Anonymous asked: I was thinking about your recent "Large Family PSA" about the cost of raising children beyond toddlerhood. You seem very good at finding free activities for your children, and educating them cheaply, so I'm wondering, is it mainly the cost of food you're talking about? And gas to drive them places? Or are you paying a ton for medical costs lately (I know Isaac has had many appointments and a hospital stay)? I don't have any kids yet and am trying to visualize what I really need to have in place.
Well, food is certainly our BIGGEST expense - we actually spend more monthly on groceries than our mortgage payment - and gas is significant. Grant has pretty good insurance through this job, so medical stuff isn’t costing us much at all (thank God).
But “free” programs often end up meaning “how can you not spend all THIS money when you DON’T have to spend all this OTHER money?!” For instance, all my kids attended Greater Miami Youth Symphony’s beginner camp last summer on a full scholarship, and then took their free prep classes once a week for the school year, all but Aaron with one of their freely loaned instruments (and cases and bows and all of it). I was in like flynn, I mean how awesome is all that? It was even local and we could take the (free!) trolley when Grant had the van, before we got another car. Then, this summer, with our income up a bit and their prices hiked a bit, they gave us a 3/4 scholarship for everyone - so $100 each was our total, which is “not much,” compared to the $2,000 their tuition would have cost…but $500 was challenging to come up with. They let us make payments. They also charged $5 per ticket to Intermediate Camp performances, which for Grant and I bringing the littles meant $25 per show (there were 3…so $75 if we wanted to see them playing). That adds up, especially as I needed a freakin’ babysitter to make it all work with my college, and the big kid camp was way up the road (gas again). Aaron’s personal flute needed repairs halfway through (and they let us use on of theirs while it was in the shop, but…). Annie was told she had to bring resin for her rented cello, and that she needed a rock stop (small expenses, but….). All told, we spent over a thousand dollars on their camps this summer O_O I think it was worth it, and we paid way less than families that payed the full tuition amounts, but… it sneaks up on you in these dribs and drabs.
THEN, Annie overcame some crippling anxiety and auditioned into one of their real ensembles that perform around the community, and I was really excited for her - until I learned that once you reach ensemble level, you have to have your own instrument, and special clothes for performances, and a special polo for rehearsals, and it’s $375 a year. I worked it out, mostly, after some initial panic - we got her a used, rent to own cello at the last minute that’s $55 per month, and she qualified for a half scholarship on tuition, so $187.50 for the year (just wrote that check…). I paid for the $15 polo but haven’t gotten her fancy recital clothes yet and probably won’t til they actually have a show scheduled.
Likewise Dance Empire just offered Aaron a full scholarship to be in company taking 10 hours of classes per week. That’s SO AWESOME, right? Registration waived and everything, geez, we’d be paying hundreds per month for these classes normally - Right. Then I took a great big gulp and wiped the sweat off my forehead, and went and bought him ballet shoes, jazz shoes, special socks for both, hip hop sneakers, special socks for those (he usually lives in Crocs and Vibrams so he had nothing for any of this), jazz pants, sweat pants, gym shorts, 2 packs of hanes tank tops and the cheapest bag I could find to keep it all in. There is a dance consignment store in the area, and Dance Empire stocks a HUGE free for all lost and found….but neither have anything for BOYS. So yeah. Over $200 all told. Now I get to spend about $40 extra per week on gas schlepping him back and forth O_o All the while nervously anticipating them telling me they want him to compete/travel….
It’s the same thing with “free” charter school for Isaac and Elise - I had to spend over $600 on their supplies and uniforms before they even arrived, and now I get everything from notes home asking for $4 from each kid so they can throw a birthday party for the teacher to information about the book fair they want to buy stuff from, and tshirts instead of the hot polos that the school will allow are $10, and pizza day is $3.25 (each), and I pay $36 a month for Elise to stay an extra hour every Tues and Thurs, until Isaac gets out, since my classes conflict with her normal early dismissal. So yeah, again, I am spending WAY less than my sister, who just dropped $5,000 on private Kindergarten for my nephew and still has to pay for all this other stuff…but….
I just had to go and buy new clothes for all three younger kids yesterday, and I got things off the Target clearance racks, but they were so low that I spent hundreds of dollars, because there are three of them. Elise’s sneakers are too tight. Jake has paid subscriptions to educational websites and magazines because he doesn’t go to school or virtual school like the others.
It just never ends.
ETA: You will manage to make it work somehow, when you have kids, but you will never be able to have “enough” - stuff will always creep up and surprise you. Try to keep in mind I’m doing financial planning for a family of 7. AND, I got pregnant when I was 17, with a guy even younger, and neither of us had any family support. It really does help that pregnancy is 10 months long and then babyhood and a bit beyond costs very little, if anything, if you’re willing/able to do “natural parenting” (midwife care, breastfeeding, cloth diapers, co-sleeping, etc). Even those who have nothing in place have a little while to get their shit together before this avalanche of bs hits them ;) And then, you can always choose to do what you think is important - not what I do. I have a friend with kids in zero activities who manages to give her kids really rich and adventure-laden lives through camping roadtrips, hot air balloon set up and rides (she works on a crew seasonally), snorkelling down in the keys (friends’ house on the water), etc. I don’t look at her kids and think they’re missing out on anything. She still bitches about school expenses and food costs and clothes outgrown and urgent care bills, but, I’m just saying. There is a whole spectrum here and everyone is different :)