Raising kids is expensive. A middle-income family can expect to spend $245,340 for food, housing, child care and other child-rearing costs per child from birth to age 18, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture 2014 figures, the most recent available. That amount doesn’t even include the cost of higher education.
It likely doesn’t take spoiling into account, either. The USDA figures are based on average expenditures. So if you’re overspending on your kids, the cost of raising them could be significantly higher.
“You can spoil your children once in a while, but make sure it fits in your budget,” said Leslie Tayne, a debt relief attorney and author of “Life and Debt.” If you do so regularly without regard to how much you’re spending, you could put your finances at risk.
Here’s how spoiling your kids could be costing you a fortune.
1. You Buy Them Whatever They Want
It’s natural to want to give your kids the best life possible, but that doesn’t mean you have to give them everything they want. Yet, kids expect it, and parents do it.
A T. Rowe Price survey found that 57 percent of kids expect their parents to buy them what they want, said Martin Allenbaugh, a certified financial planner and senior marketing manager at T. Rowe Price. And 55 percent of parents said their kids have convinced them to buy something they originally said “no” to, according to the T. Rowe Price 2015 Parents, Kids and Money Survey.
If you buy your child whatever they want, then your essential expenses might be affected, Tayne said. You might not have enough money to cover your bills if you’re prioritizing your kid’s wants.
To avoid this, start by recognizing that it’s OK to say “no” to your child. As your child gets older, you might want to tell them what you can and can’t afford so you don’t make the mistake of giving in and going over budget when they continue to beg, Tayne said.
2. You Overspend on Birthday Parties and Gifts
Celebrities aren’t the only ones who throw lavish birthday parties for their children. Even parents who aren’t rich and famous shell out big bucks to celebrate their child’s special day.
Nearly a quarter of parents said they spent $300 or more on a birthday party for their kid in the past year, according to the T. Rowe Price 2016 Parents, Kids and Money Survey. About an equal percentage spent $300 or more on a birthday gifts for their child.
Allenbaugh said that guilt — feeling they’re not providing enough — can drive parents to overspend on their kids. Then they regret that they’ve spent too much on things their kids don’t really need. So when it comes to birthday parties, parents need to ask themselves whether a big celebration is really what their child wants and whether it fits within the family budget.
3. You Don’t Limit Extracurricular Activities
Your child wants to take tennis lessons, piano lessons, art classes, karate and the list goes on. So you say “yes” to all the activities he wants to do, and the costs add up quickly. The 2016 T. Rowe Price survey found that 35 percent of parents spent $500 or more on extracurricular activities for a child over the past year.
“It can be hard to say ‘no,’ especially when your child is asking you for something that will benefit them in a healthy or positive way,” Tayne said. But if you don’t have room in your budget for several extracurricular activities, you need to let your child know. “It is important to always be honest with your children, and let them know what is reasonable and what is not,” she said.
Another way to avoid letting the cost of kids’ activities sabotage your budget is to set money aside in savings to pay for them rather than relying on credit to make payments, Tayne said.
4. You Don’t Make Them Pay for Anything
Even if you’re not giving your kids everything they want, you’re still spoiling them if you’re never making them pay for anything with their own money. After all, it’s always easier to spend someone else’s money than your own. More than 20 percent of parents don’t give their kids an allowance, according to the 2016 T. Rowe Price Survey.
But parents should be giving their children experience with money, Allenbaugh said. With an allowance, kids can set aside a percentage of it to buy what they want, he said. There are several chores kids can do to earn an allowance so they’ll have their own money.
As your kids get older, you can encourage them to get a job. Then they can use the money to help pay for their own car or car insurance, for outings with friends and things they want.
“This will help them not only become disciplined with money and financially literate, but also practice how to save,” Tayne said. And, it can help prevent them from relying on you financially.
5. You’re Racking Up Debt to Splurge on Kids
The overwhelming majority of parents — 90 percent — said they occasionally or frequently splurge on their kids, according to the 2015 T. Rowe Price survey. That splurging can become a problem when you turn to credit to cover the cost. Allenbaugh said that 46 percent of parents surveyed by T. Rowe Price have gone into debt to pay for something their kids wanted.
More than half of parents have credit card debt, and of those who do, nearly 30 percent owe $6,000 or more, according to the T. Rowe Price Survey. If you already have debt and don’t have cash reserves because you’ve been spoiling the kids, you could go deeper into debt to cover the cost of an emergency.
Rather than relying on debt to pay for splurges on your kids, Tayne recommended allowing some room in your budget for spending on the kids — but only after making sure you’ve covered your necessary expenses and contributed to savings.
6. You Prioritize Kids’ College Costs Over Retirement Savings
More than 60 percent of kids expect their parents to pay the cost for whatever college they want to attend, the 2016 T. Rowe Price Survey found. That’s a big financial burden for parents to shoulder — considering that the average annual cost of tuition, fees, room and board is $19,548 at a four-year in-state public university and is $43,921 at a private college, according to the College Board. Many parents end up paying for their kids’ college education at the expense of their retirement savings, or go into debt.
Nearly 60 percent of parents think they should save for their kids’ college education before saving for their own retirement, and more than half are willing to take on $25,000 or more of debt to pay for their kids’ education, according to the T. Rowe Price 2015 Family Financial Trade-Offs Survey. But if you are still paying off student loans as retirement approaches and don’t have much savings of your own, you’ll have to delay retirement or might even have to rely on your kids to help support you.
It’s important to talk with your child before she heads to college about what your family can afford. And you should ask your child to help cover some expenses by getting a job while in school, Tayne said.
7. You Become the Bank of Mom and Dad
If you spoil your kids in childhood, they’ll continue to rely on your handouts in adulthood. A survey by LIMRA Secure Retirement Institute found that 60 percent of parents provide financial support to their adult children.
They help their kids pay for rent, cellphone service, student loan debt, credit card debt and even entertainment expenses. And they do so at the expense of their own financial security. LIMRA found that 45 percent of parents who have supported their adult children financially said it negatively impacted their retirement savings.
It’s understandable that parents want to help their kids. But it can cost you a fortune if you continue to spoil your kids in adulthood and let them rely on you financially. Instead, set limits on the support you’ll provide and follow these steps to close the Bank of Mom and Dad.