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Beyond the scary Christmas list: the full parenting price tag

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Travel, for example, is very important to the way Sabine Steck and Larry Tift want to raise their children – Simone, 12, and Ethan, 9. "When we are away from our day-to-day lives, we are more engaged as parents and less uptight as a couple," says Mr. Tift, a university librarian's assistant. The San Diego couple have taken their kids as far as Tokyo, but also to British Columbia, Mexico, and Hawaii.

"We think travel is hugely valuable for our kids," says Ms. Steck, a real estate agent. "I grew up that way and think what I learned through traveling has given me a much richer perspective in life. We want [our kids] to grow up interested in the world and not ethnocentric."

The cost for that? About $10,000 a year.

The Steck-Tifts' child-rearing ethic extends to dining out, too – a way they expose their children to different kinds of foods, such as Indian or Japanese. It costs them about $2,400 a year.

It takes more than sushi, though, to cultivate a well-rounded child, and Steck and Tift have also paid for activities like martial arts, piano and flute lessons, drama, swim team, and soccer. Costs vary from $110 a month for swim team to $300 annually for soccer to $400 a year for drama. And, says Steck: "We use both the public library and the university library where Larry works, and yet we still spend about $500 a year for each child on books and music.

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