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By Amy Hamilton-Chadwick, Freelance writer and registered FA
It’s often said that it takes a village to raise a child. From a financial perspective, though, you had better hope the village has a solid investment portfolio. Raising children is a costly exercise, and the more you earn, the more you’re likely to spend.
The hard costs
The hard costs are the actual day-to-day expenses incurred by each child, either directly or as part of the family’s total bills: for example, food, clothing, accommodation costs, education, and healthcare. Australian bank Suncorp found in its 2016 Cost of Kids Report:
•. The 9 to 11 age range is the most expensive, followed by ages 6 to 8, then 3 to 5, 12 to 14, and 15 to 17. The under threes were the cheapest.
•. The first-born wasn’t the most expensive – parents actually spent more on each child as the family expanded, although housing costs didn’t increase much, which helped to offset the higher spending.
•. Food is the biggest expense when it comes to your children.
For most Kiwi families, though, the basics are only part of the story. Optional activities like sports and music lessons add up rapidly, as do additional toys, technology, and sports gear. Then there are family holidays, private schooling, and extra tuition. And do you need a bigger house?
Those discretionary decisions are why there’s a big gap between what various households spend: estimates range from about $150–$450 per child per week, depending on your income. That’s a range of $7,800–$23,400 a year or $140,000–$420,000 across 18 years – plus another $12,000–$20,000 per year if your child attends a private school! And, as many parents discover, if your child stops costing you money at the age of 18, you’re in the minority. Plenty of parents are now assisting children in their thirties into first homes.
An extremely rough estimate
Obviously, you didn’t have kids to turn a profit. You love the expensive little blighters. But what does the average Kiwi kid cost to keep for a month, in hard costs alone? Here’s a very rough estimate, based on numbers from local and Australian research:
Housing and utilities $215
Education (public) $40
Pocket money $35
Extra and unexpected costs $50
That’s a total of: $1,160 per month, or $13,920 a year, or $250,560 from birth to age 18.
The ‘Stay-at-Home Parent Penalty’
The biggest hidden cost of parenthood is taking time out of the workforce. This can be extremely expensive over the long term, even if in the short term it can seem like it’s a money saver when you weigh up the costs of childcare, transport, clothing, and so on.
Five years out of the workforce, missing out on all the promotional opportunities and additional KiwiSaver contributions and gains that entails, can result in the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in income. When you go back into the workforce, you’re often earning less money than when you left, too. This penalty will have an impact on whichever parent takes time out, but some research suggests stay-at-home dads are even harder hit than stay-at-home mums.
The good news
Holy mackerel, there’s got to be an upside, right? Yes, there is. Parents actually earn more than non-parents in New Zealand, according to Statistics New Zealand. One or both working parents may benefit financially, although fathers get a bigger boost.
In other good news, a 2015 Melbourne Institute paper found that children “have a very small impact upon wealth accumulation, seemingly at odds with the large ‘costs’ implied from expenditure-based estimates.” So even if the numbers look huge, over the course of your lifetime, it’s a surprisingly small dent out of your overall wealth.
So, if you are considering having a first child, or adding to your already growing brood, it’s wise to keep the costs in mind – even if the rewards are priceless.