It’s an old saying most of us have heard before: “If you wait to have kids until you can afford them, you’ll probably never have kids at all.” What used to be a playful prod from friends and relatives to convince young couples to get the ball rolling on having children has actually evolved into a serious consideration for families in our area.
Researchers from loan marketplace giant LendingTree recently published an analysis of their research on how much it costs to raise children in America. Drawing on data from several sources, they estimated and ranked the costs for two-earner families to raise a child in each state, considering basic needs such as housing, food, daycare, clothing, transportation, and health insurance. Also considered was each state’s tax credit or exemption for one child.
Of course, every family’s situation is different, so LendingTree’s research offers just one snapshot of what it can cost to raise a child in this area, but the numbers are sobering.
Basic cost for raising a child in the U.S. keeps trending upward, currently averaged at, gulp, $20,152 annually. And that only covers the basics – you’ll have to move that number up if you add the fun things, like summer camp, family vacations, team sports, music lessons, and birthday parties.
Essential costs of raising a child vary by state, but the District of Columbia ranks first as most expensive at a whopping $28,785 annually. Virginia ranks not far behind as the eighth most expensive state, where it costs $23,029 annually.
The biggest difference in cost is related to how much parents pay for infant daycare. In the District of Columbia, parents pay $24,081 per child annually for daycare alone, more than double the national average, and in Virginia, parents pay $14,560. For some, the high cost of daycare is offset by the significantly higher wages professionals in this area enjoy (some of the highest in the nation), but for lower wage earners, it presents an impossible situation.
Working parents typically pay for full-time daycare for five years until the child begins school, but other costs of raising children continue to rise as children get older. LendingTree ranked states by the highest overall 18-year cost of raising a child to adulthood, with Hawaii being first at $281,597, and Virginia being sixth at $225,233.
So, what are parents in Virginia to do?
When the Stork Brings Twins
“Try to live within your means,” advises Maryanna Diaz, a DoD contractor who lives in Brambleton with her husband, Roberto, a Baja Fresh restaurant manager, and their four kids – one boy (9), and three girls (7 and two 21-month-old twins). Between the infant care three days a week, and after-school care for their other children, the Diaz family pays more than $3,000 a month for childcare, which she says is actually a good deal for four children.
“The twins were a complete surprise, so we knew it would be a financial strain,” says Diaz. “I was recently deployed for four months to help pay off debt, and my husband works weekends so he can be home more during the week, while I’m on the opposite schedule.” Diaz says they don’t take elaborate vacations, and they buy most items for the kids, including furniture, on Facebook Marketplace. “It’s hard with this area’s mentality, but don’t go crazy with having to have the big house or keeping up with the Joneses,” she says. “I know many folks are waiting until they are older to have kids, but just know that it will work out if you are diligent and search for ways to cut costs, especially with daycare.”
Avoiding Daycare Altogether
Jackie Baker and her husband, Dave, avoided daycare for their daughter and two sons by being flexible with their careers and housing choices. The Sterling couple began their family in a condominium in Alexandria, but moved to a townhouse in Loudoun County in 2002, because it was less expensive at the time and provided more space. Jackie, a certified teacher, quit working to stay home while her husband worked flexible shifts as a government employee. “I wanted to be with the kids, so we did everything we could to avoid daycare,” says Baker. “We were on a tight budget, and we had only one vehicle.”
When Baker’s children started preschool, she began to work part-time at the preschool, first as a teacher and then as a director. Her husband’s income increased during years of advancement and promotions, and when they were ready to make the move to a single-family home, Jackie returned to teaching with Loudoun County Public Schools. “Older kids come with bigger expenses,” says Baker. “Besides saving and paying for college, the kids need computers, phones, and internet for school, plus putting them on our auto insurance is costly.” She’s also noticed increasing prices in everything from food to clothing, but her kids do take jobs cutting grass and on campus to help. “They all understand the value of earning money,” she says. Should parents wait to have kids? “Probably not,” says Baker, “because it’s going to be more expensive the longer you wait – it’s certainly not going to get cheaper.”
Protecting a Hard-Earned Career
“I did everything right; I checked all the boxes,” says professional certified public accountant Susanna Baxter. “I went to William and Mary, have a master’s degree, and have a great, high-paying job, so it’s incredibly frustrating that my husband and I are working so hard to just get by.” Baxter and her husband, David, who is an active duty Naval officer, live in Ashburn with their two daughters (one 7 months, the other 2 years old).
“Typically it’s the woman who ends up staying home or reduces her career capacity,” says Baxter. “I tried working part time, but when kids are so young, there’s not much of a discount in daycare costs for three versus five days a week, because of the mandatory ratios for that age,” says Baxter. The Baxters were paying more than $2,000 a month for daycare three days a week when she decided to return to work full time. “It’s so incredibly frustrating that daycare costs so much, and I had to change jobs,” says Baxter, who commutes to Tysons daily. “I worked hard and took on debt for my education – I want to be able work doing what I was trained to do, but full-time daycare is costing more than our mortgage.” The family’s solution: they contracted with an au pair who will care for their children while living with the family.
Baxter says she would like to have a third child, but she thinks the cost of daycare makes it too difficult. “It’s not like we’re living lavishly – we live modestly in an average townhouse,” she says. “Everyone should have enough to maintain a sound home with necessary repairs and have a safe car to drive. I’m paying off student loans, too. Plus, it’s difficult to compete and move ahead in your career if you work with people who are moving faster because they don’t have other obligations.” One thing Baker doesn’t skimp on – saving for her girls’ educations. “We don’t even question it – we put that ahead of vacations,” she says. “We don’t want them saddled with that debt.”
The More Kids the Merrier
Sharon Awig is a stay-home mother of seven children (11-year-old twins, 5, 4, 2, 1, and 6 months old, with another one on the way). She lives in Round Hill with her husband, Brian, who works in IT. “Because I stay home, we don’t have daycare expenses, but we buy everything used – including cars, clothes, toys, and furniture,” says Awig. Family outings are always to places that are free or very inexpensive. “We don’t go out to eat a lot, and we try to stick to a budget when buying groceries.”
Awig says the biggest challenge is to not get involved in too many different activities. “It can take up all of your time,” she says. “You just have to prioritize what’s important to you, and try to stay out of debt – don’t focus on keeping up with the neighbors or having the latest clothes, gadgets, or cars.”
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