Family life

Could you raise a child on $3,500 annually?

The Fraser Institute reported that a Canadian child could be raised on $3,500 annually. Jennifer Pinarski argues that that's no way to live.

kids-jokes Photo: iStockphoto

Follow along as Jennifer Pinarski shares her experiences about giving up her big city job and lifestyle to live in rural Ontario with her husband, while staying home to raise their two young children.

Last Friday, the Fraser Institute released "The Cost of Raising Children." Christopher Sarlo, an economics professor at Nippissing University and senior fellow at the Fraser Institute, boldly calculated that raising a child in Canada costs approximately $3,500 per year.

Or more accurately, $4,115.04 per year for 12-year-old children and $2,264.38 for four-year-old children.

I’ll give you a minute to digest those numbers — or, if you’re anything like me, you’ll immediately shake your head and wonder how the Fraser Institute came up with a figure so ridiculously low.

Sarlo came to this amount using costs provided by the Montreal Diet Dispensary, a committee of individuals with family budgeting experience. The $4,000 per year is the “minimum adequate standard of living” and includes the cost of food, clothing and personal care, but not housing and daycare. Any other estimate found in the popular press isn’t realistic, Sarlo claims, because those studies include daycare, discretionary spending, tuition and housing costs. Calling MoneySense, The Financial Post and The Guardian “alarmist” and “inaccurate” for inflating the true cost of raising kids, Sarlo believes it has never been more financially easier to raise children because incomes are higher, people are having fewer children, there are more government benefits and necessities are less costly.

There are easily half a dozen things the Fraser Institute assumes about Canadian families which make me angry about this report:

  • That employers offer free daycare
  • That relatives will line up and take care of your children for free
  • That two-parent families always have a stay-at-home parent
  • That families earning more than $75,000 have no pressing financial stresses
  • That single-parent families have zero daycare expenses
  • That health-related expenses, such as dental care, are excluded
  • That I should be able to feed my children at a cost of $9 per day (presumably because I’ve couponed, grown a garden and stockpiled discount cans of tuna like a good housewife should).

But what upsets me the most is that Sarlo implies that Canadian parents who spend more than a couple thousand dollars a year on their children must be rich; unnecessarily spoiling their kids with trips to Disneyland and wasting money on daycare. As Elizabeth Renzetti wrote in her Globe and Mail article, it’s the exclusion of daycare costs as a legitimate expense that most parents take issue with in the study.

It’s almost like poverty and meeting the basic needs of children are glorified in this study, that stripping childhood of any extravagance is how kids should be raised. Growing up on welfare as one of three siblings to a single mother, I was raised on a dollar amount close to what the Fraser Institute says kids can survive on. It’s no way to live and not a way I want to raise my children — what parent does? Even now, with two young children, a part-time job and a husband on Employment Insurance, we’re hovering around the poverty line and it sucks.

I’m not alone in thinking that the Fraser Institute is off their rocker, and I think of all of the discussion on social media over the weekend about the Fraser Institute’s report, Hannah said it best:

"As a young child in a family of four, we got by on less than $19K per year. We managed, but we weren't living, we were subsisting. There was never enough money for anything, even things like good snowsuits or fresh fruit. I would never, ever choose that kind of uncertainty for my own kids. And that's why it ["The Cost of Raising Children"] makes me angry. Just because you CAN, doesn’t mean you should." — @hpstrawberries via Twitter

Canadian parents should never be shamed for not knowing how to garden, or working full-time or having their children in daycare. The Fraser Institute missed the mark on "The Cost of Raising Children" by telling families that they should settle for less.


Is raising a child on $3,500 per year realistic? Comment below or tweet me your thoughts @jenpinarski.

This article was originally published on Aug 26, 2013

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