Funny, how people told me the same thing the year (1989) my oldest was born...
I've read in various places those ridiculous estimates of How Much It Costs to Raise a Child to 18 ($180,000 was one I saw one), and after I shake my head in amazement, I'm curious about the fundamentals that have been used to determined that.
Is it based on a certain number of brand new pairs of pants per child per year? I'm pretty sure that for us, the total number of brand new pants per child up to the age of about 15 was 15. Maybe 20. It's amazing the thriving business second-hand and thrift stores do, in spite of everyone apparently having to buy brand new clothes all the time. Would you rather buy lightly worn $6 Gap pants for a 12yo who is in the process of outgrowing them or unworn ones she'll grow out of just as fast, for $60? That factor of ten adds up fast... faster than a 50% off sale can fix it.
Is it based on convenience, precooked, packaged foods as a large part of the grocery budget? One of the things that people who have never stayed home for 2 decades raising kids don't know is that when you're home most of the day, it's possible to
- bake bread (for about 61 cents a loaf, even with 12 grains, whole wheat and fancy sea salt)
- cook beans from dry ($2.90/kg dry or $1.69 for a half pound can, you control the added salt?)
- make muffins (that don't have the texture or sugar-load of cupcakes, for less than $1 a batch, instead of a dollar or more each), every day if you want to 'cause it takes 20 minutes
- make stew from scratch using the cheapest vegetables there are: onions, potatoes, carrots, etc.
- roast whole chickens right in your own kitchen without needing to speed home from the store to avoid killing everyone with cooling rotisserie birds, still controlling the amount of salt added
- make chicken stock from scratch without the salt (oh, man, the salt!), fat, sugar (not kidding), or whatever 'hydrolyzed vegetable protein' is --made for free from bones and scraps that would just be tossed
- can and freeze anything that appears in abundance, free or low-cost, like a 4' box of 'picked too many' apples from a friend that became applesauce with no additional ingredients, the free blackberries that are weeds all over town, a box of nectarines that accidentally got frozen at the store and sold for $2 for 22 pounds and a bumper crop of cherries once: $10 for 25 pounds
- grow a vegetable garden for the cost of seeds and watering, giving a parent something to do outside while supervising the kids who want to be out there anyhow
With Craigslist, Used[CityName] and Freecycle, there is almost nothing but food that anyone must buy new, and even then I see listings for 'come and get it' freezer emptying, orchard-picking, over-abundant garden leftovers and even 'made a whole bunch and no one will eat it' canning, as well as 'unused' 'totally new' 'in original packaging' and 'unopened' advertising all kinds of things.
While I'm home I can do all kinds of other things I'd have to hire someone else to do instead: from lawn care to laundry, home improvements and repair to mending and removing stains from clothes instead of replacing them.
I figure our kids were more like $2-3000/year for the first one and probably 50-85% of that for the second (because, among other things, there is no reason to buy more kid-sized plastic dishes once the set is in the house), over and above what we would have had to buy to live, just the two of us. I do know that, 2 years later, we certainly aren't floating in an extra ten grand a year, since our eldest move out.
So, what's the other $7-8000/year paying for? A car each every year? Six years of full-time post-secondary education (hey! You can't count that in the first 18 years, they don't go until 18, and what if they never go?)
I suspect that bureaucrats sit down with catalogues and layette lists and itemize absolutely everything that a baby could possible 'need' in the first 19 years of life supposing it never received a single gift or hand-me-down and every second-hand store in the world went up in flames. This list includes new furniture however often it outgrows the old stuff, a bedroom of its very own, a new car that seats enough people every time a new one arrives, and multiplies of things like 'vacations' and 'holiday shopping' based on the hilarious idea that having a third or fourth or sixth kid creates another $10k in income to fling around every year.
Normal people in the real world, on the other hand, have another baby and get to make the same amount of money spread among more people, trimming or eliminating some of the casual, unnecessary spending to do so. Which is why people with 16 kids don't usually make $160,000 a year over and above their 'real' budget... and some of them still own houses, even on a single income.
photo used with permission Handley Edwards And Ellis Family by DavidCFoster
Creative Commons, attributed/non-derivative