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The cost of raising a child is almost $240,000 — and that’s before college

Millions of Americans struggle to put money away, leaving them empty-handed as they approach one of life’s key financial milestones.

No, not retirement — having a child, which newresearchshows is getting more expensive by the year. Raising a child from birth to age 18 now costs an average of $237,482, according to LendingTree. And as with other major household spending categories, like health care and college, the tab for bring up kids is surging, with the financial firm finding that the average annual cost of child-rearing stood at $21,681 in 2021 — up almost 20% from 2016.

Those dollar figures encompass only what LendingTree describes as the “bare bones” required for raising a child, including money for food, housing, child care, apparel, transportation and health insurance, as well as the impact of tax benefits such as the Child Tax Credit. They don’t include enrichment activities such as sports, after-school classes and the like, let alone the soaring cost of attending college.

“Scared to death”

The financial impact of child-related costs may be one reason why some adults are opting to delay or even forego having children, Matt Schulz, LendingTree chief credit analyst, told CBS MoneyWatch.

“It’s completely understandable that people are scared to death of how they are going to pay to raise that kid,” he said. “It’s daunting when you consider that we don’t even factor in the cost of college, for example, in these numbers.”

Schulz added, “Most people’s financial margin for error is pretty tiny, and a few hundred dollars here and there can be really significant when you are on a tight budget and living paycheck to paycheck.”

Paying for college could double the price of raising a child, depending on where someone lives and what type of school a student attends, he added.

The largest financial component of raising a kid is child care, which LendingTree estimates comes to $11,752 on average per year. The bill is hefty enough that some parents opt to leave the workforce because their income might not to offset the cost of child care.

Geography matters here, too. Parents in some states pay far more for child care, with costs in Washington, D.C., topping $25,000 a year and $21,000 in Massachusetts, or akin to college tuition for many schools.

Location matters

The most expensive state to raise a child is Hawaii, where parents face annual costs of $30,506, LendingTree found. The most affordable state for parents is Mississippi, where one year of child-rearing averages $15,555. Nationally, parents spend about $1 of every $5 on raising their children.

“Even in the cheapest state, you are still taking out $15,000 year to raise a kid, and there is no place in this country where that amount of money isn’t going to be significant to the average person,” Schulz said.

People who are considering starting a family can take some financial steps to ease the impact when a child arrives. For instance, begin saving as soon as possible for those costs and take advantage of rising interest rates by putting money into a high-yield savings account, Schulz advised.

Also research local sources of help, such as government programs or nonprofits that might be able to offer financial support. For instance, some states provide pre-kindergarten and child care aid, such as Vermont, which has provided a voucher for every 3- and 4-year old to get 10 hour a week of pre-k instruction.

Once a child is enrolled in public school, parents could put some of their child care budget toward saving for college, such as starting a 529 plan or another account.

“To the extent you can tweak your budget a little bit, for a few bucks of your paycheck to go into a college fund can make a lot of sense,” Schulz said.

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