Without fail, every few months national magazines and news programs feature stories about, “The Cost of Raising a Child.” It’s usually parents of small children who pay the most attention to these features, because they’re new to the game and are still gathering information about the enormous responsibility children are—emotionally and financially. And sure, babies can be pricey—what with diapers and clothing and $3000 diamond-crusted 4-wheel drive strollers—but as kids round the corner on their first decade, things level out a little. There are still costs, like sports equipment and shoes for feet that grow overnight, but there’s a window of time when kids don’t care so much about having everything brand new or brand name. This stage is what I refer to as the We-Can-Actually-Afford-Red-Meat-Again Years. This is also the time to plant a money tree, if you can get a line on one.
Or maybe talk to your financial adviser about funneling a little something into a fund for the second decade of your kid’s life, because even if your child gets a part-time job to help with upcoming expenses, you’re going to need back-up. Here’s a little of what you can expect between twelve years old and they-finally-left-the-nest:
My daughter pays for her own make-up, other than what I’ve purchased to get her started. But I still need to buy shampoo and conditioner and deodorant and other items that make the experience of living in close proximity with a teen tolerable for the senses. If you have boys, then you know the goat-odour of which I speak. People snark on Axe and Old Spice, but there’s something to be said for a product which can turn what is essentially a barnyard animal in an Aeropostale t-shirt into something you can sit next to in a minivan.
Do you have a second car? Sell it. Sell your first car, too. You’ll need the money for gifts, because we celebrate everything these days and our teenagers know it. Gifts include (but are not limited to): birthdays, Christmas, Hanukkah, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, Valentine’s Day, Confirmation, graduation (Grade 8 and High School), Easter, report cards, first periods, first date, first time . . . nope, she’s on her own there.
Not only do we give gifts for every event, we also celebrate with a party—parties for which your teen will need extensive costumery and matching shoes, prom, Spring Formal, Spring Semi-Formal, Almost Spring Semi-Formal, It’s Not Quite Spring Fling Flon Dance-a-athon, etc. Forget about suggesting a second-hand shop, unless you have achieved expert eye-roll avoidance techniques. This shit is NOT for beginners.
This category includes cell phones, internet use, tablets, laptops for homework, iPods, and anything else which enables us to track, trace, stalk, watch, observe, or otherwise be aware of where our teens are and what they are doing. I’m not a proponent of GPS tracking devices specifically for the purpose of knowing our teenagers’ every move, because they deserve the freedom to make mistakes and have some fun that we shouldn’t know about until it comes out at a Thanksgiving dinner 30 years later, in a “Wanna hear a funny story about the time I told you I was at the cottage with Jane’s family, but I was really a roadie for Nine Inch Nails?” conversation, and ONLY after we’ve taken our heart pills. Techie stuff costs money and your teen is going to want them all, and some of them they do actually need, so you’re likely going to at least subsidize their cost. Expect to upgrade annually from ages 13-18. Expected cost during dependent years for internet access, routers, new iPod screens, phone plans, etc? Four kabillion dollars.
I’m not buying a car for my child. I drove my father’s huge purple Econoline van with a sunset painted on the side and that was good enough for me. It was pretty awesome, actually. It had no backseat and there was lots of room to lay down a blanket and you could . . . on second thought, perhaps I will get her a car, but something small, like a Smart Car or a Chevette—something with no head or leg or laying-down-on-a-blanket room. But I want her to drive safely regardless and so she’ll need Driver’s Ed, and at last check that cost half a kidney, your firstborn, and seven magic rubies. And until they drive, they’ll need bus passes and chauffeur services courtesy of you.
These have an entire sub-category unto themselves, because dental care is crazy expensive and not everyone has insurance coverage. Here’s a handy formula to help you determine if your child will need braces in the future, so that you can start saving now if necessary:
If the answer to this question is “yes,” then your child will need braces. Expect to pay upwards of an entire year’s salary. If you’re super lucky, like our family, you will also hear awesome orthodontic phrases, like “jaw surgery” and “extensive tooth extraction” and “We’re not sure why but you were born without adult molars but hahaha don’t worry we’ll give you implants on a one hundred year payment plan.”
(Sticks fingers in ears . . . I CAN’T HEAR YOU . . .)
So, parents of toddlers and school-age children, you may want to reconsider buying that additional Wii game or $200 pair of snow pants this year. Teenagers are expensive to keep and I haven't even touched on extracurricular sports, like hockey and horseback riding, and soccer, and school-costs, and . . .
Put that money into a savings bond or start dropping hints to your kids about maybe “getting their own place” before they get too comfy in suburbia.