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Beyond the scary Christmas list: the full parenting price tag

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Everyone knows having children ups life's financial ante, and while parents may not figure it out to the dollar, the US Department of Agriculture does: By the time Alex turns 18, Mr. and Mrs. Giulianis will have spent somewhere around $222,360. That's the cost the USDA figures for the average middle-income couple raising a child from birth through age 17. And it's 22 percent more, in real dollars, than parents spent in 1960 – in the thick of the baby boom – when the USDA started counting such things and when kids shared bedrooms, had one pair of shoes, ate TV dinners and Wonder bread sandwiches, did homework with encyclopedias, didn't go to the doctor – let alone medical specialists – for much more than vaccinations or a broken arm, and went out to play unsupervised. ("Just be home by dinner!" called stay-at-home moms who did their own housekeeping but no helicoptering).

Although the lion's share of parental spending today goes to housing and food, health care and education have both ballooned: Health care is now 8 percent of the cost of raising a child versus just 4 percent in 1960. Education – which includes child care and extracurricular activities – rose from 2 percent to 17 percent of the total childhood bill.

Some economists say that costs are higher than the USDA estimates because so many expenses aren't included, such as the cost of helicopter-parenting, high-speed Internet access, unlimited smart-phone texting, and ergonomic diaper bags, to name a few.

Much of the spending on behalf of children, say parents and economists, goes toward easing a rising panic – concerns that if they don't fork over for educationally enriching activities, sports, tutors, musical instruments, and orthodontia, their kids won't get into the right college and, in turn, won't have a good life.

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