The high cost of raising children [Commentary]

Canceled checks show where the money went

January 20, 2014|Susan Reimer

Faithful readers know that the impending wedding of my daughter has caused me to clean out all the rats' nests and cubby holes in my basement that haven't been inspected in years.

You'd think we were holding the reception there.

Anyway, among the boxes was one containing about 15 years of canceled checks, bank statements, health insurance forms and tax returns.

Even I, renowned recycling maven, haven't got the nerve to put that much personal information out on the curb, so I purchased my own personal shredder, which is a lot like purchasing your own personal fax machine. It never seems necessary until it is.

It is taking me days, but I am shredding the paperwork — eight pages at a time — and slowly filling one of those tall yard waste bags. It is sitting in the corner of the kitchen like a cigar store Indian.

While the shredder grinds, I look at the checks and remember where all my money went. Apparently, I spent it on my kids.

The pediatrician co-pays. The pre-school tuition checks. The department stores that don't exist any longer. Checks to the woman who babysat them for 16 years.

I bought plenty of soccer shoes and soccer shorts and shin guards and high white socks. I paid for camps and travel teams and trophies and the season-ending parties and the coach's gift. The pool membership and the swim team swim suits and the goggles and the private coach to help with starts and turns.

The checks are all there.

There are dozens of checks to my children's public schools for raffle tickets, spaghetti dinners and gift wrap. For field trips and band trips, uniforms, sports physicals, instrument rentals and sports banquets. I paid for math tutors and educational computer games, science camp, dance camp and SAT prep. And I paid for help writing college essays.

What I paid for wrestling camps and lacrosse travel could fund my own trip to Paris. Maybe two trips to Paris. I also bought a van in which to carry everyone around. I paid for car insurance and cell phones — do you remember when the bills listed every phone number you called?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture — and don't ask me why it is this agency — estimates how much parents will spend on a child born in a particular year, and each year the amount goes up.

Children born in 2012 are estimated to cost middle-income parents with an income of between $60,640 and $105,000 about $241,080 from birth through high school.

If you make more than $105,000, you can expect to pay just shy of $400,000 for those 18 years. If you live in a city in the Northeast and both parents are working, you will spend about $19,000 a year. Per child.

But as New York Times family blogger KJ Dell'Antonia points out, there is a huge difference between what it actually costs to raise a child and what parents of elevated incomes choose to spend. There is no dollar amount that guarantees a happy and successful child. If there was, we would all take out loans.

In addition, new research from Princeton and Stony Brook universities suggests there is very little difference between the life satisfaction of parents and of people without kids. As one of the researchers pointed out to CNN, if I choose an orange because I like oranges and you choose an apple because you like apples, why would someone watching us assume that our sense of satisfaction would be different?

But there are all those canceled checks and the shredder keeps grinding.

We pay for things differently now, of course. We are not only a check-less society, we are almost a cashless society, and the transactions disappear into the ether. Certainly a family could reconstruct what it spends on the kids in a year, but there is something about all those canceled checks in faded blues and faded greens.

Evidently, I was devoted to my children's well-being and I loved them immensely. I have the canceled checks to prove it.

Susan Reimer's column appears on Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at and @SusanReimer on

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