I must be doing it wrong.

As a well-documented thrifty, nifty, and sometimes creative gal, I’m the first to humbly admit I can’t do it — I can’t raise my kid on a budget of $3,000 a year. That’s $250 a month, people.

Walk like you own it.

Walk like you own it.

A recent report by The Fraser Institute graciously outlines my failings as a so-called fiscally responsible parent, saying it’s never been easier “financially” to raise a kid in Canada, especially if parents only foot the bill for the necessities, such as: food, clothing, personal care, household supplies, recreation, and school supplies.


After reading the 65-page report a third time (mostly in disbelief), I nearly cried (like a baby) when the author Christopher A. Sarlo (an economics professor) said his $3,000 to $4,500 yearly range for raising a healthy child to age 18 could be cut further since he excluded “savings strategies such as home gardens, sewing and knitting clothing, couponing and taking advantage of sales, own repair and maintenance work in the home, etc.” in the total child-rearing tally.

Are you kidding me?

Many child cost studies cite the annual expense per kid in the $10,000 to $15,000 range. The Fraser Institute’s tally is a spectacularly thrifty bargain in comparison. I’m into it.

sophie giraffe

So perhaps with only 20 months of parental experience eroding my bank account I shouldn’t be so quick to throw in the spit-up covered towel. Maybe it does cost just $3,000 to $4,500 a year to raise a healthy baby, toddler, pre-teen, or teenager to age 18? Teens don’t need iPhones, right?

She's not getting an iPhone. The cardboard box will have to do.

She’s not getting an iPhone. The cardboard box will have to do.

So rather than launch a toddler-sized tantrum over Mr. Sarlo’s child-rearing numbers, I’ll raise this gobsmacking report one frugal cloth diaper and show you guys where The Fraser Institute says I’m overspending lavishly on my kid.

Maybe you’re overspending too. Cough.

Daycare costs or lost wages. Pick one.

I spend nearly $20,000 a year on daycare, after tax. Not working costs me more. When Carl took parental leave, the opportunity loss in unearned wages was expensive too. That’s the price many parents pay after bringing baby home — you either cut a fat cheque for daycare or you lose a fat paycheque to have a parent stay at home. The math is painfully simple.

But parents in The Fraser Institute’s family don’t have to bother with daycare’s inconvenient and costly expense. That’s because the institute’s report writer and fancy economic professor decided, rather conveniently, not to include the costly cost of daycare in the annual cost of raising a child. Mr. Sarlo writes:

“The exclusion of daycare costs from the list of needs using the budget standard approach is not because daycare is not a legitimate expense for households with children but mainly because many families with children will have little or no daycare costs.” — Christopher A. Sarlo, The Fraser Institute

This is awesome, mostly because everyone knows spending $1,517 a month on daycare handily blows through the entire $3,000 annual child raising budget in less than two months. I’m also wondering why many licensed daycares boast year-long wait lists when so many families have “little or no daycare costs.” Head scratcher.

Conveniently, the report also fails to account for silly lost wages. Unless the majority of Canadians have access to free childcare and both parents are still working, the cost of raising children should account for either daycare costs or income losses.

Bottom Line: I’ve blown 51% of my $3,000 annual child raising budget in just one month, thanks to a monthly $1,517 daycare bill.

Housing ain’t free.

The Fraser Institute doesn’t think growing families need more space, so they excluded the cost of shelter from their cost of raising kids tally.

“Indeed, not only is it inappropriate to count housing as a cost of children but, based on available expenditure data, an additional child will often not increase housing costs, independent of changes in disposable income/consumption.” — Christopher A. Sarlo, The Fraser Institute

As a rural British Columbia homeowner who now rents an apartment in Toronto, I have some diverse experience with providing shelter for a child.

When baby Chloe came home to our two-bedroom house in rural B.C. we didn’t require more space, but we did need to reallocate the space we had. Let me introduce you to my former home office — the pretty space where I worked, studied, and freelanced my arse off to pay for living expenses.

My home office before baby.

My home office before baby.

Today my home office is a lot less office-y. Welcome to Chloe’s bedroom.

My home office after baby is more of a nursery.

My home office after baby is more of a nursery.

So where’s the cost? Chloe needed a crib and other furniture, I needed a new space to work. The cost was moving my business into the basement and buying shelving to deal with the cascading effect of relocating the stuff in the basement. Kids often force you to rearrange your current housing arrangements, even if the cost isn’t upgrading to a larger house. New parents should budget some bucks to home reorganization as a child-related expense.

But not everyone who starts a family lives in a two-bedroom home with an office that can be converted into a kid’s crib. Since moving to Toronto, I’ve lived the nightmare of living in a one-bedroom apartment as a three-person family. We tried to make it work. We failed. Miserably. When a two-bedroom place became available in our building we took it with the added cost.

Couples living in small studios or one-bedroom spaces should face reality and budget for a larger apartment. Kids have stuff (clothing, diapers, toys, cribs or beds) and need space where they can nap and sleep — a room with a door that closes is preferable for parental sanity.

I can’t imagine how Fraser Institute families live and sleep. Do all the teenagers share bunk beds in the master bedroom with mom and dad? ‘Cause that would be awesome.

Bottom Line: The price difference between a one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartment in our high-rise building in Toronto is $604 per month, or $7,248 per year. That’s a real shelter cost for having a kid.

Smart Cars are not for kids.

Transporting kids is practically free in the world where the Fraser Institute travels. Any vehicle change thanks to kids, writes Mr. Sarlo, should be “attributed to parents (and their new lifestyle) and would not be a cost of a child per se.”

Our transportation “lifestyle” before Chloe was humble. As the perfect DINK couple (dual income no kid), we owned a vehicle that suited our simple two-person needs.

Enter the Smart Car.

smart car

The perfect urban assault vehicle for moving herds of children around town in spacious style. If you have a kid and own a Smart Fortwo, good luck strapping your spouse or yourself to the roof for a casual trip to Costco. When the peops motoring along the highway in Hummers honk, just wave casually (using the one finger salute) like nothing is wrong.

But something is wrong. The Ministry of Transportation won’t let you travel with babies who legally have to be in rear facing car seats in vehicles like a Smart Fortwo. The issue is airbags and this thing called safety. Also, I still need a third seat for this thing called a husband.

Now let’s not forget about car seats, OK? There are infant car seats (for babies), convertible car seats (for toddlers), and booster car seats (for whatever happens after toddlers stop being toddlers). Expect to spend from $50 to $200 (or more) to take a ride in any of these legally required bummy boosters. How did the Fraser Institute miss car seats? Anyways…

Moving to Toronto I thought I avoided additional transportation expenses because the ‘House of Squawk’ would take the subway, so no need for costly car seats and bigger cars. I was mostly wrong. While we do travel exclusively by train, the problem was less about car size and more about stroller girth.

bob stroller

Enter the BOB Revolution Single Stroller — the perfect urban assault vehicle for plowing your kid over unpaved rural roads and rusted cattle guards. Our used BOB stroller was a frugal spend and the perfect blend for our lifestyle in British Columbia, but Toronto living and subway travelling requires a smaller, lighter ride.

maclaren stroller

Compact and cartable umbrella strollers are the thing for city dwellers, mostly for fitting on trains but also for carrying down the steep stairs in stations. Lugging the BOB with a child down these inclines is dangerous and impossibly heavy for me. Many subways stations in Toronto are not wheelchair accessible, so parents cart and carry their strollers down the stairs.

Bottom Line: While I escaped spending the big bucks on car seats and a bigger automobile, I still needed a second stroller for transporting my kid around town. Parents would be wise to include a few transportation costs in their total for raising a kid. Two used strollers plus one new car seat total $650. Roll with it.

Formula is food for some, sorry.

I guess the Fraser Institute lives in a perfect place where milk and honey flow freely and every baby saves their parents money by being breast fed. Only “basic marginal costs” are accounted for in this study after all, and “the cost of children does not include special needs costs as the vast majority of children are not in this situation.”

While breast feeding is many parents’ preferred method of nurturing a child, it is not always possible.

Enter the “special need” cost of baby formula.

baby formula

Baby formula is so expensive, and presumably theft-worthy, that our local discount grocer No Frills locks the stuff up. The Shoppers Drug Mart around the corner won’t even let you touch the canned powdery fortified milk — shelf-sized popup displays show you how the formula looks, but you’ll need to buy it at the pharmacy to get the goods home.

Shoppers Drug Mart sells baby formula over the counter to presumably prevent theft.

Shoppers Drug Mart sells baby formula over the counter to presumably prevent theft.

No wonder retailers treat baby formula like liquid gold. At $32.99 for a 629g (22oz) tin you better hope your baby doesn’t spit the costly stuff up. Riiiight.

Sure, I’d shop sales and use coupons, but the cost to feed a formula-fed baby ain’t cheap. Costco offers some financial relief for families in need of formula, so I’d stock up on Kirkland brand super-sized formula tins every trip. Spending $150 per month on baby formula was our new normal.

Bottom Line: Even with sales and coupons, don’t discount the cost to feed kids of all ages and sizes with “special needs.” Our total formula tab is around $1,800 for our prematurely born daughter.

Knot knitting a pair of jeans, thanks.

Mr. Sarlo says the “sewing and knitting of clothing” would help “reduce the money cost of a child.” Has Mr. Sarlo checked out the cost of fabric, patterns, and other notions lately?


This denim sale at Fabricland looks promising. For just $6-$12 per meter (regular priced at $26 per meter) I can buy a bit of fabric to sew my kid a pair of pants. I’ll need a plan though, so this $12 girl’s jeans pattern on Etsy looks perfect. Add in the cost of buttons, a zippered fly, and thread and I’m easily over $20 for a pair of toddler pants. Hope you own a sewing machine. Perfect.

After working full time, house cleaning, home cooking, laundry washing, child caring, and sleep deprivation depriving I’m totally into the idea of sewing my kid a pair of pants.

Shopping secondhand at thrift stores like Value Village can be far cheaper anyways. These Oshkosh overalls cost $2.99 used, that’s over $10 cheaper than sewing my own the Fraser Institute way.


Mending is a must, so I’m not opposed to a bit of handy work.

patch jeans

I save a bundle by buying already made second-hand clothing. This stash of kiddlet gear cost around $36.

Value Village

Bottom Line: Unless you love to sew and can find frugal fabric often, it’s tough to source notions for less than the cost of second-hand items.

$hit my kid destroyed.

Distraction before destruction — that’s my motto these days. With a 20-month-old toddler tantrumming around my home I need to make quick, cost-saving decisions on what I’ll let the kid destroy so I can get dinner done.

My kid shows me how to build a frugal OtterBox.

My kid shows me how to build a frugal OtterBox.

Behold my $783 unlocked iPhone. Good thing I spent the bucks on my OtterBox Defender Case because my kid is hellbent on dropping and destroying this device. Her recent trip to the “potty” to teach my iPhone to “swim” had me investigating waterproof iPhone cases in an effort to not sink the cost of my lovely smartphone.

scholastic book clubs

Kids will really destroy anything though. Books, clothing, furniture, big appliances, small appliances, floors, walls, toys, or whatever they can get their grabby little hands on. The book Sh*t My Kids Ruined: An A-Z Celebration of Kid-Destruction shares the costly damage with painful photo evidence.

This stain just gives her onesie "character" right?

This stain just gives her onesie “character” right?

Teenagers destroy stuff too. Try teaching a teenage gal how to reverse-park a standard car in a garage situated on a serious slope. She may (or may not) rip the driver side mirror straight off the driver side door. This may be a true story. Or not. I digress.

Bottom Line: I don’t know how to calculate the cost of kids destroying stuff, but brace yourself for the expense ’cause smartphones will sink or swim.

The price of Pampers.

It’s a good thing I did a price check and calculated the real cost of diapers because I think the Fraser Institute could use the lesson. I would also like to neatly ignore the expense of diapering a child by calling it “clothing,” because like ‘The Institute’ I hate dealing with diapers too.

cloth diapers

In my very popular post Are cloth diapers worth it? I calculated the nappy numbers and found that over 30 months, disposal diapers cost $2,349 and cloth diapers run a less expensive $775.

Containing bodily fluids is expensive. Glossing over the gross doesn’t make the cost go away. Parents should account for the price of disposables or reusable cloth diapers in their budgets for raising kids. Budget blowouts may result as a costly consequence.

Bottom Line: Disposable diapers can cost around $940 per year while a laundered cloth diaper stash is more hands-on and less expensive at $310 a year.

So where am I going with this?

Raising kids costs some amount of money.

The Fraser Institute cites $3,000 to $4,500 a year — or $81,000 total to raise a kid to 18. This nifty figure excludes the costs of child care, housing, transportation, “special needs,” and even diapers. Hope your kid doesn’t need braces. Anyways.

"Don't show me the math."

“Don’t show me the math.”

Adding up ‘The Institute’s’ omitted costs I’m easily over their $4,500 dream world number.

Daycare: $18,200 per year
Shelter: $7,248 per year
Transportation: $650 first year
Formula: $1,800 first year

Crybaby Total: $27,898

"I'm expensive!"

“I’m expensive!”

So where did I go terribly wrong?

In 2011 MoneySense tallied the total raising kid cost closer to $243,660, or $12,825 per child a year until 18. Read “The real cost of raising kids” for the essential details.

In “Million-dollar babies”, Maclean’s pushes the total even higher by including “lost income, forgone investment savings and the price of a college education.” Their child raising tab is close to a million bucks for two bundles and $670,000 for a single child.

Lots to love, even at that price.

Lots to love, even at that price.

So what does it cost to raise a child?

I’d say anywhere from $3,000 per year to a million bucks over 18 years. Yeah, have fun paying for that.


Your Turn: Can you raise a kid for $3,000 a year? I’d love to hear from more experienced parents with older kids since my math is limited to just 20 months of child raising experience.