Hardly a parent will disagree that kids are expensive.
From the high cost of diapers, to school clothes, piano lessons and the unexpected challenges along the way to adulthood, many parents may not even fully appreciate how big a dent raising children can put in their pocketbooks.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has reported that a middle-income family with a child born in 2011 (the latest figures available) can expect to spend about $295,560 for food, shelter and other necessities for its offspring over the next 17 years -- not including the cost of college.
Of course, some families have more resources than others, and end up spending even more.
The government report, "Expenditures on Children by Families," also notes geographical variations. Parenting expenses are highest for families living in the urban Northeast, followed by the urban West and urban Midwest. Families living in the urban South and rural areas have the lowest child-rearing expenses.
The USDA report has been issued each year since 1960 to help courts and state governments determine child support guidelines and foster care payments, and is based on data from the federal government's Consumer Expenditure Survey, the most comprehensive source of information available on household expenditures.
One San Francisco-based wealth management firm analyzed the federal data from 1996 to 2011 to see how family spending on children has evolved over that time and found that, while the amount has gone up overall, it has risen three times faster for wealthier families than for poorer families.
"This sense of inequality, depending on whether you are born rich or poor, is getting worse," said Bo Lu, co-founder and CEO of FutureAdvisor in San Francisco. "If you look at where all this additional money is being spent, it's spent on childcare and education, which makes sense.
"When we first started collecting this data in 1996, higher-income families spent double what low-income families spent on their children," he said. "In the ensuing 15 years, the gap has grown another 40 percent. This trend shows no signs of stopping. The gap is just growing worse and worse by the year."
He is not suggesting parents should spend more on their children, just that high-income are able to and they apparently are.
Mr. Lu said his company worked with USDA economists to create the calculator so that regular Americans could understand their future financial picture if they have children or if children are part of their plans.
"Many people don't think about just how much kids cost," Mr. Lu said. "As a financial adviser, the thing we keep preaching is people need to save more and prepare."
The federal government breaks household income up between high, middle and low income.
Low-income families are defined as earning less than $59,410 a year. Middle-income families earn between $59,410 and $102,870, while high-income families earn more than $102,870. The household income levels do not factor in the number of children in the household.
For some perspective, in 1960 -- the first year the annual report was issued -- a middle-income family could have expected to spend $25,230 to raise a child through age 17. Housing was the largest expense both then and now. Health care expenses have doubled as a percentage of total child-rearing costs and some current costs, such as childcare, were slim to none back then.
Interestingly, expenses per child decrease as a family has more children, the government found.
Families with three or more children spend 22 percent less per child than families with two children. As families have more children, the children can share bedrooms. Also, clothing and toys can be handed down to younger children, food can be purchased in larger quantities, and private schools and child care centers may offer sibling discounts.
Tim Grant: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1591.