5 Kids Expenses to Budget For – Apart from College

Most parents understand the need to prepare for their children’s college educations by budgeting money while the kids grow.

But there are other expenses—not on the magnitude of college—that are also worthy of budgets all there own.

If you have children who are at least in middle school, you already have an idea of at least some of them.

But if your kids are only a few years old or younger, you’ll need to start preparing for some of them right now, because the day for most or all of them is coming up fast!


Most kids it seems need braces.  I don’t know if it’s because kids are being born with more crooked teeth than they were a generation ago, or if our collective tolerance for teeth that are anything less than perfect has reached an all time low.

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What ever the cause, braces cost a fortune!

According to Answers.com, braces normally cost between $4,000 and $6,000, but can run as high as $10,000.  I suspect the highest range is for the designer varieties, like the clear or colored versions that didn’t exist when I was a kid.  But like all professions these days, up-sell is the name of the game.

If you have two children, it’s likely that at least one of them will need braces; if you have three, assume two will need them.  What ever the need, an expense this large and predictable cries out for a budget.


family vacation

Vacations get expensive fast when you have kids!

If you’re new to parenting, or don’t have any but plan to, you may be unaware that airlines don’t offer discount pricing for children.

In the airline industry, a seat is a seat, and whether it’s occupied by a six foot adult or two foot toddler matters not.

If you’re used to traveling by air, you’ll need to be prepared for the fact that just getting where you’re going will be more expensive than it was in the days before children.  The $500 airfare you paid for you and your spouse will mushroom to $1,000 when your three year old and your newborn are added.

Speaking of discount pricing, once your kids get “older”—which in many establishments means reaching the age of 10—they will be charged adult prices.  This can include theme parks, restaurants and other entertainment venues.

And, as you’ll discover when they start moving beyond 10, they begin to eat like adults.  That can have a material affect on your restaurant bills.

Moral of the story: what ever you pay for vacations now will roughly double in a few years.  A weeklong trip to Disney World or even the beach can cost thousands of dollars.

If you don’t normally establish a budget for vacations, you’ll need to have one when you have kids and more so as they get older.

Extracurricular school activities

When I was a kid, some kids were in extracurricular activities but most weren’t.

It’s very different today.

It seems that nearly every school age child is in a sports — or music-program of some sort.  Many are in both.

When your children are in elementary or middle school, the in-school activities are usually free or have only a small fee ($50-$100), but when they reach high school you can safely assume you’ll need to pony up roughly $1,000 per activity per child.  If junior is in three activities, that will be $3,000 per year.  If you have two children in high school and each are in three activities, you’re looking at $6,000 per year—now we’re talking real money!

You probably won’t be covering those fees out of your checking account, so you’ll need a budget for this one too.

Junior’s first car

Even a car that’s well-used can cost a few thousand dollars, and by the time your kids are of driving age they’ll almost certainly cost more.

If you have more than one child, well—you can do the math.  The point is, this is another major expense category that will require advance planning—a budget.

There may be a tendency to think, “I’ll let my kids worry about paying for a car—I have enough expenses to cover”, and while that’s a legitimate point, teenagers often need a car long before they have the ability to afford one.

You’ll have to be prepared for this one as well.

Tutoring, test preparation and summer camps

This is really a miscellaneous category.  It’s filled with “nickel and dime” expenses—a few hundred here, a few hundred there—but collectively it adds up to real money that you’ll need to be prepared to come up with.

School agenda is being accelerated in districts across the country.  No where is this more apparent than in math and science, two subjects that are difficult for a large number of students to begin with.  In addition, since No Child Left Behind, pass-fail exams have become the order of the day.  Later on, there are college entrance exams.

All will need to be prepared for.

For many, this will require one-on-one tutoring, enrollment in out-of-school support programs (Kumon, Mathnasium, etc.) and the use of various test preparation services.

Then there are summer camps!

Most kids today seem to attend them fairly regularly.  Now there are different types of camps—some are daytime only, some are away from home, some are a few days, and some are a month or more. Some will be less than $100, others will be more than $1,000.  The point is, your children will probably be in one or more most summers.

In a typical year, you’ll probably pay out upward of $1,000 per child—although this expense can go as high as you want!  With two or more kids, you could be paying several thousand per year.
College education is an important event to budget for, but as you can see there’s a whole lot to be prepared for before your children reach that point. By budgeting for them in advance, you can insure that you’ll be fully prepared when they come up.

Can you think of any other large expenses for children that should be budgeted for?

About kevinmercadante

Kevin Mercadante is professional personal finance blogger, and the owner of his own personal finance blog, OutOfYourRut.com. He has backgrounds in both accounting and the mortgage industry. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and two teenage kids and can be followed on Twitter at @OutOfYourRut

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  1. Hot chocolate. Seven times this month at school. They want a buck a shot for it, too. It’s amazing the expenses they’ll come up with.

  2. Those restaurant bills can be uber expensive. Ten bucks a plate with three kids + two parents means minimum $50 before tip :\

    • And that’s if it’s only $10 a plate! And worse, how much of the food will actually be eaten. Sigh…

    • Hi Juan–Making it even worse is that the restaurants that were low priced 10 years ago are now moderately priced, and the old moderately priced ones are now EXPENSIVE (though still considered moderate).

      When it comes to restaurants, we found the best course is to make a virtue of home cooking. The dirty little secret about restaurants and kids is that kids don’t always like the meals you’ve paid $10 for in a restaurant, especially if they go to them too often. You never know what kids will or won’t eat, so it’s better to err on the less costly side.

  3. Daycare is not on your list. I think all ‘expenses’ you mentioned can easily be overshadowed by 1k/month or more for daycare. I suggest parents-to-be to start saving early as possible (still in pregnancy) so this expense doesn’t come as a slap.

    • Good point. Depending on where you live and what kind of care you want/need, you can easily spend over 1K per month.

      Parents-to-be need to really think about what they want to do and who they want watching/raising the kids.

    • Hi Damir–You’re so right–that was a massive oversight on my part! Especially since my wife and I paid that for over six years! It was like having a mortgage on another house, which was largely why it ended and I started working from home.

      That isn’t something you can save money for though, as much as carve out room (a lot of it!) in the monthly budget.

  4. LeslieintheGarden says:

    Good nutrition will mean no braces for kids … cut the sugar (water is an excellent alternative to pop and juices; no expensive sugary prepared cereal; substitute vegetables for fruit as snacks), and make ’em down a spoonful of cod liver oil everyday. They come in flavoured versions now … yup, Grandma was right!

    • I wish nutrition would eliminate braces but I don’t think that’s the case. Do you have anything that discusses that link between them?

      But good nutrition overall is always a good thing.

    • San in SF says:

      Braces have absolutely nothing to do with nutrition. While cutting down on the sugar (especially the starchy sweets) will help prevent cavities, it will do nothing to keep your teeth straight. Cod liver oil? You have got to be joking!

  5. School trips….to europe, to NYC, etc!!

  6. hmm. This is something that is sure to become an issue in our household in the coming years. I was raised with few of the ‘extras’ even though my parents were well off. The idea of them buying a car for us was laughable. We all worked and paid for our own incidentals. They would have covered braces if I had chosen to get them. We didn’t really go on pleasure vacations- we went on missions trips (no joke). We all took piano lessons but few other extracurriculars and I think we all went to summer camp a couple of times. I now appreciate the balance that they provided because I felt like we had a lot of great experiences but still learned to work hard. This is something I really want to instill in my own kids but it seems daunting when I see the stuff that parents around us are shelling out for. I don’t want my kids to feel deprived but I want them to understand the value of a dollar. Thankfully, we’ve got a few years to figure it out… :)

    • We struggle with the same thing. You don’t want to give your kid everything and sign them up for everything, but it’s tough when you see all the other kids with the latest/greatest and taking part in a ton of activities. You don’t want them to be spoiled but you don’t want them left out either. It’s tough to tell our kid they can’t dress like their friends or take the activities they take.

    • Hi Marianne–Agreed, that’s a struggle all parents face today. Kids seem to have and do EVERYTHING, even those whose parents seem unlikely to be able to afford it. Our kids live in that world and have to deal with it everyday.

      But I think you can try to blend your own experience handed down from your parents with the way of the world today and try to find a happy medium. I’d lean heavily in favor of how your parents raised you. Not only will that save you a lot of money, but it will give your children more unstructured time. Kids need that! It’s the most underrated benefit a kid can have. That’s when they develop passions, talents and interests. Too much structure robs them of that.

      I think parents put their kids into all these activities thinking it will force them into being well rounded, or it will look good on a college application. It becomes like an arms race to see which parent can “give” their kids a better life.

      Personally, I’d rather my kids focus on one or two passions and become accomplished at them, rather than doing a little bit of this and that to keep up with other kids. When they grow up those kids they’re silently competing with will be nowhere in sight and they’ll be on their own. Better to face that will a lot of unstructured time and just one or two activities that have been well honed.

      Not everyone agrees with that approach, but that’s my opinion for what it’s worth.

  7. Thanks for the link love Glen! I didn’t even know you had this blog. NICE!

    I’ll have to do some guest writing for you in the future! 😀

  8. Another lovely dental expense….wisdom teeth removal. One of our kids had his removed last year to the tune of $1800. We have three more kids to go.

    • Wow, that’s a big one.

      With wisdom teeth, you don’t know if they are really going to need them removed or when. I think mine were taken out in 3 sessions over my early 20’s. I know I paid for some of it (if not all).

      Still, it is something to be mindful of.

    • I thought those didn’t come out until age 18+? That’s when I had mine out. Medical insurance covered mine because all 4 were taken out and it was done in the hospital. Of course, that was a long time ago and things might have changed.

      • My son was 14 when his came out. They were already pushing the other teeth. It was done by a oral surgeon but in the dental office. He was sedated for about an hour and then it was all over…except for the swelling and pain killers.

        • That sounds young. Obviously no question on you paying for it. I think when it happens as a young adult then it’s possible you let the child take care of it depending on their situation.

          And the hour under is the easy part. It’s after that’s a pain!

          • It definitely took me by surprise. I thought we had a few more years before we needed to deal with wisdom teeth. However, this particular son had an early growth spurt; he was 6 feet tall at 14 years old. Interesting enough, our daughter is 18 and she hasn’t needed to have her wisdom teeth removed — yet.

  9. I have a 16 year old daughter who was invited to a junior/senior prom when she was a freshman. We ran out in January, ordered the dress, and promptly purchased all accessories (shoes, purse, jewelry, etc.). Long story short – a month before the prom, the cad broke-up with her. We couldn’t cancel the dress as it was ordered just for her and the dress shop made it clear to us that we were on the hook no matter what happened. We were out over $400 for the dress alone! She is now invited to 2 separate proms in the space of a week – dress, shoes, purse, jewelry, hair, tanning, nails, etc. etc. Just something for everyone to keep in mind. We were able to sell the first dress at a consignment shop, but they kept 50% and we never did re-coup our expenses. The doofus that dumped her didn’t shell-out a cent. She will were the same dress at both proms since they are at different schools.

    • Sorry to hear about the dress (and the BF).

      Wow, those are not expenses I am looking forward too! Thanks for adding to our list of expenses.

      • I’m really sorry to hear about your daughter’s situation–not the least of which because I have a “prom age” daughter! The problem gets ugly from a financial standpoint because the cost of school related functions of every stripe are out of control. The schools present a captive market for the vendors, and that means the costs are high and getting higher. We’re going through the graduation onslaught now with our son, and the costs are rediculous.

  10. I’ve read recently that college admission offices are now drawn more to applications where students can show in-depth interest in a couple extra-curricular activities, rather than casual interest in half a dozen. So that’s a vote for less is more on that side.

    Also, I funded my own high school trips with fundraising. Granted, many of my classmates just had their parents pay for things, but I sold enough poinsettias to cover an entire NYC trip at one point. As parents, we can encourage the fundraising to support or supplement these activities.

    • Hi Kagey–If that’s true than it’s step in the right direction. The band director at my son’s high school says multiple activities leads to mediocracy, and I completely agree.

      What I’ve found about fund raisers is that the parents are the main “customers”, so it’s not much of an advantage. They usually involve both time and money. If it’s a large fee it can be worth it, but smaller ones usually not.

      Still, somehow I feel that if more activities were tied to fundraisers, exclusively by the kids, the number of activities might decline! That would be a good thing in my humble opinion.

  11. Don’t forget medical expenses. Between medicines, flus, allergies and regular medical visits, our health expenses has add up quite a bit.

    • Good one, but it varies by child. Some require a lot of medical care, some very little. We’ve been lucky on that with both kids and that may be why I didn’t think of it!