Foon Rhee

The Numbers Crunch: Children are cute and life-affirming, but also pricey

Hundreds calling for more funding for child care programs rallied at the Capitol in May.
Hundreds calling for more funding for child care programs rallied at the Capitol in May. The Associated Press

As adorable and rewarding as they are, kids are also expensive, as any parent knows.

Just how costly comes through in a newly updated online tool that lets you figure out the cost of living across the country based on family size.

The Economic Policy Institute’s Family Budget Calculator computes the expenses of housing, food, child care, transportation, health care, taxes and other necessities in 618 metro areas for 10 different family types – from a single person to a couple with four children.

In the Sacramento region, that family budget starts at $2,668 a month for a single person and rises to $7,689 a month for a family of six.

For comparison, those numbers for San Francisco are $3,632 a month for a single person and $10,262 for a couple with four kids. In the median U.S metro area (Des Moines, Iowa), it’s $2,236 for one person and $6,802 for a family of six.

While some expenses, such as transportation, don’t change that much depending on family size, other costs rise dramatically with more kids. In most metro areas, child care costs more than housing, so the institute says that day care subsidies can be a huge help to working families.

Geographic differences can also be huge – from $49,100 a year for a family of four in Morristown, Tenn., to $106,500 in Washington, D.C. Among the 10 largest metro areas, the annual budget for a two-parent, two-child family goes from $60,600 in Houston to $98,700 in New York City.

The report also points out that depending on location, various costs can make up a bigger or smaller slice of household budgets. For instance, Sacramento; Austin, Texas; and Pittsburgh have similar populations and total budgets for a family of four. But housing costs eat up more in Austin, child care costs are higher in Pittsburgh, and health care expenses are higher in Sacramento.

For a Sacramento family of four, the breakdown is: $1,072 for housing, $946 for health care, $901 for child care, $782 for food, $608 for transportation, $570 for taxes and $895 for other necessities. The budget is 9 percent more than the median income for that family.

I don’t have kids, but I can only imagine how quickly expenses pile up, based on the time I spent with my nephews as they grew up. It’s hard to say no, especially when they’re young.

The Economic Policy Institute brags that its family budget is far more real life than the federal poverty line, which it calls outdated and only enough for a bare minimum existence. Under the institute’s “secure yet modest living standard,” the $63,700 median budget for a family of four is nearly three times the official poverty income.

Some may quibble whether the institute’s number is a tad too generous, but if you had a family of four, would you want to try to get by on $24,000 a year?

By the numbers

Monthly budget in Sacramento metro area for a “secure” living standard:

  • One person, $2,668
  • One parent, one child, $4,566
  • One parent, two children, $5,232
  • One parent, three children, $6,977
  • One parent, four children, $7,427
  • Couple, no children, $3,701
  • Two parents, one child, $5,212
  • Two parents, two children, $5,774
  • Two parents, three children, $7,210
  • Two parents, four children, $7,689

Source: Economic Policy Institute