shannon Breen September 16, 2011 at 11:21 am

I told my husband when we got married that under no circumstances would I leave this area (where my family lives). He works for himself now, but even when he worked for a company (he’s a software engineer) he knew there was no sense looking for big money in some other state. He’d be going alone. I’ve always been home with my kids as well. And I totally agree that no amount of money would replace all those years spent together.


Dianna September 16, 2011 at 11:33 am

I very much agree with your thoughts. After 18 years working full time as a Registered Respiratory Therapist I left my full time position to come home to be with my kids that are 17, 8 and 3. Although I wish it could have happened much sooner, I am very blessed to be home with my girls now. My husband has had every opportunity to go into management at his large international company but that would mean many moves and long hours. He makes good money where he is and the move to management is not worth the time with our kids or the moving around we would have to do.
Great post!


Juhli September 16, 2011 at 11:36 am

I don’t think there is one answer to this. I worked full time in long hour salaried positions and/or was in graduate school while both my children were growing up. We moved around some. They changed schools and only sometimes lived near family. They are lovely, independent and happy adults. We all enjoyed their childhood. I would not have been happy being at home full time but that wasn’t my driving force as I love being their Mom. Hopefully it is all about choices and those choices will be different for different people and families.


Jan Horwood September 18, 2011 at 8:18 pm

I agree. There are many, many, MANY people who can’t afford and/or don’t want to stay at home fulltime with their kids. With a lot of effort, they and their children can have wonderful, happy times during their childhoods and beyond.


CB September 19, 2011 at 5:27 pm

I think that even if you don’t decide to stay home your total family earning potential is probably limited, and if not your expenses are almost certainly increased (child care). For example, maybe your partner is staying home or cutting hours. Additionally, even if both partners work full time you are at at least somewhat of a disadvantage over your peers who don’t have dependent children as you are less available to work evenings/weekends, pursue education opporunities, or generally hold your job as the highest priority in your life.


Barb @ 1 Sentence Diary September 16, 2011 at 12:13 pm

I agree wholeheartedly — definitely my earning potential has been limited by the kiddos, but I wouldn’t trade them for any amount of money!

Unlike many of the commenters above, I have always worked full-time, and continue to do so. Although I am a dedicated employee and often work long hours, I am also aware of the time of day and try very hard to get home for dinner. I sometimes go in late to work or leave early for kids’ doctor appointments, school meetings, soccer games, etc. I try not to take on projects that will require a lot of travel.

I am certain that this perspective has put me somewhat on “the mommy track” at work, which has limited my upward mobility, my salary, and my bonuses. But that’s life! I have a balance in my life that works for me, and if I make somewhat less money because of it, I’m OK with that. 🙂


Jessie : Improved September 16, 2011 at 12:30 pm

I am a software engineer, so my hourly rate is also high. When I had my daughter, I decided it was more important to me to be at home with her, and I was blessed to find a job I could do part-time from home. Now I make less than half of what I could working full-time, but I don’t regret it at all. Having a lot of money is not one of my life goals in any case, and I became a lot happier as a person after I realized that.


Madeline September 16, 2011 at 2:23 pm

I chose family over a big deal nursing career so many years ago .. I didn’t even GO to nursing school till I was 29 and my son was in grade school–did the short plan, 2 yrs. community college..never worked full time. Also became skilled in high risk OB and NICU. Retired at age 50. Just not a career oriented person I guess.Enjoyed home and family MUCH MORE. Although I enjoyed SOME nursing, just not 40 hour weeks, and i took lots of times off in between,thereby short circuiting any chance of “advancement” early on!

Regrets: NONE. Have a fabulous relationship with our grown son.Enjoy my home even more than ever, and my pets, my laundry, my friends and hobbies.

Some days I count up the money I could have earned but not often.

Time.. money.. family.. home.. peace of mind… WHAT’s YOUR PASSION?????? Work was just never mine!


namastemama September 16, 2011 at 4:55 pm

But YOU DID WORK!. After working all week homeschooling, cooking ,cleaning, gardening, waking up in the wee hours of the morning with a child I am exhausted today. No I didn’t get paid but I did work.
I do agree that if one chooses, children limit your earning potential. I’ve seen figures of a million dollars. But I’m not going to do the math.
Katy, If you so choose you will be just like your locker mate making the big bucks, when your kids are grown. Thank you for such a timely post. I have been so stressed lately about money as I am about to quit a part time paid job but at the dinner table tonight my son said,” but you get love”. take that to the bank.


Shannon September 16, 2011 at 3:05 pm

Funny you should mention this, I’m actually reading a book on this topic – “The Price of Motherhood” by Ann Crittenden. She proves without a doubt that there is an opportunity cost to being a mother. But like many of the rest of you have said – you can’t put a price on time spent with your kids. I’m an MD who took almost 2 years off after my first child was born, and have only been working very part-time since then while my kids are little because my husband’s schedule is demanding and we don’t want our kids raised by someone else. Luckily most days they’re worth it!


Laura's Last Ditch--Vintage Kitchenwares September 16, 2011 at 3:14 pm

Okay, maybe I’m the only one making more money since having a kid. I used to be a professional classical musician. The pay was not good, which didn’t bother me, since we’re frugal. We, too, decided to move back to my hometown so our son could know his grandparents and cousins. My identity had been tied up in being a musician, but having a child changed that. I ended up quitting entirely and selling my bassoon (and paying off our house with the money).

When I quit I ended up selling much of my sheet music and other musical equipment on eBay. I was so successful at it and enjoyed it so much that I continued to sell online, though I now have to (get to, really) go out to find things to sell. I make a lot more money than I ever made as a musician (not that it’s saying much), and I can do it from home.

In the end, if you make more money, but just spend it because it’s there and that is what you do, what’s the point? I love the verse in the Bible, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” There’s no way to put dollars on this.


CB September 19, 2011 at 5:29 pm

Wow, what an interesting example of turning this whole idea on it’s head! Your child was the motivation behind you changing careers in order to earn more, very cool.


Indigo September 16, 2011 at 3:45 pm

My experience is a bit odd. My mother was a single parent who worked ridiculously long hours at exhausting jobs (welder, highway commission, telephone lineman) to support us. We didn’t see her much, and when we were young, we spent a lot of time in daycare, before switching to be “latchkey kids”.

When my younger sisters were born I wanted to be that great older brother I didn’t have (my older brother was the immature one who was always in trouble at school). I went to college in state so I could visit often. Commuted 3 hours to my first teaching assignment so I could live at home when my mum was having a hard time and my sisters needed another adult around. Now that I have a house of my own I have them over often, and while a lot of people my age are off partying, I’m spending Saturdays reading Harry Potter to my 11 year old sister or taking my 16 year old sister to the ballet.

I’m not sure if I ever want kids of my own. I imagine myself better suited as the eccentric uncle, but for now, I wouldn’t trade the time I’ve spent with my siblings for anything.


Carla September 16, 2011 at 5:18 pm

I think it’s important to think of having children lowers the earning potential *of the family* as a whole.

For many years, it has been understand that this refers to the mother, but this is changing. In my family, my career has continued rising (although perhaps not as quickly as others who do not have children, since after 3 kids and graduate courses, I will have been out of the workplace for 4 years on maternity and study leave -in Canada maternity leave is 1 year), but my husband’s career took a backseat and has changed to the point where he is doing the work he does because it fits with him being a stay-at-home dad not necessarily because it advances his previous career path.

We too decided we did not want our kids in daycare full time, and the decision of him staying home was fairly easy: at last count, I was earning over double what he earned, I have good benefits at my job, I am more into the whole job thing and we felt he would make a more patient home-parent.

On the whole, we live a aspiringly-frugal comfortable life and we are definitely have less of the material comforts and possessions of our peers where both parents work full time and the kids are in full-time daycare. And (well, apart from the few times in which I have angsted about how we should have bought a house earlier or something like that) we are good with that!


Diedra B September 16, 2011 at 6:52 pm

I think that while New York/New York City offers great opportunities, the cost of living is so high that it might have eaten up some of the gains you thought your husband might have made. . .That’s where I live/am from and it’s hard to even get into some of these famous New York industries anyway. . .there’s so much competition


Rubymay1029 September 17, 2011 at 5:45 am

You are so right! I had a discussion with my Middlest when she was about 13 and not happy that we didn’t have a bigger, nicer house about choices. I choose to stay in a lower paying job which allows me to work at home a big chunk of the time because being with my kids is more important to me. I offered to get a higher paying job with the understanding that she could have nicer things but I wouldn’t be home until 6 pm any day, and she decided having me around was better.


Molly September 18, 2011 at 6:32 am

I like your theory and I’m probably the exception- both my husband and I are artists. We lived on nothing (earned very little) so we could finance our art careers. When the kids came along we still live on very little but we decided to get ‘real’ jobs. In other words, because of my kids my earning potential increased!
I don’t buy into the myth that it takes a lot of money to raise kids. I hardly spent a penny on my daughter her first year. Between breast feeding and hand-me-downs it wasn’t necessary….tempting, yes.


Roberta September 18, 2011 at 8:46 am

I know for a fact I earn less, by choice, because I’m a mother. I’m a psychologist in private practice, and I purposely work part-time so I can be home when my teen kids are home from school. I don’t work evenings or weekends, hours that are in high demand for therapy appointments, because I’d rather be available to my family. Time with my kids is priceless, even if it’s just driving them places or being in the house while they’re doing homework. No regrets!


CB September 19, 2011 at 4:46 pm

Agreed about the earning potential.

However, I don’t think that $7k per kid sounds outlandish – even for you! Didn’t you mention that this year your saving $5k for each of your kids to participate in their school trip to Japan? And I remember that this isnt’ the first time they’ve had a trip like this, since they are in Japanese imersion (that’s so cool, but the way!). Add to that sports, the extra cost of your large house (which you’ve said is a money sucker), the extra cost of a car big enough for a family, and food and that’s $7k easy.

Obviously most family’s done have the Japan expense specifically, but they probably have some proxy. Family vacations, private school, rep level sports, music lessons, clothing/food/furniture/entertainment…whatever it may be.


Katy September 19, 2011 at 5:35 pm

Dang, you make some good points here.



CB September 19, 2011 at 5:38 pm

I should put a caveat – all of the things I mentioned COULD be either skipped or made to cost almost nothing. But I’d say that the reality is that most family probably choose to add this much cost to their household for each of their children. Really, if you look at the list above these are not crazy things, they are farily normal, enriching experices (assuming that you can afford them).


anotherhousewife September 21, 2011 at 8:43 am

My husband was drilled recently by a colleague when he found out I was a SAHM and we have four kids. He was dumbfounded as to how we survive financially, since he was in the same business and knew what my husband was most likely earning. Instead of explaining how frugal we are, the amount of hand me downs we use, or our shoestring budget, my husband simply said, “As individuals we all need to choose our priorities. Having my wife at home with our kids is more important than an extra paycheck”


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