It costs a pretty penny to raise a kid. 💰
I knew my expenses would go up with a kid in tow, but looking back I underestimated exactly how much they would go up by.
Hmm. “Go up” isn’t quite the right word. “Blow up” is a bit more accurate. 🤯
That’s because kids are like vacuum cleaners: they clean your budget out.
In this week’s podcast, I share what I’ve learned, using direct examples from our own budget, about how our expenses blew up after starting a family.
What you’ll learn:
- 6 expenses that explode when your bouncing baby arrives
- How much you can roughly expect your costs to increase with a kid in tow
- Some practical tips on how to reduce those costs and save money
What’s been your experience with budgeting and expenses after having a kid? Any other expenses that ballooned after you had a kid? Did your costs increase by similar percentages as mine? Let me know by leaving a comment when you’re done.
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Today I want to talk about family finances, and specifically, how your finances change when you start a family.
This is a really important topic because it’s something I think just about every new parent couple struggles with and takes some adjusting to get used to.
This is something I struggled with when my kid arrived because your budget and your cost structure really do change drastically and suddenly.
It’s especially challenging, I think, if you live in a high cost of living area because your baseline is already expensive.
Here in California where I live, $120,000 for a family of four is considered poverty level in San Francisco County, Marin County, and San Mateo County. That level will actually qualify you for various local subsidies and programs, which would be unthinkable in many other metro areas.
Now, to be clear, that is for a family of four. But my point is if that’s the kind of cost of living range you’re facing in your area, then you can imagine just how much more challenging it becomes when a kid enters the picture, or two, or even more.
So today I want to talk about the biggest expense categories that are going to change that you have to plan for when you have a kid.
And I’ll try to share some actual data points on how our budget changed and increased when our daughter arrived.
I’ll also talk about some strategies and tips we have found helpful to save money on kid costs and to be even more efficient on our overall household costs.
So I think the discussion today will be useful and insightful to you if you’re contemplating starting a family and you’re wondering how you’re going to make the finances work through it all.
Or even if you’re just curious about it but don’t have any immediate plans, and you just want to get a better idea of what to expect, it can also be insightful for you as well.
Before we get into it, though, as always, I want to invite you to join the private Hack Your Wealth Facebook group, which you can access at hackyourwealth.com/fb.
It’s a way for us to connect and have a dialogue. I am in there every single day, multiple times a day. I respond to nearly every comment and question that shows up in there.
And it’s a place where you can ask about financial independence and early retirement, tax strategies, real estate investing, side business income, career switches, and just general advice about personal finance.
So I definitely encourage you to join us there. hackyourwealth.com/fb.
Having a kid is like having a pet
To help set the stage for our discussion on family finances, I want to analogize first to owning a pet, because a lot of young people may not have yet started families, but a lot of folks have had pets before when they were growing up as kids.
Or maybe as a young adult, they bought a pet and they know what is involved in taking care of a pet and what some of the costs are.
That it is a lot of work. It’s a lot of joy, but it’s a lot of work.
And having kids is like that. All joy, very little fun, and definitely very costly.
When I was growing up, I had a dog and I had a whole bunch of other different types of pets. And they all took a significant amount of labor and expense to care for them.
I remember once, my brother had a bulldog that he bought as a little puppy. And the bulldog itself was expensive because you get it from a breeder.
But then when he brought it home, it needed to be trained on everything. It wasn’t housebroken. It didn’t know not to chew up the furniture and stuff like that.
For the first year or so, it was a lot of work and a lot of expense involved. Every day, my brother would come home and there would be poops all over the floor.
Furniture would be chewed up at the legs. Carpet would be shredded. The sofa would be ripped up.
Once, he bought a really nice outdoor picnic table with a foldable umbrella that goes in the middle of the table. He didn’t even have it for a week and the dog chewed up all the strings that allow you to open and close the umbrella. He just destroyed that within a week of buying this really nice piece of patio furniture.
So you can think back, if you’ve ever had a pet in your life, to how much work was involved and labor and cleaning up and bathing and feeding and buying toys and taking it to the pet doctor and all these expenses that add up that actually end up taking a big bite out of your budget.
But of course, in return, you get a pet who’s a companion, hopefully loyal, and a true family member and friend as well.
Well, having a kid is a lot like that, but times 1000x.
It’s on steroids in terms of the amount of money and labor you have to invest to raising a kid.
And there is a lot of joy involved, but there is definitely a lot of sacrifice involved as well.
So I want to walk through some of the cost buckets you should be mentally prepared for to increase when you have a kid.
So let’s jump into the top cost buckets you’ll likely be planning for once you have a kid because these are the areas where your life will probably get more expensive.
The first area is housing.
And that’s pretty intuitive because once you have a new human living in your house, you may find yourself needing to upgrade to a larger place, not just to accommodate another person living there, but to also hold all the extra CRAP you’re going to accumulate from having a kid.
You may also very well need a separate bedroom for your kid, particularly as your kid nears his or her first birthday.
That’s because infants and toddlers are actually really light sleepers. They will jolt awake at even the faintest sounds.
So you can’t have them sleep in a crib in an open area of your house or even in your own bedroom, because the foot traffic and noise and ambient light will keep waking them up because they’re such light sleepers.
My wife jokes that whoever invented the phrase “sleeps like a baby” clearly never had to care for a baby, because babies are actually extremely light sleepers.
In my case, we were living in a large one-bedroom apartment when my wife discovered she was pregnant. And there was just no way it was going to work to add a baby to that space.
That’s when I went all in looking to buy a place. And that’s when I actually found the fourplex house hack that we’re now currently living in, which I’ve written a lot about on the Hack Your Wealth blog.
That fourplex has enabled us to increase our home size in terms of square footage while simultaneously lowering our housing costs because they’re averaged across four units, obviously, and the tenants cover most of the carrying costs.
We definitely were lucky in finding the property before our daughter was born.
But we were ready to move into a larger rental apartment if we could not buy, because at the time, prices were just at an all-time high.
And had we moved into another rental and increased our square footage, it definitely would have been expensive. There’s just no way around that.
But it’s something we would have had no choice to do because we needed more space. And there’s no way our little one-bed apartment was going to house all of us.
Anyway, the point is that housing is a big expense category that will probably increase once you have a family, and given the fact that housing is most people’s largest expense after taxes.
The second expense category that’s very naturally going to increase when you have a kid is food.
Babies need a lot of specialized food, whether it’s milk formula or baby food.
And even if you breastfeed at first, it’s very possible that you may need to supplement with formula and/or baby food over time.
Certainly once your kid transitions to eating solid food, you’re going to be spending quite a bit of money on specialized baby food. And it’s not the cheapest thing.
You also end up wasting a good amount of food because baby appetites can be pretty variable.
They won’t finish the portions you prepare for them in one meal, and then they’re going to double the amount in the next meal.
You also don’t want to ratchet down the portions because you don’t want them to be hungry at all, and you don’t want them to have weight gain problems.
So there is meaningful waste, and you have to be prepared for that. And it’s expensive at the same time.
The third area where your expenses are very likely to increase is clothing.
Baby clothes are not actually that expensive.
But the problem is kids grow out of their clothes very quickly. So you end up buying a lot of clothes where the kid only wears it a few times before it gets too small.
So it’s not so much the cost of the clothes themselves, but rather the fact that you have to keep buying and replacing them really rapidly.
It’s the volume and velocity at which you have to replenish their wardrobe. So you spend time every few weeks going to stores, shopping on Amazon, and you keep buying clothes over and over again.
I actually joked that my kid technically now has a bigger wardrobe than me because she grows out of her clothes so quickly.
Fourth area that’s going to increase in terms of costs is gear.
There is shit tons of gear you have to buy for your kid, and none of it is cheap. $200 here, $150 there, $300 over there.
That adds up over time.
So whether it’s strollers or car seats, baby carriers, bassinet, crib, high chair, all the tons of clothes we just talked about, diaper changing station, diaper disposal can, and endless, endless diapers, just diapers all the way down.
Plus, you’re going to buy play pen area flooring and plastic fencing, tons of equipment and supplies, like special baby humidifiers, warming stations, bottles, bottle racks, bottle drying machines.
That’s not even mentioning all the baby toys you’re going to buy to help your kid develop motor skills and learn.
There’s just a lot of stuff to pack in even though your baby is just this tiny little human.
Fifth area that’s going to increase in costs is childcare.
Childcare and daycare are actually going to become entirely new expense line items in your budget.
And boy, is it PRICEY.
It may easily be as much as, or even exceed, what you pay in rent and housing costs, especially if both parents have to work full time and you need full time daycare or childcare.
You can definitely find cheaper daycares, but I have found that childcare is an area where, if you can afford it, you should not skimp on costs, because the quality penalty you pay for picking a bottom of the barrel cheapo daycare is simply that your kid is going to be left behind in terms of their brain development or they’ll be neglected or, even worse, abused.
Or that’s the perception anyway.
And when it comes to child care, parents are crazy.
If there’s any little bit of additional benefit that their kid can get, parents will often pay for it.
Because up until the first five years of a kid’s development are by far the most important for their brain development and speech development and IQ development, etc.
But to enroll your kid in one of these daycares that are brightly lit, with shiny new toys, and gleaming teachers who all have master’s degrees in early child education, and glowing baby students who have lots of enrichment activities, they’re going to charge you up the nose for that.
And they’re going to get away with it too because you’re going to pay it.
I joke that childcare is like a direct transfer of wealth from our paychecks to our childcare providers.
The sixth area that’s going to increase your costs is insurance.
The main thing here is health insurance. You’re going to be adding another head to your health insurance policy. And your kid is going to go to the doctor a lot because kids get sick all the time.
By the way, on top of you or your spouse having to take time off work to take your kid to the doctor, it’s going to come with deductibles and plenty of medical copays.
And medicine. Oh boy, medicine.
You’re going to be buying lots of baby cough syrups, baby Tylenols, baby creams.
And all that stuff adds up.
By the way, the insurance copays are not limited to your kid either.
When your kid gets sick, pretty much everyone in your house is going to get sick too.
So you may actually have been healthy as an ox before kids and never needed to go to the doctor yourself. But once you have kids, you may find yourself and your spouse going to the doctor more as well.
On top of health insurance, you’re probably going to start thinking about life insurance too.
Before kids, you probably didn’t need to worry so much about what would happen financially if you got hit by a bus.
Even if you were married, your spouse probably had a career of his or her own and could earn money to support themselves.
But after kids, it’s very possible that one spouse may become a stay-at-home parent, which means you lose that income stream and they essentially hinder their own career.
So now you have two financially dependent people in your household instead of just one. You might have a stay-at-home spouse and the baby.
And even if your spouse doesn’t stop working, your kid at least is still going to be financially dependent. And that may be hard for a single working parent to bear if you got hit by a bus.
So it’s very natural to get life insurance once kids come into the picture.
And it’s not cheap. Even just getting the most plain vanilla life insurance product, which is probably 20-year term life insurance, is going to cost you probably $1000-$2000 a year.
And that’s assuming you’re pretty healthy, you don’t smoke or do drugs or eat a bunch of crappy food, and you get reasonable exercise. It’s still going to cost you probably in that range.
And if you’re not healthy, it’s going to cost more.
So all these expanded and new costs are going to start blowing up your budget: housing, food, clothing, gear, childcare, insurance.
And we haven’t even started talking about education costs, which will eventually, over time, become your largest child expense.
Education, enrichment activities, after-school activities, sports, camps, and on and on and on.
Why having kids decelerates your career
And this is going on right about the same time it becomes significantly harder to rapidly increase your wage earnings because the demands on your time increase so significantly once kids enter the picture.
You just cannot pull nearly as many late night hours to impress your bosses anymore.
I used to look at parents who left the office at 5:00 on the dot, and I thought, “Oh, well, look, they’re leaving the office at 5:00 again, and I’m going to be working until late at night again.”
Now that I’m a parent, I’m like, “Guys, I got to leave at 5:00. I got to go pick up Junior from daycare,” because they’re going to close and they’re not going to hold your kid, or they’re going to charge you an arm and a leg if you’re late.
So parents who leave the office at 5:00 or 6:00 p.m., there’s a reason.
They have to go home and bathe and feed their kid and put their kid to bed.
There’s no date nights during the week.
There’s no eating out at a restaurant serendipitously.
There’s no going to catch a movie on a weeknight.
All that serendipity is gone because you need structure and schedules in order to make the household run and make sure the kid survives.
And that takes actually a few hours each night, even if you’re efficient.
Babies just take longer to do stuff because they’re so dependent on you for everything.
So in terms of your career, it also means that you probably can’t take on as many big assignments.
You cannot travel to see clients on a moment’s notice anymore because travel becomes this big production where you have to juggle a kid.
Who’s going to do the daycare pickup? Who’s going to do the nighttime routine?
Even if the other spouse is at home, it still gets a lot harder if one parent is unpredictably there and may have to travel on short notice for their job.
For example, my spouse works in a hospital where the shift starts really early in the morning, before daycare even opens.
So if I travel for work, that pretty much means my kid isn’t going to daycare for all those travel days.
Which means I’m searching for a care provider who can come on quick notice.
Who doesn’t already have a full time childcare job elsewhere.
And who can spend the whole day in my house looking after my kid.
Who’s willing to stop working once I return home, that is, they know it’s going to be a very short term gig.
And who we trust and who we believe is going to take good care of our child and not abuse our child and not steal our shit.
And who is reasonably affordable.
Sorry, not sorry, it’s really hard to find that person. Really hard.
So what happens is you just end up turning down a lot of travel assignments, even though they may help accelerate your career advancement and earnings faster.
So there’s all these reasons why you just can’t easily pull so many late hours anymore or take on that extra project or take that plum international assignment and fly off on a moment’s notice.
“Lean in” = privilege
Sure, it’s easy for tech billionaires like Sheryl Sandberg to lean in and stand on a pedestal and tell other women to do that too.
It’s a lot easier for a tech CEO to have five kids and still make it all work.
Yeah, you can do that if you have a big staff at work and another staff at home who can do much of the heavy lifting for you, freeing up time from your calendar so you never have to do laundry or ride pickup or grocery shopping or cleaning or bathing or cooking.
Now, their luck and background and connections and smarts and hard work all mixed together are very rare. The Sheryl Sandbergs of the world are rare.
Most people, by definition, do not have what they have.
So most people have to work a lot harder than they would to figure out how to make it all work, how to make the basics work, because they’re just swimming against stronger currents.
They’re swimming upstream while the Sheryl Sandbergs of the world can ride a yacht.
How much do your costs increase with a kid?
So, exactly how much do your household costs really increase when you have kids?
Well, I’ll share some insights from our own experience and also some thoughts on how representative that is.
As I mentioned earlier, our housing costs actually went down in our case. But that is not the norm.
We were very intentional and strategic about forcing our housing costs lower by house hacking a multifamily property.
But there are downsides to that too.
For starters, we don’t live in our own single family home, even though we could and even though we might in the future. It’s just a lot more expensive to live in a single family home.
And I wanted to offset the increase in costs elsewhere in our budget by lowering our housing costs.
So that’s why we still live in apartment style living despite owning the building.
A second downside is that the neighborhood isn’t quite as nice as your traditional single family home neighborhoods are.
Your average tenant quality just isn’t as high as it would be in a traditional neighborhood of single family homes with big yards.
It’s not bad. We’re still in the heart of Silicon Valley, so I’d say it’s disproportionately people who work in the technology industry who make pretty good incomes and are pretty well-educated.
But overall, the resident mix just isn’t quite as good as a single family home neighborhood.
But we figured maybe that isn’t as critical during the first few years of our child’s upbringing because during those first few years, she really can’t do anything anyway.
It’s not like she has friends at one and a half years old. She can’t go to places.
So our plan is that we’ll move to a better area once she’s able to do those things. But for now, it doesn’t matter.
And what we get in exchange is materially lower housing costs.
But I think for most people, housing costs will actually increase.
You generally will move to a larger place, maybe a single family home, once you know you’re going to start a family. And that means taking on a mortgage, insurance, property taxes, maintenance costs, etc.
Or if you already have those things, they’re going to increase.
I think it’s not unreasonable to assume your housing costs may increase by 20%-50%.
Second area: food costs.
Our food costs increased about 40% after our kid arrived.
It fluctuates, but when you smooth it all out, that’s the ballpark.
And this is because we’re not only buying a lot of expensive premium food for the baby, but also because our own food costs increased as we just had less free time each day to go to the grocery store to shop, to cook, to clean.
So to save time, we order takeout a lot more. Or we use grocery delivery services. We buy a lot more prepackaged food.
So as a result, we spend less time cooking and cleaning, and we have more time back in the day, but we pay for it through higher food and grocery costs.
Third area: clothing.
Our clothing costs increased by about 3x. You heard that right. That’s a 200% increase.
Now, that’s not all baby clothes, although baby clothes is a lot of it.
The baby clothes are high turnover, as I mentioned earlier, because the kid grows out of it really quickly.
For example, there was this rose-colored dress that we bought for our daughter for $50. Super cute. She looks like a little Disney princess. Really good material. Really good for taking family photos. And we did that. We took lots of family photos.
But our daughter grew out of it after wearing it just three times. So that was literally $17 per wear.
But in addition to all the high turnover baby clothes, we also had to buy a lot of replacement clothes for ourselves.
Because when you have a baby, both mom and dad gain weight. You get more pear-shaped.
As a result, with bigger waistlines, a lot of your old slender clothes that you could wear on your firm as an apple body before are no longer going to fit.
So you will naturally end up finding yourself buying a lot more clothes to replenish your own wardrobe. So awesome.
Fourth is gear.
Now, this category increased by basically infinity because it didn’t exist before.
But in terms of dollar value, it fluctuates a lot, but when you smooth it out, it’s basically like paying an extra half rent to full rent per month.
Fifth area is childcare expenses.
This category also increased by infinity because it did not exist before.
So we have daycare and we also hire some night help.
And when you add that all up, it’s equivalent to paying an extra rent per month.
Our insurance costs went up about 150%, both from the additional insurance we had to buy with a third member of our family, and from increased use of that insurance because everybody gets sick more often when you have kids in the house.
And finally, because we added life insurance to the mix.
We also recently started taking our kid to some toddler enrichment activities. And this is a new category of expenses that also did not exist before.
I don’t have a good sense of how rapidly this will increase over time because it just started.
But as I mentioned earlier, I suspect this one will eventually dwarf all the others, with the capstone being a multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars college education.
So when you roll it all up, our expense budget increased about 75%. For every $100 we were spending before we had a kid, we are now spending $175 after having a kid.
And keep in mind, that’s after we hacked down our housing costs by more than 50%, which as I mentioned, is not the norm. Normally, your housing costs will increase in lockstep.
A more realistic increase in household expenses would probably be easily double what you were spending before you had a kid, and probably more than that, to be honest.
And as I said, I actually expect this spending level to increase over time because education will comprise an escalating portion of the budget.
And unlike for baby products or even daycare, when it comes to education and enrichment activities, there’s just a lot bigger price ranges, meaning good quality education programs will be much more expensive compared to lower quality ones.
By contrast, good quality baby products or even daycare services won’t have such a big price gap compared to lower quality ones.
For products or daycare, the gap between low versus high quality might be a 2x-3x gap.
But for education, I think the gap might be 8x-10x, with the capstone being college education as the ultimate expense, where you’re going to be spending a ton of money all in a very concentrated period of four years.
Strategies to lower costs
Now, there are some strategies to help you lower your costs, and we did a lot of them.
The cost increase percentages I mentioned are actually after all our cost saving strategies were already baked in.
I’ll share the main strategies we used to save money with a kid added to our budget. If you have other tips and strategies as well, please, by all means, share them with us and the community by commenting on this page.
Or join the Facebook group, hackyourwealth.com/fb, and post your thoughts there.
No extreme hack
So first thing I’d say is that there is no extreme hack that we found beyond the house hack we’re doing, which did lower our housing costs a lot.
But there was no extreme hack to save a massive amount of money with a kid added to your household budget.
You have to buy what you have to buy, and you’re not going to sacrifice on quality when it comes to your kid.
So you’re not going to be saving by leaps and bounds in any event, but there are still meaningful savings to be had, and that can add up over time.
First one is getting free stuff.
Chances are you probably know other parents or even family members whose kids have grown out of their baby supplies: clothes, gear, equipment.
Post on Facebook to ask for baby equipment donations from friends who are also parents.
You can also look on Craigslist for parents who are giving away old baby equipment and supplies.
In my workplace, we have a parents’ mailing list, and people are posting on there all the time to ask for baby equipment donations or giving baby equipment donations or selling their stuff.
So check out to see if your employer has a parents’ group like that too.
A lot of this stuff is perfectly usable, still has a lot of shelf life to it, and can save you real dollars, after-tax dollars too, which you can then divert to other things.
We got a lot of stuff like this.
For example, hand-me-down baby clothes which we got from family members…because your baby doesn’t really care, honestly, what he or she is wearing in terms of fashion, so long as it’s comfortable.
We also got some really solid baby gear. We got a really nice diaper changing table for free as a donation from a community forum we were part of. And we got a really nice stroller, a Babyzen Yoyo which costs ~$500.
We got a ton of perfectly good hand-me-down toys that are super popular on Amazon for infants and toddlers. You just have to make sure you disinfect and alcohol wipe everything.
Buy in bulk at Costco
Second thing is to buy as much as you can in bulk from Costco.
Costco is usually cheaper than Amazon, but you have to buy a lot, which is actually to your advantage for non-perishable or slow to perish type of products, like paper towels, diapers, baby wipes, even baby clothes and baby formula.
Not only do you get it cheaper when you buy it in bulk, but you also save time by reducing the number of runs to the store you need to refill.
Amazon Subscribe and Save
Third strategy: we use Amazon’s “Subscribe and Save” feature.
This is where you essentially subscribe to certain products you know you’re going to need very regularly, like diapers, baby food, formula, wipes, baby soap, detergent, baby lotion, even non-baby household products you need regularly.
When you subscribe to them, Amazon will automatically ship them to you on whatever schedule or cadence you specify. It could be monthly, every two months, every quarter, every six months, whatever.
And it will ship them to you on that frequency without you having to go and click to buy them again and again each time.
In any given calendar month, if there are five or more products that are in your subscription basket for that month that you end up buying, you’ll get 15%-20% discount off every single product in that month’s shipment.
So as long as you do a little bit of planning upfront, to plan out what you need on a regular basis, that can translate into an easy 15%-20% discount off products you know you’re going to need anyway.
Amazon sales days
Another Amazon tip we do is we build lists of products we know we want to buy, but maybe they’re not urgently needed quite yet.
Maybe we’re looking to buy a new car seat or a stroller or baby toys that are age-appropriate for when our kid is 6-12 months older.
We build a wish list on Amazon and then check them all on Prime Day or Black Friday or Cyber Monday or any of these big sales days. And if the prices have dropped a lot, we’ll just buy a whole bunch of the stuff then.
Even if we don’t need it just quite yet, as long as we need it in the near future, we will often take advantage of those big sales days to buy a whole bunch of stuff at once.
You can sometimes actually save a good chunk this way by batching buying on major sales days.
Mommy blogs and product reviews
Beyond these tips, we just do a lot of product research by Googling around, reading product reviews, reading a lot of mommy blogs to see what products other parents are finding to be the best value for money and where other parents are finding smart savings.
Those are pretty much the money saving strategies we have found.
Again, if you have good strategies that you use and have found effective, I would love it if you could share it with us and the community by commenting in the show notes for this episode or by joining the Hack Your Wealth private Facebook group and posting your ideas there.
I’d love to engage with you on this really important topic.
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Related: teach your kids about finances ep 27
Related: Dealing with a bigger budget isn’t the only challenge you need to think about when raising kids; check out our related kid-rearing post: 9 Crucial Money Lessons Your Kids Must Learn to Succeed as Adults (HYW027)!