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Like babies, cost of child-rearing grows and grows

December 24, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Renee Bellerive knew that bringing up baby would cost a bundle. But $149,820?

``Wow!″ the 29-year-old city maintenance worker said Wednesday from her room at Menorah Medical Center in Overland Park, Kan. Fourteen hours earlier, she gave birth to her first son, Cade Werner. ``I knew it would cost a lot, but wow!″

That’s how much the Department of Agriculture says Bellerive and average new parents like her will spend to raise their newborns to age 17.

The 1996 survey of 12,850 two-parent households and 3,395 single-parent households found that housing took the biggest chunk _ 33 percent, or $49,710. Food was No. 2, at $26,130, followed closely by transportation, clothing and child care.

It costs about $8,300 a year, or $694 per month, to raise one child in a two-child, two-parent, middle-income family, the survey found.

A generation earlier, raising a child cost one-sixth as much, the survey showed. Several expenses, such as child care, weren’t a factor in earlier times. In 1960, the first year the department conducted the survey, raising a child cost $25,229.

Now, because of housing costs, West Coast cities are the most expensive places in the country to raise a child, the study found. East Coast cities come next, followed by the South. Midwestern cities and rural areas are the least expensive places to raise children.

The numbers would seem overwhelming to the McCaugheys of Iowa, parents of septuplets and the Thompsons of Washington, D.C., parents of five surviving sextuplets. But the high profiles of those cases have resulted in donations of everything from diapers to homes to college educations.

For Renee Bellerive and her fiancee, Kipp Masingale, 31, the figures seemed overwhelming.

They earn an average salary _ between $34,700 and $58,300 _ and live among the least-expensive regions of the country. But Bellerive said thinking of the overwhelming cost will prompt changes in their lives.

Her fiancee, she figures, will need to be promoted in his uncle’s excavation company to make ends meet. And she plans to go back to college to become a teacher.

``It gets scary when people actually tell you what it costs,″ she said.

To some who bore children in 1996, $149,000 sounds about right. Linda Mitchell, of Manassas Va., almost sounded relieved.

``That’s it?″ asked Mitchell, mother Kelly, 17 months, and Peter, 3. ``It just seems like so much goes out, for food and clothes and every little birthday party.″

Her husband, Peter, 36, a civil engineer, had already bought their home when the two were married seven years ago, and Mitchell is a stay-at-home mom. Her advice: Careful budgeting, and ``buy everything in bulk.″

But no matter how good a budgeter a parent may be, $149,820 packs a wallop, even a day after labor.

``Gollee!″ said Kristin Winton, a third-grade teacher from Tulsa, Okla., who gave birth Tuesday to her second child, Brilee Nicole.

``But I guess it sounds about right,″ she added. ``I mean, after awhile you don’t even think about it, even if you budget. There are daily expenses, there are weekly expenses. You just buy what your kid needs.″

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