MARIETTA - When she heard the estimated cost of raising her daughter Rachael until the age of 18 was well over $200,000, Bloomfield resident Jeni Kroll's reaction was: "Wow."
"It's insane, definitely not what our parents raised us on, that's for sure," said Kroll, 35.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's annual report, "Expenditures on Children by Families," child-rearing costs from birth to legal adulthood for a child like Rachael Kroll, born in 2010, will total $226,920 for the average middle-income American family. When projected inflation is factored in, that number rises to $286,860.
Photo by Evan Bevins
Sixteen-month-old Rachael Kroll, of Bloomfield, plays in the garden her parents have planted in an effort to save money on food costs. Approximately 16 percent of the average American family’s child-related costs come from food.
That's up from $25,229 in 1960, the first year the study was performed. That's the equivalent of $185,856 in 2010 dollars.
The study divides child-rearing expenses into seven categories - housing, child care and education, food, transportation, health care, clothing and miscellaneous.
The projected costs vary based on a family's income - the higher the income, the higher the costs. USDA economist Mark Lino said this could be because higher incomes give people more options in what to purchase and also might mean both parents are working, increasing costs for child care.
By The Numbers
A middle-income family with a child born in 2010 is expected to spend an average of $226,920 on food, shelter and other expenses for the child from birth to age 18.
If projected inflation costs are factored in, the figure rises to $286,860.
The average annual cost of child-rearing expenses for a single parent is lower, although the study did not factor in amounts paid by non-custodial parents.
The numbers are lower for the Midwest region, which includes Ohio, and rural areas with populations of less than 2,500.
To calculate annual child care costs for your family, use the U.S. Department of Agriculture's "Cost of Raising a Child Calculator" at www.cnpp.usda.gov/calculatorintro.htm.
Source: USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion.
Another factor that changes the estimates is geography. Families in Midwestern states, including Ohio, have a lower annual cost than the national average, and averages for rural residents are lower still. According to the report, this is due primarily to regional differences in child care and education costs, as well as housing, which is the largest expenditure families make on children.
The housing figure is determined by looking at the cost of additional rooms in a house - including furniture, utilities and other associated costs - even though people might not think of that as a specific child care expense, Lino said. He noted that when people buy a house with additional rooms, they could be thinking of having a family in the future.
While many local parents said they were surprised by the USDA estimates on the cost of raising children, finances were often a factor in their decision of when to have children.
"We wanted to make sure that we were financially stable when we got pregnant," said 32-year-old Devola resident Trisha Miller, mother of 3-year-old Zoey.
Kroll said money accounted for about "70 percent" of her and husband Rick's decision to have a child when they did. She noted they were making financial choices with children in mind well before she was pregnant, buying a safe, four-door truck three years ago.
"We had bought one the year we got married in the plan of having a family," she said. "It holds her and us and the dog and possibly another (child)."
Lowell resident Evan Schaad, 30, said he and wife Heather didn't put a lot of thought into their finances before having their children, Caleb, who is nearly 3, and Declan, born Oct. 6. Evan is a teacher at the Washington County Career Center and Heather teaches part-time at a private school.
"To be honest, we didn't give it much thought. We just knew we wanted to have children," Schaad said.
That doesn't mean they aren't conscious of ways to save money and plan ahead.
"Since we have two boys, we have reused a lot of things with our second child," he said.
The Schaads also try to cut costs by growing their own food, something the Krolls are doing as well.
"We've planted a garden this year and (Rachael) loves her fresh veggies," Kroll said.
The family is also raising chickens for their eggs.
The Krolls' food costs have decreased now that Rachael is no longer on formula. The type she needed cost $21 a container, with one container lasting about a week.
Miller said food concerns have changed a lot since she was a child.
"Food expenses are completely different than when we were little because nobody thought about it," she said. "I will spend the money to make sure my kid doesn't have hormones in her beef."
Since 1960, food has decreased as an overall percentage of a family's child-rearing expenses, from 24 to 16 percent. The 2010 study attributes that to changes in agriculture over the years.
The second-highest expense for parents is generally child care and education. Some families with younger children are able to save on that area if one parent stays home.
"We made the decision when we were planning to have a child to make it work on one income," Miller said. "(My husband) and I wanted me to be home to be the major influence on my kid. He took a different job and he stepped it up so I could be the one to stay home."
Being a stay-at-home mom is not an option for single parent Teri Schneeburger, 22, of Marietta. But she has help in caring for her sons, Tyson, 5, and Braiden, 2.
"My family watches them so I don't have to pay for child care," she said.
Child care and education costs accounted for 17 percent of family spending on children in 2010, compared to just two percent in 1960.
"As women entered the labor force, that became a bigger expense," Lino said.
Other expenses have changed over the last 50 years, with health care going from four percent of child-related spending to eight percent.
Several parents noted the more complex and expensive toys and video games, as well as electronics like computers and cell phones, are costs their parents didn't have.
But these "miscellaneous" expenses have actually decreased as a percentage of overall spending, from 12 percent in 1960 to eight percent in 2010.
"I think that one reason is because you have the child care and the health care going up, you have to take from something," Lino said.
The study notes there are many costs it doesn't cover, including prenatal health care, college, some government expenditures and wages not earned by parents who forego or delay their careers as a result of having children. In conclusion, it says "The direct and indirect costs of raising children are considerable, absorbing a major share of the household budget. On the other hand, these costs may be outweighed by the benefits of children."
Marietta resident Crysta Bourdon, 40, mother and stepmother of six children, ages 6 to 23, believes there's no "may" about it.
"They're definitely worth the money," she said. "Whatever expense you are spending, it's given back to you 10 times over."