The True Cost of Raising a Child

September 27, 2017
Greg Kelly

Raising children today is an expensive proposition, with child-rearing costs absorbing a major share of the American household’s budget. Here’s how those costs break down.

My parents raised 8 children. As a parent of only 2, I don’t know how they did it. In the end, I guess love gets you through. It also helped that my father was a successful doctor.

While the decision to have a child is seldom about business, understanding the personal financial realities of raising one can be useful to veterinarians contemplating or in the early stages of parenthood.

According to the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) most recent Expenditures on Children by Families, 2015 report, the average cost for a middle-income couple (ie, one with an average annual pretax income of about $82,000) to raise a child from birth to age 18 is about $13,000 per year. That’s a whopping $233,610 over the 18 years of childhood. This figure includes adjustments for inflation and changes in family size, but it does not factor in the impact of 1 spouse taking time from work to attend to the children. Data are given in 2015 dollars.

The calculations for child rearing include child care, food, shelter, transportation, clothing, health care, and miscellaneous expenses. College costs are not included in the figure, and the actual totals also vary by income level, lifestyle, and location. It tends to be more expensive to raise a family in the nation’s coastal areas.


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Child Care

The cost of child care is often the deciding factor in whether it makes sense for both spouses to work. With 2 well-paid professionals in a family, child care may be affordable. But when 1 spouse is not well compensated, the cost of child care can reduce the net value of the second income to the point where it may not be worth it. According to the USDA, middle-class parents of a child younger than age 5 spend an average of nearly $3,000 per year on child care, with an 18-year total of $38,000. This does not include the expense of a full-time nanny, which can easily exceed $500 per week.


This expense usually comes to mind first when discussing raising children. Families spend an average of 20% more on clothing for girls than for boys, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Generally, about $13,000 will keep a child adequately clothed until age 18, although many parents of late-teenage children would dispute the notion that clothing costs end at age 18.

Food and Shelter

The USDA estimates that it costs about $1600 per year to feed a child younger than age 2. A teenager will set parents back about $2700 per year for food. On average, it costs over $41,000 to feed a child until age 18. Housing costs, although a function of family size, don’t necessarily increase with each child. The USDA estimates that a middle-class family will spend an average of $66,000 to provide a child with shelter until age 18.

Health care

Health care expenditures vary depending on where you live and work. According to the USDA, the average out-of-pocket cost of keeping a child in good health until age 18 is nearly $22,000. This assumes the child is covered by a reasonably good health insurance plan.


Transportation expenses can add up quickly. The USDA estimates that the average middle-class family spends more than $35,000 on transportation for 1 child through age 18. Parents of teenagers spend an average of 50% more on transportation than those with younger children.

Miscellaneous Expenses

These costs cover a wide range of items, such as toys, entertainment, reading materials, personal care items, and pets. According to the USDA, throughout an 18-year period, these items average $1000 per year, per child.

Greg Kelly is a long-time health care writer and editor. He has written for the Physician’s Money DigestTM, Dentist’s Money DigestTM and Veterinarian’s Money DigestTM websites. He lives at the Jersey Shore and welcomes comments at