Does your child cost R100 000 a year? Tracey Hawthorne considers her choices.
It’s the beginning of an educational year and, like most parents, my thoughts turn to the bills that are rolling in for fees, uniforms, transport, stationery, extramural activities and the like. And simultaneously I feel a dozen new grey hairs sprout from my scalp.
Having been in and out of maintenance court more times than I care to remember in the 16 years I’ve been a single parent, I’m very well aware of how much money it takes to raise a child. Each legal foray has required, after all, a full breakdown of what my children cost me each month. Sadly, my children’s father lacks the same insight: over the years, he has always ‘underestimated’ what it costs to raise our children by at least a third, and often more. This is (perhaps) an understandable mistake for someone who doesn’t actually live with teenagers, and fork out for their day-to-day expenses, to make: it really can be quite astonishing how much they cost.
There’s a standing joke in our house about my regular visits to the ATM. I draw the cash and put it into my wallet and, almost immediately, it grows wings and flies out again. My teens now advise me to turn my head away when I open my wallet, in order to avoid being hit in the eye by escaping Rand notes.
And the ever-spiralling cost of raising children was really brought home to me recently when a good friend, the father of 3 children under 4 years old told me that he couldn’t understand the fuss about how ‘expensive’ children are.
‘Mine aren’t,’ he said, smugly.
‘Just you wait,’ I thought.
I did a current thumb-suck estimate of the basic cost of supporting two middle-class teenagers through one year and it comes to close on R200 000. That’s a LOT of money. It’s enough to buy a really nice car for cash. It represents a sizeable drop in the ocean that is most people’s mortgage bonds. It could fund a reasonably luxurious holiday abroad. It would do very nicely as a little investment on the stock market. Or it could pay to have the fat sucked out of my bottom and the wrinkles ironed out of my face.
I’m not for one minute suggesting we put an actual money cost to our children – they are, as any parent knows, priceless. But it’s as well you know, before you start having babies, that by the time your precious little bundle of joy has grown into a great galumphing young adult with more or less the same material needs as you, and education thrown in as a particularly alarming extra, you could probably have bought that villa in Tuscany.How much do your children cost you?