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Raising a child? That’ll be $234,900

Jessica Dickler
by Jessica Dickler, Dimespring Contributor  (@jdickler)

Between child care, check ups and all those cheerios, kids are certainly expensive, but never before has it cost so much to raise a child, according to a recent report. In fact, most parents will shell out nearly a quarter of a million dollars on their little ones before the age of 17.

Specifically, a middle-income family can expect to spend about $234,900 to raise a child from birth to age 17, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That's up 3.5 percent from 2010 and 33 percent higher than a decade ago.

For those in the middle class (with before tax income between $59,410 and $102,870), kids now cost between $12,290 and $14,420 a year, and the costs go up as income rises.

READ: The cost of growing a family and why it hasn't stopped us

For a better picture of what you can expect to shell out, check out the USDA’s Cost of Raising a Child Calculator (but consider yourself warned, parents in the urban northeast are hit the hardest).

The bulk of all that money will go toward housing, food and child care, the USDA found, and doesn't even include the cost of college, which is also on the rise.

“There is no end,” said Mark Lino, a senior economist at the USDA. “We’ve been doing this report over 50 years and the general trend has always been up.”

Although housing is by far the biggest expense -- accounting for 30 percent of the child-rearing costs -- high gas prices are taking a bigger toll on families than ever before, Lino noted.

“Those trips to the doctor’s office or soccer practice are costing more,” he said.

READ: Weighing the cost of extracurricular activities

Even though gasoline prices are down slightly from their 2008 peak, the stubbornly high cost of fuel has caused transportation costs to rise about 10 percent per child, making that the biggest growth category the USDA tracked.

While carpooling is one way to cut costs, it is likely not nearly enough to alleviate the substantial burden on parents.

Now more moms say their financial situation is a big factor in their choice to have children at all and worry about how they will afford it. Nearly two-thirds of moms are worried about not having enough money to raise their children, according to a survey of over 1,000 mothers by parenting site BabyCenter.

Two out of three moms also said concerns about money will affect how many children they have. Most are planning to have two children but would have three if they could afford it.

READ: Planning a summer of fun with the kids

In addition to housing, food, transportation and child care, the report also factored in clothing, health care and other expenses that can quickly add up like haircuts, books, sports equipment and digital music downloads. On the upside, the expenses per child decrease in households with three or more children, the USDA found, since many of those purchases can be shared within a family.

Siblings can share bedrooms, clothes and toys and parents can also benefit from sibling discounts at daycare centers or private schools, not to mention the savings from buying cereal and other kid-friendly food in bulk at warehouse stores.

Call it the Costco effect: All in all, families with three or more children spend 22 percent less per child than families with two children, the USDA said.

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Jessica Dickler is a freelance writer covering personal finance, budgeting and marriage & money. Jessica has previously worked for CNNMoney, The Wall Street Journal and SmartMoney. She lives with her husband and two children in Princeton, N.J.