Understanding the cost of a child is more than just a fun fact, it's becoming an important part of preparing for fatherhood.
While raising a child requires an incredibly significant commitment on a personal level, what is perhaps equally as significant is the financial burden associated with it.
It’s quite difficult to really comprehend and understand what it means when these huge figures are reported. That’s why we’ve pulled together this guide to help you understand what it all means and what you can expect to be spending as your children grow up.
Even ignoring the financial costs involved, going through pregnancy and the first year of your baby’s life requires a lot of learning and absorbing information. Our book, You’re Going to be a Dad, is stacked with key information and real-life stories from dads who have been there and done it.
It might not quite help with the financial cost of raising a child, but it might just help you out in just about every other area!
How is the full cost of a child worked out?
The first thing to understand is that media reports tend to use the biggest figure - you’ve got to get clicks somehow, right?!
In the UK’s example, the figure of £193,801 is for a lone parent. It actually drops to £160,692 for a parenting couple. And the US estimates are based on a married, middle-income couple raising a child - however, there are several variations for single parents, low-income, and high-income, for example.
The Child Action Poverty Group uses a measure called “Minimum Income Standard (MIS)”, which covers items and services that the public deems essential and every family should be able to afford. It is also not a total cost of all items needed, but rather the difference a child makes to a family’s budget.Although there are variations between studies, most break down the total cost into six key areas: housing, childcare, food, clothing, education, and leisure/activities.
Housing - This covers things like mortgage or rental fees (many couples tend to move to larger houses when they have a child and therefore incur higher fees), taxes like council tax, and energy bills.
Childcare - Typically one of the largest costs, especially in the UK, it covers the cost of nursery fees after maternity/paternity leave until the child starts school.
Food - The average household in the UK spends more than £5,000 ($5,800) on food and drink per year. And almost every parent falls into a state of shock at the amount of food their child eats, regardless of age!
Clothing - As well as your typical everyday clothing, this covers nappies and school uniforms.
Education - Although state education in most developed countries is free, this doesn't cover costs like stationery, bags, packed lunches or school dinners, school trips and more.
Leisure - This covers things like family days out, after school clubs, sports clubs, and other activities.
Watch out for suspiciously low figures, too. Some studies look at the cost of raising a child without factoring in things like housing, utilities and childcare; which is pretty bizarre considering the astronomical costs of those things. In fact, a report published by the US Department of Agriculture (who knows why they were studying the cost of raising a child!) suggests that 29% of the total cost of raising a child in the US is down to housing.
Understandably the cost of a child varies quite dramatically over time, and the experiences of many other dad blogs shows that too.
If you consider the total cost (including housing, childcare, energy bills etc), it actually falls as the child gets older, according to the CPAG. For a two-parent household with one child, the weekly spend falls from £295.72 ($343.06) at newborn stage to £94.63 ($109.78) by the time they turn 18. However, if you exclude housing and childcare costs, the weekly spend more than doubles from £48.57 ($56.35) per week (newborn) to £109.56 ($127.10) when they turn 18.
So, let’s look at the different stages of a child’s life and the type of costs you can expect.
Pregnancy and first year
For the majority of new parents, the pregnancy and subsequent first year of their first child’s life represents the biggest outlay in terms of one-off purchases as they seek to get the essentials ready in time for their new arrival.While it’s certainly true that many of the items can be bought second hand or passed down through generations, some must be bought brand new for safety reasons. For example, research has long shown a link between the use of second hand mattresses in Moses baskets and cots, and an increased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
Moses basket / Bassinet - Your baby will spend roughly the first six months of their lives sleeping in a moses basket. New baskets cost £70 ($81) on average, while a new mattress will cost another £20 ($23), there’s also bed sheets to consider but they might only set you back £5-10 ($6-11).Check out our buying guide on Moses baskets here.
Cot - After the first six months, your baby will move into a cot. Most cots will transform into a toddler bed to reduce costs later down the line. You can expect to spend at least £100 ($116) on a new cot. Like the Moses basket, you’ll also need a new mattress (£20/$23) and sheets (£10/$11).
Car seat - Given the cost of a car seat, buying second hand may be appealing. However, structural damage caused by a car crash may not be visible, and therefore a car seat is another item that should be bought brand new. Typically a car seat will cost anything from £50 ($58) to £150 ($175), while Isofix systems will increase the cost although these aren’t essential.
Prams - Prams are much more cost effective than they used to be. Most utilise ‘3 in 1’ systems, which allow them to be converted from a carry cot to a pushchair, as well as being used with a car seat. Costs vary quite wildly, ranging from £150-1,000 ($175-1160).
Clothing - While baby’s clothing is relatively inexpensive per item, the number of changes needed per day and the speed at which they grow out of them, spending on clothing is still somewhat significant in the first year. You may expect to spend anything between £50 ($58) and £100 ($116).
Nappies - If there’s anything that people know about babies before they have one, it’s that they wee and poo…a lot. You’ll spend a sizeable amount of money on nappies in the first year, estimated to be over £250 ($290), in fact. However, reusable nappies are becoming more popular and represent a cost saving on the product itself (although savings will be offset slightly by the cost of washing them).Check out our guide on reusable nappies here.
Feeding - Whether or not your partner is choosing to breastfeed, there can be significant costs involved. If your baby is to be formula fed, the formula alone is likely to cost $1,200 - $1,500 (£1,034 - 1292) alone, according to the US Department of Health & Human Services. In addition, packs of baby bottles can range from £10 ($11) to £50 ($58), and the average bottle steriliser costs in excess of £70 ($81).
There’s a common misconception that breastfeeding is free. Yes, the ‘product’ itself is free in comparison with formula. However, breastfeeding-friendly clothing and underwear is often seen as an essential by many women. Nursing bras are likely to cost at least £20 ($23), while an ample amount of clothing is likely to cost around £50 ($58). Then there are breast pumps, which vary massively depending on whether they are manual - around £10-20 ($11-23) - or electric, and even smart controlled via an app - anything from £150-300 ($175-348). And of course, you will still need those bottle packs and sterilisers.
Changing bag - Perhaps not strictly essential in that you can make do with an ordinary backpack, but purpose-built changing bags are so handy that they’ve claimed a spot in the ‘essential’ category. Average is price is around £40 ($46).Check out our guide on changing bags here.
Stair gates - It may not be a necessity until your baby starts crawling, but many parents will get these in place before birth or during the early months. They are essential for preventing little climbers from having quite serious accidents. It’s not a huge cost, averaging around £30-50 ($35-58), but an important one nonetheless.
High chair - Another one that won’t be needed until a few months down the line, but high chairs are incredibly useful for mealtimes once your baby can hold their head up and is starting solid foods. They typically range between £40 ($46) and £200 ($232).
Childcare - Although many parents will start to experience childcare costs before their baby turns one, we’ve put it here because the toddler years are when the bulk of the cost will come.
And boy is it a big one!
According to the National Childbirth Trust (NCT), the average cost of a full-time nursery place for two-year olds in the UK is an eye-watering £14,000. The UK Government’s tax-free childcare scheme does help towards the cost of childcare, contributing 20% of the total. But you’re still left with some pretty daunting nursery bills. The UK government also offers 30 hours free childcare for three and four year olds. In the US, it can vary quite considerably state-to-state, but costs don’t appear to be quite as high with 58% of families expecting to spend more than $10,000 on childcare over a year.
Charlie from Babbu had this to say to DaddiLife:
“Nursery fees and the lack of government funding into the childcare sector is quickly turning nurseries into a luxury, and as a result, it's pricing parents out. So instead, parents are filling the gaps with grandparents, aunties, and friends - but for many parents, it isn’t just about simply having the opportunity to go back to work; it’s about giving their children the best possible start, with the benefit of formal early years’ education."
Food - The toddler years are where you’ll really start a noticeable jump in your food bill. According to US government estimates, food for a couple with a child between the age of one and three is between $33.70 (£29.05) and $37.10 (£32) - or, $1,752.40 (£1,510.56) and $1,929.20 (£1,662.96) a year.
Clothing - While the rate of growth will noticeably slow down during the toddler years, you're still probably having to buy a new set of clothes every spring/summer and autumn/winter. The cost per item increases compared with baby clothes, too. And, as they get older, they are going to need things they didn’t need as a baby, especially during autumn and winter - things like wellies, raincoats, puddle suits, scarves and gloves and a host of other items you haven’t had to buy before.
There are a great deal of reliable breakdowns of how much it costs to clothe a toddler over the course of a year. But there are broader estimates of how much it costs parents to spend on their children, with USDA suggesting the figure is around $1,200 (£1,034).
Activities - The brilliant thing about having a child under the age of two is that they get into most leisure activities and attractions for free. Once they hit that milestone, though, you’ll start to notice the cost of trips and days out start to rise.
Toys - How much you spend on toys is very much a choice rather than necessity. But it is such a staple part of our children’s lives that they mount up to a sizeable cost for parents. According to market research group, NPD, parents spend an average of £367 ($425) in the first two years alone.
Childcare - This is when parents start to see a substantial drop in their childcare costs. However, those who work full-time without a degree of flexibility can still expect some costs for breakfast and after school clubs or wraparound care.
After school care costs an average £57 ($66) a week for a primary school-age child, translating to nearly £3,000 ($3,500) a year.Breakfast clubs are often subsidised through school budgets, charity or business sponsorship, or local or national government schemes. If there are fees, they are usually nominal amounts per breakfast item (less than £1/$1) or a fee less than £2 ($3) per day to attend.
Food - Looking back at those US Government estimates from earlier, there’s a considerable jump in the food budget from families with a toddler to those with a primary school aged child. The average weekly food expenditure rises from $37.10 (£32) a week at the ages of 2-3 to $39.60 (£34.14) for families with a 4-5 year old, followed by a big jump to $53.90 (£46.46) at 6-8 and $62.60 (£53.10) for families with a 9-11 year old.
There are also school dinners to consider. While it was a fiercely debated issue in the UK during the Covid pandemic, school dinners remain a cost to consider for many families. The daily charge varies between areas of the country and between local authorities, but most are typically £2-3 ($3-5) per meal per day. It may not seem much, but across the whole school year it can add up to anything between £360 ($417) and £540 ($626).
Activities - Primary school is when you will likely see your child start to really discover their hobbies and interests, and with it a desire to join a variety of clubs. A report conducted in 2019 showed the financial scale of some of these activities:
- Sports clubs - £260 ($300) a year
- Dance lessons - £208 ($240) a year
- Music lessons - £208 ($240) a year
- Swimming lessons - £312 ($360) a year
- Gymnastics/martial arts - £416 ($480) a year
- Arts lessons - £156 ($180) a year
And then there’s the increased appetite for family days out - trips to the zoo, bowling, cinema, soft play, holiday-related activities at Christmas, Easter or Halloween. One study suggests that parents spend a whopping £2,327 ($2,700) a year on ‘making memories’ with their children.Oh and there’s the school trips! Prices vary dramatically depending on the age of the class, the activity, and where it is, so it’s quite hard to give a typical figure. However, one study claims parents part with as much as £4,000 ($4,600) over the course of their child’s education.
Birthday parties - This one has been given its own little section because as soon as your child starts primary school (maybe even before, if they attend the school’s nursery setting), you’ll spend what feels like every weekend at a birthday party. There’s a social pressure to buy a present, but no parent wants to spend a great deal on one child, because they’ll have to do it for every child. So you just end up buying something for £5 that the kid probably isn’t going to bother with anyway (rant over…can you tell I was at a birthday party this morning??).
The study mentioned above estimates the combined cost of hosting your own child’s birthday party, and attending their friends’ parties to reach £581 ($674) a year.
Clothing - The good news is that clothes tend to last them much longer as their growth rate slows. The bad news is that cost per item rises, and so does their interest in clothes (especially in the later years of primary school). In the US, the Department of Agriculture estimates that parents will spend an average of $737 (£635) on their child’s clothing per year.
If your child is a sports fan, you’re likely to be in for a rough ride. A typical Premier League football kit for ‘Little Kids’ (up to 6-7) costs around £55 ($63), with ‘Youth’ sizes (8-15) costing an extra £5 ($6-7). Bear in mind that clubs usually release three kits per season, every season!
And, of course, for UK parents there’s the dreaded school uniform. With most schools insisting on official schoolwear sporting the school’s badge (often only available from a single supplier), uniform costs an average of £315 ($365) for primary school pupils, including a bag, coat and shoes. Then there’s stationery on top of that!
However, there is some good news for parents. There are already government grants available to assist with the cost of school uniforms for families on low incomes. And more schools are becoming less strict about branded items, allowing parents to opt for cheaper alternatives from supermarkets.
Tech - Given the nature of the technological society we live in, you may already be feeling a burning social pressure to get your child tech by this age - phones, tablets, games consoles.
It’s quite difficult to give an annual figure for primary school age children, because it’s very much down to parents if and when these things are purchased. But to give you an idea:
- Children’s tablet - £80 - 200 ($90 - 230)
- Games console - £280 - 500 ($325 - 580)
- Video games - £40 - 60 ($46 - 70)
- Phone - Average spend on a first smartphone is £136 ($157)
Redecorating - As your child enters their primary school years, you may find yourself needing to totally redecorate their bedroom. It may well be decorated in the same way it has been since they were a baby, with smaller furniture and need a big overhaul. That might be followed by a number of smaller redecorations as they get a little older and their interests change - although this is more likely to be a lick of paint and some soft furnishings.
A study conducted in 2019 found that the average parent spends more than £5,000 ($5,800) decorating their child’s bedroom between birth and their 10th birthday.
Food - The secondary school years are probably when you’ll look at your child in amazement at just how much they eat as they go through puberty and other significant growth periods. You’ll probably find that a child’s meal at a restaurant is no longer enough and your food shop grows and grows as the years go by.
Describing their children as ‘bottomless pits’, a US study claims that the average parent will spend a staggering $51,000 (£44,000) on feeding a child between the ages of 13 and 19.
Tech - While you may have been able to get away with a budget-end of the market or second hand piece of tech during the primary school years, secondary school brings with it a whole host of social pressures to have the latest and greatest of just about everything. The latest phone, a top of the range laptop or tablet, the latest generation of games consoles and the new hit release, their own TV for their room. Parents with avid gamers will also face annual fees (usually £40-50/$46-58) to let them play video games online with their friends.
Energy bills - Every parent knows that a time will come where their child doesn’t want to spend time with them. They’d rather be in their rooms, listening to music, playing video games, watching YouTube videos or a film. The knock-on effect of that is an increase in energy bills.
Childcare - You might still have to spend a bit on wraparound care in the early years of secondary school, but by and large it’s time to celebrate!!! Your child is nearing an age where they’re responsible enough to be left alone at home… no childcare costs!!!
Clothing - By now, your child is probably very conscious of what they wear and the social pressures to wear certain clothes and brands. A study in the US estimates that the average teenager spends $104 (£90) on clothes per week(!!), adding up to an eye-watering $5400 (£4,650) a year.
Just like in primary school, UK parents also have uniform costs to consider - estimated to be £337 ($390) a year.
Activities - While your child may not want to spend as much time with you these days, it’s likely to cost you more when they do. Some leisure venues stop their children’s prices at 10 or 12 (round of applause to the places that consider them children up to 16!!) and so a day out is going to cost you a lot more than it used to.
They may not be quite as active when it comes to after school clubs, but they are likely to have found a strong passion for one activity in particular - so you may find yourself buying more, higher priced, specialist equipment for it.
And of course, these are arguably the years that your child will spend socialising with their friends more than any others in their lives. And where are they going to get the money for their trips to the cinema, or shopping, or for some food? Yep, the bank of mum and dad.
These costs are really quite difficult to narrow down but it gives you a sense of what’s to come!
Redecorating - Following on from the previous stage, pre-teens and teens aren’t going to want the same bedroom they had during their primary school years. Expect to see fewer ‘character’ themes and more grown-up designs.
These figures probably overlap with the previous study somewhat, but there’s a suggestion that parents spend more than £4,000 ($4,600) redecorating their child’s bedroom an average of four times over their childhood and teenage years.
How much has the cost of raising a child increased?
Rapidly increasing inflation rates around the world have certainly pushed up the cost of living. The USDA’s study was published in 2020 and estimated the cost to be around $233,000. Two years later, the Brookings Institution study published by the Wall Street Journal, suggests it’s more than $310,000. That’s nearly an $80,000 increase in just two years.
How much does a child cost per month?
The cost of raising a child actually changes as they get older. Using the breakdown provided by the Child Poverty Action Group, parents in the UK can expect to be spending £295.72 ($343.06) per week while they’re a newborn; roughly £1,200 ($1,395) per month. As they hit 18, however, it more than halves to £94.63 ($109.78); less than £400 ($465) per month .The US figures, however, says the total spends averages a whopping $18,000 every year, which works out at roughly $1,500 each month.
What is the largest cost when raising a child?
Figures in the UK suggest that half of every parents spend on their children goes on childcare. It’s a little different in the US, with USDA’s report claiming 29% goes on housing.
How much does it cost to support a baby?
According to the CPAG, the average two-parent family with a single newborn baby spends £295.72 ($343.06) every week.
Where is the most expensive place to raise a child?
This is a really difficult question to answer as there are so many variables between different nations. Arguably the easiest way to measure is the cost of raising a child as a percentage of GDP per capita. For example, in terms of absolute money spent, investment banking group Jefferies says China is one of the cheapest places to raise a child - however, as a percentage of GDP per capita, it’s the second most expensive behind South Korea.
Italy is the third most expensive, with the US in the middle of the top 14 between Germany and Japan.
*All currency conversions were correct at the time of writing. Fluctuations in exchange rates may have since altered these figures.