Spending on the Kids

101004_luckykids At the XX Factor, Helaine Olen points us to a new magazine, Luckykids — a shopping magazine for kiddie stuff. Like Olen I was surprised. Why dump Domino and then launch this? Who would buy this magazine? Olen explains that spending on kids is quite healthy, despite the recession.

Not surprisingly, the cost of raising children has continued to creep upward in recent years, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimating that the cost of raising a middle-income child to the age of 18 is a little more than $222,000 in 2009, up 1.4 percent from 2007. (That number excludes college costs.) The number for upper-income families: $369,000.

We live in a culture where maternal love is all too often conflated with monetary demonstrations of that love. The publisher and editors at Lucky Magazine are simply the latest to recognize that truth. They are unlikely to be the last.

After reading this, for a moment, I felt virtuous. After all, my kids were wearing cheap Old Navy t-shirts to school today. But then I remembered a series of phone calls that I had with my mom this morning. We panicked because Lego has discontinued their Spongebob series, and Ian has been talking for months about getting Sandy's Rocket Ship for Christmas. Some scalpers are selling them on Amazon for triple the cost. We found a more reasonable alternative, but the end result is consumption. It's not conspicuous spending, but it is consumption on kids nonetheless.

Question of the Day: Do you think you spend too much money on your kids?


33 thoughts on “Spending on the Kids

  1. I’m amused that you and your mother panicked over the discontinuation of Lego items. My equivalent was waiting to open the document that said whether my daughter had “won” the lottery to get an after school activity she wanted. The coordinator insisted on sending the document in a word file, which took forever to open on my computer. I literally had a fight/flight response (elevated heart rate, blood pressure, adrenaline, the whole bit). It was crazy.
    Yes, we are obsessed with our children and spend a lot of money on them.
    (I never did get the Lucky magazine shtick, though).

  2. Yes. But seriously, it’s not nearly as bad as other kids in our area.
    First, let me tell this story. Yesterday, my daughter was asked to show around a new girl who was beginning in her school. The night before, S said “I hope she’s not snooty.” Well, that didn’t work out. The girl (from Savannah, GA, fwiw) kept asking S what she had. “Do you have a cell phone? Do you have a Facebook?” S said she had neither, but other kids at her school had them. The girl went on to catalog all the things she had: a Nintendo DS, 3 houses, a flat screen tv in her bedroom. Eventually, she determined that they both had Wiis. Oh, and Soph has an iPod Touch (my old one, which has a broken home button).
    S was not impressed by this girl, which made me happy.
    Our child-related expenses are:
    1. whatever it takes to address E’s AS. We’ve paid 1000s out of pocket on social skills, activities, psych evals, etc.
    2. S’s dance. She’s in a company and competes; this year she’ll have 5 frickin’ costumes, competition fees, fundraisers, etc. But it’s her only form of exercise, so I don’t hold back.
    3. Legos. This kind of goes with #1 because nothing can keep E occupied like a good set of Legos. I call the basement toy room our Lego Museum. Seriously. I should take pics and post them.
    4. Books. Our rule is, if they want a book, they can have it.
    5. Bicycles and the (Intex, non permanent) pool. Anything to encourage them to go outdoors. I also grabbed a trampoline for under $100 from C-list. Never used, still in box. One of my awesome C-list scores.
    What don’t they have: Nintendo DS, their own laptops, their own tvs, cell phones, expensive clothes. My husband shops for my son at Savers (used clothing). No idea where S shops. She won’t shop with me, so when we’re in NY, I send my mom out with her and $100. Makes them both happy and keeps my BP down.

  3. Yours may be too old for trampoline, Wendy, but ours love it. Kid Three basically learned to walk on it, and boy is she strong. We didn’t have a yard in Germany (where we lived, yards put your housing in the €1M+ category), but in Georgia we do and it’s a great use of the space.

  4. When my girls were little I spent way more than I do now.
    And like you mentioned, my girls had a shit start in life so they have always been spoiled and I don’t see it stopping with grandparents/aunts/uncles. But we have decided that Christmas is going to be small this year. Legos, left over b-day stuff they didn’t get and a few books. The rest can be filled in by the others.
    We limit them to 1 activity. I buy them designer clothes on sale from the last season and then sell them after to get money for the next year. (designer holds up and sells and I have girls). I can’t believe how much I used to buy them, all the time. Am glad I am over that!

  5. I also approve of the trampoline, especially for severe weather. Between that and a manual treadmill and the Wii, we do pretty well.
    Here are some thoughts:
    1. Our family travel is pretty expensive since all the grandmas and grandpas and so forth are a plane ride away. We do usually get some in-law help with the transportation, but for other destinations, it really adds up.
    2. Our only current “activity” during the school year is one kid goes to therapeutic horse riding, which is $45 per weekly group class. Other than that, it’s a weekly religious education class (free), weekly social skills class (free, but $20 for materials), seeing psychologist every three weeks (currently mostly on insurance, but will probably run out soon–$140 an hour to play Candyland, as far as I understand it), and the board game club that my husband and I try to run at school once a month (we had to buy multiple copies of game sets, but that’s mostly paid for now). The kids also occasionally tag along to my husband’s star parties (free). Ideally, the kids would also do ballet and soccer, but it just doesn’t work for us at this point (it would just kill me to pay for the kids to eat fast food so they could do sports). Next year, our oldest will be in mandatory school sports, which will be a totally new world. We also hope to put together an elementary math team next year.
    3. We pay $1,000 a month year-round for private school for two kids.
    4. We do a lot of camps and classes during the summer. I budget $40 a month for that, and it will be more as our youngest gets bigger.
    5. We are very moderate about Christmas and birthday giving (as in, we usually spend less than $40 bucks per kid, and sometimes a lot less), and I’ve adopted our peer custom of no-gift birthday parties for friends. I’ve been encouraging the grandmas to give camps and classes for Christmas and birthdays.
    6. I buy the occasional edifying book for the children.
    7. We have a point system for behavior that the kids can save up with. We try to steer them toward using it to purchase events (trip to pool, trip to small local amusement park, etc.) rather than yet another toy.
    8. As the kids have gotten bigger and more responsible, our family financial incentive system has turned into a real monster. The kids get paid for keeping their rooms and the living room in good order and my oldest can get paid for doing Kumon workbooks (mostly math). My oldest has the system totally down and cleans and does workbook with great consistency and energy. This house has never looked better–as I keep saying, it’s as if we have live-in staff. Gone are the days of ankle deep LEGOs. I budget $90 a month to pay the kids, but we probably spend a bit more. The incentive system was created when the kids were smaller and less capable of exploiting it. On the other hand, in our defense, outside of Christmas and birthdays, my husband and I do not buy the kids either art supplies or toys, and we’ve been expecting them to pay a major share of their entertainment costs. It’s expensive (I would have set the prices totally differently had I known), but for the past several years, we’ve had practically no whining about buying stuff for the kids. They know they are expected to save up for stuff and buy it with their own money.
    9. A final note on the kids’ income. They give approximately 10% of their income to charity and we’ve just started collecting 20% of their income and putting it aside for trip or special events. My oldest is actually very happy about the 20%, and keeps offering me more money to put in the fund. I eventually want to get the kids to put 10% in long-term savings for college, etc. I recently ordered my oldest a kids’ money management book, and she was actually waiting very impatiently for it to arrive. Hopefully, we’ll work through the book together.
    10. The zoo and the children’s museum memberships are each $60 or $75, or something like that.
    11. I used to have a horrible kids’ clothing shopping habit, but I’m mostly cured. Nowadays, I try to do most of the school uniform shopping out of the uniform closet at school ($4 for skirts!) and just replace other things as they wear out or are outgrown.
    12. We spend about $70 a month on school lunches (it’s non-federal). About half the month, I pack the kids peanut butter sandwiches.
    I suppose that is a lot, when you add it up.

  6. You post this after I spent $15 at Marshalls on Take Along Thomas and Melissa and Doug toys to put in our “potty present” bowl (Ikea, glass, $5.99) to inspire the #2.
    Although at this point, I view this as less parental indulgence and more about, well, getting my kid to stop pooping in her pants.

  7. “You post this after I spent $15 at Marshalls on Take Along Thomas and Melissa and Doug toys to put in our “potty present” bowl (Ikea, glass, $5.99) to inspire the #2.”
    I used to have an entire closet shelf of such items (Dover coloring books, My Little Ponies, a stuffed unicorn, etc.).

  8. Although at this point, I view this as less parental indulgence and more about, well, getting my kid to stop pooping in her pants.
    She’s going to figure out that if she gets a toy for not pooping in a diaper, she could get a bunch of toys for not pooping on the sofa.

  9. My barometer for spending too much money is when for the girl it goes from appreciation to expectation/entitlement. Then I reign it in.
    I probably think more about this coming from a working class background and having jumped a few rungs up the economic ladder. My daughter’s life is considerably more privileged than I ever experienced growing up.
    Things we do spend on: private school (but it’s in an urban neighbourhood where 1/3 of the families are subsidized), travel (we love it, families live far away), our cottage 2 hours out of the city.
    Things we don’t: cable guy couldn’t believe we only have one television in our house (the girl will never have one in her bedroom), designer whatever (don’t want her to worry about ruining anything while playing), cars (live downtown so we have one 10 year old RAV4).
    I also have started talking about family finances at a level that is pitched at an almost 5 year old.

  10. We used to have a trampoline, the small kind that fits under the bed. (In NYC, a yard would put your housing in the $3 million plus range.) They certainly burn off a lot of tween-age energy.
    Now that our daughter is older, I feel like most of our money goes to buy her clothes. However, I also feel like 16-year-old girls can find much more destructive outlets for their energy, so clothes-shopping seems pretty harmless.

  11. “She’s going to figure out that if she gets a toy for not pooping in a diaper, she could get a bunch of toys for not pooping on the sofa.”
    Potty training not going well? As I’ve mentioned before, mine were nearly 4 and nearly 4.5 before that really clicked.

  12. Let’s see.
    College tuition for the oldest one = $50K/year
    Daycare for the two little ones = $30K/year
    Yup. I spend way too much on my kids.

  13. I used to worry more about this — to the point of flat-out lying to my mother when she asked how much their clothes from mini Boden cost. But nothing we’re spending money on now affects our ability to provide them with a great primary, secondary, or post-secondary education, all the activities and camps they want, help with an eventual home down payment, and the knowledge that they will not have to support us financially in our old age. Unless they start turning into spoiled brats, I refuse to be ashamed of their $60 sweaters.

  14. I might come back to this but I think the best sign of our overspending on our son is that we signed him up for most extras at school – yoga, martial arts, painting, piano, singing, math club, all of which take place during the ‘regular’ daycare day (9-5) PLUS swimming to the tune of $195 PER MONTH.
    And we’re not sorry but MAN. Daycare itself is 1100.

  15. You give me hope, Amy.
    We’ve actually spent almost nothing on clothes and kid crap this fall. I think I bought the oldest a new backpack.
    The best potty treats are individual Silly Bandz.

  16. I’m really cheap. We pay for great day care and good summer camps but otherwise I dread the day when my kids start comparing Christmas presents with their friends.
    I know exactly why someone would start a shopping magazine for kids in a recession. I could completely deck out my kid in something fabulous for $50. Myself, not so much (and it wouldn’t look nearly as cute). We have friends who are no longer spending on vacations, housing stuff, cars due to the recession, but the kid stuff is still coming. Kid toys seem exorbitant but compared to grown-up toys, they’re not so bad.

  17. “You give me hope, Amy.”
    That whatever you’re spending isn’t totally crazy?
    “The best potty treats are individual Silly Bandz.”
    That’s a very good idea. Next (?) time around, I guess.

  18. “Unless they start turning into spoiled brats, I refuse to be ashamed of their $60 sweaters.”
    But, what I worry about is how I’m going to tell that they’ve turned into spoiled entitled brats (like Henderson).
    Right now, it seems like my children are sweet and appreciative (and don’t have a sense of entitlement). But, it’s very easy to get used comfort and privilege and not understand how to do without those things. I worry about that a little bit for moral reasons, but mostly I worry about it for the cost it imposes on the kids in their future choices. Having to chose a job so that you can support your mini Boden (Prada, Burberry, . . . habit) is potentially soul-sucking. Doing without, when you’ve become accustomed, difficult (and what drives people into unwise debt).

  19. “I used to worry more about this — to the point of flat-out lying to my mother when she asked how much their clothes from mini Boden cost. ”
    I always buy everything on sale (or at least my memory conveniently remembers it that way). And then, I convince myself that the mini Boden (and Lelli Kelly and Indygo Arwear and . . . ) didn’t really cost much more than Target or Old Navy (which I also love).

  20. Amy, hope that the 4-year-old will finally get it together! She’s the neurotypical one so I was expecting faster results.
    Anything is cheaper than medical specialists.

  21. $60 at a consignment sale twice a year is enough to fully deck out my preschooler in upscale clothing and shoes (rain boots, winter coat, snowpants, Church outfits, Christmas sweater — the works). And the baby just wears all of his brother’s old stuff.
    I don’t think we overspend, but between gifts, hand-me-downs, and what we do buy, our kids lack for nothing and that concerns me. Luxury won’t develop the traits we most want our children to have.
    Thanks for the potty training ideas!

  22. I want my kids to want things they cannot have. I want them to have desire and yearning and to try to figure out how to get what they want by hard work and planning. I want them to learn how to defer gratification.
    For Halloween, all my daughter wants is to be a Dalek. I refuse, absolutely refuse, to make her a Dalek costume or, heaven forbid, buy her one for 60 pounds (which is who knows what in Am dollars) from England. Could I afford it? Yes. Am I going to do it? No. Some day when she’s 40 and has her own kids, she may tell them about how their mean old Grandma once refused to buy her a Dalek costume, but I don’t care.
    I wonder when she’ll realize I’m not folding and will decide on something else.

  23. Don’t any of you guys ever get a bit tired of the constant calculating and measuring of your own virtuousness benchmarks against the neighbors/community/PTO members/what have you? Honestly, it seems to me that the sign of really having achieved sanity on family and material culture would be having a rough idea of what you can afford, a rough idea of your aspirations, and then not worrying about it much beyond that. Given that I study the history of consumerism, I’m not terribly surprised that folks spend so much time micromonitoring consumption practices, but doing so isn’t exactly consistent with believing that you’ve got it all under control (unlike all those other poor materialistic/greedy/spoiled/empty people).

  24. “Don’t any of you guys ever get a bit tired of the constant calculating and measuring of your own virtuousness benchmarks against the neighbors/community/PTO members/what have you?”
    No. Why do you ask?
    “Given that I study the history of consumerism, I’m not terribly surprised that folks spend so much time micromonitoring consumption practices…”
    In my own case, it’s called having a budget. It’s helpful to go over this stuff periodically to figure out if it makes sense, and if we’re getting the most out of our dollar. For instance, maybe it would make more sense to put my daughter in ballet rather than the therapeutic riding, or maybe we and the insurance company aren’t getting full value out of those games of Candy Land. If you’re a responsible parent of finite means, you have to think about this stuff.

  25. Marya,
    Late potty-training seems to run in families. My younger brother was having trouble well into kindergarten (and he started K at nearly 5.5). Both my kids kept me guessing until just a couple of months before pre-K, so I feel your pain. For a while, it was looking like I was going to have kids who could read, but were still in pull-ups. The less neurotypical child had a potty relapse after a move when she was about 5, where she was having accidents once or twice a day for a month. On the whole, though, I’ve been delighted by how quickly they’ve become almost totally potty independent since then. There really is a wonderful feeling of mastery and confidence from being able to take care of yourself.

  26. It just occurred to me that golly, given the kid spending I was describing, we could save $200 a month for the kids’ college right now, particularly with the tax deductions for college savings plans. We’re putting off planning college savings until after we buy a house next year (to see what the damage is going to be), but at least the way things are, there is definitely some wiggle room.

  27. Don’t any of you guys ever get a bit tired of the constant calculating and measuring of your own virtuousness benchmarks against the neighbors/community/PTO members/what have you?
    Can’t smoke anymore. Can’t drink before 3:00. What am I supposed to do?

  28. LOL MH.
    Tim, I get what you’re saying but raising kids is kind of crazy-making.
    Where women of the past were obsessing about drying enough fish to last the winter or grinding enough manioc to last the day or whatever, I do find myself obsessing about “wasted opportunity.”
    I’m pretty immune to the brand clothing though.
    I blame refrigeration, really. It just leaves too much gatherer-brain free.

  29. Our kids are now in high school and we get hit with the French Club trip to France, expensive trips with the band, etc. etc. etc. If I had had any idea how much these things would add up later, I probably would have skimped more when they were little and less aware of what everyone else had. I wish I had all the money back that I spent on stupid Gymboree classes!

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