The Cost of Raising a Child and How You Can Spend Less

For a child born in 2008, middle-income families can expect to spend $221,190 to raise that child from birth through age 17 according to a report released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture called Expenditures on Children by Families . When adjusted for inflation, that number soars to a staggering $291,570.

While parents can’t clip a coupon to cover the expense of their child’s life from birth to their 18th birthday, they can make an important lifestyle choice: frugal living. Living frugally means being economical about when and how you spend your money. The beauty of frugal living is that one poor purchase decision isn’t going to make or break you, but a lifestyle of making wise financial decisions can add up to great savings for you and your family.

Here are some helpful saving tips and strategies for each expense category the USDA used in calculating the $221,190 price tag of raising a child. This is a short list, but hopefully these ideas will get you thinking of the many ways you can begin living frugally to help offset the cost of raising a child.

Housing expenses include shelter, utilities, house furnishings and appliances.

  • Consider the cost of living in your geographic location. For example, living in California is more expensive than living in North Dakota.
  • Make your home energy efficient. Things like energy saving appliances and light bulbs, solar screens, and remembering to turn off the water and lights when not in use can save you money.

Food expenses consist of grocery store purchases, restaurant dining costs, and expenditures on school meals.

  • Cook it yourself. Whether you are pureeing baby food, packing lunches for the kids, or making dinner at home, being your own chef is less costly than having someone else prepare your food for you.

Transportation expenses include payments on vehicles, fuel and auto maintenance costs, insurance, and public transportation costs.

  • Start a carpool with other parents to get kids where they need to go.
  • Invest in a hybrid vehicle to save on the price of gas. 

Clothing expenses include everything from diapers to alteration costs on that prom dress.

  • Remember that kids outgrow clothing quickly. Buy reasonably priced pieces that they can mix and match instead of expensive, trendy brands.
  • Consider enrolling your child in a school that requires uniforms.

Health care expenses include medical and dental services not covered by insurance, prescription drugs, and other services related to physical and mental health.

  • Make sure that your child is eating healthy, nutritious foods loaded with the vitamins and minerals they need to keep their bodies healthy.
  • Teach your child proper hygiene. Washing hands and brushing teeth regularly can help kids be less frequent visitors to the doctor’s office and the dentist’s chair.

Child care and education expenses consist of day care, babysitting, school tuition, and school books, supplies, and fees.

  • Buy school books from used book stores or borrow them from your local library.
  • Enlist the help of family and friends (or start a babysitting co-op) who are willing to watch your kids for free or at a cheaper rate than pricey day care.
  • Before you shop for back to school supplies at an expensive retailer, take a look around your home to find supplies you already have.

Miscellaneous expenses include personal care items and entertainment.

  • Involve your children in hobbies that don’t have high equipment costs. Swim team, for example, costs less than dance once you tally in all the costumes, shoes, and lessons.

While raising children is expensive, frugal living helps offset the costs and encourages you and your family to focus on something of much greater value: time together. 


Alexis Holloway is a former copywriter and e-Commerce Coordinator for MMI.

  • The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is an association of nonprofit consumer organizations that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education. Today, nearly 300 of these groups participate in the federation and govern it through their representatives on the organization's Board of Directors.

  • Since 2007, the Homeownership Preservation Foundation (HPF) has served as a trusted, neutral source of information for more than eight million homeowners. They are partnered with, and endorsed by, numerous major government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of the Treasury.

  • The mission of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD works to strengthen the housing market in order to bolster the economy and protect consumers; meet the need for quality affordable rental homes; utilize housing as a platform for improving quality of life; and build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination.

  • The Council on Accreditation (COA) is an international, independent, nonprofit, human service accrediting organization. Their mission is to partner with human service organizations worldwide to improve service delivery outcomes by developing, applying, and promoting accreditation standards.

  • The National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®), founded in 1951, is the nation’s largest and longest-serving nonprofit financial counseling organization. The NFCC’s mission is to promote the national agenda for financially responsible behavior, and build capacity for its members to deliver the highest-quality financial education and counseling services.