Kids Are Worth the Cost
The expense, emotional toll of worry, and loss of freedom notwithstanding, children are justifiable investments. Pro or con?
Pro: Intangible ROI
According to the latest Agriculture Dept. estimates, I will spend a total of about $290,000 raising my daughter to the age of 17. That, of course, doesn’t include college, another $150,000 or so if she goes to a private one. Is it worth the money?
I know the answer to that question through hard experience. My husband, Peter Sleeper, died at age 42 of a brain tumor, a mere two months after my mother died of an asthma attack. It was my year of emotional devastation. This was in the early 1990s, and we were living in London when Peter died. But we owned a house in recession-battered Boston that was so far under water it made the Titanic look seaworthy. With the loss of my husband’s income, and no life insurance, I had to sell that house at an enormous loss and was financially wiped out. Yet of all the things I lost that year, the money mattered the least.
Flash forward to my decision in 1998 to adopt a child. To do so, I had to deplete my savings and raid my retirement fund, not a wise financial move to say the least. And I haven’t saved much since she entered my life. Obviously, there are plenty of other ways I could invest the quarter of a million dollars-plus it will take to raise her that would ensure a life of luxury that I’m now unlikely to experience. Do I regret my choice? Not for a second.
At the time I was adopting my daughter, several acquaintances wondered why I would give up a life of great freedom and the financial means to enjoy it. I did it because, to me, Kris Kristofferson was right: Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose. My daughter is now 9 years old. Every Friday night when we snuggle up to watch a movie together, or whenever she turns to me with laughing eyes and says, “Mom, you’re crazy, but I still love you,” I know I’ve spent my money wisely.
My life is so much richer with my child than it was without her. Once again, the money I’m losing matters least. If there is one thing I know for certain, it’s that she’s worth it.
Con: Thanks, But No Thanks
The idea of something being “worth the money” can be a strange one. The going price for being a space tourist is about $30 million. Meanwhile, if you want to buy your preteen a ticket for a Hannah Montana concert, you may be looking at $3,000. For some people, either of those things would be worth it. As a guy without kids and without an eight-figure bank account, neither would be worth it for me.
Likewise, having kids in general isn’t worth it for me. Society still operates on the idea of kids being “worth the money” for everyone. With the advent of reliable birth control, I think it’s time we changed that mindset.
The Agriculture Dept. estimates that for most people, raising a kid from birth to age 17 will run about $290,000. This doesn’t take into account things like private schools or higher education, which can raise the total significantly. Nor does it factor in things like lost wages or fewer promotions due to child-care needs.
My wife and I came to the decision years ago that we wanted to remain child-free, but financial concerns weren’t the only motivator. All the same, the lack of that strain on our budget is significant, and that means less overall stress for our relationship. The emotional costs of raising kids gets glossed over just as much as the financial ones.
Also, while most big-ticket investments, such as real estate, have expected returns when one sells, having kids doesn’t necessarily pay for itself. People may argue that kids will take care of parents as they get older, but that’s not always the case. Our nursing homes are proof of this.
I’m not saying children are categorically not worth the cost. It’s hard to put a price tag on a kid’s first words or seeing your child off to the high school prom. Having a child is supremely rewarding for many people, and worth any price.
But not for everyone.Opinions and conclusions expressed in the BusinessWeek Debate Room do not necessarily reflect the views of BusinessWeek, BusinessWeek.com, or The McGraw-Hill Companies.