Preparing for the Expense of Having an Adult Child

Guest post by Ray FitzGerald

Having a child can be expensive. Between cribs and strollers and diapers and clothes that they grow out of in two weeks, you can find yourself spending a small fortune before your child even learns how to walk.

But that expense pales in comparison to the cost of having an adult child. That’s right — your child could end up costing you far more after he or she leaves the house than they cost you while under your roof.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that parents spend, on average, $230,000 on a child before he or she turns 18. But, according to a new study co-sponsored by Merrill Lynch Wealth Management and AgeWave, the most costly age to have "kids" is when they're actually adults.

The study breaks parenting into three unique phases — infant/toddler; elementary/high schooler; and adult. Of 3,000 parents surveyed, only 11% said they spent the most on their offspring when they were infants and toddlers.

The study found that the infant and toddler phase was actually the least expensive of all three stages of parenthood. Though this time often resulted in the greatest change in lifestyle — as nearly half of the mothers surveyed said they took substantial time off of work following the birth of their child and shifted jobs afterward to create for flexibility in their schedules. Fathers were more likely to switch jobs to improve their pay and benefits as well as take on second jobs or extra hours to meet their family’s financial needs.

Costs steadily increase as a child reaches grammar school. They grow out of clothing,  require payments for extracurricular activities, school supplies and the emergence of new childhood hobbies. And let’s not even talk about the high cost of potential private schools and tutors.

Once children reach their teenage years, the cost of their “toys” only increases, as attentions turn to iPhones, computers and cars. Both parents and children often fold to peer pressure at this point, with 69 percent of parents who responded to the survey saying they feel strongly that they need to provide for their kids the same luxuries that their friends have.

But all of these costs are small investments compared to “raising” adult children. The 45 percent of respondents who said that the adult years are the most expensive factored in the ever-rising costs of college tuition and books, cars, groceries and weddings — not to mention the occasional deposit into a checking account when money gets short.

While the cost of an in-state public college averages approximately $127,000 — and private institutions can top out around $255,000, the survey quoted parents who also chip in for other daily expenses, including rent, vacations and cell phone or cable services.

Roughly one in eight of the parents who responded said that, on average, they spend approximately $6,600 each year on their adult children. That’s more than twice as much as they contribute to their retirement accounts.

In all, parents of adult children in the U.S. spend more than $500 billion each year on their offspring between ages 18 and 34.

That would buy a lot of diapers and formula.

Despite the financial sacrifices, 93% of survey respondents said that parenthood was the most rewarding aspect of their lives and 94% said raising their children — and the associated costs with doing so — is “worth every penny.”

“When emotions and money become intertwined, parents risk making financial decisions that can compromise their — and their children’s — financial futures,” said Lisa Margeson, head of retirement client experience and communications at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, in a press release. “Parents can navigate this difficult balance by setting clear boundaries about their level of support, fostering financial independence in adult children and reconciling spending on children with long-term savings goals to avoid jeopardizing their own financial security.”

Are you ready for the cost of your child’s adulthood? What are you doing to prepare for the oncoming expenses? Drop a comment below and let us know.


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Ray FitzGerald is an educator and writer who has worked with children and families around the world to build stronger relationships and positive behaviors. After years of teaching elementary students in a gifted education classroom, he’s expanded to share the lessons taught in those exclusive settings with every parent through his website, www.RaiseALegend.com. He holds degrees in Education and Journalism from the University of Florida and St. Leo University and currently resides in Florida with his wife, April. 


PLEASE NOTE: The writers of this article are not medical professionals. The information in this column is not intended and should not be construed as providing medical or psychological advice, but rather to offer readers information and provide a perspective to better understand the lives of themselves and their children. Articles on this website may be opinion based. The articles are not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist, psychotherapist or other licensed medical professional. If you do have health or safety concerns, please get in touch with a healthcare professional.