Preparing For Pregnancy

Children: How Much Do They Cost?

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Let's look at the facts. It seems that almost every week there is another 'shocking' article in the news media about the costs of raising a child in the UK today. Enormous figures are thrown out, designed to cause sharp intakes of breath or resigned nods of the head. But how much does it actually cost to bring up baby? A number of commercial organisations, such as LV and Aviva, carry out regular surveys into the costs of family life, and currently their figures indicate that getting a child through the first year of life will set you back over £10,000, and getting them through to the other side of university costs £218,000. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, a not-for-profit research institution with excellent credentials, set a figure of £143,000 for caring for a child until 18 in a study published in autumn 2012. So, whichever way you look at it, a very large proportion of your hard-earned cash will be spent on looking after your offspring until they leave the nest. And of course, it doesn't really end there. The research also found that average graduate debt now stands at £16,000, and that eight out of ten first time buyers approach their parents for help with paying the deposit on their home. Chances are that you will still be helping out your kids until they are well into their 20s.

The downside of all this, of course, is the impact that these costs are having on the average UK family. Aviva estimates that the level of debt which UK families are typically carrying has risen 48% since January 2011. During that year more than 40,000 parents sought help from the Consumer Credit Counselling Service. Increasing numbers of families are no longer contributing to regular savings plans or paying for life cover, leaving themselves more vulnerable in the future. With all this financial stress in Britain, can anyone afford to have children?

Looking behind the figures; more than meets the eye?

Of course, while we can see the headlines, the fine detail of what families are spending their money on is down to guesswork. We can never truly know if every parent's idea of essential purchases matches with our own sense of what is necessary and what is frivolous. An evening's viewing of TV in this country on a commercial station will give some insight into the spending habits of the nation. Computer games, electronic devices, toys, and designer clothes seem to be the order of the day. In 2011 the UN agency UNICEF published a follow up study of child well-being in the UK, Spain and Sweden, having carried out initial research in 2007. At that time, in a comparative study of 20 developed nations, the UK was at the bottom of the league table of child well-being. The 2011 study focused particularly on issues of materialism and inequality, and spoke to large number of children about their hopes, aspirations and experiences. The results are arguably more depressing even than the figures above, if we consider what all this spending isn't doing for our children. Time and time again, the voices of British kids in the study rang out against the prevailing tide of spend, spend, spend. The researchers found that 'many children in the UK did not refer to material goods when asked what made them happy, and also understood the principles of moderation in consumption. Yet parents seem to feel compelled to purchase things for their children, often against their better judgement.' The report goes on to say that the 'message from all the children...was simple, clear and unanimous: their well-being centres on time with a happy family; having good friends; and having plenty of things to do, especially outdoors. In the UK, parents were obviously struggling to give children the time they so clearly wanted...'. Simply put, we parents are busting a proverbial gut to buy, buy and buy what we think our children want, but what we aren't doing is spending time with them, time that would count for much more in their eyes.

None of this denies that the cost of keeping the roof over our heads, paying the mortgage, the bills, and buying the weekly food shop has risen substantially over the last few years. Depending on which articles you believe, in the last year, duel fuel bills have risen by an average of £1300; inflation is over 3% with wage rises set critically below this level; an average supermarket spend is up 4.2% and it now costs an extra £1035 to maintain the same standard of living as we had last year. But, beyond the statistics is a timeless message. Our children want to walk to the park with us and play catch. They want to play snap and do jigsaw puzzles with us. They want to cuddle up next to us with a good story book or maybe a good film. They want their friends over for tea and to talk around the table with the grown-ups. They want to see their extended family as often as possible. None of these things have to cost very much.

What you can do to keep the costs down

Here are a few simple ideas to help you make the most of your income while raising your kids;

  • Make sure you are accessing all the financial support you're entitled to. has an excellent benefits check-up online that will make you aware of all that you could be claiming.
  • If you are in a position to save, make those savings as tax efficient as possible by using all your Child Trust Fund or ISA entitlement.
  • Ask your employer if they offer a childcare voucher or salary offset scheme to help with childcare costs.
  • Use price comparison sites to make sure you're getting the best deal for your utilities; most times it is worth making a switch. Alternatively speak to your provider who is now legally obliged to tell you if they are offering you the best deal.
  • Feel OK about second-hand. While it is tempting to want the newest and best for your baby, there is a huge market for second hand prams, pushchairs, cots, clothing and more besides. Check out eBay, gumtree, and even local groups using facebook to find what you're looking for at a fraction of the cost of new items.
  • Resist parent peer pressure. In some ways, new parents are prime targets for the most pressurising of marketing campaigns, and it is easy for us to end up believing that we need this or that gadget, that a generation ago didn't even exist (and our parents managed just fine without it.) Try to hold onto the essence of what good parenting is about, and don't substitute 'stuff' for the things that really matter.
  • Surf the net for cheap or even free ideas for keeping your kids busy and entertained.
  • Help your kids to recognise the value of things, to take care of their possessions, and, once they're old enough, to earn their treats by doing chores.

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