Do You Really Need to Spend $13,000 a Year on Your Child?

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havingchildrenEvery year, the USDA releases information about how much it costs to raise a child from birth to age 17. For many families, at least according to the data, it can cost between $200,000 and $500,000 to raise a child, with the approximate yearly cost to raise a child at right around $13,305, according to an infographic compiled by Quizzle.

But do you really need to spend so much on your kids each year?

“Really, it’s all about making choices that work for you,” says Dayna McKinnon, a stay-at-home mom living in Logan, Utah. She has seven children, six of them still living at home. The family’s income amounts to about $60,000 a year, so paying $13,305 per child would put them beyond their income.

Here’s how McKinnon’s basic expenses breakdown on a yearly basis:

  • Housing: $8,400 for mortgage principal and interest.
  • Education: $2,000, since McKinnon homeschools most of her children and spends money on materials and online curricula.
  • Food: $6,000, since the McKinnons spend about $500 per month on groceries.
  • Transportation: $3,000, with vehicle related expenses, including gas, totaling $250 per month.
  • Healthcare: $4,200, with a monthly premium of $350, thanks to great work benefits. The plan is 80/20, so heathcare costs can be a little higher, once co-pays are considered.
  • Clothing: $1,000.
  • Gifts: $2,500 for combined birthdays and holidays.
  • Extras: $1,500 for miscellaneous costs and entertainment.

It’s important to understand that these totals are for the entire family. “We make it a point to live frugally, and carefully consider what we spend our money on what’s really important to us,” McKinnon says.

In order to keep these costs low, the McKinnons employ a number of strategies to save money almost every day.

Cutting Costs In a Big Family

McKinnon acknowledges that some of the savings come from the fact that she does have a big family. “We almost never have to pay for childcare right now,” she says. “We have children ranging from three to 17 living at home, and that means that some are old enough to watch the others.” Plus, since McKinnon stays home, she doesn’t have to worry about daycare costs.

Another money-saving benefit from having a stay-at-home parent is the savings on clothing. “My own wardrobe is small, and I don’t need a professional wardrobe, so that saves us money,” McKinnon says. “Some people say it’s not fair, but I don’t care about clothes, really. I have what I need, and I can think of lots of other things I’d rather spend the money on.”

For the kids, the McKinnon family relies on hand-me-downs from family and friends, and trips to the local thrift store. Sometimes, the McKinnons kill two birds with one stone by giving clothing as gifts to their kids. “It’s not always exciting, but it gives them another thing to open, and it allows us to reduce the budget.”

When it comes to feeding a family of eight on $500 a month, McKinnon says it’s more a matter of careful planning than anything else. She says she doesn’t clip coupons, which is unusual for many frugally-mind families. “It’s too much time and effort to clip coupons. We do well growing and preserving some of our food, as well as shopping the sales.”

The real help for eating for less, though, is planning simple meals. “We have a lot of go-to meals that are easy and inexpensive,” McKinnon says. The kids can even help with many of the meals, since they are often so simple.

One of the perks McKinnon says they enjoy through her husband’s work is a discounted membership to the local sports and racquet club. They get 50 percent off a family membership. This translates into discounts on swim lessons for the kids, and inexpensive fun. “We can go swimming in the pool as a family, or play racquetball.”

Inexpensive entertainment and vacation choices are also common for the McKinnons. Entertainment is often given in the form of a gift, so that it’s not an extra cost. “My family might chip in to get me tickets to the opera,” McKinnon says. “We do something similar for the kids. That way, there’s some fun, but it’s a gift, and not an extra budget expense.”

During a recent vacation along the West Coast, the McKinnon family spent time camping instead of staying in hotels. They also made use of travel apps with the iPad. “When we did stay in a hotel, we would check the travel app to find the best deals near our location,” she says.

As the kids continue to grow, though, McKinnon knows that there will be more expenses. “Extracurricular activities can be expensive,” she says. “Some of my kids choose to attend public school, and others go part-time to participate in activities.”

If the kids want to do something, the McKinnons offer to price-match them. “They have to raise half the money on their own, and we will meet them halfway,” she says. “My kids have side businesses that help them raise money for the things they want to do.”

That eases the budget for the whole family, while teaching the kids to pay for what they want. In the end, though, McKinnon says it comes down to lifestyle choices. Her family doesn’t choose to engage in a lot of expensive activities, and they don’t buy a lot of expensive things. Instead, they focus on inexpensive activities, and work to build memories together as a family.

“Ultimately, you choose what’s important to you,” McKinnon says. “You find a way to make it happen with what you have, or you find a way to make more.”

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Miranda is a freelance writer and professional blogger specializing in financial topics. Her work has appeared in numerous media, online and offline. Her blog is Planting Money Seeds.