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I had a child at 18, and I can tell you: Raising kids doesn't have to be as expensive as they say

Published by Business Insider on Sat, 21 Nov 2020

<p><img src="https://static2.businessinsider.com/image/5fb6f4db32f2170011f7034c-1166/chonce%20and%20son%20college.png" border="0" alt="chonce and son college" data-mce-source="Chonc Maddox"></p><p></p><bi-shortcode id="summary-shortcode" data-type="summary-shortcode" class="mceNonEditable" contenteditable="false">Summary List Placement</bi-shortcode><ul class="summary-list"><li>I had a child at 18 and was overwhelmed when I learned that the USDA estimates the cost of raising a child to 18 to be between $233,000 and $284,570.</li><li>In the years I've been a parent, though, I've spent a lot less without sacrificing our safety, comfort, or closeness.</li><li>We find lots of fun things to do for free, and I've kept our housing costs down by renting and owning a small home. I know my son doesn't need a big, expensive house to enjoy his childhood.</li><li>I also stopped stressing about the little things when I learned that kids forget a lot of their earliest experiences; he doesn't need an expensive birthday party he won't remember.</li><li><a href="http://newsletter.businessinsider.com/join/4np/personal-finance">Sign up to get Personal Finance Insider's newsletter in your inbox </a></li></ul><p>By the time the USDA shared <a href="https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2017/01/13/cost-raising-child">its analysis</a> showing that it could cost parents in the US around $233,000 to $284,570 to raise a child, I had already had a child and knew I'd have to make it work.</p><p>I love being a mom, but the idea of spending a quarter or even half a million dollars on raising a child through age 18 did scare me a bit. It's the reason <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/us-birthrate-decline-millennials-delay-having-kids-2019-5">some millennials</a> are holding back on having kids.</p><p>My experience as a parent during the early years is quite different from most of my peers, but it allowed me to realize some undeniable truths early on.</p><h2>I was economically disadvantaged, but I had a strategy</h2><p>I've heard all the stories and stats about young mothers out there. Since I had my son before finishing college and settling in a stable career, I knew I was already going to be economically disadvantaged when compared to other parents.</p><p>Still, I developed a strategy to succeed. My goal was to spend my son's younger years becoming a better parent, of course, but also boosting my skills and my income.</p><p>I studied journalism and communications in college and took it very seriously. I studied abroad, did paid internships, and networked like crazy. My goal was to have some experience, credentials, and a steady income coming in by the time my son was able to go to school at 4 years old. This would give me a reasonable budget to work with so I could raise him well and any other child that might come along in the future.</p><h2>Knowing that young kids don't remember much helped me keep things in perspective</h2><p>Numerous <a href="https://www.webmd.com/parenting/news/20110511/when-do-kids-form-their-first-memories#1" target="_blank" rel="noopener">studies have shown</a> that kids under 10 years old may not hold on to their earliest memories, like their first birthday or preschool. While the younger years do give kids an important foundation, a lot of what parents do is based on their own feelings and emotions.</p><p>Yes, it's important for me to take good care of my child, make sure he's safe and clean and spend quality time with him. However, when I first had my son and was in a situation where I didn't have a ton of money, all the worrying I did was a little uncalled for.</p><p>My son doesn't remember that he slept in a used crib that we got for free or drank a certain brand of formula. A different 2 year old probably won't remember his Calvin Klein outfits or the $1,500 birthday party his parents threw for him.</p><p>After a while, I stopped stressing about the small things, and this lifted a huge weight off my shoulders. I'm sure it lowered my average spend on raising my son as well.</p><div><style> #div-gpt-ad-1579713650634-0 > div > iframe { width: 100% !important; min-width: 300px; max-width: 595px; } </style><script async src="https://securepubads.g.doubleclick.net/tag/js/gpt.js"></script><script> window.googletag = window.googletag || { cmd: [] }; googletag.cmd.push(function () { googletag.defineSlot('/1035677/Business_Insider_', [[1, 1], [300, 139], [595, 139], [300, 250], [595, 250], [300, 360], [595, 360], [300, 475], [595, 475]], 'div-gpt-ad-1579713650634-0') .addService(googletag.pubads()); googletag.pubads().enableSingleRequest(); googletag.pubads().setTargeting('category', ["Banking"]).setTargeting('subcat', ["Savings Accounts"]).setTargeting('post_id', []) .setTargeting('post_url', []) .setTargeting('keyword', []) .setTargeting('company-product', []) .setTargeting('post_title', []); googletag.enableServices(); }); </script><!-- /1035677/Business_Insider_ --><div id="div-gpt-ad-1579713650634-0"> <script> googletag.cmd.push(function () { googletag.display('div-gpt-ad-1579713650634-0'); }); </script></div></div><h2>Fun can often be free</h2><p>We did a ton of free things in the area over the years to cut back on costs, whether it was going to a fall fest where he could trick-or-treat with friends, going to the pool after 4 pm when there was a discount, or attending a fun "movies in the park" event during the summer.</p><p>I hardly spent anything on entertainment or fun during the first seven to eight years of raising my son. I often looked on our local park district's website or for events in the area that were free or low cost. When he was 5 years old, his step-father and I volunteered to coach his basketball team, which allowed him to play on the team for free.</p><p>I'd often plan trips to the movie theater so we could catch the latest release for the $3 matinee showing price. Even today, one of our favorite things to do as a family is going to get ice cream and ride bikes, going on nature walks, or watching movies together. Sharing fun experiences with my son is everything to me because I know it creates lasting childhood memories that will shape who he becomes and how he views the world in the future.</p><h2>I didn't restrict myself to a certain type of housing</h2><p>According to the USDA, housing accounts for 29% of child-rearing costs for parents. For some families, it may even eat up more of the household budget.</p><p>Everyone's definition of a stable home for raising kids is different. Mine doesn't have too many constraints. I believe you can raise your child and live in an apartment as opposed to a big home in the suburbs. Maybe you have to get a floor-level apartment so your child can run around freely, but so be it.</p><p>In fact, that's exactly what I did. We lived in an apartment until my son was about 6 or 7 years old. We saved a ton of money, paid off debt, and enjoyed paying around $880 per month while having a maintenance team fix any issues that came up. Once we started to outgrow the apartment, we were ready to buy our first home.</p><p>I still have so many great memories of raising my son in that apartment, from walking him to his first day of kindergarten to reading bedtime stories each night. No matter what the house looks like, so long as it's clean and in a safe area, it's the parents who make it a loving home fit to raise children.</p><h2>Determining values early on is key</h2><p>Determining values as a parent early on was so important to me. The wonderful and downright scary thing about having a child is that you are solely responsible for someone else's life. This also gives you the freedom to narrow down what family values you'll prioritize and where you'll spend the bulk of your money.</p><p>I realized I wanted to provide my son with a few things like:</p><ul><li>Experiences traveling</li><li>Quality and consistent dental care</li><li>High-quality education and educational opportunities</li><li>Home-cooked meals the majority of the time</li></ul><p>I'm naturally a frugal person, so instead of telling myself I can't afford something, I like the challenge of trying to figure out how to afford it.</p><p>We love to take family vacations each year and explore new places. I travel hack with credit cards and stay in Airbnbs some of the time to make this more affordable. By staying in an Airbnb or villa with full kitchen access, we can often cook most of our meals on the trip, which saves a ton of money.</p><p>I also like to keep our monthly food budget around $300. Since we cook 90% of our meals at home, I get pretty creative when it comes to <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/personal-finance/whiteboard-from-target-helps-me-save-on-food-2020-9">meal planning</a> and shopping around for sales. When we do dine out, I like to take advantage of kids-eat-free specials.</p><p>Education was always important growing up and I'm grateful to have been able to put my son in private school for a few years. My husband and I volunteered at the school each week, which knocked thousands off the tuition. Now we're <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/personal-finance/cost-of-homeschool-vs-private-school-2020-7">homeschooling</a>, but I'm still open to going back to private in the future. Since it's expensive, we're aware of our tradeoffs, like buying used clothes, eating at home, and taking advantage of free entertainment.</p><p>When it comes to insurance, this is something we are constantly shopping around for. Since I'm a freelancer, we work insurance into our budget as best as we can, and there have even been some years where we've used <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/personal-finance/health-sharing-ministry-saved-me-money-2019-7">health-sharing ministries like Liberty HealthShare</a>.</p><h2>How much will I spend over 18 years'</h2><p>Probably not as much as the USDA predicts. Our lifestyle is simple, and I feel like I have a good handle on how I want to parent and what my financial priorities are. Living in a low to moderate cost-of-living area in the suburbs does help a lot. The rest of my savings strategy is to just be frugal and understand that there is more to being a great parent than money.</p><bi-shortcode id="related-content-module" class="mceNonEditable" data-type="more-personal-finance-coverage" data-sheetname="More Personal Finance Coverage">Related Content Module: More Personal Finance Coverage</bi-shortcode><p><a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/personal-finance/raising-kids-doesnt-have-to-be-expensive-2020-11#comments">Join the conversation about this story &#187;</a></p>
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