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Children are apparently expensive now

June 7, 2010

In last week’s least necessary study, we learned that raising children is expensive. Not news, I realize, but it’s interesting (and discouraging) to see the figures laid out:

Diapers, car seats, daycare, birthday gifts, piano lessons, math tutors, soccer cleats, prom dresses–there are endless expenses when you’re raising a child. What does everything totaled up come to?

Anywhere between $286,000 and $476,000, according to the the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which just released new figures on the cost of raising a child born in 2009.

The numbers are highly qualified in several ways, and don’t take into account college tuition, money spent by grandparents and other family members, or bail money. Furthermore, there are major geographical differences –the northeast vs. the midwest vs. the south, etc. All of which makes me wonder how much these numbers really matter. This is an average, of course, which means some people will spend more and some will spend less. It seems likely to me that the total I arrive at, for instance, will have an awful lot to do with much money I actually have. If I don’t have $476,000, it seems a safe bet that I won’t be spending $476,000. Unsurprisingly, the numbers are lower in the south. If TV and movies have taught me anything, it’s that southerners mostly live in tarpaper shacks and eat squirrels out of necessity, so are they probably aren’t too worried about soccer cleats or piano lessons. (If you’re interested in how class effects the approach to raising children, Parenting Out of Control by Margaret K. Nelson looks fascinating, and you can get a taste with this interview.)
I guess for me the question, really, is: How much do you need to spend to raise a child? A few weeks ago, Magic Beans, the local toy store-cum-wallet extractor had a sign in their window announcing the Boston launch of a stroller called the Stokke Xplory, as if it was the new Benz, or a cruise ship. The Xplory costs fucking $1,000, though, so maybe the comparison is a good one. Now, I’ve pushed a few luxury strollers, and they’re nice and all, but really? $1,000? I don’t know who that makes me want to punch more: those Norwegian swindlers, or the suckers who fall for the idea that you will ever, if you live to be a million-billion years old, get $1,000 of ease or convenience out of a stroller. Here’s a news flash for parents: No stroller is going to get your kid into Yale. A stroller is a shopping cart, and as long as it has wheels, you’re good. The best and longest-lived stroller I ever owned is right here. Besides, get your kids walking or they’ll get fat.
I guess my point is that there is no demographic more exploited by advertisers than parents. If our culture is materialistic, then material goods are the medium by which we show who we are, and express our love for our kids. So if you were to cut out all the things you think you and your kids need, and buy only the stuff you really need, how much would it cost then? That’s the study I’d like to see.
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