x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

On the Money: Kids can cost a pretty penny

Children are priceless, but I'm hoping that the cost of raising one doesn't reach the point where nobody can afford to start a family anymore.

Gary Clement for The National
Gary Clement for The National

Overnight, or so it seems, my daughter has shot up and outgrown everything.

It wasn't always that way. She arrived into this world a month early and when we left the hospital, she weighed just 2.1 kilograms. None of her tiny newborn clothes fitted her then, while her head was smaller than the size of my hand. But at least she could grow into her newborn clothes - although it didn't take quite as long as I'd hoped it would.

Fast-forward nine years and it's hard to believe that she started life out so small. Today, she's all gangly arms and legs - and just one shoe size smaller than me. But I'm guessing that's because she inherited the tall gene in our family, unlike me.

No sooner do I buy her more clothes and shoes, she's outgrown them. It's like a never-ending cycle that sees us at the mall almost every month to restock her wardrobe. But if there's one good thing to come out of her never-ending growth spurt, it's that she's learning the value of giving to charity, which is where we send her clothes when they no longer fit.

Although she's pretty obedient, one thing she can't do is stop growing (even though I secretly wish she would; at least for a month or so to give me and my finances some breathing space).

Everybody knows that it's not cheap to raise a child, more so in this day and age: a time in which salaries are not what they used to be and costs are constantly rising. Which leaves me occasionally to wonder what is rising quicker: my daughter's height or the costs associated with raising her.

While we may not have any control over the growth of our children, we do have a measure of control over our outgoings when it comes to providing for them, such as cutting back on after-school activities, toys and other hobbies.

It's not the ideal solution, especially when you want to give your child as many opportunities as possible, but there are some areas that you just can't compromise on.

Top of that list is the basics: a roof over their head, food on the table, clothes, education; a safe environment for them to grow and learn. Depending on where you live, these costs will vary. In Abu Dhabi, for instance, you will invariably pay more than you should for your rent, while the high cost of educating your child in the Emirates - if you are lucky enough to get them a place in the school of your choice, that is - will always cut a huge swathe through your diminishing budget.

And then there's the extras. After-school clubs such as football, swimming, tennis, ballet and music lessons all cost money - and these days are considered luxuries for many parents managing strict budgets during tough economic times.

If there's only so much left over at the end of the month, what should you do with it? Pay junior's football club fees or put it in the bank for a rainy day? Anecdotal evidence in the UAE suggests that many parents are choosing to do the latter.

Parents are already doing this in the UK, according to a new report released this week. In its annual Cost a Child Report 2012, LV=, a UK-based investment and retirement specialist, says 76 per cent of parents in the UK are looking at ways to cut back on the expense of raising their children. Toys and hobbies were the first to go, with outgoings on these down 5 per cent compared with the previous year.

The report also says that the cost of raising a child from birth to the age of 21 (in the UK) has risen by 3.3 per cent over the past year to a record £218,024 (Dh1.25 million). Break it down and that's £10,382 a year, £865 a month or £28.44 a day. It doesn't include, however, private education, so if there's a boarding school involved, add another £193,743 to the total tally.

In the nine years that LV= has been doing its annual report, it says the cost of raising a child has jumped by 55 per cent.

"Childcare and education remain the two most costly aspects of raising a child, with education having seen the biggest increase in spending over the last year at 5 per cent," says Mark Jones, the head of protection at LV=.

"We look at the different costs associated with raising a child; how this has changed over the last year; and what parents are doing to help balance the budget. We look at the cost of raising a child in different areas of the UK, and at what age children are at their most expensive."

And that's where I'm almost at with my child: her most expensive years outside of university. But that's OK. She's growing so fast these days that soon we'll be able to share. Although I have a feeling it will be my wardrobe that will be raided, rather than the other way around because I will be avoiding that "mutton-dressed-as-lamb" look. At all costs.

Regardless of our budgets and where we live in this world, all children are priceless. But I'm hoping that the cost of raising one doesn't reach the point where nobody can afford to start a family anymore. That scenario would be a disastrous one for our futures - not to mention theirs.