If you are a parent, you don’t need the government to tell you it’s expensive to raise a child. What you may not know is HOW expensive.

According to the U.S. Agriculture Department, a middle-income family with a child born in 2011 can expect to spend about $234,900 ($295,560 if projected inflation costs are factored in) for food, shelter, and other necessities to raise that child over the next 17 years.

This represents a 3.5 percent increase from 2010. Expenses for transportation, childcare, education and food saw the largest percentage increases. There were smaller increases in housing, clothing, health care and miscellaneous expenses on a child during the same period.

For 2011, annual child-rearing expenses per child for a middle-income, two-parent family ranged from $12,290 to $14,320, depending on the age of the child.

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The USDA report, issued annually since 1960, is used by courts and state governments to help determine child support guidelines and foster care payments. The report is based on data from the Federal government's Consumer Expenditure Survey -- the most comprehensive source of information available on household expenditures.

Numerous factors

The report notes geographic variations in the cost of raising a child, with expenses the highest for families living in the urban Northeast, followed by the urban West and urban Midwest. Families living in the urban South and rural areas have the lowest child-rearing expenses.

The report, developed by the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, notes that family income affects child-rearing costs. A family earning less than $59,410 per year can expect to spend a total of $169,080 (in 2011 dollars) on a child from birth through high school. Similarly, middle-income parents with an income between $59,410 and $102,870 can expect to spend $234,900; and a family earning more than $102,870 can expect to spend $389,670.

For middle-income families, housing costs are the single largest expenditure on a child, averaging $70,560 or 30 percent of the total cost over 17 years. Childcare and education (for those incurring these expenses) and food were the next two largest expenses, accounting for 18 and 16 percent of the total cost over 17 years. These estimates do not include costs associated with pregnancy or the cost of a college education or education beyond high school.

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Economies of scale 

But, parents, don't let the report scare you away from having more children. The USDA says that, as you might expect, expenses per child decrease as a family has more children. Families with three or more children spend 22 percent less per child than families with two children.

As families have more children, the children can share bedrooms, clothing and toys can be handed down to younger children, food can be purchased in larger and more economical quantities, and private schools or child care centers may offer sibling discounts.

The full report, Expenditures on Children by Families (2011), is available on the Web at www.cnpp.usda.gov. In addition, an interactive Web version of the report is available where families can enter the number and ages of their children to obtain an estimate of costs.


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