Grabbing a silver lining from the rising cost of child-rearing

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Rising cost of raising a child

Rising cost of raising a child (Bill Hogan, Chicago Tribune)

In the least surprising news of the decade, government officials announced today that it's expensive to raise a kid.

Really expensive. Like, $245,340-before-you-send-them-to-college expensive. Middle-income families (those who make $61,530 to $106,540 before tax) should expect to spend an average $14,970 per child, per year, on housing, food, transportation, clothing, health care, child care, education and miscellaneous expenses (haircuts, toothbrushes, entertainment), according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Taken one way: Ouch.

Taken another: Vindicated!

This is why we feel broke. This is why we are, indeed, broke. This is why we're failing miserably at what our grandparents managed to do with apparent ease: pay off their houses, have only one parent work outside the home, sock away enough for retirement and, most impressively, never max out their Target REDcards.

(I know they didn't have Target REDcards. They didn't need them; they paid for school supplies with all the cash they had lying around.)

Anyway, the data is good news. I mean, it's bad news because, holy smokes, it costs a lot to raise kids. But it's good news because we can and should officially shed any last scrap of guilt we have about the way we live.

We work because we have to. Let's vow to write off the scolds who consider working a selfish "choice." (I recently had a reader write to tell me if I'd just give up my Lexus, I could spend more time with my kids. I drive a 2008 Honda CR-V whose passenger-side wheel well is being held together with literal duct tape.) Most two-parent households have two working parents. It's the norm. It's healthy. It's necessary. It's not to pay off the Lexus.

We're bad at saving because we have nothing to save. The Wall Street Journal reported today that 69 percent of 18- to 29-year olds and 33 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds have saved nothing for retirement. Nada. Not one red cent. "Regardless of age, there is no better time than the present to start saving for retirement," Bankrate.com chief financial analyst Greg McBride told the paper. "The key to a successful retirement is to save early and aggressively." Talk to the hand, Greg. Or to my kids' pediatrician, who I will soon be paying handsomely for their back-to-school check-ups.

We feel like we're losing money because we are losing money. The Department of Agriculture data is being spun as only a moderate increase over last year's figures. It became 1.8 percent more expensive to raise a kid this year over last. But the median income in the U.S. is 8.3 percent below where it was in 2007, according to a CNN Money report, while child care and health care costs continue to grow faster than inflation.

It's worth noting what exactly we're spending our money on while raising these expensive offspring. Housing is the largest expense at 30 percent of total child-rearing expenditures, according to today's report. Child care and education is the second most expensive category at 18 percent of expenditures, with food accounting for the third largest expense at 16 percent and transportation at 14 percent.

Hardly the stuff of frivolity and decadence.

I'm feeling pretty darn proud of us, fellow parents, for managing as well as we do. I might even break out the Target REDcard tonight and buy myself a congratulatory bottle of something sparkling.

Only if it's on sale, obviously.

hstevens@tribune.com

Twitter @heidistevens13

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